Sheltered girlhood in New York City

Julia Ward Howe was born on May 27, 1819, in New York City. She was the third of six children born to Samuel Ward, a wealthy banker, and his wife Julia Cutler Ward. Howe was a bright and strong-willed child with a lively wit. She loved both music and drama from an early age. But young girls were relatively sheltered in those days. They did not receive the same level of education or personal freedom given to boys. Instead, they were trained to be well-mannered ladies who could run a household and care for children.

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord . . ."

Julia Ward Howe.

(Photograph by Alice Boughton. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

When Howe's mother died in 1824, her father became even more restrictive with his daughters. He did not allow them to attend parties, see plays, or read popular books because he wanted to protect them from harmful outside influences. But Howe loved to read and dreamed of becoming a writer. She often rebelled against her father's rules, especially when she spent time with less-strict relatives on the Atlantic coast each summer. Her oldest brother and several other family members encouraged her to pursue her writing.

Samuel Ward died in 1839, leaving a fortune estimated at six million dollars. Within a short time, Howe's beloved brother Henry Ward died as well. She became deeply depressed and spent the next two years recovering her spirits. After her period of mourning ended, however, she began to enjoy her newfound freedom. She socialized with all kinds of important people in New York. Along with her sisters, she became known as an excellent hostess in the city's literary and cultural circles.

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