Julia Ward Howe (1819 - 1910)

by Laura E. Richards

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Chapter XIV - The Peace Crusade - 1870-1872; aet. 51-53


"What hast thou for thy scattered seed,
O Sower of the plain?
Where are the many gathered sheaves
Thy hope should bring again?"
"The only record of my work
Lies in the buried grain."

"O Conqueror of a thousand fields!
In dinted armor dight,
What growths of purple amaranth
Shall crown thy brow of might?"
"Only the blossom of my life
Flung widely in the fight."

"What is the harvest of thy saints,
O God! who dost abide?
Where grow the garlands of thy chiefs
In blood and sorrow dyed?
What have thy servants for their pains?"
"This only,—to have tried."

J. W. H.

When a branch is cut from a vigorous tree, Nature at once sets to work to adjust matters. New juices flow, new tissues form, the wound is scarfed over, and after a time is seen only as a scar. Not here, but elsewhere, does the new growth take place, the fresh green shoots appear, more vigorous for the pruning.

Thus it was with our mother's life, as one change after another came across it. Little Sam died, and her heart withered with him: then religion and study came to her aid, and through them she reached another[300] blossoming time of thought and accomplishment Now, with the marriage and departure of the children, still another notable change was wrought, rather joyful than sorrowful, but none the less marking an epoch.

Up to this time (1871) the wide, sunny rooms of the house on Beacon Hill had been filled with young, active life. The five children, their friends, their music, their parties, their talk and laughter, kept youth and gayety at full tide: the green branches grew and blossomed.

For all five she had been from their cradle not only mistress of the revels and chief musician, but spur and beacon of mind and soul.

Now four of the five were transplanted to other ground. Many women, confronting changes like these, say to themselves, "It is over. For me there is no more active life; instead, the shelf and the chimney corner." This woman, lifting her eyes from the empty spaces, saw Opportunity beckoning from new heights, and moved gladly to meet her. Now, as ever, she "staked her life upon the red."

The empty spaces must be filled. Study no longer sufficed: the need of serving humanity actively, hand and foot, pen and voice, was now urgent.

Her first work under this new impulse was for peace. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 made a deep and painful impression upon her. She had felt a bitter dislike for Louis Napoleon ever since the day when he "stabbed France in her sleep" by the Coup d'État of December, 1851; but she loved France and the French[301] people; the overwhelming defeat, the bitter humiliation suffered by them filled her with sorrow and indignation. In a lecture on Paris she says: "The great Exposition of 1867 had drawn together an immense crowd from all parts of the world. Among its marvels, my recollection dwells most upon the gallery of French paintings, in which I stood more than once before a full-length portrait of the then Emperor.[70] I looked into the face which seemed to say: 'I have succeeded. What has any one to say about it?' And I pondered the slow movements of that heavenly Justice whose infallible decrees are not to be evaded."

Her "Reminiscences" say: "As I was revolving these matters in my mind, while the war was still in progress, I was visited by a sudden feeling of the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest. It seemed to me a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed. The question forced itself upon me, 'Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?' I had never thought of this before. The august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibilities now appeared to me in a new aspect, and I could think of no better way of expressing my sense of these than that of sending forth an appeal to womanhood throughout the world, which I then and there composed."

This appeal is dated Boston, September, 1870.


Again, in the sight of the Christian world, have the skill and power of two great nations exhausted themselves in mutual murder. Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle-field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before.

Arise, then, Christian women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs." From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: "Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice." Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing[303] after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Cæsar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient, and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

The appeal was translated into French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Swedish, and sent broadcast far and wide.

In October our mother wrote to Aaron Powell, president of the American Peace Society: "The issue is one which will unite virtually the whole sex. God gave us, I think, the word to say, but it ought to be followed by immediate and organizing action.... Now, you, my dear sir, are bound, as a Friend and as an Advocate of Peace, to take especial interest in this matter, so I call upon you a little confidently, hoping that you will help my unbusinesslike and unskilful hands to go on with this good work. I wish to avoid occasioning any confusion in the different meetings and organizations of the Woman Suffrage Movement. But I should wish to move for various meetings in which the matter of my appeal, the direct intervention of Woman in the Pacification of the World, should be discussed, and the final move of a general Congress promoted. Please take hold a little now and help me. I have wings but no feet nor hands—rather, only a voice, 'vox et praeterea nihil.'"

The next step was to call together those persons supposedly[304] interested in such a movement. In December, 1870, it was announced that a meeting "for the purpose of considering and arranging the steps necessary to be taken for calling a World's Congress of Women in behalf of International Peace" would be held in Union League Hall, Madison Avenue and Twenty-sixth Street, New York, on Friday, December 23. The announcement, which sets forth the need for and objects of such a congress, is signed by Julia Ward Howe, William Cullen Bryant, and Mary F. Davis.

The meeting was an important one: there were addresses by Lucretia Mott, Octavius Frothingham, and Alfred Love, the Peace prophet of Philadelphia; letters from John Stuart Mill, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and William Howard Furness, who adjures peace-lovers to "labor for the establishment of a Supreme Court to which all differences between nations shall be referred for settlement."

Mrs. Howe made the opening address, from which we quote these words:—

"So I repeat my call and cry to women. Let it pierce through dirt and rags—let it pierce through velvet and cashmere. It is the call of humanity. It says: 'Help others, and you help yourselves.'"

"Let the woman seize and bear about the prophetic word of the hour, and that word becomes flesh, and dwells among men. This rapturous task of hope, this perpetual evangel of good news, is the woman's special business, if she only knew it.

"Patience and passivity are sometimes in place for[305] women—not always. I think of this when I go to women, intelligent and charming, who warn me off with white hands, unaccustomed to any graver labor than that of gesticulation. 'Don't ask me to work,' they say; 'I cannot do it. God always raises up a set of people to do these things, like the Anti-Slavery people, and they set to work to do them.' And then I want to say to these friends: 'God can raise you up too, and I hope He will.'

"As for what one can or cannot do, remember that, active or passive, we must work to live. If we have not real labor, we must have simulated exercise. If we have not real objects, we must have fanciful caprices, little less exertion than keeps us in the padded chair would take us out of it, and send us to try whether nature has made any special exemption in our cases, and whether the paralysis of our life need be traced further outward than our self-centred heart....

"Would that I were still young, as are many of you; would at least that I had followed the angel of my youth as gravely and steadfastly as he invited me; but the world taught, applauded in another direction, and I was at fault. But from this assembly a will might go forth, an earnest will, quick with love, and heavy with meaning. And this will might say to our sisters all over the world, 'Trifle no more.' If women did not waste life in frivolity, men would not waste it in murder. For the tenderness of the one class is set by God to restrain the violence of the other."

The New York meeting was followed by one in Boston. In the spring of 1871 the friends of peace met[306] in the rooms of the New England Woman's Club, and formed an American Branch of the Women's International Peace Association: Julia Ward Howe, president. It took five meetings to accomplish this; the minutes of these meetings are curious and interesting.

Mr. Moncure D. Conway wrote objecting strongly to the movement being announced as Christian: his objections were courteously considered.

"Mrs. Howe gave her reasons for making her Appeal in the name of Christianity. She found the doctrine of peace and forgiveness of injuries the most fundamental of the Christian doctrines. She thought it proper to say so, but did not by this prevent the believers in other religions from asserting the same doctrine, if considered as existing in those religions."

Mr. Conway's objection was overruled.

The object of the association was "to promote peace, by the study and culture of its conditions." A "notice" appended to the constitution announced, "This Association proposes to hold a World's Congress of Women, in London, in the summer of 1872, in which undertaking the cooperation of all persons is earnestly invited."

Before continuing the story of this peace crusade, we return to the Journal. The volume for 1871 is fragmentary, the entries mostly brief and far apart. Written and blank pages are alike significant of the movement going on in her mind, the steadily growing desire and resolve to dedicate her life, as her husband had dedicated his, to the highest needs of humanity.

"January 20. Have been ill all these days. Had a[307] divine glimpse this day, between daylight and dusk, of something like this—a beautiful person splendidly dressed entering a theatre as I have often done with entire delight and forgetfulness of everything else, and the restraining hand of Christ holding me back in the outer darkness—the want and woe of the world, and saying, 'The true drama of life is here.' Oh! that restraining hand had in it the true touch, communicating knowledge of human sorrow and zeal for human service. Never may I escape it to my grave!"

"I confess that I value more those processes of thought which explain history than those which arraign it. I would not therefore in my advocacy of peace strip one laurel leaf from the graves so dear and tender in our recollection. Our brave men did and dared the best which the time allowed. The sorrow for their loss was none the less brought upon us by those who believed in the military method. It is not in injustice to them that I listen while the Angel of Charity says: 'Behold, I show you a more excellent way.' Again, 'Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool.' This treating of injuries from the high ground of magnanimity is the action that shall save the world."

"The special faults of women are those incidental to a class that has never been allowed to work out its ideal."

"Must work to earn some money, but will not sacrifice greater ends to this one."

[308]"Hear that the Greek mission is given to an editor in Troy, New York. Sad for Greece and for Chev, who longs so to help her."

"Civil liberty is that which the one cannot have without the many, or the many without the one. The liberty of the State, like its solvency, concerns and affects all its citizens. Equal sacredness of rights is its political side, equal stringency of duties its moral side. The virtue of single individuals will not give them civil liberty in a despotic state, but the only safeguard of civil liberty to all is the virtue of each individual."

"You men by your vice and selfishness have created for women a hideous profession, whose ranks you recruit from the unprotected, the innocent, the ignorant. This is the only profession, so far as I know, that man has created for women.

"We will create professions for ourselves if you will allow us opportunity and deal as fairly with the female infant as with the male. Where, even in this respect, do we find your gratitude? We instruct your early years. You keep instruction from our later ones.

"French popular authors have satirized American women freely. Let them remember that French literature has done much to corrupt American women. Unhappy Paris has corrupted the world. She is now swept from the face of the earth."

France was constantly in her thoughts.

"The morale of the Commune, that which has commended it to good people, has undoubtedly been a supposed[309] resistance to the return of absolutism, which the Versailles Government was supposed covertly to represent.... No matter what advantage of reason the Commune may have had over the Versailles Government, the Commune committed a civil crime in attempting military enforcement of its political opinions. Such was the crime which our South committed and which we resisted as one defends one's own life. No overt military act of ours gave them the advantage of a casus belli. They differed from us and determined to coerce us forcibly. In that weltering mass of ruin and corruption which was Paris, what lessons lie of the utter folly and futility of mutual murder! What hearts of brothers estranged which time would have harmonized! What hecatombs of weltering corpses poisoning the earth which industry should make wholesome! What women demonized by passion, forgetting all their woman's lore and skill, the appointed givers of life speeding death and reaping the bitter fruit themselves! With this terrible picture before us, let no civilized nation from henceforth and forever admit or recognize the instrumentality of war as worthy of Christian society. Let the fact of human brotherhood be taught to the babe in his cradle, let it be taught to the despot on his throne. Let it be the basis and foundation of education and legislation, the bond of high and low, of rich and poor...."

"May 27. I am fifty-two years old this day and must regard this year as in some sense the best of my life. The great joy of the Peace Idea has unfolded itself to me.... I have got at better methods of working in[310] the practical matters at which I do work, and believe more than ever in patience, labor, and sticking to one's own idea of work. Study, book-work, and solitary thinking and writing show us only one side of what we study. Practical life and intercourse with others supply the other side. If I may sit at work on this day next year, I hope that my peace matter will have assumed a practical and useful form, and that I may have worked out my conception worthily.... I pray that neither Louis Napoleon nor the Bourbons may return to feed upon France, but that merciful measures, surely of God's appointing, may heal her deadly wounds and uplift her prostrate heart. She must learn that the doctrine of self is irreligious. The Commune surely knew this just as little as did Louis Napoleon. I want to keep eyesight enough to read Greek and German, and my teeth for clear speaking and good digestion."

"Paul says: 'Ye that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak,' but now we that are weak bear the infirmities of the strong."

"Peace meeting at the Club. Read in Greek first part of the eighth chapter of Matthew; the account given of the centurion seems very striking in the Greek. The contrast of his Western mind with the Eastern subtleties of Jew and Greek seems to have struck Christ. He supposed Christ's power over unseen things to be like his own control over things committed to his authority. Then Christ began, perhaps, to see[311] that the other nations of the world would profit by his work and doctrine before his Jewish brethren."

"My first presidency at the New England Woman's Club.... I do not shine in presiding over a business meeting and some others can do much better than I. Still I think it best to fulfil all expected functions of ordinary occasions, living and learning."

"... Negro Christianity. It is something of a very definite and touching character—all forgiving, all believing, making a decided religious impression of its own—the heart so ripe, the intellectual part so little made out, like a fruit which might be all pulp and no fibre."

"On Sunday we bring back the worn and dim currency of our active life to be redeemed by the pure gold of the Supreme Wisdom. I bring to church my coppers and small pieces and take away a shining gold piece. Self is the talent buried in the napkin no matter with how much of culture and natural capacity. Till we get out of self we are in the napkin. Hospitable entertainment of other people's opinions, brotherly promotions of their interests—these acts make our five talents ten in use to others and in enjoyment and profit to ourselves...."

"Christ's teaching about marriage. Its tender and sacred reciprocity. Adultery among the Jews was only recognized as crime when committed by a woman. The right of concubinage was too extensive to bring condemnation for unchastity. The man might not[312] steal another man's wife, but any woman's husband might have intercourse with other women. Christ showed how men did offend against this same law which worked so absolutely and partially against women. An unchaste thought in the breast of the man infringed the high law of purity. This teaching of the tender mutual obligations of married life was probably new to many of his hearers.

"The present style of woman has really been fashioned by man, and is only quasi feminine.

"Peace meeting at Mystic, Connecticut. Spoke morning and afternoon, best in the morning. The natural unfolding of reform. 'His purposes will ripen fast'—Watts's verse. Providence does not plant so as to gather all its crops in one day. First the flowers, then the fruits, then the golden grain.

"John Fiske's lecture, first in the course on the theory of Evolution.... Did not think the lecture a very profitable one, yet we must be willing that our opposites should think and speak out their belief."

In the spring of 1872 she went to England, hoping to hold a Woman's Peace Congress in London. She also hoped to found and foster "a Woman's Apostolate of Peace." These hopes were not then to be fulfilled: yet she always felt that this visit, with all its labors and its disappointments, was well worth while, and that much solid good came of it, to herself and to others.

We have seen her in London as a bride, enjoying to the full its gayeties and hospitality, as bright a vision[313] as any that met her eyes, with a companion to whom all doors opened eagerly. This was the picture of 1843; that of 1872 is different, indeed.

A woman of middle age, quiet in dress and manner, with a serene and constant dignity; a face in which the lines of thought and study were deepening year by year; eyes now flashing with mirth, now tender with sympathy, always bright with the "high resolve and hardihood" for which, but a few years before, she had been sighing: this was the woman who came to London in 1872, alone and unaided; who, standing before the Dark Tower of established Order and Precedent, might say with Childe Roland,—

"Dauntless the slug horn to my lips I set, And blew." She spoke at the banquet of the Unitarian Association. "The occasion was to me a memorable one." She hired the Freemasons' Tavern and preached there on five or six successive Sundays.

"My procedure was very simple,—a prayer, the reading of a hymn, and a discourse from a Scripture text.... The attendance was very good throughout, and I cherished the hope that I had sown some seed which would bear fruit hereafter."

She was asked to address meetings in various parts of England, speaking in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Carlisle, with good acceptance. In Cambridge she talked with Professor J. R. Seeley, whom she found most sympathetic. She was everywhere welcomed by thoughtful people, old friends and new, whether or no they sympathized with her quest.

"June 9. My first preaching in London. Worked pretty much all day at sermon, intending, not to read, but to talk it—for me, a difficult procedure. At 4.30 P.M. left off, but brain so tired that nothing in it. Subject, the kingdom of heaven.... Got a bad cup of tea—dressed (in my well-worn black silk) and went to the Drawing-Room at Freemasons' Tavern. God knows how I felt. 'Cast down but not forsaken.'... I got through better than I feared I might. Felt the method to be the right one, speaking face to face and heart to heart."

"June 10. Small beer going out of fashion leaves women one occupation the less. Fools are still an institution; and will remain such."[71]

"June 16.... A good attendance in spite of the heat.... Agonized over my failure to come up to what I had designed to do in the discourse."

"June 18.... Saw the last of my dear friend E. Twisleton, who took me to the National Gallery, where we saw many precious gems of art.... At parting, he said: 'The good Father above does not often give so great a pleasure as I have had in these meetings with you.' Let me enshrine this charming and sincere word in my most precious recollection, from the man of sixty-three to the woman of fifty-three."

"June 27. Left Leeds at 7 A.M., rising at 4.30.... To Miss [Frances Power] Cobbe's, where met Lady Lyall, Miss Clough, Mrs. Gorton, Jacob Bright, et al. Then to dinner with the dear Seeleys. An unceremonious and delightful meal. Heart of calf. Then to John[315] Ridley's.... Home late, almost dead—to bed, having been on foot twenty hours."

"July 4.... Saw a sight of misery, a little crumb of a boy, barefoot, tugging after a hand-organ man, also very shabby. Gave the little one a ha'penny, all the copper I had. But in the heartache he gave me, I resolved, God helping me, that my luxury shall henceforth be to minister to human misery, and to redeem much time and money spent on my own fancies, as I may...."

She had been asked to attend two important meetings as American delegate: a peace congress in Paris, and a great prison reform meeting in London.

The French meeting came first. She crossed the Channel, reaching Paris in time to attend the principal séance of the congress. She presented her credentials, asked leave to speak, and was told "with some embarrassment" that she might speak to the officers of the society, when the public meeting should be adjourned! She makes no comment on this proceeding, but says, "I accordingly met a dozen or more of these gentlemen in a side room, where I simply spoke of my endeavors to enlist the sympathies and efforts of women in behalf of the world's peace."

Returning to London, she had "the privilege of attending as a delegate one of the great Prison Reform meetings of our day."

In 1843, Julia the bride would not have considered it a privilege to attend a meeting for prison reform. She would have shrugged her shoulders, would perhaps have pouted because the Chevalier cared more for[316] these things than for the opera, with Grisi, Mario, and Lablache: she might even have written some funny verses about the windmill-tilting of her Don Quixote. Now, she stood in the place that failing health forbade him to fill, with a depth of interest, an earnestness of purpose, equal to his own. She, too, now heard the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners.

At one of the meetings of this congress, a jailer of the old school spoke in defence of the system of flogging refractory prisoners, and described in brutal fashion a brutal incident. Her blood was on fire: she asked leave to speak.

"It is related," she said, "of the famous Beau Brummel that a gentleman who called upon him one morning met a valet carrying away a tray of neck-cloths, more or less disordered. 'What are these?' asked the visitor; and the servant replied, 'These are our failures!' When I see the dark coach which in our country carries the criminal to his place of detention, I say, 'Society, here are your failures.'"

Her words were loudly applauded, and the punishment was voted down.

The Journal gives her further speech on this occasion: "Spoke of justice to women. They had talked of fallen women. I prayed them to leave that hopeless phrase. Every fallen woman represents a man as guilty as herself, who escapes human detection, but whose soul lies open before God. Speak of vicious, dissolute women, but don't speak of fallen women unless you recognize the fall of man, the old doctrine."

Two days before this she had preached her last sermon[317] in London. The Journal says: "All Sunday at work upon my sermon, the last in London. 'Neither height nor depth, nor any other creature.' The sermon of high and low, and the great unity beyond all dimensions. A good and to me a most happy delivery of opinions and faith which I deeply hold.... So ended my happy ministration in London, begun in fear and anxiety, ended in certainty and renewed faith, which God continue to me."

August found her back at Oak Glen, exhausted in body and mind. She is almost too tired to write in the Journal, and such entries as there are only accentuate her fatigue.

"I am here at my table with books and papers, but feel very languid. My arms feel as if there were no marrow in their bones. I suppose this is reaction after so much work, but unless I can get up strength somehow I shall not accomplish anything. Weakness in all my limbs. Have had my Greek lesson and begun to read the Maccabees and the Apocrypha. I shall probably come up after a few days, but feel at present utterly incapable of exertion. I must help Maud—have helped her with music to-day...."

"Walked about with dear Chev, whose talk is always instructive. Every break in our long-continued habits shows us something to amend in our past lives. What do I see in mine after this long break? That I must endeavor to have more real life and more religion. The passive and contemplative following of thought, my own or other people's, must not de-energize my sympathies and my will. I must daily consult the[318] divine will and standard which can help us to mould our lives aright without running from one extreme to another. My heart's wish would now be to devote myself to some sort of religious ministration. God can open a way for this in which the spirit of my desire may receive the form of his will. I must lecture this winter to earn some money and spread, I hope, some good doctrine...."

Such was the beginning of her work for peace, which was to end only with her life. Disappointed in her hope of a world congress, she turned the current of her effort in a new direction. She would have a festival, a day which should be called Mothers' Day, and be devoted to the advocacy of peace doctrines. She chose the second day of June; for many years she and her friends and followers kept this day religiously, with sweet and tender observances which were unspeakably dear to her.

In 1876 there was a great peace meeting in Philadelphia. The occasion is thus described by the Reverend Ada C. Bowles: "There were delegates from France, Italy, and Germany, each with a burning desire to be heard, and all worth hearing, but none able to speak English. The audience looked to the anxious face of the President with sympathy; then a voice was heard, 'Call for Mrs. Howe.' Those present will never forget how her presence changed the meeting from a threatened failure to a noble success. The German, Frenchman, and Italian stood in turn by her side. At the proper moment she lifted a finger, and then gave in[319] her perfect English each speech in full to the delight of the delegates and the admiration of all."

The last celebration of her Mothers' Day was held in Riverton, New Jersey, on June 1, 1912, by the Pennsylvania Peace Society, in conjunction with the Universal Peace Union. On the printed invitation to this festival we read

"Aid it, paper, aid it, pen,
Aid it, hearts of earnest men.
Julia Ward Howe, 1874."

And further on, "Thirty-nine years ago Julia Ward Howe instituted this festival for peace,—a time for the women and children to come together; to meet in the country, invite the public, and recite, speak, sing and pray for 'those things that make for peace.'"


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