Food fight

Husband of suffragist Julia Ward Howe sought to control her through food

Few know that Julia Ward Howe, the renowned poet and suffragist who wrote the lyrics of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the song that became the victorious psalm of the Civil War, fought a war of her own against a husband who sought to control every aspect of her life — from what she wrote, to what she ate. The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe, a new biography by Elaine Showalter, professor emeritus of English at Princeton University, tells the story of Howe’s 33-year-long marriage to the much older Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, whom she called Chev. Chev was, like his wife, an abolitionist, and a pioneer in education of the blind. But as a husband he was a dominating traditionalist, and in regards to food he was particularly insistent — he banned wine at parties, and, discontented with his wife’s choice of chefs, would frequently overturn her decisions and fire them.

Howe defied her husband by publishing Passion-Flowers, an anonymous collection of poems, and, according to daughter Maud, resisted his dietary impositions, a point one of Howe’s other daughters, Laura, contests. Only with the death of Chev in 1876 would Howe finally be free to eat, drink, and write, as she wished. “Life is like a cup of tea,” she sang out one day to Maud. “The sugar is all at the bottom.”

Read the full story at NPR.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *