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The Magnet and the Iron: John Brown and George L. Stearns The Stories Behind the Busts

Julia Ward Howe and Samuel Gridley Howe

Julia Ward Howe was an author and advocate for abolition and women’s suffrage. A native of Medford, Massachusetts, she is perhaps best known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, was a teacher and one of the “Secret Six” who funded John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.

Natives of the Medford area, the Howes were good friends with George L. Stearns and his wife, Mary E. Stearns. When Samuel G. Howe and Stearns were implicated in the raid on Harpers Ferry, Samuel convinced Stearns to flee with him to Canada. In 1860, as part of the Boston Emancipation League Committee, Samuel met President Abraham Lincoln to lobby for full abolition.

The Howes attended the “John Brown Party” held at the Stearns estate in Medford on January 1, 1863. Julia Ward Howe recited “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The words had been written as a response to “John Brown’s Body,” a song popular with soldiers during the Civil War. When Julia heard soldiers singing the song in 1862, she thought both the tune and the man should have a more dignified song, and thus “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was born.

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Battle Hymn of the Republic
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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John Brown's Song
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Julia Ward Howe received an honorary doctorate from Tufts College in 1904.