Friday, February 24th, 2012...9:32 am

You’ve Got Mail: To effect positive public change

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Julia Ward Howe from Original poems and other verse set to music as songs, 1908. AC85.H8385.908oAs International Women’s Day was originally celebrated on the last Sunday in February and March brings us Women’s History Month, it seems fitting to highlight a letter in Houghton’s collection emanating from a woman’s pen. The indefatigable Mrs. Julia Ward Howe was so much more than simply the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and founder of Mother’s Day – and the boxes upon boxes of her writings and voluminous correspondence held here are living proof, a vast testament to the woman who tirelessly advocated for so many of the disenfranchised over her long life (1819-1910).

Integral to all her efforts was the promotion of the myriad causes associated with women’s rights, just one of which was that of working women. In this capacity she served as President and chief promoter of the Women’s Department at the1884 World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans. Not wanting to miss the opportunity of making the cause of working women a permanent national concern, Howe followed it with a proposal to create an American “Woman’s Industrial Council” – this she outlined in this printed letter to her “Dear Friends and Late Associates,” which she circulated in thousands of copies around the country. This particular copy she addressed personally to her sister, Annie Ward Maillard, posing leadingly, “What I should like would be to interest nice women every where in my plan of a Woman’s Industrial Council and if you would like some copies of this to send to friends, I can send you some.” When the Women’s Trade Union League was founded in Boston in 1903, her aspirations were realized. This organization in turn would eventually play a key role in negotiating on behalf of the striking urban garment workers (“the Uprising of the 20,000”) in 1909 and 1910, an event that forever altered the face of the American labor movement.

This post is part of a weekly feature on the Houghton Library blog, “You’ve Got Mail,” based on letters in Houghton Library. Every Friday this year a Houghton staff member will select a letter from the diverse collections in the Library and put that letter into context. All posts associated with this series may be viewed by clicking on the You’veGotMail tag.

[Thanks to Karen Nipps, Head, Rare Book Team, for contributing this post.]

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