Julia Ward Howe was an American nineteenth-century woman writer, born in 1819 in New York City, New York. She wrote many books and other pieces of literature such as essays and poems, some of which were not published, such as her manuscript titled, The Hermaphrodite. Many of her pieces deal with women’s rights, abolitionism, and social activism, as she was largely in support of these issues throughout her lifetime. She married a man named Samuel Gridley Howe in 1843 with whom she had three children, Laura E. Richards, Maud Howe Elliot, and Florence Hall. Julia Ward Howe lived to be 91 years old, eventually passing away in Rhode Island in 1910.
The Hermaphrodite is an unfinished manuscript written by Julia Ward Howe of what looks to be a fictional novel, recovered and published by literary scholar Gary Williams in 2004. Williams has estimated that Howe most likely began writing the manuscript in the mid-1840’s. This manuscript tells the story of Lawrence, a hermaphroditic person living in nineteenth-century America. Throughout the story he struggles to feel belonging in the many different places he travels to, meeting people, making and losing friends along the way. Unfortunately, as the manuscript is unfinished and missing significant pieces, such as the beginning and end pages, it is impossible to say what exactly Howe was trying to illustrate through this story, as it seems the main character meets a lonely and unfortunate fate in the last recovered pages of the manuscript, never quite finding his belonging in the world.
Julia Ward Howe not only wrote and published novels, such as A Trip to Cuba (published 1860), but also published many different styles of literature. Some of these include collections of poetry like Passion-Flowers (published 1854), and Words for the Hour (published 1857), and plays such as The World’s Own (published 1857). This could explain why her unpublished manuscript The Hermaphrodite contains so many different literary features such as poetry, stage directions, and characteristics of gothic fiction as well. Some have speculated that she wrote this story over a period of several years, possibly accounting for the lack of direction and missing sections throughout.
Why Should You Care?
Julia Ward Howe was a writer incredibly ahead of her time, most particularly in her work The Hermaphrodite. This manuscript explores societal views of people like Laurence, as someone who is different or undefinable, and therefore not acceptable to the world. She may have been the first author of the nineteenth century to have written such a controversial text, dealing with issues facing an intersex person and the LGBTQ+ community (which at the time did not yet exist as a community), and digging deep into his emotions and life as well. This could be the reason Howe never decided to publish the manuscript, as it could have angered the public and possibly gotten her into trouble, as such topics were considered “taboo.” The text today gives scholars a good look into that past and the way people like Laurence were treated and viewed by society during that time in history.
Howe, Julia Ward. A Trip to Cuba. United States, Ticknor and Fields, 1860. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/38203.
Howe, Julia Ward. Passion Flowers. United States, Ticknor and Fields, 1854. https://archive.org/details/passionflowers00howerich/page/n6.
Howe, Julia Ward. The Hermaphrodite. Edited by Gary Williams, University of Nebraska Press, 2009. https://muse.jhu.edu/book/11698.
Renee Bergland and Gary Williams. Philosophies of Sex. The Ohio State University Press, 2012.