The Manliest Man: ​Samuel G. Howe and the Contours of Nineteenth-Century American Reform

University of Massachusetts Press, 2012

The Manliest Man: Samuel G. Howe and the Contours of Nineteenth-Century American Reform

A native of Boston and a physician by training, Samuel G. Howe (1801–1876) led a remarkable life. He was a veteran of the Greek War of Independence, a fervent abolitionist, and the founder of both the Perkins School for the Blind and the Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Children. Married to Julia Ward Howe, author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” he counted among his friends Senator Charles Sumner, public school advocate Horace Mann, and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Always quick to refer to himself as a liberal, Howe embodied the American Renaissance’s faith in the perfectibility of human beings, and he spoke out in favor of progressive services for disabled Americans. A Romantic figure even in his own day, he embraced a notion of manliness that included heroism under fire but also compassion for the underdog and the oppressed. Though hardly a man without flaws and failures, he nevertheless represented the optimism that characterized much of antebellum American reform. The first full-length biography of Samuel G. Howe in more than fifty years, The Manliest Man explores his life through private letters and personal and public documents. It offers an original view of the reformer’s personal life, his association with social causes of his time, and his efforts to shape those causes in ways that allowed for the greater inclusion of devalued people in the mainstream of American life.
"In 1936, a survey for the tercentenary of Harvard University ranked Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-76) 20th among all
of its alumni in significance, ahead of, among others, Theodore Roosevelt and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Since then, Howe has been on a steadily downward trajectory. Among his chief critics have been biographers of his wife Julia Ward Howe, who view him as overbearing and borderline abusive, and recent biographers of the most famous pupil at his Perkins Institution for the Blind, Laura Bridgman, the Helen Keller of her day. Trent's biography, while not uncritical, attempts to rehabilitate Howe by focusing on two aspects of his life: his "manliness" and his commitment to reform. Despite the book's title, the second theme understandably dominates. Howe first made his reputation fighting for Greek independence in the 1820s. He then burnished it as a pioneering educator of the blind, which became his life work. In the meantime, he threw himself into antislavery. A political abolitionist, he embraced Free Soil and then became one of John Brown's "Secret Six." Trent has written the best available biography of Howe." -- T. D. Hamm, Earlham College
"This biography made more vivid than almost anything else I have read the sense of a small group of idealistic friends who believed that society was perfectible and who actually managed in their lifetimes to dream up and make happen an extremely diverse range of reforms, truly changing the treatment of many of the most stigmatized segments of society. . . . This is a book that will provide pleasure and interest to general biography lovers, not just academics and historians."―Karen Sanchez-Eppler, Author of Dependent States: The Child's Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture
Contents
Introduction
Chapter One                An Ordinary, if Respectable Boyhood
Chapter Two               “Greece! Greece! . . . I thought no land . . .                                         could ever look more sweetly.”
Chapter Three             “The Cadmus of the Blind”
Chapter Four               A Phrenologist and a Superintendent
Chapter Five                Private Lives, Public Causes
Chapter Six                  For Free Soil and Free Men
Chapter Seven             War, Freedmen, and Crete
Chapter Eight               Santo Domingo – the Perpetual Summer
Notes
Index
The Manliest Man: Samuel G. Howe and the Contours of Nineteenth-Century American Reform
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