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The Manliest Man

Samuel G. Howe and the Contours of Nineteenth-Century American Reform

James W. Trent

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I first became acquainted with Samuel G. Howe while working on my book Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the United States. I found in his perspectives on the integration of disabled people into the ordinary patterns of community life an unexpectedly progressive voice. ...

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pp. 1-8

By the time she arrived at the Boston Music Hall on 8 February 1876, Laura Bridgman, blind and deaf since before her second birthday, had already attended two memorial services for her beloved teacher, Samuel G. Howe. At age forty-six, Bridgman, Howe’s most famous pupil, had been a student and then a resident of the Perkins Institution ...

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1. “A Respectable, If Ordinary Boyhood”

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pp. 9-28

On 22 November 1801, a Sabbath day at the Brattle Street Church in Boston, the Reverend Peter Thacher baptized the third son and fourth child of Joseph Neals How and Martha Gridley How. Named for his maternal grandfather, Samuel Gridley, the twelve-day-old boy born in his family’s Pleasant Street home had the dark black hair and blue eyes of his mother’s side of the family. ...

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2. “Greece! Greece!... I thought no land... could ever look more sweetly”

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pp. 29-50

In 1821, clusters of Greeks began to revolt against what had been nearly 370 years of Turkish rule. At the time, Greece lacked political unity. With its complex terrain of mountains, plains, bays, and islands and its mixture of ethnic groups, Greece was ill prepared to rebel against an empire that remained strong despite having lost much of its former glory. ...

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3. “The Cadmus of the Blind”

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pp. 51-85

For Samuel Howe neither the lectures at Parisian hospitals nor demonstrations in the city’s clinics matched the radical fervor of France and Belgium during the summer and fall of 1830, both of which had ended in a rapid change of government. In Paris he had been with Lafayette and James Fenimore Cooper at revolutionary meetings ...

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4. A Phrenologist and a Superintendent

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pp. 86-118

Howe’s confidence in phrenology marked a prominent fissure in his idealism, returning it to the Enlightenment truth, reason, and natural theology that his Romantic idealism had neither entirely abandoned nor entirely absorbed. It was not as if phrenology did not claim its own idealism. ...

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5. Private Lives, Public Causes

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pp. 119-169

In 1842 Samuel Howe’s closest friend was Horace Mann. The two men had known each other since they were both students at Brown University, where Mann had been the studious older tutor, and Howe (at least for the first few years) the ill-behaved undergraduate. ...

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6. For Free Soil and Free Men

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pp. 170-213

A few days before Christmas 1846, Amos Adams Lawrence, accompanied by a British cousin, Arthur Lawrence, visited Laura Bridgman at the Perkins Institution. American and European guests like the Lawrences made frequent requests to view the remarkable blind and deaf girl, to see her read and do needle work, ...

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7. War, Freedmen, and Crete

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pp. 214-254

On 25 October 1859, nine days after the raid on Harper’s Ferry, the state of Virginia indicted John Brown on the charges of treason and murder. On the same day, the New York Herald began a series of articles reporting information obtained from letters seized at the Kennedy Farm. ...

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8. Santo Domingo—the Perpetual Summer

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pp. 255-272

Howe had been back in Boston for three months when Charles Sumner on 17 February 1868 wrote him that President Johnson would be nominating Charles Keating Tuckerman as minister to Greece. Sumner was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but despite of his position, his support of Howe for the Greek ministerial position ...


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pp. 273-274


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pp. 275-318


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pp. 319-325

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613762028
E-ISBN-10: 161376202X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499584
Print-ISBN-10: 155849958X

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 10 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 830023546
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Manliest Man

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Subject Headings

  • Howe, S. G. (Samuel Gridley), 1801-1876.
  • Philanthropists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Social reformers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Physicians -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- History -- 19th century.
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