Henry Howland was born in Walpole, NH, in 1835. His father, Aaron, a local master builder, is known for having designed Walpole’s private school known as The Old Academy. The town purchased the building in 1853 for use as a public high school and it remained so until 1950. At that time, the Walpole Historical Society bought it for their meetings and as a museum. It has been referred to as “an architectural monument of real significance to the community and to the state.”
As a child, Henry Howland, I believe, attended Walpole Academy before he enrolled at KUA; he was locally “known for strong mental development and scope.” Although it was not uncommon for 19th century students to enroll at KUA in their late teens, Howland was one of the few who entered as a junior when just 14. He graduated from KUA the following year and in 1854, at age 19, from Yale University when he then returned to Walpole and studied law with a local Judge for a year. He followed this with two years at Harvard Law School and earned his law degree in 1857 and, in October, was admitted to the New York bar. There he was associated with a fellow lawyer until 1878 when the firm of Anderson, Howland, & Murray was formed; after Anderson’s death in 1896, the firm became Howland, Murray and Prentice.
“Mr. Howland was Justice of the Marine Court in 1873. In 1884 he was successful as a Republican candidate for the Court of Common Pleas, and in 1887 he was elected a Justice of the Supreme Court. He was a member of the Board of Aldermen for two terms, beginning in 1875, and was made President of the Board of Taxes in 1880.” Howland’s law career was interrupted in 1862 when he served for three months as sergeant in Company G, 22d Regiment, New York National Guard at Baltimore and Harper’s Ferry. The following year, he was a captain in the same regiment during the invasion of Pennsylvania by the Confederates.
Throughout his life, Howland was active in many philanthropic, civic, and social organizations such as President of the Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind in New York, a trustee of the New York Free Circulating Library and President of the Society for the Preservation of the Adirondacks where, in 1901, he took an active role in preventing the destruction of the forests by contractors. Proud of his Mayflower lineage, being a direct descendant of John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley Howland, both passengers on the famous voyage, he became associated with many clubs and societies for such people including the National Society of Mayflower Descendants of which he was the Governor General for many years.
Howland married twice and was the father of six children by his first wife Louise. After her death, he commissioned a bronze relief portrait of her by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens of Cornish, NH, of whose portrait it was said, “… her intertwined fingers and delicate hairs behind her tiny ears animate the sculpture with a breath of life. … It would be difficult to find a more stunning relief portrait of the period from Europe or America.”
Although he lived his adult life in New York City, Howland retained his home in Walpole and often returned there for vacations where one of the many relaxing things he enjoyed was sledding with his sister down the hilly street outside their family home. The people of Walpole were always happy to hear he was in residence as he provided much entertainment as a storyteller. His Walpole home was sold as recently as 1992 by his descendants who shared with KUA relevant memorabilia found in the attic. A large box contained Howland’s 1850 Virgil textbook within which he had written the names of KUA seniors and their future college plans, letters from classmates and a handwritten copy of a letter the class received from their Principal Cyrus S. Richards. Richards thanked them for their parting gift to him of eight volumes of “Hallam’s works.” He wrote, “And be assured the remembrance of this visible token of your esteem and respect so unexpectedly bestowed will ever be most gratefully cherished, as a new occasion of deep felt interest and regard for the happiness and welfare of the donors, by your Sincere friend and teacher, C.S. Richards”
In 1893, Judge Howland received an honorary MA degree from Yale. As an alumnus, he had served the university in many different capacities for many years including being president of the Yale Alumni Association of New York (later the Yale Club) for three years. Renowned throughout his lifetime for his great wit, he was frequently requested as an after-dinner speaker at alumni events. After Howland died in 1913, his children gave Yale an endowment of $15,000 to create the Henry E. Howland Memorial Prize to be given every two years or more for a “citizen of any country in recognition of some achievement of marked distinction in the field of literature or fine arts or the science of government.” The list of award recipients, beginning posthumously with Rupert Brooke in 1916, is impressive. A few examples of other recipients of the Howland prize are Gustav Holst (1924), Ralph Vaughn Williams (1954), Indira Gandhi (1967), Aaron Copland (1970), Alistair Cooke (1977) and Tony Blair (2008).
Henry Howland, known by those in his hometown “for strong mental development and scope,” fulfilled his early promise of success.