John Howard, an English philanthropist, born in Enfield, Sept. 2, 1726, died in Kherson, Russia, Jan. 20, 1790. At 16 years of age he was apprenticed to a grocer in London; but upon the death of his father soon after, he purchased his indentures and travelled on the continent. Returning to England, he occupied himself with medical and scientific studies at Stoke Newington. About the age of 25 he experienced a severe attack of illness, and upon his recovery testified his gratitude to his landlady, who had nursed him, and who was 27 years his senior, by marrying her. She died at the end of three years, and Howard in 1756 embarked for Lisbon, with a view of doing something to alleviate the calamity of the great earthquake. On the voyage he was taken prisoner by a French privateer and carried into Brest, where he witnessed the inhuman treatment of prisoners of war. Having procured the exchange of himself and his fellow captives, he returned to England, married a second time in 1758, and settled upon an estate at Cardington, Bedfordshire, which he had inherited from his father. His career of active philanthropy may be said to date from this time.
He built schools and model cottages for the peasantry, the latter the first erected in England for their benefit; and Cardington, formerly a wretched and filthy village, now attracted attention by its neatness and the healthful and thrifty appearance of its inhabitants. In 1765 his second wife died, and for several years he was employed in his studies and reformatory plans, and in travelling on the continent. He was named for the office of sheriff of Bedfordshire in his absence, and upon his return in 1773 accepted, and visited in his official capacity the Bedford jail, in which John Bunyan wrote his "Pilgrim's Progress." The wretched condition of the prisoners made a deep impression upon him; and the confinement of many innocent persons for months and sometimes for years, from inability to pay their fees of jail delivery, so shocked him that he proposed to the magistrates to pay regular salaries to the jailers, in place of the fees collected from the prisoners. The magistrates, unprepared for such an innovation, asked for a precedent, and, in his fruitless exertions to find one, Howard visited every town in England containing a prison.
He collected a mass of information respecting prison abuses, which he communicated in a report to the house of commons, who gave him a vote of thanks, and in 1774 passed bills "for the relief of acquitted prisoners in the matter of fees" and "for preserving the health of prisoners." At his own expense he caused copies of the new laws to be sent to every jailer in the kingdom. The prominence thus given to his name secured his election from Bedford to the house of commons; but his sympathy with the American revolution aroused the ministry to oppose him, and a parliamentary scrutiny unseated him. He never afterward participated in political life, but gave his whole time to the philanthropic plans in which he had embarked. He reexamined the principal penal establishments of England, and visited those of France, Germany, and the Low Countries; then made a new tour through England, examining the operation of the new jail act, and relieving much distress among poor debtors, and revisited a large portion of the continent.
The result of these researches appeared in his " State of the Prisons in England and Wales, with Preliminary Observations and an Account of some Foreign Prisons " (4to, 1777). One of the first fruits of this publication was the determination of the ministry to make a trial of the discipline of hard labor in one of the large prisons. But as no building was adapted to the purpose, Howard undertook in 1778 another tour to collect plans and information, in the course of which he visited the Low Countries, Germany, Italy, and France, and travelled upward of 4,600 miles. In the succeeding year he made another survey of English prisons, and in 1780 published an appendix to his work. A bill, drafted by Sir William Blackstone and Mr. Eden, was now passed for building two penitentiaries on the hard labor system, of which Howard was appointed the first supervisor. To escape controversy as to the site of the buildings, he resigned his office, and between 1781 and 1784 travelled through Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Spain, and Portugal, publishing in 1784 a second appendix and a new edition of his work.
His labors for a period of more than ten years had left him with impaired pecuniary resources and shattered health; but he embarked upon a second series of philanthropic researches with a zeal surpassing his physical powers, volunteering to procure for the British government information relating to quarantine establishments. The French government was incensed against him for having published in 1780 a translation of a suppressed French account of the interior of the Bastile, and refused him a passport. He therefore travelled through the country in various disguises, and, after a series of romantic adventures and several narrow escapes from the police, who were constantly on his track, succeeded in visiting the new lazaretto at Marseilles. He proceeded thence to Malta, Zante, Smyrna, and Constantinople, fearlessly exposing his person in infected places. That he might speak with authority on the subject of pest houses, he went to Smyrna, sought out a foul ship, and sailed in her for Venice. After a voyage of 60 days, during which he assisted the crew in beating off an attack of pirates, he arrived at his destination and was subjected to a rigorous confinement in the Venetian lazaretto, under which his health suffered severely.
He returned to England in February, 1787, after an absence of 16 months, and published his second great work, "An Account of the Principal Lazarettos of Europe, with various Papers relating to the Plague, together with further Observations on some Foreign Prisons and Hospitals, and additional Remarks on the Present State of those in Great Britain and Ireland " (4to, 1789), in the preface to which he announced his intention to pursue his inquiries in the same direction, observing that his conduct was not from rashness or enthusiasm, but a serious conviction of duty. In the summer of 1789 he started on his last continental tour, meaning to pass through Russia to the East, but was cut off by camp fever which he contracted from a patient at Kherson, on the Black sea. He expended nearly the whole of his fortune in various benefactions. In his private relations he was pure-minded, pious, and upright. - See Hep worth Dixon's " Howard and the Prison World of Europe " (2d ed., London, 1850); also the memoirs by Dr. Aikin, J. B. Brown, the Rev. J. A. Field, and T. Taylor. A marble statue of him was erected in St. Paul's cathedral, London.