Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards was born in Boston on February 27, 1850, to poet Julia Ward Howe who composed the Civil War-era song, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861, published in Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. Richards’s father was the physician and abolitionist Samuel Gridley Howe, who was the first director of the Perkins Institution for the Blind (now, Perkins School for the Blind) in Massachusetts. Richards was named for the educator Laura Bridgman, whom her father had taught to communicate at Perkins. Richards, who was one of six children, began writing at age ten. She married architect Henry Richards on June 17, 1871, and had seven children, two of whom died. Richards lived in Boston until 1876, then moved to Gardiner, Maine, where Henry worked in his family’s paper mill business. Richards remained in Gardiner with her husband for the remainder of her life. Together, they engaged in various philanthropic ventures, including the openings of a public school and a summer camp for boys.
Richards wrote nearly one hundred books for adults and children in her lifetime. She is regarded as the first poet of nonsense verse for children to achieve prominence. Her most popular children’s book is Captain January (Dana Estes & Company, 1891), which was later adapted into a 1936 film starring Shirley Temple. She co-wrote with her sister, Maud Howe Elliott, a biography of their mother, Julia Ward Howe, 1819–1910 (The Riverside Press, 1915), which made them the first women to win a Pulitzer Prize for Biography. Richards published an autobiography, Stepping Westward (D. Appleton and Company), in 1931.
Richards died in Gardiner on January 14, 1943.