Born in Newark, New Jersey, Ward studied music in New York and became an organist at Grace Episcopal Church in Newark in 1880. He is remembered for his hymn tune "Materna" (1882). Ward had originally written "Materna" for the hymn "O Mother dear, Jerusalem" in 1882, though it was not first published until 1892. Ward's music combined with the Bates poem was first published in 1910 and titled "America the Beautiful", with words by Katharine Lee Bates. However, Ward never met Bates. He died in 1903 in Newark and was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
He was the last in an unbroken line of Samuel Wards beginning with Rhode Island Governor and Representative to the Continental Congress Samuel Ward. He had no children who lived to adulthood.
Ward was the founder and first director of the still-extant Orpheus Club of Newark; he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.