August 15 – Julia Carolyn McWilliams is born the eldest of three children in Pasadena, California. Julia’s father, John McWilliams, was a 1901 Princeton graduate who achieved a successful career in agricultural land management and real estate. Her mother, Julia Carolyn (Caro) Weston, Smith College class of 1900, was from Dalton, MA, the daughter of the founder of the Weston Paper Company, and a lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Julia (6’3″ at her full height) is the eldest of three children about whom Caro would someday boast, “I have produced 18 feet of children.”
Julia goes to Tijuana with her family, meets Caesar Cardini, and eats Caesar Salad. Julia writes about the experience in her book, From Julia’s Kitchen, “One of my early remembrances of restaurant life was going to Tijuana in 1925 or 1926 with my parents, who were wildly excited that they should finally lunch at Caesar’s restaurant. Tijuana, just south of the Mexican border from San Diego, was flourishing then, in the Prohibition era. Word spread about Tijuana and the good life, and about Caesar Cardini’s restaurant, and about Caesar’s salad.
A history major, Julia graduates from Smith College. “I was enrolled in Smith College at birth and eventually graduated from there in 1934 with a degree in history,” Julia wrote in her memoir, My Life in France. “At Smith I did some theater, a bit of creative writing, and played basketball. But I was a pure romantic, and only operating with half my burners on; I spent most of my time there just growing up.”
Julia moves to Manhattan to pursue aspirations of becoming a writer. She finds a job working as a copywriter in the advertising department of an upscale home furnishings firm, W. & J. Sloane. “My plan after college was to become a famous woman novelist,” she wrote in My Life in France.
Eager to help in her country’s efforts during World War II, Julia is hired as a typist for the U.S. Information Agency in Washington D.C. She is transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, where she works directly with its leader, General William J. (Wild Bill) Donovan. She is first a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division and later a researcher helping to develop shark repellent, a critical tool because sharks would sometimes set off the explosives intended for German U-boats. “I was too tall for the WACs and WAVES, but eventually joined the OSS, and set out into the world looking for adventure,” she writes in My Life in France.
Julia is posted to Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) and later Kunming, China. Her responsibilities include handling highly classified information. According to the CIA, Julia ultimately served as Chief of the OSS Registry. Having top security clearances, Julia knew every incoming and outgoing message that passed through her office, as her Registry was serving all the intelligence branches. While in Ceylon she meets the older, worldly gourmet Paul Child, who had come down from Delhi, India to head the OSS’s Visual Presentation group.
Paul and Julia return to the U.S. and take a few months getting to know each other as civilians. Over the summer, they visit her father and stepmother in Pasadena, then drive across the country to visit Paul’s twin, Charlie, and his wife, Fredericka, in Maine. After a few days there, they announce their intention to marry. “It’s about time!” the family replies. While home, Julia enrolls in a Los Angeles cooking school to prepare for married life, though she’d later admit her early forays in the kitchen were disastrous. Paul is quoted as saying, “I was willing to put up with that awful cooking to get Julia.”
Paul takes a position with the U.S. Foreign Service and they spend a year or so living in Washington D.C. before he is posted to Paris as part of the U.S. Information Service, attached to the American Embassy. Their move begins a six-year adventure living in Paris, Marseilles, Germany, and Norway. Julia’s first meal in France was at La Couronne restaurant in Rouen. She and Paul enjoyed Chablis, oysters, and Sole Meunière – a meal that she described as “the most exciting meal of my life.”