On this date in 1912, Julia Child, nee McWilliams, became the first-born child of heiress Dorothy Weston McWillams and Princeton grad and investor John McWilliams, Jr. Julia inherited the Weston family height — topping 6 foot three, and the Weston "hoot" — a product of unusually long vocal chords. She did not inherit her father's arch-conservatism. Biographer Bob Spitz writes: "Conformity: There wasn't so much as a trace of it in her DNA." Julia went to the Katharine Branson School in 1927, and rebelled against requirements that students attend church and carry a bible to school. "Even as a teenager, Julia was outspoken in her attitude toward religion. 'She thought it was rot,' says a family member familiar with her beliefs," according to Spitz. A Democrat, she once swore she would never vote for a Catholic, "as a Catholic could not be a free man," until her dislike of Nixon and the famous TV performance of John F. Kennedy altered her vow.
She graduated from Smith College in 1934, but was unable to settle on a career or a family. A late bloomer, she took a wartime job with the Office of Strategic Services in 1941, working in intelligence. She met Paul Child on a wartime post in Sri Lanka. After a courtship extending to post-war China, the couple married in 1946. Paul's diplomatic post took her to Paris. After her legendary first meal in France — sole meuniere — Julia never looked back. She studied at Cordon Bleu, devoting herself fulltime to "mastering the art of French cooking," as her first cookbook would later be called. Two Frenchwomen with a goal of writing a French cookbook in English enlisted Julia in their project in the early 1950s. Simone "Simca" Beck provided the family recipes and French authenticity while Julia provided rigorous scientific testing. Over the next decade she researched, wrote, tested, rewrote hundreds of recipes, as she and Paul moved through diplomatic postings in Paris, Marseilles, Norway, and finally home to United States. After many rejections and disappointments, Knopf finally published "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in 1961. The book would transform how Americans ate, introducing fine cuisine to a United States eating Wonder Bread, Jell-O, tuna casseroles and TV dinners. WGBH in Boston launched "The French Chef" in 1962. At age 50, Julia began an unlikely but nearly four-decade long TV career. She mesmerized audiences with her skillful live demonstrations, insouciance, accidents, improv and earthy humor. That show was syndicated to over 90 stations, won a Peabody and Emmy, and led to Julia's second book, named after the show. Other TV shows included "Julia Child and Company" (1978), "Julia Child and More Company" (1980), and appearances on "Good Morning America." Julia cooked, researched, wrote cookbooks and did countless TV shows through her late 80s, working with many chefs and celebrities in other fields. Other books included a second volume of her classic work, "In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs" (1995), "Baking with Julia" (1996) and "Julia's Delicious Little Dinners" (1999). Julia was the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame (1993). In 2000, she received France's highest honor: The Legion d'Honneur. Julia remained a lifelong noncomforming progressive, actively supporting abortion rights and doing benefits for Planned Parenthood. Her husband's slow decline and death was a blow, but she kept working until about 89, dying of kidney failure just shy of her 92nd birthday. D. 2004
"I hated having to go to church."
—Julia Child, quoted in Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child” by Bob Spitz (2012)
Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor
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