When The French Chef debuted on WGBH 38 years ago this February, it was more than just one of the first cooking shows on American television. The French Chef introduced Julia Child – a true American original – to a wide American audience that, looking back, was eager to embrace a more sophisticated approach to cooking. Until her death in 2004, Julia Child remained one of the best-known and loved women in America, and the kitchen from her home in Cambridge, MA, is now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
The oldest of three children of a socially prominent couple in Pasadena – land manager John McWilliams, Jr. and his wife, the former Julia Carolyn (“Caro”) Weston, a paper-company heiress – Julia Child was a member of the Junior League of Pasadena, where she worked on a children’s theater project, both acting and writing several children’s plays.
As lovingly detailed in the recent movie Julie & Julia, Julia Child was always a larger than life character. A Smith College graduate, she worked as an advertising copywriter in New York City and California until the U.S. was drawn into World War II. She then joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – the wartime predecessor to the CIA – after finding that she was too tall to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) or in the U.S. Navy through the WAVES. She also found her husband, Paul, in the OSS and, after the war, lived with him in Paris, where she…
Well, you probably know the rest already.
Julia Child is a member of an elite but always growing cadre of women who whetted their appetite for civic leadership in The Junior League and then moved on into public life to achieve on a wider scale. Just a few examples include:
- Eleanor Roosevelt – First Lady; social reformer; humanitarian; author. As U.S. Delegate to the United Nations, she chaired the Human Rights Commission during the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights–adopted 1948; member, New York Junior League
- Sandra Day O’Connor – First female U.S. Supreme Court Justice, appointed 1981; member, The Junior League of Phoenix
- Eudora Welty – Author; Pulitzer prize for The Optimist’s Daughter, 1972; member, The Junior League of Jackson
- Shirley Temple Black – Child actress; Delegate to the United Nations (1969); U.S. Ambassador to Ghana; Czech and Slovak Republics; member, The Junior League of Palo Alto
- Katharine Hepburn – Actress; women’s issues activist; member, The Junior League of Hartford