In the 1940s, Julia Child was a Washington, DC, resident of Georgetown’s Olive Street – just a stone’s throw from the Junior League of Washington’s (JLW) Loughborough House headquarters. After spending time abroad, she returned to Washington in the 1950s, giving cooking classes in the neighborhood, and her custom designed kitchen has taken up permanent residence at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Child became a household name by bringing French cuisine into the living rooms of America with her cooking shows in the 1960s. Her cookbooks, recipes and persona continue to be celebrated though books, movies, special menus, and foodie events.
Born to a prominent family in San Francisco, Child graduated from Smith College in 1934, and then worked in advertising in New York City. When she moved back to California a few years later, she joined the Junior League of Pasadena (JLP). She was very active in League and civic projects and starred in many of the JLP opera productions.
Child had intended to be a writer; however, a change of plans brought her to Washington at the start of World War II. She was an imposing figure at 6’2”, but her height prevented her from joining the Women’s Army Corps. She found a position as a research assistant for the Office of Strategic Services, the government intelligence agency. She held posts in Washington, DC, China, and Sri Lanka, where she met her husband Paul Child, another intelligence officer.
When they moved to France for Paul’s new posting, Child developed a love of French cuisine. She enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu and then formed the cooking school L'Ecole de Trois Gourmandes with some fellow students. Best-selling cookbooks and popular cooking shows followed. Her show The French Chef was syndicated to 96 stations throughout America.
Like many Junior League women, Child was a trailblazer; she was able to hook mainstream Americans onto sophisticated French cuisine by teaching techniques and recipes, using the ingredients available in American supermarkets. She received many accolades including the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest honor. She was the first woman named to the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame. She has received multiple Emmy awards and multiple honorary degrees.
Despite all these honors, Child subscribed to the view that “The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile.” She has a place among the world’s most famous chefs and the most notable members of the Junior League.