Contributed by Deborah Pinkham, Museum Assistant
Julia Child was born Julia Carolyn McWilliams in Pasadena, California on August 15, 1912. She graduated from Smith College in 1934, and after college she worked in publicity and advertising in New York. During World War II, she served with the Office of Strategic Services (an agency which later became the CIA) and was stationed first in Washington, D.C., then later in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and China. During this time she met her husband, Paul Child, and after the war, when he was assigned to the U.S. Information Service at the American Embassy in Paris, Julia enrolled at the Cordon Bleu Cooking School. Here she met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. The three subsequently opened their own cooking school, L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes, and in 1961 published their first cook book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Julia Child became a beloved household name when she entered our lives through the medium of television. Her long-running PBS series, The French Chef, debuted in February 1963, and she went on to present more than 200 episodes demonstrating classical French cooking. Later, she branched out into more contemporary cuisine with series like Julia Child & Company, Julia Child & More Company, and Dinner at Julia's. She revolutionized American cuisine through her teaching, her many award-winning cookbooks, and her numerous television series by making sophisticated French cooking accessible to "home" cooks. Her book and instructional video series collectively entitled The Way to Cook was published in 1989.
She was the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees both in in the United States and in France. In 2000, Child received the French Legion of Honor and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003. Child also received honorary doctorates from Harvard University, Johnson & Wales University in 1995, her alma mater Smith College, and Brown University. She received Emmy awards in 1966, 1996, and 2001.
Julia's kitchen from her long-time home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which her husband designed with high counters to accommodate her formidable height and which served as the set for three of her television series, was donated to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Julia Child passed away on August 13, 2004, just two days before her 92nd birthday.
Happy 100th birthday, Julia, and "toujours bon appetit"!