After Julia graduated from Smith College (located in Northampton, MA) in 1934 with a B.A. in history, she moved back to her hometown of Pasadena, CA and did essentially nothing. She attended her friend's weddings, went to parties, and participated in Junior League. After a year of this, perhaps becoming stir-crazy, Julia decided it was time to get a job-her abstract dream was to become a novelist; however, her more practical dream was to be hired by a publishing company of some sort. After taking a course in stenography, she and two of her friends from Smith moved to New York. By autumn, 1935, the three girls had an apartment on East 59th street. Julia went first to get try for an interview at The New Yorker. When this fell through, she turned to Newsweek... and flunked the entry typing test.
Finally, she was hired by W. & J. Sloane, and worked in the advertising department of the wealthy furniture and rug store. Although Julia wasn't very knowledgeable about furniture, she loved to write, and so she began writing press releases on Sloane's new products for New York's newspapers. "When you have put your all into a party, and struggled over making sandwiches that are chic and dashing as well as tastey [sic], it is terribly deflating to have their pretty figures ruined by guests who must peak [sic] inside each 'wich to see what it's made of," read one of her drafts for "sandwich indicators" (toothpicks with paper icons on top to distinguish different kinds of sandwiches). The solution? "Wooden picks which you stick in the sandwich plate, nicely shaped and painted. There is 'Humpty-Dumpty' for egg, a rat in a cage for cheese, a dog, boat and pig for meat, fish and ham. And it seems like a very sound idea." The last sentence sounds like it was written by a person throughly unenthusiastic about the product-and indeed, Julia was back in Pasadena by May of 1937. Soon after she arrived back home in California, her mother died from high blood pressure. Caro, as she was called, was sixty.
Julia's father wanted his eldest daughter nearby after the death of his wife, so even though Smith College's vocational office sent news of opportunities for work in Paris and New York, Julia chose a job in fashion writing at a small new local magazine called Coast. She wrote about the latest styles, women's clothing, and how to pair outfits. However, she had no interest whatsoever in the fashion industry, and soon Coast closed. Next Julia tried another position at the local W. & J. Sloane, again in the advertising business. Her job was to manage the $100,000 budget and plan all the advertisements. She didn't have enough experience or knowledge of business for the job, though, and was fired after only a few months.
Although Julia had a long string of jobs ending in disaster, her social life and volunteer efforts were flourishing. She was still very involved in Junior League (often submitting writing to their newspaper), gave lots of parties, and wrote children's plays. Around this time, she realized that she might never marry- although she had received an offer from a family friend named Harrison Chandler, the marriage wouldn't fit her requirements. This didn't faze Julia, though- in autumn 0f 1941 she was inspired to start volunteering at the local Red Cross. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Julia applied for the WAVES (a female division of the Navy during World War II) and headed out to Washington D. C. She was pronounced too tall for the Navy, so instead she found a job at the US Information Center in the Office of Wartime Intelligence...typing index cards. It proved to be "unbearably tedious" and Julia left after three months. Although she was too tall to fight and not interested in index cards, WWII helped Julia find a way out of her small, padded world with her father in Pasadena and a place in the real world. She was rebuilding herself; changing from a little girl into an adult.
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Having broken free from her old life, Julia turned her attention to a new organization called the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Started by a man named William Donovan (nicknamed "Wild Bill"), the idea of the OSS was to fling a net of espionage operations over Asia and Europe. Julia was the ideal secretary. After working in Washington for a few months, she heard that Mr. Donovan was looking for volunteers to work oversees. She applied, and by March of 1944, Julia McWilliams was on a ship bound for Ceylon, India.
Once in Ceylon, Julia took over the huge chore of single-handedly managing the Register, which processed secret documents from China, India, and Burma. By the time an assistant showed up a while later, she had created an organizational system for the formerly chaotic Register. About ten months went by. The OSS shifted toward China, and even though Julia was growing weary of processing papers, she jumped at the chance to see a new country. Her easygoing, take-it-as-it-comes kind of nature would be evident on the plane ride to China. The route was over the Himalayas, and it was famously treacherous. Throughout flight, Julia sat in her seat and read a book while her fellow passengers were nervously not remembering how hundreds of planes on this route had crashed. In China, she would meet arguably the most important person in her life- Paul Child.