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Julia’s father, John McWilliams Jr. (1880-1962), was raised in Chicago. He attended Princeton, and met Julia’s mother in 1903 at the Chicago World’s Fair. He was involved in banking his whole life- first at the Bank of Odell in Illinois, then at the J.G. Boswell Company in California. John was very influential in Pasadena. He was a major landholder and investor, and helped to finance Richard Nixon’s first political campaign. He was a staunch Republican. Julia Carolyn McWilliams (1877-1937), whom John married in 1911, was almost his complete opposite. Nicknamed Caro, Julia’s mother was a cheerful red-haired woman from a large, wealthy family in Massachusetts. She attended Smith College, and loved it so much that she and a classmate swore to send their daughters there. Caro loved her mother deeply, and blamed her father for the frequent children that Caro believed caused her mother’s early death.
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Julia was born on August 15th, 1912, in Pasadena, California, into a wealthy family that was unaffected by the Depression. The oldest of three children (her sister was named Dorothy Dean, her brother, John III), she was known as a tomboy with a huge appetite. As a girl, she was quite mischievous- she hurled mud pies at passing cars, and frequently stole her father's cigars to smoke with her friends in the orchard behind their house (her father was so frustrated by this habit that he offered his eldest daughter a deal- if she promised not to smoke until she was 21, he would give her a thousand dollars- and she accepted). Julia attended a grade school run by May and Augusta Davies, who had studied with Dr. Montessori. Although her parents were very involved and proud of Pasadena, Julia was sent to an out-of-town high school- the Katharine Branson School in Marin County. It was small, and "offered West Coast girls a traditional New England education". Julia became a boarder there, and although she made fairly good grades, the schooling wasn't what she liked most about the school. Although she preferred hiking and track, beach parties with classmates, and acting to studying, she was named Branson's First Citizen and was given numerous awards at her graduation. Julia was given no say about what happened after high school. She said later that she would have gone to a coed collage if she'd known about them, but her mother had been waiting for years to send her eldest daughter to Smith College. Although looking back, she didn't really know why, Julia majored in history. After she graduated, she spent a year in Pasadena golfing, going to weddings, and partying.
Julia Child led a very normal early life- she wasn't at all interesting in cooking during her youth, but she did learn skills -such as excellent coordination- that would prove extremely useful in her later career as a chef.