Julia Dent grew up in the early 19th century on a plantation near St. Louis named White Haven. The fifth of seven children, she was an outgoing, active girl who fished, rode horses, and played in the woods with the plantation’s enslaved children. Julia once told her school friends she would someday wed “a gallant, brave, dashing soldier.” Little did she know that she would indeed marry a soldier, and that he would become commander of the armed forces and later the 18th president of the United States.
Some would say Julia Dent and Ulysses Grant were an unlikely pair. She was spirited and gregarious; he was shy. She was raised in a slave-owning family; his family was opposed to slavery. In fact, Grant’s choice to marry into the Dent family worsened tensions with his father, and none of the Grants attended Ulysses and Julia’s wedding in 1848.
Against the odds, the Grants’ marriage lasted for 37 years, and through all their many hardships and accomplishments, their close bond never wavered. The couple endured numerous separations as Grant pursued his military career. And though Julia was sometimes able to accompany her husband to distant Army postings, she returned home to White Haven for the birth of their four children. During the Civil War, she served as the financial manager and agent for White Haven in her husband’s absence, leasing sections of the farm, collecting rent, and consolidating land titles.
As the nation’s First Lady, Julia was an active participant in presidential matters and reveled in her eight-year role as hostess to the nation. She entertained lavishly and welcomed dignitaries from around the world to the White House. At the end of Ulysses’ second term, the couple embarked on a two-year worldwide tour that further burnished her reputation as a valuable partner to the former president.
Her later years were difficult, however. Grant lost most of their money in a bogus financial deal, and the couple was nearly destitute. By the time he signed a lucrative contract to write his now-famous memoirs, Grant was dying of throat cancer. Julia lived as a widow for 17 years until she died at age 76 in 1902.
This Saturday at 10 a.m., you’re invited to learn more about the long eventful life of Julia Dent Grant. Historian Pam Sanfilippo will present “Julia Dent Grant and Family,” the annual John Y. Simon lecture at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.
Pam served as park ranger, education director and historian at the park for many years and is now Program Manager for Museum Services and Interpretation at Gateway Arch National Park. She is the author of numerous essays, articles, and publications. Her biography of Julia Dent Grant is scheduled for publication by Southern Illinois University. Pam’s talk will present highlights from her research on Julia and her family.
For reservations to this presentation, call (314) 842-1867 x230.