Julia Grant was born on January 26th, 1826, in St. Louis, Missouri. She was passionate about the arts and loved to play the piano and sing. Julia spent a lot of time with her father’s first cousin, who was an heiress from Baltimore and taught her about etiquette and social graces. Julia spent seven years at an elite boarding school for girls in St. Louis.
Ulysses S. Grant was a West Point classmate of Julia’s brother, Frederick. “Ulys,” as she called him, often came home with Frederick, and the two quickly fell in love. They were engaged in 1848, but Ulysses went to fight in the Mexican War, so the engagement was prolonged for four years. Following their marriage, Julia lived the typical life of a military wife and moved with her husband to the various military points he was assigned. Grant resigned his commission in 1854 and failed in various business ventures in St. Louis. In 1860, Grant moved his family (including their four children) to Galena, Illinois. Soon, however, Grant was called back to action at the onset of the Civil War. Julia took every opportunity she could to accompany him to the locations he was assigned. She spent nearly a year with him at Union headquarters at City Point, Virginia. It was here where Grant prosecuted the eventual defeat of the Confederate Army and where he directed the Siege at Petersburg. After the war ended, Ulysses was an American hero and the family moved back to Galena, Illinois. In just four years after her husband received Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, the nation would call upon its great war hero to lead the nation as its president.
Unlike many of her predecessors, Julia was excited to live in the White House. In fact, she believed that her husband was destined to be president and would call her days in the White House the “happiest period” of her life. Julia became a celebrity during her time in the White House. She threw lavish and expensive parties. She wore the finest clothing and jewelry. In total, she spent about $100,000 refurnishing the White House during her stay.
Following her husband’s terms as president, Julia and Ulysses toured the world before moving to New York City. While in New York, Julia continued to throw lavish parties and entertain dignitaries. In 1884, however, Ulysses lost much of his wealth from bad investments. To provide for this wife, he earned money by writing his famous personal memoirs. During this time, he was slowly dying from throat cancer, which he succumbed to in 1885. Julia spent her years after her husband’s death as a widow in California. She died in Washington, DC on December 14, 1902.