It was with an odd mix of emotions that I learnt about the 2007 Julia Child tribute hosted by Lisa of Champaign Taste . As a graduate of Child’s alma mater, Smith College , I have always felt a happy secret connection to this Grande Dame of American cookery, even if I never really knew her onscreen persona (heresy on my part?). In the years since there has been renewed interest in her work and legacy as a result of movies such as ‘Julie and Julia’, and now that the recently launched Cooking Channel has began rebroadcasting her series I imagine that her appeal will remain evergreen.
As many already know about the formative years in France which laid the foundation for her life’s work, I’ve decided that I would focus my retrospective on her time at, and lifelong connection to Smith. A connection which I think provides an equally interesting and important perspective into the life of this rather private woman.
For those who don’t know Smith College is a private women’s college , located in Western Massachusetts.
Julia Child was legendary on-campus for her practical jokes and pranks, a reputation which has become part of campus lore as it is still repeated and passed on to each incoming class.
Now that’s my kind of gal!
Julia spent all four of her college years in Hubbard House , the oldest dormitory on campus (built 1879 and still in usage).
In 1934 she graduated with her BA in History and moved to New York to work in publicity and advertising, before joining the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, with which she was dispatched to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and China.
Child’s culinary breakout didn’t come until after World War II, when she teamed with two French culinary colleagues to open the cooking school L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes. That collaboration ultimately led to her bringing French cuisine to the American public through more than a dozen cookbooks, such as “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and hundreds of episodes of the public television series “The French Chef.” She led a long achievement-filled life that culminated in her becoming the first chef ever to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.
In 1990, Child entered into an agreement with Smith, formally donating her house to the college but keeping the right to live in it for her lifetime. When she decided to move back to her native California, Child accelerated her gift and, as Smith’s advancement vice-president Karin Lee George ’86 observed, “accelerated progress on one of the most important Smith projects in decades.” Her gift of $2.35 million from the sale of her home in Cambridge, Mass., supported the construction of Smith’s first Campus Center and an etching on a window of the Campus Center Café honors her generosity to Smith.
On October 11, 2001 (3 years before her death), Julia revisited the campus and a special tea was held in her honour:
One year later, in the Winter 2002/2003 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly, Child spoke candidly about talks about her fun-loving days at Smith, her disapproval of dieting, and her move back to her native California.
Julia Child died on August 12, 2004. She may be gone in body, but her spirit continues to shape the landscape of the Smith campus. On November 16, 2006, the college threw its 3rd annual Julia Child Day , a celebration that was launched the year of her passing. A campus wide event, it combines panel discussions on food and culture as well as gala receptions featuring her recipes. A sampling of her recipes are also offered on that day for lunch at the Campus Center Café and Smith College Club and, for dinner, at the Campus Center Café and the Smith student houses.
• Julia Child: Lessons with Master Chefs
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