Julia Boggs Dent was born on January 26, 1826, at White Haven plantation west of
; she was the daughter of Colonel
Frederick Dent and his wife Ellen Wrenshall-Dent. Her father was a slaveholding planter and
merchant. Julia was described as
"rather plain in appearance," and she "squinted through crossed
eyes." She described her girlhood
as being "one long summer of sunshine, flowers, and smiles" in her
memoirs prepared in her later years and unpublished until 1975. St. Louis, Missouri
Julia attended a boarding school in
years; her schoolmates were daughters of other affluent parents. Julia excelled in art and voice and was a
"social favorite" in that circle. St. Louis
Ulysses was a classmate at West Point of Julia's brother Frederick and met Julia at her home. The relationship blossomed, and Julia soon found herself "lonely" with Ulysses around and dreaming of him. She agreed to wear his
Point ring, but she refused several marriage proposals before
finally accepting. They became engaged in
1844 while "sitting on the front steps of her beloved childhood home, a
picturesque plantation called White Haven.
Their engagement lasted for four years because Ulysses was fighting in
the Mexican-American War; Ulysses and Julia saw each other only one time during
Julia Dent was 22 years old and Ulysses Grant was 26 years old when they married on August 22, 1848 at White Haven plantation. An interesting fact about their marriage is that neither of their fathers approved of it. Julia's father disapproved because Ulysses was a career soldier with bleak prospects; Ulysses' father disapproved because the Dents owned slaves. The Grants refused to attend their son's wedding, but they later accepted Julia.
Ulysses and Julia "gave each other a life-long loyalty," and their marriage met all the tests of adversity. Julia was a loyal army wife who accompanied Ulysses to his military posts where she passed "uneventful days at distant garrisons." When Ulysses was ordered West in 1852, Julia went to stay with his parents. Two years after Grant returned from this separation, he resigned his commission and tried farming and business at
. When these new ventures failed, he took his
family back home to St. Louis , in 1860. Ulysses worked in his father's leather goods
store until the outbreak of the Civil War called him back to duty as a soldier
with the Galena,
volunteers. Whenever possible, Julia
joined her husband near the scene of his action. Illinois
The Grants eventually became parents of three sons and a daughter: Frederick Dent Grant (1850-1912; soldier, public official), Ulysses Simpson Grant, Jr. (1852-1929; known as "Buck"; lawyer), Ellen Wrenshall Grant (1855-1922; known as "Nellie"; homemaker), and Jesse Root Grant (1858-1934; engineer).
Julia rejoiced in her husband's "fame as a victorious general." When she entered the White House in 1869, she described the time as "the happiest period" of her life. The wives of the Cabinet members were her allies, and Mrs. Grant "entertained extensively and lavishly." The wedding of their daughter Nellie in 1874 was the social highlight of their years in the White House. Julia's contemporaries "noted her finery, jewels, and silks and laces." During her years as First Lady, someone suggested that she have surgery to correct her crossed eyes; President Grant rejected the idea because "he liked her that way."
When the Grants left the White House in 1877, they began a "journey of triumphs" on a worldwide trip. Julia was very pleased with the "details of hospitality" and the "magnificent gifts" given to them. Their trip was highlighted by an "overnight stay and dinner hosted for them by Queen
at Windsor Castle
in ." The couple also enjoyed touring the Far East
and their cordial reception by the Emperor and Empress of England Japan at their Imperial
Palace in . Tokyo
The Grants lost everything they owned with a business failure in 1884. While suffering with cancer and facing death, Grant wrote his "famous personal memories". The proceeds from the publishing of his memories along with her widow's pension enabled Julia to "live in comfort, surrounded by children and grandchildren, until her own death on December 14, 1902, at age 76."
Julia was the first First Lady to write her memoir, The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant. She was however unable to find anyone to publish her memoirs, which were not published until nearly 75 years after her death.
In 1897 Julia attended the dedication of Grant's monumental tomb, which overlooks the Hudson River in
. She was later interred in a
sarcophagus beside her beloved husband.
She ended her memories of their years together by declaring "the
light of his glorious fame still reaches out to me, falls upon me, and warms
me." New York City