From Ohio History Central
Julia Dent Grant, wife of Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant at the beginning of the war, ca. 1861.
Julia Dent Grant was a First Lady of the United States of America. Her husband was Ohioan Ulysses S. Grant.
Julia Dent was born on January 26, 1826, on White Haven Plantation in Missouri. One of eight children, Dent's parents encouraged all of their children, including their four daughters, to receive an education. Julia primarily attended private schools, including ones operated by John F. Long. From 1837 to 1844, she attended the Mauro Boarding School. Upon returning home in 1844, she met Ulysses Grant, who was stationed with Dent's brother at the United States Army base at Jefferson Barracks. Within one year, the couple was secretly engaged, as Julia's father, Frederick Dent, initially opposed the marriage due to Grant's lower economic status. Soon, Mr. Dent relented, but the United States had entered into the U.S.-Mexican War, further postponing the marriage. With the war's conclusion, Dent and Grant were married on August 22, 1848.
The first years of the couple's life together were difficult. Grant repeatedly was transferred to new military assignments. The Grants spent time at Detroit, Michigan and Sackett's Harbour, New York. In 1850, the United States Army sent Grant to the Pacific Coast. Julia stayed at her in-laws' home in Ohio for those two years, raising two young sons. Grant resigned from the military in 1852, and his family moved to Missouri. Here, they farmed land provided to them by Frederick Dent. The Grants eventually lost this land, and by the start of the American Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant was supporting his family as a tanner in Galena, Illinois.
The family's economic fortunes dramatically increased during the Civil War. Grant rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the highest-ranking general in the U.S. Army. Julia accompanied her husband throughout the war, providing her husband with moral support during the conflict. By the war's conclusion in 1865, the Grants were celebrities. Primarily due to Ulysses Grant's contributions to the North's victory in the Civil War, he won the Election of 1868, and he became president the next year.
Historians generally concur that Julia Grant relished her role as First Lady. Grant refurbished the White House. She became famous for the extravagant dinner parties and dances that she sponsored at the White House. She also was one of the most egalitarian First Ladies, inviting people of every color to visit the White House, although her staff, unbeknownst to her, routinely banned racial minorities. After serving eight years as president, Ulysses Grant chose not to run for reelection. Julia was devastated, and she cried as the couple left the White House for the last time.
In the late 1870s, the couple toured the world, where they were treated as celebrities. Julia Grant loved being the center of attention. Upon returning to the United States, Ulysses sought the presidency in 1880, but he failed to win even his party's, the Republican Party's, nomination. The couple moved to New York, where bad investments brought the couple to the brink of poverty. Ulysses Grant died on July 23, 1885. Julia managed to regain her economic standing thanks to the sale of her husband's memoirs, which he finished just before his death. She moved to Washington, DC, where she remained for the remainder of her life. Like her husband, she also wrote her own memoirs, although her book was not published until 1975. She was the first First Lady to draft her own memoirs. Julia Grant died on December 14, 1902.
In many respects, Julia Dent Grant was a remarkable woman. Her tremendous support of her husband, her active roles in his military and political careers, and the drafting of her own memoirs illustrate one woman's struggle to attain political and social standing, while legally and culturally at this time, women were to be subservient to men.