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Julia Boggs Dent-Grant (January
26, 1826 – December 14, 1902), was the wife of the 18th President
of the United States, Ulysses
S. Grant, and was First
Lady of the United States from
1869 to 1877.
Born Julia Boggs Dent at White Haven plantation west of St.
Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Colonel Frederick Dent, a slaveholding
planter and merchant, and Ellen Wrenshall-Dent, Julia was rather plain in
appearance and squinted through crossed eyes. In memoirs prepared late in
life—unpublished until 1975—she pictured her girlhood as an idyll: "one long
summer of sunshine, flowers, and smiles".
She attended the Misses Mauros' boarding school in St. Louis for seven years
among the daughters of other affluent parents. She excelled in art and voice.
A social favorite in that circle, she met "Ulys" at her home, where her family
welcomed him as a West
Point classmate of her brother Frederick;
soon she felt lonely without him, dreamed of him, and agreed to wear his West
and Marriage to Grant
Grant proposed several times before Julia finally accepted. When she did, they
were sitting on the front steps of her beloved childhood home, a picturesque
plantation called White Haven. In 1844 the couple embarked on a four-year
engagement, deferred by the Mexican-American
War, during which they saw each other only once.
Ulysses Grant, aged 26, married Julia Dent, aged 22, on August 22, 1848 at
White Haven plantation. Neither of their fathers approved the match - hers
because as a career soldier, Grant's prospects seemed bleak; his because the
Dents were slaveholders. Grant's parents refused to attend the wedding, though
they did come to accept Julia.
often tried by adversity, met every test; they gave each other a life-long
loyalty. Like other army wives, "dearest Julia" accompanied her husband to
military posts, to pass uneventful days at distant garrisons. Then she
returned to his parents' home in 1852 when he was ordered West.
The Grants had three sons and a daughter:
Ending that separation, Grant resigned his commission two years later. Farming
and business ventures at St. Louis failed, and in 1860 he took his family back
to his home in Galena,
Grant was working in his father's leather goods store when the Civil
War called him to a soldier's
duty with his state's volunteers. Throughout the war, Julia joined her husband
near the scene of action whenever she could.
After so many years of hardship and stress, she rejoiced in his fame as a
victorious general, and she entered theWhite
House in 1869 to begin, in her
words, "the happiest period" of her life. With Cabinet wives as her allies,
she entertained extensively and lavishly. The social highlight of the Grant
years was the White House wedding of their daughter in 1874. Contemporaries
noted her finery, jewels, and silks and laces.
As First Lady it was suggested to her that she have an operation to correct
eyes, but President Grant said that he liked her that way.
Upon leaving the White House in 1877, the Grants made a trip around the world
that became a journey of triumphs. Julia proudly recalled details of
hospitality and magnificent gifts they received. A highlight of the trip was
an overnight stay and dinner hosted for them by Queen
Victoria at Windsor
Castle in England. They also
enjoyed a swing through the Far East, being cordially received at the Imperial
Palace in Tokyo by the Emperor and Empress of
In 1884 Grant suffered yet another business failure and they lost all they
had. To provide for his wife, Grant wrote his famous personal memoirs, racing
with time and death from cancer. The means thus afforded and her widow's
pension enabled her to live in comfort, surrounded by children and
grandchildren, until her own death in 1902 at age 76.
She became the first First Lady to write a memoir, though she was unable to
find a publisher, and she had been dead almost 75 years when her "The Personal
Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant)" was finally published in
She had attended in 1897 the dedication of Grant's
monumental tomb overlooking the
Hudson River in New
York City. She was laid to rest in asarcophagus beside
her husband. She had ended her own chronicle of their years together with a
firm declaration: the light of
his glorious fame still reaches out to me, falls upon me, and warms me.