In the fall of 1941, Julia McWilliams was 29 years old, bright, well-educated, and like many young women of her generation working as a secretary. She had no particular interests and wrote of herself, “I am sadly an ordinary person…with talents I do not use.” Her seemingly mundane typing skills, however, would lead her down quite an unexpected path.
With almost everyone expecting that the U.S. would enter the war in Europe, she decided to volunteer with the Pasadena Chapter of the American Red Cross and was asked to head the Department of Stenographic Services. Following Pearl Harbor, she tried to volunteer for both WACs and the WAVES, but was turned down because she was too tall! Again, typing came to the rescue.
In 1942, she became a senior typist with the Research Unit of the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C., and, by the end of that year, she had been recruited as a junior research assistant with the Secret Intelligence Bureau of the OSS, the precursor to the CIA. She handled highly classified information, but the real challenge came when she was transferred to the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section.
It seems that in addition to the enemy, nature was a threat as well. In what form? Sharks. The Pacific Ocean was full of them, and in fact, it was estimated that as many as 150 men who went into the water at Pearl Harbor were killed by sharks before they could be rescued. And so young Julia joined the team trying to create a recipe for shark repellant, and it turned out she had quite a knack for it. By October of 1943, her concoction, Shark Chaser, was available for use on life jackets, belts, and lifeboats, and it continued to be used into the 1970s.
And what of young Julia? Well, the war ended; she married a fellow spy and decided to pursue her knack for concocting things. Her “first big recipe was shark repellant that I mixed in a bathtub for the Navy,” but it certainly wasn’t the last. Julia McWilliams Child entered the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and the rest is history! Victory took all sorts… Thank you, Julia.