August 15, 2011

Bon appetit!

We observe – and it really should be a national holiday, don’t you think? – the birth of Julia McWilliams on this date in 1912 in Pasadena. She took her sunny California self first to Washington, became Mrs. Paul Child, then went to Paris, where she became the Julia Child who ultimately led an American domestic revolution.

Julia Child portrait by Elsa Dorfman

There isn’t much we don’t know about her at this point, from television, her own books and from the most recent film. Her life in France, her friendships, her work for the OSS – even her Cambridge kitchen has been preserved at the National Museum of American History.

What is less often talked about is the cosmic conjunction of Julia and WGBH.  The golden era of public television in Boston began with Julia in 1963 and grew with This Old House, The Victory Garden and Masterpiece Theater.

WGBH was in large part initiated by the Lowell Institute, an effort at public education which began in 1836 when John Lowell Jr. left $250,000 to be used for lectures for the edification of the general public.

Lowell stipulated that 10% of the income from his trust always be reinvested, that none of the money could be used for a building to house the lectures, and that whenever possible, a male descendant be made trustee.  By the time Abbott Lowell was named trustee in 1909, the legacy was a million dollars.

There is a lot of information about the station’s first premises, continued expansion, blah, blah, but almost none about the spirit that drove it in the early days. It’s no surprise that it has always had Harvard and Wellesley and MIT representatives on the Board, but the lively, creative minds that sought out and encouraged Julia Child and Bob Vila, that created Nova when science belonged exclusively to scientists, that brought Alistair Cooke to the screen – those minds seem to have left the building.

Still, GBH remains a cut above. (The call letters, btw, stand for ‘Great Blue Hill,’ the eminence in Milton, Mass., where its first transmitter was located.) Check out its online extensions for teachers and kids and listen to the latest speaker at the Harvard Bookstore via links at Why its excellence can’t be duplicated is baffling.

Julia's kitchen in DC, photo by RadioFan



  1. baffling indeed! thanks for the information and the inspiration.


    Comment by ursel — August 15, 2011 @ 9:19 am | Reply

  2. I agree. I guess there are creative times, and uncreative times.


    Comment by GALYA TARMU — August 15, 2011 @ 9:50 am | Reply

  3. awesome story 🙂 i love julia


    Comment by ninachat — August 15, 2011 @ 11:22 am | Reply

  4. Well, bless WGBH and I thank them most for a great art show from their local museum. Can’t remember the title.


    Comment by Carol — August 15, 2011 @ 4:41 pm | Reply

  5. Thank goodness for Julia child and the WGBH AND YOU FOR YOUR LOVELY BLOG.


    Comment by avery — August 16, 2011 @ 4:32 pm | Reply

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