Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Julia Child: Chef and OSS Agent

Today Julia Child is an icon in the world of haute cuisine. Many consider her the first celebrity chef. But before she ever mastered the art of cooking, Julia was a member of the “Sisterhood of Spies.”

A graduate of Smith College, Julia was an bright woman, full of curiosity. By all accounts, she would try anything once. After the U.S. entered World War II, she knew she had to do something that would have a direct bearing on the war. But when she applied to the WACs and the WAVES, she was rejected because of her height (6'2”). Finally finding work in the Washington, DC office of the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA), Julia initially began her employment as a typist. However, with her education and intelligence she quickly rose up the ladder to become a research assistant to none other than the head of the agency, William “Wild Bill” Donovan. (How's that for a nickname?)
As a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division, Julia typed 10,000 names on white note cards to keep track of officers. (Remember this is the days before computers!) She was then assigned to the OSS Emergency Rescue Equipment Section (ERES) in Washington, D.C. where she started as a file clerk. It was at ERES her work took an interesting turn. In 1943 reports of shark attacks consumed the media. At least twenty US Naval officers had been attacked by sharks since the start of the war, raising alarm amongst sailors and airmen who increasingly found themselves conducting dangerous missions over shark-infested waters. To boost morale, the Joint Chiefs of Staff requested the OSS to lead the hunt to find a shark repellent.
“I must say we had lots of fun,” Julia told fellow OSS Officer Betty McIntosh,Sisterhood of Spies. “We designed rescue kits and other agent paraphernalia. I understand the shark repellent we developed is being used today for downed space equipment—strapped around it so the sharks won’t attack when it lands in the ocean.” 
during an interview for Betty’s book on OSS women,

"The repellent was a critical tool during WWII, and was coated on explosives that were targeting German U-boats," says the CIA's official history of Child. "Before the introduction of the shark repellent, curious sharks would sometimes set off the explosives when they bumped into them."

Julie went on to volunteer for service in Ceylon (then known as Sri Lanka), then to China and Burma. After the war, she claimed that her wartime career was that as "a clerk." Her husband, Paul, revealed otherwise. In a letter to his twin brother, he declared her "privy to all messages both incoming from the field or Washington, etc., and outgoing to our agents and operatives all over China-Burma-India." Her official records state that her responsibilities included "registering, cataloging and channeling a great volume of highly classified communications" for the OSS's clandestine stations in Asia.

Not bad for a fun-loving girl from California.

A freelance writer for over twelve years, Linda Shenton Matchett writes historical fiction. She is currently seeking a publisher for her series about WWII war correspondent Ruth Brown. Visit www.LindaShentonMatchett.com to read about history, mystery and faith.


  1. I didn't know about her repellent work. Gives a whole new meaning to "cooking up a storm," for sharks.

  2. Awesome. I love how well-rounded some woman are in their abilities and skills. ;)

    1. I agree. I especially like stories of people who seem "ordinary" and I find out they've done extraordinary things.

  3. This was so interesting. I never knew how multi faceted Julia was!

    1. Thanks. I think her story is very interesting!