|Julia Grant's opera cloak (Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library)|
Author Candice Shy Hooper described Jessie and Nelly as feeding their husbands’ delusions, egos and arrogance; she provided much more laudable descriptions of the other spouses:
|Grants during the Civil War|
“While Ellen Sherman’s and Julia Grant’s belief in their husbands’ character and potential was ardent, it was not unbounded,” reads a book summary on Amazon. “Ellen and Julia did not hesitate to take issue with their spouses when they believed their actions were wrong or their judgments ill-advised. They intelligently supported their husbands’ best instincts -- including trust in and admiration for Lincoln -- and rebuffed their worst. They were the source of strength that Sherman and Grant used to win the Civil War.”
The book made quite clear Julia Grant’s impact on Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War and his presidency, and it’s known that they were ardently devoted to each other. In May 1877, shortly after their two terms in the White House ended, the couple – weary of the stress of leadership -- embarked on a nearly three-year, heralded world tour. Their itinerary took them to Paris on three occasions and they spent a month there during one stop.
Among their social events was a trip to the opening of the opera house in the French capital. Julia in November 1877 purchased a black, beaded silk evening wrap for the occasion. She bought a second version as a wedding present for a family friend, Fannie Drexel.
The 37-inch-long restored cloak, created by renowned French designer Emile Pingat, is on display through December 2020 at Mississippi State University’s Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library museum in Starkville.
According to the university, the
opera cloak, containing six panels of bead work, was restored earlier this year by New Orleans conservator Jessica Hack.
|Restored neck band with designer label (Grant Presidential Library)|
“Hack vacuumed the 140-year-old cloak with a low-suction, HEPA-filtered cleaner and hand dry-cleaned the piece with mineral spirits. She also clipped and trimmed loose and broken threads, restrung broken bead strands, stabilized the neckband with a crepe-line silk overlay, dyed china silk to blend with the color of the shredded band, and heat fused the crepe line and neckband together.”
|Loose and broken threads were clipped and trimmed|
Mrs. Grant apparently went on a shopping spree in Paris, including a visit or two to the House of Worth.
“I had a splendid time shopping. Mr. Worth personally directed the fitting of my costumes, and Madam Virot attended me in person for any millinery I wished, and there were no small attentions, I assure you,” she said.
|Julia Grant was cross-eyed and preferred profile images (Library of Congress)|
The Grants settled in New York City after the tour ended in late 1879. They lost nearly all their money in an investment scheme and the president wrote his classic memoirs shortly before he died in 1885 in order to procure his family some security.
In the late 1890s, Julia gave the cloak to a young woman who was attending Corcoran Art School in Washington, D.C. and stayed at her home. The recipient’s grandson donated the garment to the Ulysses S. Grant Association in the 1970s.
Julia, born to a slave-owning family, traveled with her husband throughout his Civil War campaigns and was an indefatigable champion of his work and legacy. She died in 1902.
|The Grants with son Jesse on vacation (Library of Congress)|
Her own memoirs weren’t published until 1975.
Writing of her “Ulys,” Julia concluded: “For nearly thirty-seven years, I, his wife, rested and was warmed in the sunlight of his loyal love and great fame, and now, even though his beautiful life has gone out, it is as when some far-off planet disappears from the heavens; the light of his glorious fame still reaches out to me, falls upon me, and warms me.”