The daughter of Frederick and Ellen Dent, Julia was born in 1826 on a plantation near St. Louis, Missouri. She grew up in relative ease, attending a boarding school, mixing with the wealthy families of St. Louis, and enjoying a peaceful life.
Julia first met Grant in 1843 when he paid a visit to the Dent family home, which was known locally as the “White House”. Although the executive mansion in Washington wasn’t called by that name until the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, it could be said that Julia was the only first lady to have lived in two White Houses. Julia’s brother, Frederick T. Dent, had been Grant’s roommate at West Point, which gave Grant an excuse to pay regular visits to the Dent plantation, but it was obvious that Julia was the reason behind it. During long afternoons of horseback riding, it was easy to see that they were in love.
One day he arrived in his horse and buggy just as the Dent family was about to leave for a wedding. They invited him to join them, and Julia rode in his buggy When they came to a bridge that was nearly flooded over, Julia grabbed on to Grant’s arm and clung to him as they made their way over the swaying structure. “I’ll cling to you no matter what happens,” Julia murmured, and once they had passed over safely and had gone a little farther down the road, he turned to her and said, “I wonder if you would cling to me all of my life.” That was his proposal of marriage. Julia accepted.