In the first half of the twentieth century, in Belgium, hundreds of thousands of young women had to go to work in order to contribute towards the support of their families. At that time there were no work contracts, only verbal agreements. As a result, the working conditions of these women depended a lot on the good will of their employers. Some of them were literally exploited while others were treated as though they were family members.
Also Julia belonged to that generation that did not have a carefree youth: her early years were soon followed by the reality of hard labor. Despite her many talents, Julia could not attend high school. She had to work in the homes of various families in Belgium and especially in France.
Once she worked with a childless couple and there she encountered considerable problems. She felt alone and did not even get enough to eat: “Apart from being spoken to once a day to be given instructions, I was completely ignored. My health began to suffer, because I had to work so hard. Sometimes I was extremely hungry. I realised that it was incumbent to leave that place”. To get her to stay on, her employers offered to double her salary. Julia, however, did not accept this tempting offer, but merely asked the question: “Wasn’t I worth just as much then as now?”
But Julia also had pleasant and fulfilling experiences. In a family with seven children, in the French city of Tourcoing, she learned to take on major responsibilities despite her young age. The smallest child had just been born and the mother was ill and bedridden. The grandparents, too, lived in the same house. The days were long. Julia worked from early morning to late at night. She had to take care of everyone. In fulfilling her responsibilities she succeeded in maintaining a serene environment in the family, educated the children well and got other family members involved in household duties. She felt completely part of this family: “We were a family, truly a family: in caring for each other, helping each other, and working out together what was best both for us all and for each of us individually”.
Whilst Julia was with this family she improved her knowledge of the French language. She urged the children entrusted to her to correct her mistakes, and they were more than happy to take on the role of teacher. Julia rejoiced over any improvement and let the children know how thankful she was. In this way her relationship with the children intensified to the point where they would spontaneously help her in every way they could. Julia behaved as a mother towards them and had a great deal of influence on their education, given that she knew how to balance gentleness and firmness. Even in her old age she remembered this family well: “At that time, I learnt among other things what it means to be a mother. When I talk about it now, I feel fifty years younger. The grandparents became younger by the day. They had a lot to do, and felt useful. None of the children, or anyone else, ever went through a crisis. They didn’t have time for that, and neither did I. Where there is love, service is easy. I was only just sixteen years old at this time”.