When the RLASS leadership asked Julia, in 1862, to join the relief effort on behalf of their organization, she embarked once again on a new path, finding a new life’s purpose. That fall, Julia Wilbur moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where several thousand freedpeople were already encamped. She got straight to work.
Julia provided material support for those in need, soliciting clothing from those who had it to distribute to those who did not. She became an advocate for the recognition of human rights and dignity, agitating for better housing for the freedpeople and pushing for payment of past wages due – for many, the first paid work in their lives. She provided comfort to those languishing from disease and injury in Alexandria’s hastily created hospitals.
Julia described her role as “missionary at large, woman of all work.”
Julia gained a partner and lifelong friend at this time: Harriet Jacobs. Harriet had escaped enslavement in the 1840s. She wrote about her experience in Incidents in the Life of a Slavegirl. A New York Quaker group supported Harriet’s desire to aid the freedpeople. She, too, traveled to Alexandria; her mission was much the same as Julia’s: to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Little wonder the two found each other.
Together, Julia and Harriet were a force of nature. They pushed back against a plan to warehouse healthy black orphans in a smallpox hospital, instead fighting to ensure that the children were rehomed safely and under proper care. They protested the humiliating punishment freedwomen experienced at the hands of Union soldiers, the very people ostensibly in charge of their well being, who publicly stripped and doused black women with cold water for even minor offenses.