LOUISVILLE, Ky. — She's known for wearing a lot of hats in her life.
From a beauty shop owner, to a hatmaker, to a World War II veteran and a preacher -- those were the many titles of Julia Jackson.
Historian Emma Bryan with the Filson Historical Society says that Jackson, born in 1911, went to Central High School and then studied at Kentucky State College, which is now the historically Black university of Kentucky State University in Frankfort.
After college, she studied at Madam C.J. Walker Beauty School in Indianapolis, where she returned to Louisville to open a beauty shop.
“We know from the Louisville Defender that she was known locally for doing hair and she also designed hats," Bryan said. "She was a locally renowned hat maker here in town. There's a quote in the Louisville Defender that she said that 'hats and hair do go together.'”
When the military put a callout for soldiers in 1942, Jackson was one of the first women from Louisville to enlist in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, then later enlisting in the Women's Army Corps.
“She was in an all-Black unit as the military was segregated at the time, so she served in a 32nd post company there with the army,” Bryan said.
Along her journey, she started a scrapbook -- chronicling and collecting mementos during the war. Documenting that at one time all female soldiers did train together.
“And we do see that in her scrapbook, we see the integration between white and Black soldiers interacting together in training and social events," Bryan said. "Then when they come back after the war, it's segregation again.”
Returning from war, the entrepreneur married Thomas Harry Woods in 1946. She became the head of the all-Black Western Kentucky Vocational Training School Department of Cosmetology in Paducah, then moved back to Louisville.
From research we couldn't find any documentation of children, so records of her life were not passed down. But, Bryan says she really wrote her own legacy.
“We were really amazed by her story and amazed by her being a personal historian. Once we get to look at the scrapbook, you'll get to see all of the items that she collected and documented throughout her life. And that's how we know about her” she said.
When Jackson died on November 21, 2000, the Filson Historical Society found a key piece -- it was an obituary that gave us a snapshot of her life.
“We also see in the Louisville Defender that she was known as a lay preacher, and then later on as a reverend," Bryan said. "We have records of her from a few different churches here in Louisville that documented her preaching and sermons throughout the city. Even in her obituary, she is listed as Rev. Julia Jackson-Woods.”
Jackson is buried in Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, but before her death she told her story.
Each page, filling the holes of a history that was almost lost until the Filson Historical Society found her one-of-a-kind story in an estate auction.
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