Julia Mary Dodge was born in Danvers, Massachusetts, in 1843, to Sylvanus Dodge, postmaster and merchant of South Danvers, and Julia Theresa Phillips. In 1855, Sylvanus followed his sons Grenville Mellen Dodge and Nathan Phillips Dodge, out to Elkhorn, 25 miles outside of what is now Omaha, Nebraska, and close to a Pawnee Indian settlement. Julia and her mother joined their family on the Elkhorn farm at the end of 1855. After problems with local Indians and family illness in 1857, the family moved to the more densely settled Council Bluffs (Iowa), next to Omaha. Julia married James B. Beard on September 29, 1868, in Pottawattamie, Iowa; they had two sons and lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Fort Worth, Texas.
Julia's brother Nathan established himself in the local banking business. Her brother Grenville was a distinguished general during the Civil War and later served as a United States congressman from Iowa. He also played an important role in the development of the eastern half of the transcontinental railroad.
The recipient of the letters is likely Julie's cousin Mary Amanda Webster, daughter of Walter Russell Webster and Rebecca Phillips, born in 1839 in Salisbury, New Hampshire.