She received her A. B. in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley, and married the mathematician Raphael Robinson. In 1948, she received her Ph. D. in mathematics under Tarski.
Julia Robinson's most famous work involves Hilbert's tenth problem, which asked for a procedure for deciding if a Diophantine equation had a solution in integers. Together with Martin Davis and Hilary Putnam, she nearly completed the (negative) solution of this problem, but one crucial piece was missing. That piece was supplied by the Russian mathematician Yuri Matijasevic in 1970 at the age of 22.
In 1975, she became the first woman mathematician to be elected to the US National Academy of Sciences. At the time of her election, she did not hold a faculty position anywhere, but after the award, UC Berkeley offered her a full professorship.
Julia Robinson died of leukemia on July 30, 1985.