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Encyclopedia > Jacqueline Kennedy
First official White House portrait.

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (July 28, 1929May 19, 1994) was the wife of President John F. Kennedy, and the First Lady of the United States from 1961 to 1963.


Early life, family and education

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born into New York society, the eldest daughter of John Vernou Bouvier III (1891-1957), a playboy stockbroker of French descent, and his wife, Janet Norton Lee (1906-1989), a bank president's daughter. Her maternal great-grandfather, a potato-famine Irish immigrant, was a superintendent of New York City public schools, though Janet Lee Bouvier preferred to tell people that he was a Maryland-born veteran of the United States Civil War. Her parents divorced when she was young and her mother remarried the wealthy Hugh D. Auchincloss.

She had a younger sister, Caroline Lee Bouvier, who was married three times: to publishing executive Michael Canfield, to Polish prince Stanislas Radzwill, and movie director Herbert Ross. Through their father, the Bouvier sisters were descended from the Van Salees, a merchant family of Dutch/African ancestry that settled in New Amsterdam in the 17th century.

As a child, Jackie was a well trained equestrian and loved horses and riding a great deal (and always would, even as an adult). She won many trophies and medals for her riding and the ample land in Hammersmith Farm gave her something to appreciate at the home of her stepfather's (It was rumored that she didn't hold much affection for her step family). She also loved writing poems and more importantly adored her father. Her mother on the other hand was said to be old fashioned, prim and strict, instilling in her children a strong sense of etiquette, manners, dress, and upper class customs. While she and her father had a warm, close, affectionate relationship, her mother was there for rigid discipline and was very controlling.

After being named "Debutante of the Year" for the 1947-48 season, she was educated at Miss Porter's School, Vassar College and George Washington University, and spent time studying in France. Her stay in France was one of the most enjoyable of her life, she learned a great deal and grew a deep love for France and its culture (a love that would be reflected in many aspects of her life, such as the menus she chose for White House state dinners and her taste in clothing.) She spoke French and Spanish fluently. She then moved on to her first real job as a photographer (nicknamed "the inquiring camera girl")for The Washington Times-Herald, that is where she met many Washington politicians, including her first husband.

Kennedy marriage

After an engagement to stockbroker John Husted, Jr. (they were to have married in June 1952), she married Senator John F. Kennedy, one of the Democratic Party's rising stars, on September 12, 1953, at Newport, Rhode Island. They had four children: Arabella (stillborn, 1956) Caroline Bouvier Kennedy (b. 1957), John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. (1960–1999) and Patrick Bouvier Kennedy (born and died in August 1963). Their marriage had its difficulties as her husband was a rampant womanizer and had severe health problems. Yet she overlooked many of his affairs (for she grew up in a highly old fashioned and sexist society that allowed such behaviour and her greatest father figures, her own father and her father-in-law, Joseph Kennedy, were such men as well). She remained close to him through his painful and dangerous back surgery and was very devoted to him as a wife. They spent their first years of marriage in a Georgetown townhouse.

When it came to dealing with the Kennedy family, there were mixed feelings. She loved her father-in-law, who was very fond of her and saw the great PR potential of her as a politician's wife. She was also exceptionally close to her brother in law, Robert (Bobby). Yet she was not fond of the extremely competitive, sporty and somewhat aggressive/abrasive nature of the Kennedy clan. She was quiet, reserved, and very feminine, especially in comparison with the Kennedy family. The Kennedy sisters nicknamed her "the deb" and Jackie was always reluctant to join in the traditional touch football games of the Kennedy clan.

First Lady of the United States

Kennedy narrowly beat Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election, becoming the 35th President of the United States in 1961. Jacqueline became one of the youngest First Ladies in history.

As First Lady (a title she wasn’t fond of, saying it sounded like the name of a horse), she was forced into the public spotlight and everything in her life would be scrutinized. So there were many new considerations in her life. For one thing she would have to change her wardrobe for her role as America’s leading woman. She had a great sense of style and elegance but her strong preference for French haute couture designers (such as Givenchy, Dior, and Chanel) was expensive and might be perceived as disloyalty to American designers; as a national figure she knew wearing American-made clothes would be good for her and John’s image. So began a difficult decision as to who would design her state wardrobe.

There were many excellent American designers she could have chosen such as Norman Norell, and she had seriously considered the designers at Bergdorf Goodman. Yet she made a surprising choice of the Hollywood designer Oleg Cassini. Cassini was known for his modern designs that were glamorous and sexy but definitely far from what Jackie was planning. Yet she felt that he would be very easy to work with and would do a fine job. She also had to consider hats into her wardrobe (reluctantly though, since she hated hats but would need them as a proper First Lady). So that is when she turned to Bergdorf Goodman’s designer, Roy Halston Frowick (who Diana Vreeland considered to be the greatest hat maker in the world). Joseph Kennedy had also decided to take care of Cassini’s bill.

Now all was set in her state wardrobe, and during her days as First Lady, the already chic Jackie, would become one of the greatest fashion icons in history and the leading lady of fashion for all of America (and with great influence internationally as well). She would emphasize clean lines, chic yet comfortable clothing, excellent fabric and good clear colors. Her love of history could be seen in her appearance (i.e. a draped, goddess-like gown and fur muffs) and yet she could also be a vision of striking modernity with clean, unadorned sheaths, heads scarves and simple chic day ensembles. Her state clothing had a great deal was greatly influenced by her role as a figure for the press.

Though she hated the press she was also keenly aware that presenting a beautiful appearance would be good for public opinion so she played with her wardrobe making sure she chose small hats, such as pillboxes, that wouldn’t overshadow her face or crush her hairstyle, she wore colors that would make her easily spotted in a crowd and always seemed to consider each outfit with special consideration before she made a public appearance.

On February 14, 1962, she took American television viewers on a tour of the White House. This tour was special because it was done after her first major project, the restoration of the White House. The project was very serious, for it was not redecorating the White House (a saying she resented), it was a restoration. So it would require careful searching, research, a great deal of funds, assistance and tons of effort. What inspired her were her visits to the White House before she was First Lady and being greatly disappointed by the lack of historical sense in the rooms. Being an avid lover of history, she felt that the mansion that represented her nation should represent it well. She hired a special commission and raised funds. They worked hard at finding authentic furniture and art that would fit the original design of the White House. They searched for original portraits of people like Jefferson and Franklin. The planning was meticulous, painstaking and done under a tight budget. When the project was done, the efforts paid off. The White House was truly transformed (except for the Lincoln bedroom which Jackie loved and didn’t change at all) and rooms that once held a weird style or department store furniture in it were now proper state rooms that had the beautiful, original style from when they were first created. The broadcasted tour was a huge success and so was the restoration.

As First Lady, she also knew her children would be in the public eye as well yet she was determined to protect her children from the press and give them a normal childhood. She worked very hard at keeping reporters and photographers at bay and made sure to spend time with them. She is known for believing that if a woman is a bad mother then nothing else in her life will matter.

Yet her life at the White House could be fun as well. She and John planned many social events that brought them into the front of the cultural spotlight. They were not like presidential couples before them; they had a profound appreciation for art, music, and culture. They invited famous artists and musicians for dinner parties, they hosted a special celebration in honor of Nobel Laureates, John often invited celebrities over, and they transformed White House state dinners to a new level.

Kennedy assassination

The Presidential limousine before the assassination. Jacqueline is in the backseat to the President's left.

Jackie was riding next to her husband during his assassination on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. Mrs. Kennedy testified to the Warren Commission that she saw a piece of the President's skull detached, yet, as documented in the Zapruder film, her head was not in a position to allow her eyes to see the president’s head top until almost a second after the president's head first exploded. Within seconds she then climbed onto the left-center rear of the limousine trunk, behind and left of the president, and quickly picked up a piece of her husband's head, which she soon gave to a Parkland Hospital doctor.

During the next three days, she planned her husband's funeral, even though most of the planning was done by military authorities in charge, and her gallant courage during the funeral won her admiration for the world. Because of this, she would not get the privacy she wanted. The black-veiled widow led the mourning for the assassinated president in unforgettable scenes: holding her two children, one in each hand, kneeling at the bier along with her daughter in the Capitol, walking behind the caisson on foot from the White House to St. Matthew's Cathedral, where the funeral mass was held, and finally, lighting the eternal flame at her husband's grave at Arlington National Cemetery. The London Evening Standard put it this way: "Jacqueline Kennedy has given the American people...one thing they have always lacked: majesty."

Madame Nhu the former First Lady of South Vietnam commented to Jacqueline "Now you know what it feels like" because two weeks earlier her husband Ngo Dinh Nhu and brother in-law President Ngo Dinh Diem were killed with the suspected prior knowledge of President Kennedy.

A week after the assassination, she was interviewed by Theodore H. White of Life magazine. In that interview, she bestowed the Kennedy years as the years of "Camelot." For one year following the assassination, she did not make any public appearances. This was because she was observing a year of mourning. During her year of mourning, the only public appearance she made was on May 29, 1964. She attended a mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington on what would have been her husband's 47th birthday.

Onassis marriage and later life

On October 20, 1968, she married Aristotle Onassis, a Greek-shipping tycoon, in Skorpios, Greece, thus losing her Secret Service protection. When her former brother-in-law Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated three months earlier, Jacqueline decided that Kennedys were being "targeted" and she and her children had to leave the States. So, marriage to Onassis made sense: he had the power to give the protection she wanted; she had the social cache he craved (he ended his affair with opera diva Maria Callas to marry her).

Whatever the marriage was, it wasn't a love match. They rarely spent time together. Though "Ari" got on with Caroline and John, Jr. (his son Alexander introduced John to flying; both would die in plane crashes), Jacqueline did not get on with step-daughter Christina Onassis. She spent most of her time traveling and shopping (a hobby that exasperated John Kennedy, who once asked a friend "Is there a 'Shoppers Anonymous'?"). Ari died on March 15, 1975, leaving Jacqueline a very rich widow.

When a paparazzo had photographed Jackie nude on a Greek island, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt bought the photos and published them in the August 1975 issue, much to her and the Kennedy family's embarrassment.

She spent her latter years as an editor at Doubleday, living in New York City and Martha's Vineyard with Maurice Tempelsman, a Belgian-born married industrialist and diamond merchant. In 1994, she was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of cancer. She died from this at her Fifth Avenue apartment in her sleep on May 19.

Her funeral on May 23 was televised around the nation, even though it was private, the way she wanted it to be. She was buried beside her assassinated husband at Arlington, which too, was private, but it included remarks from President Bill Clinton. During the service, the two Kennedy children laid flowers on her flower-draped mahogany casket, bidding goodbye to a remarkable era in American history.

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (5697 words)
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the widow of President John F. Kennedy and of the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, died of a form of cancer of the lymphatic system yesterday at her apartment in New York City.
Kennedy had won a seat in the United States Senate and was already being discussed as a Presidential possibility, they were married at Newport, R.I., in the social event of 1953, a union of powerful and wealthy Roman Catholic families whose scions were handsome, charming, trendy and smart.
Kennedy, who had moved to New York to be near family and friends and had gotten into legal disputes with photographers and writers portraying her activities, shattered her almost saintly image by announcing plans to marry Mr.
  More results at FactBites »



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