First Lady of John F. Kennedy

On July 28, 1929, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was born in Southampton, New York. Her father, John Bouvier, was a successful New York stockbroker of French Catholic ancestry, and her mother, Janet, was a talented equestrienne of Irish Catholic ancestry. Jackie was a bright, curious, and naughty girl. “A lovely child, the prettiest little girl, brilliant, very imaginative, and full of the devil,” said one of her elementary school teachers. “Her unsettling behavior in geography class made it possible to remove her from the room,” wrote another teacher, who was less enamored with young Jacqueline.

Jackie was the eldest of two; her younger sister was Caroline. Jackie had two half-siblings, Janet Jennings Auchincloss and James Lee Auchincloss, from her mother’s second marriage. She also had a step-brother, Hugh D. Auchincloss, Jr., through Hugh D. Auchincloss’s first marriage to Maria Chrapovitsky.

She had a fortunate upbringing, attending ballet classes at the Metropolitan Opera House and starting French lessons at 12. Jackie, like her mother, enjoyed horseback riding and was a professional rider. She won a national junior horsemanship award at the age of 11 in 1940. According to the New York Times, “In the horsemanship race, Jacqueline Bouvier, an eleven-year-old equestrienne from East Hampton, Long Island, won twice. Miss Bouvier received a special honor. When the same rider wins all events in the same show, it’s a rare occurrence.”

Jackie attended Miss Porter’s Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Farmington, Connecticut, which stressed good etiquette and the art of conversation in addition to rigorous academics. She excelled as a student there, contributing essays and poetry to the school newspaper regularly and receiving the prize for best literature student in her senior year. In 1947, Onassis was also dubbed “Debutante of the Year” by a local newspaper during her senior year. Onassis, on the other hand, aspired to be known for more than her elegance and fame. Her life dream, she wrote in the yearbook, was “not to be a housewife.”

She started boarding school at the age of 15, and in 1947 she enrolled at Vassar College. She improved her French and solidified her passion for French culture and style during her junior year abroad at the Sorbonne, which she associated with her adored father. 

Jackie moved to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., after returning from Paris, and graduated with a B.A. in French literature in 1951. She got a job as the “Inquiring Camera Girl” for the Washington Times-Herald newspaper after graduating from college in 1951. Her task was to photograph and interview various Washington citizens, then compile their images and comments into a column. A conversation with Richard Nixon and coverage of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration and was particularly well-known for her coverage of Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1952.

In 1951, Jacqueline met John F. Kennedy, a prominent Massachusetts representative, and two years later, after JFK was elected to the United States Senate, he proposed marriage to her. The couple married in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Newport, Rhode Island, on September 12, 1953.

Jacqueline met John F. Kennedy, a prominent Massachusetts representative, in 1951, and two years later, after he became a United States Senator, he proposed marriage to her. The couple married in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Newport, Rhode Island, on September 12, 1953.

They had a lot of disappointment and sorrow in the early years of their marriage. She had a miscarriage and gave birth to a stillborn daughter after John had spinal surgery. Caroline Bouvier Kennedy, their healthy daughter, was born on November 27, 1957, and their luck seemed to improve. Three years later, John declared his candidacy for president, and Jacqueline accompanied him on his campaign trail. After getting pregnant again, Jackie remained at home based on doctor’s orders but managed to work on the initiative.

She was known for her weekly news column “Campaign Wife.” John was narrowly elected president on November 8, 1960, and Jacqueline gave birth to a son, John F. Kennedy, Jr., a few weeks later.

Jacqueline Kennedy, the youngest first lady in almost 80 years, left an indelible impression on the role. She employed Letitia Baldrige as her social secretary during the 1960 election campaign because she was politically astute and etiquette-savvy. Her first task as the first lady was to transform the White House into an American history and culture museum that would promote pride and public service among those who came to see it.

She founded the White House Historical Association, whose mission was to educate the public and raise money. Jackie wrote the foreword to the first edition of The White House: A Historical Guide, published by the association in 1962. Jacqueline employed a curator from the Smithsonian Institution to archive the mansion’s contents, which turned into a permanent position. With the first lady’s approval, Congress passed legislation encouraging the donation of precious art and furniture and declaring White House furnishings of “artistic or historical significance” to be “inalienable property” of the government preventing people from disposing of them at will. In February 1962, Jacqueline led a nationally broadcast tour of the White House after substantial renovations.

In addition, Jackie traveled abroad regularly, both with the president and alone, and she had a strong understanding of foreign cultures and languages. She spoke fluent French, Spanish, and Italian, which helped to improve America’s image.

Her husband was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald in the crowd of cheering audiences in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, leaving her widowed at 34. In her bloodstained pink robe, the first lady’s stoic calm became a sign of national mourning.

Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate, became her husband in 1968, five years after John F. Kennedy’s death. Seven years later, in 1975, he died, leaving her a widow for the second time.

After her second husband died, Jackie resumed her promising career, which she had placed on hold when she married Kennedy. Jackie returned as an editor at the Viking Press in New York City before moving on to Doubleday as a senior editor.

Jackie passed away in her New York City apartment shortly after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1994. Jackie was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with John F. Kennedy and their two children after a funeral at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church on Park Avenue. Following the death of her only living son, John F. Kennedy, Jr., in a plane crash in July 1999, several books and papers examined the Kennedy story’s continuing role in the disaster. But it had also become a tale of luck and glamour, and the name she gave to her husband’s brief presidency, “Camelot,” seemed to capture a lot of her meaning.

 

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