Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (July 28, 1929 – May 19, 1994) was the wife of the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and served as First Lady during his presidency from 1961 until his assassination in 1963. She was later married to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis from 1968 until his death in 1975. In later years she had a successful career as a book editor.
The name "Jacqueline Lee" commemorated both sides of her family — "Jacqueline" celebrating three generations of "Jacks" on her father's side and "Lee" celebrating the surname of her maternal grandparents. In attempts to get on the social register both sides of her family were to make exaggerations about their heritage, with Bouviers making claims they descended from the royal Fontaines in France and the Lees declaring they were part of the "Virginia Lees". She was of mostly Irish, Scottish, and English descent; her French paternal ancestry is distant, with her last French ancestor being Michel Bouvier, a Philadelphia-based cabinetmaker who was her great–grandfather.
Raised in a world of wealth and privilege, she spent her early years between New York City and East Hampton, Long Island at the Bouvier Family estate "Lasata", where she became at a very early age an accomplished equestrienne, a sport that would remain a lifelong passion. As a child, she also enjoyed drawing, reading, and writing poems.
This idyllic childhood came to an end when her parents divorced in 1940. While her father never remarried, her mother married her second husband, Standard Oil heir Hugh D. Auchincloss, Jr. in 1942, and had two children with him, Janet and James Auchincloss. Jacqueline and her sister Lee then settled with their mother's new family, dividing their time between their stepfather's two vast estates, "Merrywood" in Mclean, Virginia, and "Hammersmith Farm", in Newport, Rhode Island, with occasional visits to their father in New York City.
Jacqueline was named "Debutante of the Year" for the 1947–48 season.
In 1951, she took her first job as the "Inquiring Camera Girl" for The Washington Times-Herald. Her job was to ask witty questions of people she met in Washington, D.C. The questions and amusing responses would then appear alongside the interviewee's photograph in the newspaper. During that period she was briefly engaged to a young stockbroker, John Husted, but the engagement was called off after three months.
They were married on September 12, 1953, at Newport, Rhode Island. The wedding was considered the social event of the season with an estimated 700 guests at the ceremony and 900 at the lavish reception that followed at Hammersmith Farm. Her wedding dress was created by an African American designer, Ann Lowe of New York City. The dress is now housed in the Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts.
After a brief honeymoon, they returned to Washington, DC. Behind all the glamour, however, Jacqueline found it hard to adjust to the demands of political life and the pressure put on her by the Kennedy family. Her husband was a notorious womanizer and marriage did not change his ways. He also had serious health issues, suffering from Addison's Disease, and from chronic and debilitating back pain from a wartime injury. He underwent two spinal surgeries which proved almost fatal due to complications. While he was recovering from the surgeries, Jacqueline encouraged him to write a book, Profiles in Courage, which is about several U.S. senators who had risked their careers to fight for the things in which they believed. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957.
Jacqueline suffered a miscarriage in 1955, and gave birth to a stillborn baby girl in 1956. All of this put considerable strain on the marriage and led to a brief separation, but the couple reconciled and moved in a townhouse on N Street in Georgetown. Jacqueline successfully gave birth to a second daughter, Caroline, in 1957, and to a son, John, in 1960, both via Caesarean section.
|Arabella Kennedy||August 23, 1956||August 23, 1956||Stillborn daughter|
|Caroline Bouvier Kennedy||November 27, 1957||Married to Edwin Schlossberg; has two daughters and a son. She is the last surviving child of Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy.|
|John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr.||November 25, 1960||July 16, 1999||Married to Carolyn Bessette. Both Kennedy and Bessette died in plane crash, as did sister-in-law Lauren Bessette on July 16, 1999, off Martha's Vineyard in a Piper Saratoga II HP piloted by Kennedy.|
|Patrick Bouvier Kennedy||August 7, 1963||August 9, 1963||Died from hyaline membrane disease, which is now more commonly called infant respiratory distress syndrome.|
In January 1960, Senator John Kennedy announced his candidacy for Presidency of the United States, and began campaigning around the country. Jackie took an active role in the campaign, even speaking to grocery store shoppers over the PA system in one town. In Appleton, Wisconsin, she signed autographs for junior high school students, commenting that her signature would be more legible than John's. Campaigning in West Virginia hit Jacqueline the hardest, as she had not witnessed that degree of poverty before. Later, in the White House, when the need for new glassware came up, Jackie suggested that Morgantown Glassware from the impoverished state supply it.
Shortly after, Jacqueline learned that she was pregnant and due to previous problem pregnancies, her doctor instructed her to stay at home. From Georgetown, Jacqueline helped her husband by answering thousands of campaign letters, taping TV commercials, giving interviews both televised and printed and by writing a weekly newspaper column, Campaign Wife, which was distributed across the country. She was assisted by her personal secretary, Mary Barelli Gallagher.
In the general election on November 8, 1960, John F. Kennedy narrowly beat Republican Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election. Two weeks later, Jacqueline gave birth to son, John Jr., by Caesarean delivery. When Kennedy was sworn in as president on January 20, 1961, Jacqueline became, at age 31, one of the youngest First Ladies in history, just behind Frances Folsom Cleveland and Julia Tyler.
She was a stark contrast from her recent predecessors who were all much older. She was not only young and attractive, but intelligent and cultivated, and possessed an innate sense of style and elegance. Though she was sometimes criticized for her aloofness, expensive tastes, and European ways, the American public quickly took to her, and made her its idol. Like any First Lady, she was forced into the public spotlight with everything in her life under scrutiny. While she did not mind giving interviews or being photographed, she was worried about the effect it would have on her children. Jacqueline was determined to protect them from the press and give them a normal childhood.
The restoration of the White House was Jacqueline Kennedy's first major project. She was dismayed during her pre-inauguration tour of the White House to find little of historic significance in the house. The rooms were furnished with undistinguished pieces that she felt lacked a sense of history. Her first efforts, begun her first day in residence (with the help of society decorator Sister Parish), were to make the family quarters attractive and suitable for family life and included the addition of a kitchen on the family floor and rooms for her children. Upon almost immediately exhausting the funds appropriated for this effort, she established a fine arts committee to oversee and fund the restoration process; she also asked early American furniture expert Henry du Pont to consult.
Her skillful management of this project was hardly noted at the time, except in terms of gossipy shock at repeated repainting of a room, or the high cost of the antique Zuber wallpaper panels installed in the family dining room ($12,000 in donated funds), but later accounts have noted that she managed the conflicting agendas of Parish, du Pont, and Boudin with seamless success; she initiated publication of the first White House guidebook, whose sales further funded the restoration; she initiated a Congressional bill establishing that White House furnishings would be the property of the Smithsonian Institution, rather than available to departing ex-presidents to claim as their own; and she wrote personal requests to those who owned pieces of historical interest that might be donated to the White House.
On February 14, 1962, Mrs. Kennedy took American television viewers on a tour of the White House with Charles Collingwood of CBS. In the tour she said, "I just feel that everything in the White House should be the best — the entertainment that's given here. If it's an American company you can help, I like to do that. If not — just as long as it's the best." Working with Rachel Lambert Mellon, Mrs. Kennedy oversaw redesign and replanting of the White House Rose Garden and the East Garden, which was renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden after her husband's assassination. Jacqueline Kennedy's efforts on behalf of restoration and preservation at the White House left a lasting legacy in the form of the White House Historical Association, the Committee for the Preservation of the White House which was based upon her White House Furnishings Committee, a permanent Curator of the White House, the White House Endowment Trust, and the White House Acquisition Trust.
Broadcasting of the White House restoration greatly helped the Kennedy administration. The United States sought international support during the Cold War which it achieved by affecting public opinion. Mrs. Kennedy’s celebrity and high profile status made viewing the tour of the White house very desirable. The tour was taped and distributed to 106 countries since there was a great demand from the elite as well as people in power to see the film. Focus and admiration for Jacqueline Kennedy took negative attention away from her husband. By attracting worldwide public attention, the First Lady gained allies for the White House and international support for the Kennedy administration and its Cold War policies.
At the urging of John Kenneth Galbraith, President Kennedy's ambassador to India, Mrs. Kennedy undertook a tour of India and Pakistan, taking her sister Lee Radziwill along with her, which was amply documented in photojournalism of the time as well as in Galbraith's journals and memoirs. At the time, Ambassador Galbraith noted a considerable disjunction between Mrs Kennedy's widely-noted concern with clothes and other frivolity and, on personal acquaintance, her considerable intellect.
While in Karachi she found some time to take a ride on a camel with her sister. In Lahore, Pakistani President Ayub Khan presented Mrs. Kennedy with a much-photographed horse, Sardar (the Urdu term meaning ‘leader’). Subsequently this gift was widely misattributed to the king of Saudi Arabia, including in the various recollections of the Kennedy White House years by President Kennedy's friend, journalist and editor Benjamin Bradlee. It has never become clear whether this general misattribution of the gift was carelessness or a deliberate effort to deflect attention from the USA's preference for Pakistan over India. While at a reception for herself at Shalimar Gardens, Mrs. Kennedy told guests "all my life I've dreamed of coming to the Shalimar Gardens. It's even lovelier than I'd dreamed. I only wish my husband could be with me. While in Lahore, she had a friendly chat with Iranian Empress Farah Pahlavi, whom many compared to Mrs. Kennedy.
Shortly after, Jacqueline, still despondent at the loss of Patrick, received an invitation, through her sister Lee, to a Mediterranean cruise aboard Aristotle Onassis's luxury yacht. Despite concerns of the President's entourage over possible bad publicity it might bring, Jacqueline and her sister went on the cruise along with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. and his wife. Upon her return, feeling reinvigorated, she made her first public appearance at the White House in the middle of November 1963 and decided to accompany her husband on an official pre re-election campaign visit to Texas.
On November 21, 1963 they left Andrews Air Force Base, first stopped in San Antonio, and then went to Houston where they toured NASA facilities. Their last stop that day was in Ft. Worth. After a breakfast the next day, November 22, with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce at The Hotel Texas, President and Mrs. Kennedy flew to Dallas's Love Field. A short motorcade was to take them to the Trademart where he was scheduled to speak. Jackie was seated next to her husband in the limousine when he was shot and mortally wounded in Dealey Plaza. Vice President Johnson and his wife followed in another car in the motorcade. After the President was hit, Jacqueline climbed out of the back seat and crawled toward the the rear, to jump out of the car for her own safety. After his death she refused to remove her blood-stained clothing, and regretted having washed the blood off of her face and hands. She continued to wear the infamous blood stained pink Chanel suit as she stood next to Johnson on board the plane when he took the oath of office as President. She told Lady Bird Johnson, "I want them to see what they have done to Jack".
Jacqueline took an active role in planning the details of the state funeral for her husband including the riderless horse and Lincoln catafalque on which his coffin rested in the Capitol rotunda. She led the nation in mourning as the President lay in repose at the White House and then lay in state in the Capitol. The funeral service was held for the President at St. Matthew's Cathedral. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery and Jackie was the first to light the eternal flame at the grave site, which had been created at her request. Lady Jean Campbell reported back to The London Evening Standard: "Jacqueline Kennedy has given the American people… one thing they have always lacked: Majesty."
Following the assassination, she stepped back from official public view. She did, however, make a brief appearance in Washington to honor the Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, who had climbed aboard the limousine in Dallas to try to shield her and the President.
The steadiness and courage of Jacqueline Kennedy during the assassination and funeral won her admiration around the world. Following his death, Jackie and her children remained in their quarters in the White House for two weeks, preparing to vacate. Johnson made several phone calls that were recorded via Dictabelt from the Oval Office to Jackie in the residence; the two also shared several letters and notes back and forth through messengers after the assassination. In the first call on December 2, 1963, she told him that she knew how rare it was to have something in a President's handwriting and that she now had more in his handwriting than she did in John's. The President encouraged her to come and visit with him to spend time talking.
After spending the winter of 1964 in Averill Harriman's home in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., Jackie decided to purchase a luxury apartment at 1040 Fifth Avenue in New York in the hope of having more privacy for her children. She sold the home she had built in Atoka, Virginia, where she had intended to retire with her husband. She spent a year in mourning, making no public appearances, then zealously guarded her privacy. During this time, her daughter Caroline told her school teacher that her mother cried frequently.
She perpetuated her husband's memory by visiting his grave site on important anniversaries and attending selected memorial dedications. These included the 1967 christening of the Navy aircraft carrier named USS John F. Kennedy (decommissioned in 2007), in Newport News, Virginia, and a memorial in Hyannisport, Massachusetts. In May 1965, Jacqueline Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II jointly dedicated the United Kingdom's official memorial to President Kennedy at Runnymede, England. This memorial included several acres of soil given in perpetuity from the United Kingdom to the United States of America on the meadow where the Magna Carta had been signed by King John in 1215. She also visited Ireland in 1967 to officially open a special park, dedicated to the late President, located near New Ross, where her husband's ancestors came from.
She oversaw plans for the establishment of the John F. Kennedy Library, which is the repository for official papers of the Kennedy Administration. Original plans to have the library situated in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Harvard University, proved problematic for various reasons, so it is situated in Boston. The finished library, designed by I.M. Pei, includes a museum and was dedicated in Boston in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, nearly 16 years after the assassination. The governments of many nations donated money to erect the library, in addition to corporate and private donations.
For a time, the marriage brought her adverse publicity and seemed to tarnish the image of the grieving presidential widow. However, others viewed the marriage as a positive symbol of the "modern American woman" who would not be afraid to look after her own financial interests and to protect her family. The marriage initially seemed successful, but stresses soon became apparent. The couple rarely spent time together. Though Onassis got along with Caroline and John, Jr. (his son Alexander introduced John to flying; coincidentally, both would die in plane crashes), Jacqueline did not get along with stepdaughter Christina Onassis. She spent most of her time traveling and shopping. It was later learned that she would buy thousands of dollars worth of designer clothing with her husband's money and sell them to consignment shops (often unworn) and keep the proceeds.
In the 1970s, the First Lady's sister Lee Radziwill discussed creating a documentary with Albert and David Maysles about Jacqueline's girlhood in the East Hampton section of Long Island. At about the same time, Jackie's aunt on her father's side Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale "Big Edie" and her daughter "Little Edie" received unwanted national attention when the National Enquirer ran an expose on the deplorable conditions of their East Hampton mansion, Grey Gardens. The Suffolk County Board of Health made a raid ordering them to clean up the property which was falling into disrepair and was being overrun with feral cats. Jacqueline donated $32,000 to clean the house and install a new furnace and plumbing system and cart away 1,000 bags of garbage. The Maysles interviewed the Edies and showed the footage of Radziwill who confiscated the film. The Maysles changed the focus of their documentary to be the Edies instead of the First Lady, and it has become the cult documentary Grey Gardens.
Despite knowing he was near death, Jacqueline was skiing in New Hampshire when Onassis died in 1975. Her legacy was severely limited by a rumored prenuptial agreement and by legislation that Onassis had allegedly persuaded the Greek government to approve, which limited how much a non-Greek surviving spouse could inherit. Jacqueline eventually accepted Christina's offer of $26,000,000, waiving all other claims to the Onassis estate.
Onassis's death in 1975 made Jaqueline, then 46, a widow for the second time. Now that her children were older, she decided to find work that would be fulfilling to her. Since she had always enjoyed writing and literature, Jacqueline accepted a job offer as an editor at Viking Press and then, in 1978, moved to Doubleday as an associate editor under an old friend, John Sargent, living in New York City, Martha's Vineyard and the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis, Massachusetts. From the mid 1970s until her death, her companion was Maurice Tempelsman, a Belgian-born industrialist and diamond merchant who was long separated from his wife.
She also continued to be the subject of much press attention, most notoriously involving the photographer Ron Galella. He followed her around and photographed her as she went about her day-to-day activities, obtaining candid, iconic photos of her. She ultimately obtained a restraining order against him and the situation brought attention to paparazzi-style photography.
Among the many books she edited was Larry Gonick's The Cartoon History of the Universe. He expressed his gratitude in the acknowledgments in Volume 2. Jacqueline Onassis's continuing charisma is indicated by the delight the Canadian author Robertson Davies took in discovering that at a commencement exercise at an American university at which he was being honored, Jacqueline Kennedy was on hand, circulating among the honorees. On the other hand, her efforts on behalf of Doubleday to enlist Frank Sinatra, the Duchess of Windsor and not surprisingly Queen Elizabeth II as Doubleday authors were firmly rebuffed.
Jacqueline Onassis also appreciated the contributions of African-American writers to the American literary canon and encouraged Dorothy West, her neighbor on Martha's Vineyard and the last surviving member of the Harlem Renaissance, to complete The Wedding: a multi-generational story about race, class, wealth, and power in the United States. The novel received great literary acclaim when it was published by Doubleday in 1995 and Oprah Winfrey introduced the story in 1998 to millions of Americans via a television film of the same name starring Halle Berry. Dorothy West acknowledged Jacqueline Onassis's kind encouragement in the foreword.
She also worked to preserve and protect America’s cultural heritage. The notable results of her hard work include Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C, and Grand Central Terminal, New York's beloved historic railroad station. While she was First Lady, she helped to stop the destruction of historic homes in Lafayette Square, because she knew that these buildings were an important part of the nation’s capital and played an essential role in its history. Later, in New York City, she led a historic preservation campaign to save and renovate Grand Central Terminal from demolition. A plaque inside the terminal acknowledges her prominent role in its preservation. In the 1980s, she was a major figure in protests against a planned skyscraper at Columbus Circle which would have cast large shadows on Central Park, the project was cancelled, but a large twin towered skyscraper would later fill in that spot in 2003, the Time Warner Center.
From her apartment windows in New York she had a splendid view of a glass enclosed wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art which displays the Temple of Dendur. This was a gift from Egypt to the United States in gratitude for the generosity of the Kennedy administration, who had been instrumental in saving several temples and objects of Egyptian antiquity that would otherwise have been flooded after the construction of the Aswan Dam.
Jacqueline Onassis's funeral was held on May 23 at Saint Ignatius Loyola Roman Catholic Church at Park Avenue and East 84th Street in Manhattan, which was the same church where she was baptized in 1929. At her funeral, her son, John, described three of her attributes as the love of words, the bonds of home and family, and her spirit of adventure. She was then buried next to President John F. Kennedy, and near their son Patrick and daughter Arabella at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. The New York Daily News ran an issue the next day saying, "Missing Her".
The companion book for a series of interviews between mythologist Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, was created under the direction of Onassis, prior to her death. The book's editor, Betty Sue Flowers, writes in the Editor's Note to The Power of Myth: "I am grateful… to Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, the Doubleday editor, whose interest in the books of Joseph Campbell was the prime mover in the publication of this book." A year after her death in 1994, Moyers dedicated the companion book for his PBS series, The Language of Life to Onassis. The dedication read: "To Jacqueline Onassis. As you sail on to Ithaka." Ithaka was a reference to the C.P. Cavafy poem that Maurice Tempelsman read at her funeral.
In December 1999 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was among 18 included in Gallup's List of Widely Admired People of the 20th Century, from a poll conducted of the American people.
Like her assassinated husband, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis's legacy has been memorialized in various aspects of American and, to a later extent, non-American culture. They include:
The Threads of Time, the Fabric of History, 38 Profiles of Afro-American Designers from 1850 to the Present, by Rosemary E. Reed Miller, T & S Press, 2007, 288 pps. $24.95, ISBN 0-970-9713-0-3
One's on the way by Loretta Lynn "and Jackie's seen in a discotheque doing a brand new dance"