Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jacqueline Kennedy was the wife of President John F. Kennedy. She held the post of First Lady of the United States from 1961 to 1963. She was known for the courage and grace she displayed when her husband was assassinated.

Beginnings

Born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier on July 28, 1929, in East Hampton, New York, Jacqueline was the eldest daughter of John "Black Jack" Vernou Bouvier III and Janet Norton Lee. Her sister, Caroline, was born in 1933.

Jackie’s early years were spent between New York City and East Hampton, Long Island, where she learned to ride horses. She was well educated at private schools, loved to write poems and stories, was an avid painter, and also studied ballet.

Her parents divorced, and her mother remarried in 1942. Janet's new husband was Hugh D. Auchincloss Jr., a wealthy man. The girls moved with their mother to Merrywood, their stepfather’s home near Washington, D.C. Jackie became the Debutante of the Year for the 1947–1948 social season, but her social success would not deter her from her education. While Jackie was a student at Vassar, she traveled extensively. While attending George Washington University, she spent her junior year in France. Those experiences left her with a deep empathy for the people of foreign countries. She graduated from George Washington with a degree in art in 1951.

Jackie found a position at the Washington Times-Herald as the "Inquiring Photographer." Her overall assignment was to ask people for their opinions on issues, and take their pictures. That is how she met Senator John F. Kennedy.

Life with Jack

A romance developed slowly and privately, but when they were wedded on September 12, 1953, the news grabbed national attention. Jackie found herself in a new role, being John Kennedy's wife. Her own public appearances were limited, but successful. Jackie became fond of her father-in-law, Joseph; he reciprocated her affection. She also was close to her brother-in-law, Robert “Bobby” Kennedy. On the whole, she was much quieter and more reserved than the animated Kennedy family.

Jackie and John had four children; Arabella was a stillborn in 1956, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy was born in 1957, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. was born in 1960, and in 1963, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, a preemie, died two days after his birth.

Quest for the Holy Grail

Jackie took on an active role in her husband's campaign for the presidency. She even spoke to shoppers over the PA system at a grocery store. In 1960, Kennedy narrowly beat Richard M. Nixon to become the 35th President of the United States. That made Jackie Kennedy one of the youngest First Ladies in history.

The new role threw her into the public spotlight. Jackie knew everything in her life would be under scrutiny, but she wanted her children to have a normal life. She did everything she could to protect them from the press and only allowed a few photos. However, while she was away, the president would allow the White House photographer to snap away.

Active commitment

One of First Lady Jackie's first major projects was the restoration of the White House. She was dismayed by the lack of history displayed there. Having a love for things historical, she wanted to translate that love to the venerable mansion, so that it would represent the nation's history. She contracted collector Henry du Pont and interior designer Stephane Boudin, to consult on the project. In February 1962, the First Lady took television viewers on a tour of the newly renovated White House, with Charles Collingwood of CBS.

Jackie brought a new appreciation of art and culture to the White House, and she brought elegance to the social events that took place there. Every guest would leave feeling as though he or she were part of a magical evening.

A time for trembling

Jackie kept a low profile after their son, Patrick, died in August 1963. Her first official appearance took place in November, when the president asked her to travel with him to campaign in Texas. She agreed, and was sitting next to him in the Dallas motorcade when he was shot and killed on November 22, 1963 — truly a sad day for the country.

Jackie led the country, and much of the world, in mourning while the president laid in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, the funeral service at St. Matthew's Cathedral, and finally, while lighting the eternal flame at her husband's grave at Arlington National Cemetery. The London Evening Standard reported that "Jacqueline Kennedy has given the American people ... one thing they have always lacked: majesty."

The courage that Jackie displayed during the assassination and funeral won her admiration around the world, and many remember her gallantry during those four days in November 1963.

Withdrawal, then return

Jackie and her children remained in the White House for two weeks, then moved to New York City in the hope of having a more private life. She spent a year in mourning with no public appearances.

Following that, Jackie kept her husband’s memory alive by visiting his gravesite on important anniversaries, and attending selected memorial dedications. Some of them included the christening of the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier in Newport News, Virginia; and in 1965, Jacqueline Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II dedicated Great Britain's official memorial to President Kennedy at Runnymede, England. The memorial included several acres of meadowland given in perpetuity from Britain to the U.S., near where the Magna Carta had been signed by King John in 1215. She also oversaw the plans for the establishment of the John F. Kennedy Library, the repository for official papers of the Kennedy administration.

Three months after the assassination of her brother-in-law and presidential candidate, Robert F. Kennedy, Jackie married Greek shipping tycoon, Aristotle Onassis, in Greece. Jackie had concluded, following Robert's assassination, that the Kennedys were being targeted, and she wanted to leave the U.S. with her children for their own protection. The marriage made sense; he had the money to protect her and she could provide the social graces he craved. When Jackie married Onassis, she lost her entitlement to Secret Service protection.

The marriage prompted mixed reviews. Some thought it tarnished her role as a grieving widow; others thought it was a positive symbol for the modern woman. The marriage seemed successful, but suffered from stress, and the couple spent very little time together. Onassis enjoyed a good relationship with Jackie's children, but his daughter, Christina, and Jackie did not get along. When Onassis died in 1975, he was in the early stages of filing for divorce. Jackie had signed a prenuptial agreement prior to their marriage. However, Jackie accepted Christina’s offer of $27 million in exchange for her waiving all claims to the Onassis estate.

Going home

In 1978, Jackie worked as an editor for Doubleday Publishing in New York. She held that position until her death in 1994. She was diagnosed with lymphoma, and died on May 19 of that year, at the age of 64.

Her remains were placed next to those of her husband at Arlington. President Bill Clinton spoke at her service. Her funeral was televised around the world. America bade farewell to one of the most remarkable women — and eras — in American history.

In 1995, New York City officials dedicated Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School for International Careers, in her honor. In addition to the school, the main reservoir in Central Park was renamed in her honor, and George Washington University named one of its residence complexes "The Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis Hall."

---- Selected Quotes ----

Quotes by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Regarding Fashion
A newspaper reported I spend $30,000 a year buying Paris clothes and that women hate me for it. I couldn’t spend that much unless I wore sable underwear.
New York Times, 1960
Regarding White House
It looks like it’s been furnished by discount stores.
Quoted in "A Hero for our Time", 1983
Regarding John F. Kennedy
His head was so beautiful. I tried to hold the top of his head down, maybe I could keep it in... but I knew he was dead.
Interview in November, 1963

Quotes regarding Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

By John F. Kennedy
I do not think it altogether inappropriate to introduce myself to this audience. I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it.
Remarks in Paris, June 2, 1961

- - - Books You May Like Include: ----

Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy by Caroline Kennedy.
In 1964, Jacqueline Kennedy recorded seven historic interviews about her life with John F. Kennedy. Now, for the first time, they can be heard and rea...