Biography of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, First Lady

Jacqueline Kennedy during a 1961 visit to Paris
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Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier; July 28, 1929–May 19, 1994) was the wife of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States. During his presidency, she became known for her fashion sense and for her redecoration of the White House. After the assassination of her husband in Dallas on November 22, 1963, she was honored for her dignity in her time of grief; she later remarried, moved to New York, and worked as an editor at Doubleday.

Fast Facts: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

  • Known For: As the wife of John F. Kennedy, she was the first lady of the United States.
  • Also Known As: Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, Jackie O.
  • Born: July 28, 1929 in Southampton, New York
  • Parents: John Vernou Bouvier III and socialite Janet Norton Lee
  • Died: May 19, 1994 in New York, New York
  • Education: Vassar College, George Washington University
  • Spouse(s): John F. Kennedy (m. 1953-1963), Aristotle Onassis (m. 1968-1975)
  • Children: Arabella, Caroline, John Jr., Patrick

Early Life

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier in East Hampton, New York, on July 28, 1929. Her mother was socialite Janet Lee, and her father was John Vernou Bouvier III, a stockbroker known as “Black Jack.” He was a playboy from a wealthy family, French in ancestry and Roman Catholic by religion. Her younger sister was named Lee.

Jack Bouvier lost most of his money in the Depression, and his extra-marital affairs contributed to the separation of Jacqueline’s parents in 1936. Though Roman Catholic, her parents divorced and her mother later married Hugh D. Auchincloss and moved with her two daughters to Washington, D.C. Jacqueline attended private schools in New York and Connecticut and made her society debut in 1947, the same year she began attending Vassar College.

Jacqueline’s college career included a junior year abroad in France. She completed her studies in French literature at George Washington University in 1951. She was offered a job for a year as a trainee at Vogue, spending six months in New York and six months in France. At the request of her mother and stepfather, though, she refused the position. Jacqueline began working as a photographer for the Washington Times-Herald.

Meeting John F. Kennedy

Jacqueline met John F. Kennedy, the young war hero and congressman from Massachusetts, in 1952, when she interviewed him for one of her assignments. The two began dating, became engaged in June 1953, and married in September at St. Mary’s Church in Newport. There were 750 wedding guests, 1,300 at the reception, and some 3,000 spectators. Her father, because of his alcoholism, was unable to attend or walk her down the aisle.

In 1955, Jacqueline had her first pregnancy, which ended in a miscarriage. The next year another pregnancy ended in premature birth and stillborn child, and soon after her husband was bypassed for an expected nomination as the Democrat Party's vice presidential candidate. Jacqueline’s father died in August 1957. Her marriage suffered because of her husband’s infidelities. On November 27, 1957, she gave birth to her daughter Caroline. It was not long before Kennedy was running for the Senate again, and Jackie—as she was fondly known—took part in that, though she still disliked campaigning.

While Jackie’s beauty, youth, and gracious presence were an asset to the campaigns of her husband, she only reluctantly participated in politics. She was pregnant again when he was running for president in 1960, which allowed her to bow out of active campaigning. That child, John F. Kennedy, Jr., was born on November 25, after the election and before her husband was inaugurated in January 1961.

First Lady

As a very young first lady—only 32 years old—Jackie Kennedy was the subject of much fashion interest. She applied her interests in culture to restoring the White House with period antiques and inviting musical artists to White House dinners. She preferred not to meet with the press or with various delegations that came to meet with the first lady—a term she disliked—but a televised tour of the White House was very popular. She helped get Congress to declare White House furnishings government property.

Jackie maintained an image of distance from politics, but her husband sometimes consulted her on issues and she was an observer at some meetings, including of the National Security Council.

The White House announced in April 1963 that Jackie Kennedy was again pregnant. Patrick Bouvier Kennedy was born prematurely on August 7, 1963, and lived only two days. The experience brought John and Jackie Kennedy closer together.

November 1963

Jackie Kennedy was riding in a limousine next to her husband in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, when he was shot. Images of her cradling his head in her lap as he was rushed to the hospital became part of the iconography of that day. She accompanied her husband’s body on Air Force One and stood, still in her bloodstained suit, next to Lyndon B. Johnson on the plane as he was sworn in as the next president. In the ceremonies that followed, Jackie Kennedy, a young widow with children, figured prominently as the shocked nation mourned. She helped plan the funeral and arranged for an eternal flame to burn as a memorial at President Kennedy’s burial site in Arlington National Cemetery. She also suggested to an interviewer, Theodore H. White, the image of Camelot for the Kennedy legacy.

After the Assassination

After the assassination, Jackie did her best to maintain privacy for her children, moving to an apartment in New York City in 1964 to escape the publicity of Georgetown. Her husband’s brother Robert F. Kennedy stepped in as a role model for his niece and nephew. Jackie took an active role in his run for the presidency in 1968.

After Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June, Jackie married Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis on October 22, 1968—many believe to give herself and her children an umbrella of protection. However, many of the people who had admired her so much in the aftermath of the assassination felt betrayed by her remarriage. She became a constant subject of tabloids and a constant target for paparazzi.

Career as an Editor

Aristotle Onassis died in 1975. After winning a court battle over the widow’s portion of his estate with his daughter Christina, Jackie moved permanently to New York. There, though her wealth would have supported her quite well, she went back to work, taking a job with Viking and later with Doubleday and Company as an editor. She was eventually promoted to senior editor and helped produce bestselling books.

Death

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis died in New York on May 19, 1994, after a few months of treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and was buried next to President Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery. The nation’s depth of mourning stunned her family. A 1996 auction of some of her belongings, to help her two children pay inheritance taxes on her estate, brought more publicity and significant sales.

Legacy

Jackie Kennedy is one of the United States' most iconic first ladies, consistently topping polls of the nation's most beloved and influential figures. As a style icon, she helped popularize long gloves and pillbox hats, and she continues to inspire couture designers today. She has been depicted in the films "Thirteen Days," "Love Field," "Killing Kennedy," and "Jackie."

A book written by Jacqueline Kennedy was found among her personal effects; she left instructions that it not be published for 100 years.

Sources

  • Bowles, Hamish, ed. "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years: Selections from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum." Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001.
  • Bradford, Sarah. "America's Queen: A Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis." Penguin, 2000.
  • Lowe, Jacques. "My Kennedy Years." Thames & Hudson, 1996.
  • Spoto, Donald. "Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: A Life." Macmillan, 2000.