Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

First Lady Jackie Kennedy

Jacqueline Kennedy during her official visit to Paris 1961
Jacqueline Kennedy during her official visit to Paris 1961. RDA/Getty Images

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Facts

Known for: First Lady 1960 - 1963 (married to John F. Kennedy); celebrity after his death and often the subject of tabloid articles, especially during her marriage to Aristotle Onassis

Dates: July 28, 1929 - May 19, 1994; married John F. Kennedy in September, 1953
Occupation: First Lady; photographer, editor
Also known as: Jackie Kennedy, nee Jacqueline Lee Bouvier

Wife of the 35th President of the United States, John F. (Jack) Kennedy. During his Presidency, "Jackie Kennedy" became known mostly 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 became the target of scandal sheets when she married wealthy Greek shipping magnate and financier Aristotle Onassis in 1968. After the death of Onassis in 1975, her image changed again, as she lived in New York as quietly as she could, taking a job as an editor with Doubleday.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Biography

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier in East Hampton, New York. Her mother was Janet Lee, and her father John Vernou Bouvier III, known as “Black Jack.”  He was a stockbroker 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 also contributed to a 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 Washignton, DC.  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, six months in New York an six months in France.  At the request of her mother and stepfather, she refused that position. She began working as a photographer for the Washington Times-Herald taking feature photographs and doing interviews of those she photographed.

Jack Kennedy

She met the young war hero and Congressman from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy.  After he won a Senate race in 1952, he was the subject of one of her interviews. They began dating.  They became engaged in June of 1953 and married in September of that same year at St. Mary’s Church in Newport, with much press attention.  There were 750 wedding guests, 1300 at the reception, and some 3000 spectators.  Her father, because of his alcoholism, was unable to attend or walk her down the aisle.

Jacqueline was at her husband’s side during his recovery from back surgery. In 1955, Jacqueline had her first pregnancy, ending in a miscarriage.  The next year another pregnancy ended in a premature birth and stillborn child, soon after her husband was bypassed for an expected nomination as vice presidential candidate.  Jacqueline’s father died in August of 1957. Her marriage was stressed with her husband’s infidelities. On November 27, 1957, she gave birth to her daughter Caroline.  It was not long before Jack Kennedy was running for the Senate again, and Jackie took part in that, though still disliking campaigning.

While Jacqueline’s beauty, youth and gracious presence were an asset to the campaigns of her husband, she only reluctantly and somewhat rarely an active part in politics or campaigns, though she was quite popular with the public when she did appear. 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 of 1961.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy

As a very young First Lady --  only 32 years old – Jacqueline 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 significantly popular. She helped get Congress to declare White House furnishings as government property.

She 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.

Jacqueline Kennedy did not often travel with her husband on his political and state trips, but trips to Paris in 1961 and India in 1962 were quite popular with the public.

The White House announced in April of 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 Jack and Jackie Kennedy closer together.

November 1963

On another rare trip with her husband, and her first major appearance in public after the death of Patrick, Jacqueline Kennedy was riding in the limousine next to him 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, Jacqueline Kennedy, a young widow with children, figured prominently as a shocked nation mourned.  She helped to plan the funeral, and she 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, Jacqueline Kennedy did her best to maintain privacy for her children, moving to a 15 room 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, Jacqueline Kennedy married Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis on October 22 of that year – many believe to give herself and her children an umbrella of protection. But many of those who had admired her so much in the aftermath of the assassination felt betrayed by her marriage. She became a constant subject of tabloids and a constant target for paparazzi. After initially moving to Skorpios with her new husband and bringing her children there, she raised the children mostly in New York, absenting herself from Onassis for quite a bit of their marriage to be with them.  

Career as an Editor

Aristotle Onassis died in 1975 while Jacqueline was in the United States, after several years mostly apart. After winning a court battle over the widow’s portion of Aristotle Onassis’ estate with his daughter Christina, Jacqueline moved permanently to New York. There, though her wealth would have supported her quite well, she went back to work: she took a job with Viking and later with Doubleday and Company as an editor.  She was eventually promoted to senior editor, and helped produce best selling books.

From about 1979, Jacqueline Onassis – she preferred to keep that last name – lived with Maurice Tempelsman, though they never married.  He helped to manage her finances, making her an even wealthier woman than Onassis had left her.

Death and Legacy

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 for the items.

Her son, John F. Kennedy, jr., was killed in a plane crash in July 1999.

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

Related Resources

  • The following books document not just the life of Jackie Kennedy (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), but the enduring interest in her image.
  • Anderson, Christopher P. Jack and Jackie: Portrait of an American Marriage. 1997.
  • Anderson, Christopher P. Jackie After Jack: Portrait of the Lady. 1999.
  • Anthony, Carl Sferrazza. As We Remember Her: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the Words of Her Family and Friends. 1997.
  • Anthony, Carl Sferrazza. Kennedy White House: Family Life and Pictures, 1961-1963. 2001.
  • Bowles, Hamish, editor. 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. 2000.
  • Davis, John H. Jacqueline Bouvier: An Intimate Memoir. 1998.
  • Hawes, Esme. The Life and Times of Jackie Onassis. Reading Level Ages 9-12. 1997.
  • Heymann, David C. A Woman Named Jackie: An Intimate Biography of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. 1989.
  • Kelleher, K. L. Jackie: Beyond the Myth of Camelot. 2001.
  • Keogh, Pamela Clarke. Jackie Style. 2001.
  • Klein, Edward. All Too Human: The Love Story of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. 1997.
  • Koestenbaum, Wayne. Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting an Icon. 1995.
  • Leaming, Barbara. Mrs. Kennedy: The Missing History of the Kennedy Years. 2001.
  • Lowe, Jacques. Camelot: The Kennedy Years. 1996.
  • Mars, Julie. Jackie. Ariel Books. 1996, gift edition.
  • Moutsatsos, Kiki Feroudi. The Onassis Women: An Eyewitness Account. 1998.
  • Mulvaney, Jay and Dominick Dunne. Jackie: The Clothes of Camelot. 2001.
  • Potter, Jan. Janet and Jackie: The Story of a Mother and Her Daughter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. 2001.
  • Radziwell, Lee. Happy Times. 2001.
  • Spada, James. Jackie: Her Life in Pictures. 2000/2001.
  • Spoto, Donald. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: A Life. 2000/2001.
  • Suero, Orlando, photographer, with Anne Garside. Camelot at Dawn: Jacqueline and John Kennedy in May, 1954. 2001.
  • Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Jackie, Ethel, Joan: The Women of Camelot. 2000/2001.

Related books:

  • Kennedy, Caroline, editor. The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. 2001.
  • Sgubin, Marta. Cooking for Madam: Recipes and Reminiscences from the Home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. 1998.
  • Tierney, Tom. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Paper Dolls. 1999.