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Jackie Kennedy

First Lady of the United States

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A picture of Jackie Kennedy, First Lady of the United States.

Jackie Kennedy, the wife of the American President-Elect John F Kennedy. (December 10, 1960)

(Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Who Was Jackie Kennedy?

As the wife of President John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy became the 35th First Lady of the United States. She remains an icon and one of the favorite First Ladies of all time for her beauty, grace, and restoration of the White House as a national treasure.

Dates: July 28, 1929 – May 19, 1994

Also Known As: Jacqueline Lee Bouvier; Jackie Onassis; Jackie O

Growing Up

On July 28, 1929, in Southampton, New York, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born into wealth. She was the daughter of John Bouvier III, a Wall Street stockbroker, and Janet Bouvier (née Lee). She had one sister, Caroline Lee, born in 1933. As a youth, Jackie enjoyed reading, writing, and horseback riding.

In 1940, Jackie’s parents divorced due to her father’s alcoholism and womanizing; however, Jackie was able to continue her prestigious education. Two years later, her mother married a wealthy Standard Oil heir, Hugh Auchincloss Jr.

After attending Vassar, Jackie spent her junior year learning French literature at the Sorbonne in Paris. She then transferred to George Washington University in Washington D.C. and in 1951 she received a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Marrying John F. Kennedy

Newly out of college, Jackie was hired as an “inquiring photographer” for the Washington Times-Herald. Her job was to surprise random people on the street with questions while taking their pictures for the entertainment section.

Although busy with her job, Jackie also made time to have a social life. In December 1951, she became engaged to John Husted Jr., a stockbroker. However, in March 1952, Bouvier broke her engagement to Husted, saying he was too immature.

Two months later she began dating John F. Kennedy, who was 12 years her senior. The newly elected Massachusetts Senator proposed to Bouvier in June 1953. The engagement was short for the couple married on September 12, 1953, in Newport, Rhode Island, at St. Mary’s Church. Kennedy was 36 and Bouvier (now known as Jackie Kennedy) was 24. (Jackie’s father did not attend the wedding; alcoholism was cited as the reason.)

Life as Jackie Kennedy

While Mr. and Mrs. John F. Kennedy settled down in Georgetown in the Washington D.C. area, Kennedy was suffering from back pain from a WWII injury. (He had received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for saving a dozen of his crewmembers’ lives, but had hurt his back in the process.)

In 1954, Kennedy opted for surgery to repair his spine. However, since Kennedy also had Addison’s disease, which can cause very low blood pressure and coma, he became unresponsive after his back surgery and was administered the last rites. Married less than two years, Jackie thought her husband was going to die. Thankfully, after several weeks, Kennedy came out of the coma. During his long recovery, Jackie suggested that her husband write a book, so Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage.

After the near loss of her husband, Jackie hoped to start a family. She got pregnant but soon suffered a miscarriage in 1955. Then more tragedy struck on August 23, 1956, when a devastated Jackie gave birth to a stillborn girl named Arabella.

While still recovering from the loss of their daughter, that November Kennedy was nominated for vice president on the Democratic ticket with the presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson. However, Dwight D. Eisenhower was to win that presidential election.

The year 1957 proved to be a much better year for both Jackie and John Kennedy. On November 27, 1957, Jackie gave birth to a girl, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy (named after Jackie’s sister). John Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Profiles in Courage.

In 1960, the Kennedys became a household name when John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for U.S. President in January 1960; he soon became the frontrunner for the Democratic ticket against Richard M. Nixon.

Jackie had monumental news of her own when she discovered she was pregnant in February 1960. Being part of a national presidential campaign is taxing for anyone, so doctors advised Jackie to take it easy. She took their advice and from her Georgetown apartment she wrote a weekly column in national newspapers called “Campaign Wife.”

Jackie was able to also help her husband’s campaign by participating in TV interviews and campaign spots. Her charm, young motherhood, upper-class background, love of politics, and knowledge of multiple languages added to the Kennedy appeal for presidency.

First Lady, Jackie Kennedy

In November 1960, 43-year-old John F. Kennedy won the election. Sixteen days later, on November 25, 1960, 31-year-old Jackie gave birth to a son, John Jr.

In January 1961, Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States and Jackie became the First Lady. After the Kennedy family moved into the White House, Jackie hired a press secretary to help her with First Lady obligations since her priority was to raise her two children.

Unfortunately, life in the White House was not perfect for the Kennedys. The stress and strain of the job added to the continued pain President Kennedy felt in his back, which caused him to excessively resort to pain pills for help. He is also known to have had numerous extramarital affairs, including an alleged affair with actress Marilyn Monroe. Jackie Kennedy continued on, focusing her time on both being a mom and restoring the White House.

As First Lady, Jackie renovated the White House with an emphasis on history while raising funds to support the restoration. She created the White House Historical Association and worked with Congress to pass laws for historic preservation, which included the creation of a White House Curator. She also worked to ensure that the White House furniture remained the property of the federal government through the Smithsonian Institution.

In February 1962, Jackie gave a televised tour of the White House so that Americans could see and understand her commitment. Two months later, she received a special Emmy award for public service from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for the tour.

Jackie Kennedy also used the White House to showcase American artists and lobbied for the creation of the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities.

Despite her successes with the White House restoration, Jackie soon suffered another loss. Pregnant again in early 1963, Jackie sadly delivered a premature boy, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, on August 7, 1963, who died two days later. He was buried next to his sister, Arabella.

Assassination of President Kennedy

Just three months after Patrick’s death, Jackie agreed to make a public appearance with her husband in support of his 1964 presidential reelection campaign.

On November 22, 1963, the Kennedy’s landed in Dallas, Texas, via Air Force One. The couple sat in the backseat of an open limousine, with Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie, sitting in front of them. The limousine became part of a motorcade, headed from the airport to the Trade Mart where President Kennedy was scheduled to speak at a luncheon.

While unsuspecting Jackie and John Kennedy waved to the crowds lining the streets in the Dealey Plaza area of downtown Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald waited in the sixth floor window at the Schoolbook Depository building where he was an employee. Oswald, a former U.S. Marine who had defected to the Communist Soviet Union, used a sniper rifle to shoot President Kennedy at 12:30 p.m.

The bullet hit Kennedy in the upper back. Another shot struck Governor Connally in the back. As Connally screamed, Nellie grabbed her husband down onto her lap. Jackie leaned toward her husband, who was grasping at his neck. Oswald’s third bullet shattered President Kennedy’s skull.

In a panic, Jackie bolted onto the rear of the car and across the trunk towards Secret Service Agent, Clint Hill, for help. Hill, who had been on the fender of the Secret Service car following the open limousine, hurried onto the car, pushed Jackie back into her seat, and protected her as the President was rushed to nearby Parkland Hospital.

In her now famous Chanel pink suit splattered with her husband's blood, Jackie sat outside of Trauma Room One. After insisting to be with her husband, Jackie was beside President Kennedy when he was pronounced dead at 1:00 p.m.

John F. Kennedy’s body was placed into a casket and boarded onto Air Force One. Jackie, still wearing her bloodstained pink suit, stood next to Vice President Lyndon Johnson as he was sworn in as President of the United States at 2:38 p.m. before takeoff.

Oswald was arrested just hours after the shooting for killing a police officer and subsequently the slain President. Two days later, when Oswald was being transported through the basement of police headquarters to the nearby county jail, nightclub owner Jack Ruby jumped out of the crowd of spectators and fatally shot Oswald. Ruby said Dallas was redeemed by his action. The bizarre sequence of events shocked the mourning nation, wondering if Oswald acted alone or was in conspiracy with the Communists, Fidel Castro of Cuba, or the mob, since Ruby was involved in organized crime.

President Kennedy’s Funeral

On Sunday, November 25, 1963, there were 300,000 people in Washington D.C. watching the funeral procession as the John F. Kennedy’s casket was taken to the U.S. Capitol Rotunda via horse and carriage in model of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. Jackie escorted her children, Caroline age six, and John Jr. age three. Instructed by his mother, young John Jr. saluted his father’s coffin as it passed by.

The grieving nation watched the tragic funeral unfold on television. The procession then went to St. Matthew’s Cathedral for the funeral and on to Arlington National Cemetery for burial. Jackie lit the eternal flame over her husband’s grave that continues to burn.

On November 29, 1963, just days after the funeral, Jackie was interviewed by Life Magazine in which she referred to her years in the White House as “Camelot.” Jackie wanted her husband remembered in a positive way, how he listened to the record Camelot before going to sleep at night.

Jackie and her children moved back into their Georgetown apartment, but by 1964, Jackie found Washington unbearable due to the many memories. She purchased a Manhattan apartment on Fifth Avenue and moved her children to New York City. Jackie memorialized her husband at many events and helped establish the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.

Jackie O

On June 4, 1968, New York Senator Bobby Kennedy, President Kennedy’s younger brother who was running for President, was assassinated in a hotel in Los Angeles. Jackie feared for her children’s safety and fled the country. The news media coined the phrase, “the Kennedy Curse” regarding the Kennedy tragedies.

Jackie took her children to Greece and found comfort with the 62-year-old Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis. In the summer of 1968, 39-year-old Jackie announced her engagement to Onassis, stunning the U.S. public. The couple married on October 20, 1968, on Onassis’ private island, Skorpios. Jackie Kennedy Onassis was dubbed “Jackie O” by the press.

When Onassis’ 25-year-old son Alexander died in a plane crash in 1973, Christina Onassis, Onassis’ daughter, said it was “the Kennedy Curse” that followed Jackie. The marriage became strained until Onassis’ death in 1975.

Jackie the Editor

Forty-six-year-old Jackie, now twice widowed, returned to New York in 1975 and accepted a publishing career with Viking Press. She left her job in 1978 due to a book regarding the fantasy assassination of Ted Kennedy, another Kennedy brother in politics.

She then went to work for Doubleday as an editor and began dating a long-time friend, Maurice Tempelsman. Tempelsman eventually moved into Jackie’s Fifth Avenue apartment and remained her companion for the rest of her life.

Jackie continued memorializing President Kennedy in helping design both the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the JFK Memorial Library in Massachusetts. In addition, she helped with the historic preservation of Grand Central Station.

Illness and Death

In January 1994, Jackie was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer. On May 18, 1994, 64-year-old Jackie passed away quietly in her sleep in her Manhattan apartment.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ funeral was held at Saint Ignatius Loyola Church. She was buried in Arlington National Cemetery beside President Kennedy and her two deceased infants, Patrick and Arabella.

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