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Jackie Kennedy - The American Queen

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I am an idealist, an optimist, a romantic, often a traditionalist. My writing mostly revolves around the beauty in our lives.

Jackie Kennedy on her wedding day, Rhode Island, 12 September, 1953

Jackie Kennedy on her wedding day, Rhode Island, 12 September, 1953

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy

Jackie Kennedy exemplified elegance and charm at every turn as the American nation's First Lady. She lived a public life in an era where an element of mystery could be retained, and respect for privacy was readily offered. As time passes, we become more familiar with her impeccable dignity and poise, despite the personal challenges that beset her.

Jackie Kennedy was regal in the world in which she lived, and her memory continues to reign supreme in a new world which has the ability to reflect with pinpointed scrutiny upon the behaviours of its past heroes and heroines.

Her life, and the lives of those closest to her, were far from flawless, but the public protected her, admired her, idolised her and took ownership of her, as if she was their queen.

The Queen Of Style

Jackie Kennedy throwing her bridal bouquet

Jackie Kennedy throwing her bridal bouquet

Even though people may be well known, they hold in their hearts the emotions of a simple person for the moments that are the most important of those we know on earth: birth, marriage and death.

— Jackie Kennedy

Family Background

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier lived a young life of privilege. She was born in New York in 1929, to a wealthy, stockbroking father of French Catholic descent, and a socially accomplished mother of Irish Catholic ancestry. She attended a prestigious boarding school in Connecticut, and took extra-curricular ballet, French and equestrian lessons, all of which she excelled at.

Her parents divorced when she was 10 years old, and her mother remarried three years later—to Hugh Auchincloss, a lawyer and heir of Standard Oil. Jackie's life of privilege continued, despite the social and emotional upheaval of her parents' uncommon, pre-mid-century, Catholic divorce. This period of sadness and reflection is perhaps what developed Jackie's inner strength and self-reliance, that she so often called upon during her tumultuous adult life.

Surrounded by a background of affluence and New York social status, and personally driven by a love of the classics, Jackie was Debutante of the Year in 1947, before spending a year studying in Paris, and then graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in French Literature from George Washington University in 1951.

In her first job in 1952, as a young photographer/interviewer with the Washington Times-Herald in Washington DC, Jackie Bouvier met Massachusetts Congressman and Senator-elect, John F. Kennedy, at a dinner party. This meeting steered the course of American 20th Century history.

Jackie and Jack Kennedy on their wedding day, Rhode Island, 12 September 1953.

Jackie and Jack Kennedy on their wedding day, Rhode Island, 12 September 1953.

Now, I think that I should have known that he was magic all along. I did know it - but I should have guessed that it would be too much to ask to grow old with and see our children grow up together. So now, he is a legend when he would have preferred to be a man.

— Jackie Kennedy

The Camelot Dynasty

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Jack) and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier were married on 12 September 1953, at Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Newport, Rhode Island.

"A breeze whipped up whitecaps in the bay as waves of publicity powered by the groom’s father, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, drew crowds to the streets. It was he who had picked out Jacqueline Bouvier as the right wife for a future president of the United States, and he is said to have run the whole event like a Hollywood production." (1)

Regardless of the raw family political ambition, the wedding was lavish and considered to be the social event of the year. And despite reports in the ensuing six decades, of rampant infidelity in the Kennedy marriage, it remains an enduring example of a loving and successful partnership in both a familial and political context.

The favourite song of Jack and Jackie Kennedy came from the musical 'Camelot"— Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.' In an interview with Theodore H. White following Jack Kennedy's death, Jackie Kennedy said, "there'll never be another Camelot again." Theodore White wrote: "So the epitaph on the Kennedy Administration became Camelot—a magic moment in American history, when gallant men danced with beautiful women, when great deeds were done, when artists, writers and poets met at the White House and the barbarians beyond the walls were held back." (2)

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President John and Mrs Kennedy at the Inaugural Ball, 20 January 1961

President John and Mrs Kennedy at the Inaugural Ball, 20 January 1961

One man can make a difference and every man should try.

— Jackie Kennedy

The First Lady

Jack Kennedy announced his candidacy for the American presidency in January 1960. He defeated Republican Richard M. Nixon on 08 November 1960.

Jackie Kennedy was a reluctant campaigner and public political partner throughout her marriage, but her desire for privacy did not diminish her unfailing support for her husband's career and position. Caroline Kennedy had been born on 27 November 1957 and Jackie was pregnant with the second Kennedy child during the 1960 presidential campaign. She was confined to home, upon medical direction, where she campaigned remotely by giving interviews, answering letters and writing a weekly national newspaper column called "Campaign Wife." John Fitzgerald Kennedy Junior was born on 25 November 1960, less than three weeks after his father became the youngest man elected to the office of President of the United States.

President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated on 20 January 1961 with his First Lady by his side.

It was in his inauguration speech that President Kennedy famously motivated Americans to participate in public service and "ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." (3)

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Jackie Kennedy in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room

Jackie Kennedy in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room

I want minimum information given with maximum politeness.

— Jackie Kennedy

The Historian

One of Jackie Kennedy's earliest and greatest passions as First Lady was the restoration of the White House. She strongly believed that the White House should showcase the nation's history and culture, and form the centrepiece of national pride.

She established expert committees to source historical furniture, art and literature to complement the restoration, some of which had belonged to Presidents George Washington, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln. She sourced artefacts and items of historical significance from government warehouses and appealed to the American people to donate any items of relevance.

Jackie Kennedy insisted that "everything in the White House must have a reason for being there. It would be sacrilege merely to 'redecorate' it—a word I hate. It must be restored—and that has nothing to do with decoration. That is a question of scholarship." (4)

The restoration of the White House was privately funded. Jackie Kennedy urged for the creation of the White House Historical Association, which raised funds through the book The White House: An Historic Guide. The restoration was shared with a broader audience when 56 million television viewers watched her personal tour of the White House on 14 February 1962, and for which she was awarded an honorary Emmy Award for her personal performance.

Jackie Kennedy's interest in the restoration of significant buildings continued throughout her life. She maintained an interest in Washington DC restoration projects to preserve the Executive Office Building and the Lafayette Square residential precinct opposite the White House, and her determination for the preservation of Manhattan's Grand Central Station, when she later lived in New York, continues to be celebrated.

"Her campaign for Grand Central Terminal remains the gold standard. She was subtle, genuine and classy. Above all, in arguing for the preservation of one of the most wonderful public spaces in America, she was right." (5)

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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.

— Jackie Kennedy

The Style Icon

Jackie Kennedy was an indisputable style icon of the 20th Century and her allure continues, unabated, into the 21st Century. Her sense of fashion was dictated by a personal preference for simple elegance. Sleek, pared-down gowns, suits and dresses were characterised by solid colours and embellished with oversized buttons, sculptured collars and necklines, and discreet bows, often topped off with her trademark pearls and pillbox hats.

Despite the public image of impeccable grooming and political indifference, Jackie Kennedy played a significant role in American domestic policy and international affairs, through her steadfast support of her husband, often literally at his side. She travelled both alone, and with the President to France, Austria, England, Greece, Venezuela and Colombia in 1961; India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Italy and Mexico in 1962; and Morocco, Italy, Turkey, Greece, France in 1963. Her command of several languages and her interest in international culture was well-received and formed the foundation of genuine and important friendships between the Kennedys and world leaders.

Presidential advisor, Clark Clifford, wrote to Jackie Kennedy following her trip to France, Austria and Greece in 1961: "Once in a great while, an individual will capture the imagination of people all over the world. You have done this; and what is more important, through your graciousness and tact, you have transformed this rare accomplishment into an incredibly important asset to this nation." (6)

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President John and Mrs Kennedy at the National Theatre, Washington DC

President John and Mrs Kennedy at the National Theatre, Washington DC

I want to live my life, not record it.

— Jackie Kennedy

The Arts Patron

Jackie Kennedy was proud to show off the newly restored White House, and especially to open it to a new generation of American culture and achievement. Official dinner parties included the presidential hospitality of writers, artists, musicians and scientists, along with the traditional guests of officials, politicians, diplomats and international leaders. The new White House also hosted performances of opera, dance and Shakespeare.

Violinist Isaac Stern thanked the Kennedys after one such event with artistic flair: "It would be difficult to tell you how refreshing, how heartening it is to find such serious attention and respect for the arts in the White House. To many of us it is one of the most exciting developments on the present American cultural scene." (7)

"Art was there from the beginning for the Kennedy administration. The great, barrier-breaking, African American contralto Marian Anderson sang at the inauguration. My favorite photo of the Kennedy era is a picture of Bernstein and Frank Sinatra backstage at an inaugural ball as they waited to go on, each trying to appear cooler than the other and each looking like he had just been given the keys to the country. John Steinbeck, W.H. Auden and Robert Lowell were on hand. In all, the president—no doubt at the urging of the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy—invited 50 writers and artists and musicians to the inauguration." (8)

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Jackie Kennedy riding with her children, Caroline and John

Jackie Kennedy riding with her children, Caroline and John

If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much.

— Jackie Kennedy

The Mother

One of Jackie Kennedy's greatest gifts to the nation was the restoration of the White House, but her first building project as First Lady involved the transformation of the White House into a family home. She converted a porch into a kindergarten and commissioned the installation of a swing set and tree house on the White House lawn for Caroline and John Junior, who spent their early childhoods at the most famous building in the country.

Caroline Kennedy was three years old when her father was elected as President of the United States, and her brother John Junior, was born less than three weeks after the event.

Jackie Kennedy considered her most important roles to be that of wife and mother. "I'll be a wife and mother first, then First Lady." (9) "The children have been a wonderful gift to me, and I’m thankful to have once again seen our world through their eyes. They restore my faith in the family’s future." (10)

Privacy was as important to her as her family. This strong desire for privacy became more urgent following the assassination of her brother-in-law, Robert F. Kennedy, in 1968. In response to his death, she claimed “if they're killing Kennedys, then my children are targets...I want to get out of this country”. (11) Within months, she had married Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis, who was able to offer the wealth, power and isolation to protect her family.

"Her silence about her past, especially about the Kennedy years and her marriage to the President, was always something of a mystery. Her family never spoke of it; out of loyalty or trepidation over her wrath, her closest friends shed no light on it and there was nothing authoritative to be learned beyond her inner circle." (12)

Caroline and John Junior were conscientious students who shared a close relationship with their mother. John Kennedy Junior died in a plane crash with his wife and sister-in-law on 16 July 1999. Caroline Kennedy has attempted to live a relatively private life with her husband and children in New York, however, the public responsibility attached to being "a Kennedy" has peeled away layers of seclusion. Caroline was appointed her most public role on 24 July 2013, when President Barack Obama nominated her as American ambassador to Japan.

A former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs, Kurt M. Campbell, shared his confidence in Caroline Kennedy's international diplomatic position: ""What you really want in an ambassador is someone who can get the President of the United States on the phone. I can't think of anybody in the United States who could do that more quickly than Caroline Kennedy." (13)

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The family leaving the funeral ceremony of John F. Kennedy, 25 November 1963

The family leaving the funeral ceremony of John F. Kennedy, 25 November 1963

One must not let oneself be overwhelmed by sadness.

— Jackie Kennedy

The Widow

"John F. Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States (1961-1963), the youngest man elected to the office. On November 22, 1963, when he was hardly past his first thousand days in office, JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, becoming also the youngest President to die." (14)

His widow and the nation could barely manage their grief. Jackie Kennedy was the pillar of dignity and composure, whose example strengthened the core of Americans who could barely believe the history that had played before them.

The world remembers Jackie Kennedy for the many images of her personal taste and style, acts of kindness and philanthropy, international diplomacy and cultural proficiency, but above all else, for her love as a mother and last respects as a devoted wife.

"... the images of Mrs. Kennedy that burned most deeply were those in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963: her lunge across the open limousine as the assassin's bullets struck, the Schiaparelli pink suit stained with her husband's blood, her gaunt stunned face in the blur of the speeding motorcade, and the anguish later at Parkland Memorial Hospital as the doctors gave way to the priest and a new era. In the aftermath, some things were not so readily apparent: her refusal to change clothes on the flight back to Washington to let Americans see the blood; her refusal to take sleeping pills that might dull her capacity to arrange the funeral, whose planning she dominated. She stipulated the riderless horse in the procession and the eternal flame by the grave at Arlington. And in public, what the world saw was a figure of admirable self-control, a black-veiled widow who walked beside the coffin to the tolling drums with her head up, who reminded 3-year-old John Jr. to salute at the service and who looked with solemn dignity upon the proceedings. She was 34 years old." (15)

Reverend Richard McSorley, a Jesuit priest and friend of Robert F. Kennedy, has been revealed to have counselled and supported Jackie Kennedy through her deepest grief following her husband's death. His personal files, including letters and documents about Jackie Kennedy's grief-stricken depression and emotional struggle, are kept at Georgetown University Library, and were shared with journalist, Thomas Maier, before a Kennedy family complaint closed access.

One of the McSorley documents reveals Jackie's depression and desperation : "Do you think God would separate me from my husband if I killed myself?" Jackie asked the priest. "It is so hard to bear. I feel as though I am going out of my mind at times. Wouldn't God understand that I just want to be with him?" (16)

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The Kennedy family at their beloved Hyannis Port, 04 August 1962

The Kennedy family at their beloved Hyannis Port, 04 August 1962

I think my biggest achievement is that, after going through a rather difficult time, I consider myself comparatively sane.

— Jackie Kennedy

A Life Lived Well

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis died of cancer at her New York home, surrounded by family and friends, on 19 May 1994.

She was 64 years old.

During her life, her parents divorced when she was a child. She miscarried in 1955, gave birth to a stillborn baby girl in 1956 and her third child, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, died at two days old in August 1963. She was widowed three months later when her husband, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in a Lincoln convertible during a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, with her by his side. She remarried in 1968, to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who left her a widow again when he died in 1975.

Jackie Kennedy's life was punctuated by sadness and enormous tragedy, but there was also unsurpassable happiness, satisfaction and achievement. Her legacy to America and the world is fathoms deep and far-reaching beyond fashion and style, language and writing, architecture and the arts, politics and international diplomacy, and even her family. She was the American Queen.

She is buried beside her first husband, President John F. Kennedy, at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, under the glow of the eternal flame.

© 2012 AJ

Jackie Kennedy's Guest Book

AJ (author) from Australia on April 28, 2015:

I think you're absolutely right Alastar - as young as Jackie was when she died, I'm not sure how she could ever have recovered from the loss of her son had she been alive. There is only so much any person can bear. Thank you for visiting.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on April 23, 2015:

What a classy and elegant woman America had with Jackie Lee Bouvier Kennedy. She was truly the first lady to the USA and in a sense to the world. Her husband may well have been one of our greatest presidents who came to want world peace and I wish he and Jackie could have found a true, faithful and lasting loving relationship. As protective and loving as she was to her children we can only be thankful she passed before JFK, Jr, mysteriously died in the plane crash of 1999.