The inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961 brought to the White House and to the heart of the nation a beautiful young wife and the first young children of a president in half a century.
Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born in Southampton, New York, on July 28, 1929. Her early years were divided between New York City and East Hampton, Long Island, where she learned to ride almost as soon as she could walk. Educated at the best of private schools, she wrote poems and stories, drew illustrations for them, and studied ballet. Her mother, who had divorced, remarried in 1942 and brought "Jackie" to a home near Washington, D. C. "Debutante of the year" for the 1947-1948 season, social success did not keep her from continuing her education. As a Vassar student she spent her junior year in France before graduating from George Washington University. These experiences left Jackie with a great empathy for people of foreign countries.
In Washington she took a job as "inquiring photographer" for a local newspaper. Her path soon crossed that of Senator Kennedy. Their romance progressed privately, but their wedding at Newport in 1953 attracted nationwide publicity. Jackie had to adapt to a role of wife to one of the country's most energetic political figures. Her own public appearances were highly successful, but limited in number. After a miscarriage and the stillbirth of a daughter, Caroline Bouvier was born in 1957. John Jr. was born between the election of 1960 and Inauguration Day. Patrick Bouvier, born prematurely on August 7, 1963, died two days later.
To the role of first lady, Mrs. Kennedy brought beauty, intelligence, and cultivated taste. Her much publicized interest in historic preservation and the arts inspired a national attention to culture. She made the White House a museum of American history and decorative art as well as a charming family residence. But she defined her major role as "to take care of the President" and added that "if you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much."
Mrs. Kennedy's gallant courage during the tragedy of her husband's assassination won her the admiration of the world. Thereafter it seemed the public would never allow her the privacy she desired for herself and her children. She moved to New York City; and in 1968 she married the wealthy Greek businessman Aristotle Onassis, 23 years her senior, who died in March 1975. From 1978 until her death in 1994, Mrs. Onassis worked in New York City as an editor for Doubleday. At her funeral her son described three of her attributes: "love of words, the bonds of home and family, and her spirit of adventure."
You Might Also Like
Collection Animal Ambassadors
Animals, whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays, have long been a major part of White House...
Collection Cherry Blossoms
Since the first cherry blossom planting in 1912 by First Lady Helen Herron Taft, Washingtonians have celebrated the scenic beauty and...
Collection The First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits
Collection White House Women
While there has yet to be a female president, women have played an integral role in shaping the White House...
Collection Slavery in the President's Neighborhood
Many people think of the White House as a symbol of democracy, but it also embodies America’s complicated past an...
Collection The Presidents
Biographies & Portraits
Bio Harriet Lane
Unique among first ladies, Harriet Lane acted as hostess for the only president who never married. James Buchanan was her...
Bio Betty Ford
In 25 years of political life, Betty Ford did not expect to become first lady. As wife of Representative Gerald R....
Bio Frances Cleveland
"I detest him so much that I don't even think his wife is beautiful," said one of President Grover Cleveland's...
Bio Elizabeth Truman
Whistle-stopping in 1948, President Truman often ended his talk by introducing his wife as "the Boss" and his daughter, Margaret, as "...
Bio Lou Hoover
Admirably equipped to preside at the White House, Lou Henry Hoover had experience as wife of a man eminent in...
Bio Rose Cleveland
Rose Cleveland was Grover Cleveland's sister and fufilled the White House hostess duties until she gave up the role to...