Happy 90th Birthday, Jacqueline Kennedy!

Jacqueline “Jackie” Bouvier Kennedy was born 90 years ago, on July 28, 1929. An icon of the 1960s, she remains one of the most popular First Ladies and is remembered for her contributions to the arts and her grace and style. Today’s post comes from Megan Huang from the National Archives History Office. 

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Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy at age four, ca. 1934 (National Archives Identifier 595973)

As a child, Jackie enjoyed horseback riding and became an accomplished equestrian. She won a double championship when she was just 11, a feat that was reported in the New York Times. She was also a voracious reader as well, finishing all her books before she started school.

Once in the classroom, though, her teachers appeared to have a split opinion about her. One described her as “a darling child, the prettiest little girl, very clever, very artistic,” but to another she was “full of the devil.”

Her parents’ divorce when she was 10 was an early challenge for the young Jackie, but she kept busy with her activities, which included ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House and studying the French language.

She continued studying French at Vassar College in addition to art, history, and literature, and spent her junior year abroad in Paris. Following her return, she transferred to the George Washington University to be closer to her family.

Her first job was to interview people and write a column as the “Inquiring Camera Girl,” for the Washington Times-Herald. Her work was primarily conducted on the streets, but it also took her to Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first inauguration.

In 1952, when she was still at the Washington Times-Herald, Jackie was introduced to a young congressman named John F. Kennedy. They were similar in many ways, sharing religions, hobbies, experiences of living abroad, and family backgrounds. They married a year later on September 12 at Hammersmith Farm in Newport, Rhode Island. Their first child, Caroline, was born in 1957.

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Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and John F. Kennedy cut their wedding cake during their reception at Hammersmith Farm, 9/12/1953. (Photo credit: Toni Frissell, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, National Archives)

Marrying a man with the most ambitious of political aspirations took Jackie out of her comfort zone. Weeks of campaigning and appearances went against her naturally quiet and shy personality, but her presence on the campaign trail was described by her husband as “simply invaluable.” She took on the role of campaigner twice, in JFK’s bid for the Senate and then the Presidency. Kennedy’s triumph over Richard Nixon came just weeks before Jackie gave birth to their second child, John Jr.

As First Lady, Jackie emphasized the preservation of the White House and culture. In 1962, millions tuned into her televised tour the White House’s restored public rooms. She used her influence to preserve and protect America’s cultural heritage including many buildings in Lafayette Square, near the White House in Washington, DC, that were set for destruction.

She invited artists to perform and also organized for the painting Mona Lisa to be shown in the United States. Her work in promoting the arts, as well as her personal elegance, led to the admiration of people all over the world.

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President John F. Kennedy, Madame Marie-Madeleine Lioux, French Minister of Cultural Affairs André Malraux, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and Vice President Lyndon Johnson attending the unveiling of the Mona Lisa at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, 1/8/1963. (National Archives Identifier 194219)

Tragedy struck on November 22, 1963, when her husband was assassinated during a visit to Dallas, Texas. Famously, Jackie refused to clean the pink suit she wore that day, which is now in the possession of the National Archives and will be kept out of public view in a controlled facility until 2103.

Following her husband’s death, Jackie continued to promote his legacy. JFK had been thinking about his Presidential library as early as his first year in office, writing to then-Archivist of the United States, Wayne Grover, about a future library to be built in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After JFK died, Jackie took over and was closely involved in the creation of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, choosing I.M. Pei as architect. Following the death of her second husband, Aristotle Onassis, she worked for Viking Press and Doubleday, but she remained engaged with the JFK Library’s activities and made occasional appearances at political events.

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Fundraising reception for the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, 6/24/1985. From left to right, Senator Edward Kennedy, President Ronald Reagan, First Lady Nancy Reagan, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Ethel Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr. (National Archives Identifier 75854173)

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died at the age of 64 of cancer at her apartment in New York City.

Learn more about First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy by visiting the JFK Presidential Library website.

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