Born on 28 July 1929 in Southampton, New York, Jacqueline Kennedy, nee Lee Bouvier, was the eldest of two daughters. Her parents were John ‘Black Jack’ Bouvier, a successful Wall Street stockbroker and Janet Norton Lee. The couple divorced in 1940, when Jacqueline was ten years old. Her mother went on to marry the wealthy businessman, Hugh D Auchincloss, with whom she had two more children.
A bright child, Jacqueline enjoyed reading and did well at school. One of her teachers described her as “a darling child, the prettiest little girl, very clever, very artistic, and full of the devil.” In addition to taking lessons in French and ballet, Jacqueline was also an accomplished equestrienne and her love of horses endured long into adulthood.
Jacqueline’s teenage years were spent at an exclusive boarding school in Connecticut. Graduating in 1947, she continued her education at Vassar College, where she read French, history, art and literature. Two years later, in 1949, Jacqueline participated in a study abroad programme, which saw her relocating to France to attend the University of Grenoble and the Sorbonne. Returning to the United States in 1950, she completed her education at the George Washington University in Washington DC.
The Inquiring Camera Girl
She began her career in 1951 as the ‘Inquiring Camera Girl’ for the Washington Times-Herald newspaper. During this time, she was briefly engaged to John Husted, another stockbroker, but she ended the relationship in March 1952. In May of that year, Jacqueline met Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy at a dinner party. After a ‘spasmodic’ courtship, they pair became engaged the following year. The wedding took place on 12 September 1953 at St Mary’s Church in Newport, Rhode Island, followed by a grand reception at her stepfather’s nearby estate.
The marriage was fraught with difficulties from the outset, not least of which was Senator Kennedy’s serial infidelity. Jacqueline’s first pregnancy ended in miscarriage in 1955, and she gave birth to a stillborn daughter in August 1956. Happily, a healthy daughter, Caroline, arrived in November 1957, followed by a son, John Jr, in 1960.
Jacqueline, who always detested the shortening of her name to ‘Jackie’, occupied the role of First Lady of the United States from 1961 until her husband’s assassination in late 1963. During this time, Mrs Kennedy dedicated herself to the restoration of the White House, and with the help of conservation specialists and art experts she succeeded in establishing the White House as the nation’s cultural centre.
Mrs Kennedy enjoyed widespread popularity as First Lady and was regarded as a style icon the world over. However, her extravagant spending habits, which often irritated her husband, became another source of friction within the marriage.
On 7 August 1963, Jacqueline gave birth, via emergency Caesarean section, to the couple’s second son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy. The infant, who was born almost six weeks before term, suffered from complex lung problems and died of respiratory failure two days later.
Barely three months later, tragedy stuck once again when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, as the couple travelled through the streets in an open-top car. Accompanying her husband’s body back to Washington on board Air Force One, the former First Lady witnessed the swearing in of Lyndon B Johnson as her husband’s successor. Her blood-stained pink Chanel suit became a defining image of that terrible day.
In 1968, Jacqueline married the Greek shipping tycoon, Aristotle Onassis. The pair remained together until Onassis’s death in 1975.
In later years, Jacqueline worked as an editor for the publishing houses, Viking Press and Doubleday.
She died, from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, on 19 May 1994, at the age of 64. She was laid to rest beside President Kennedy in the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.