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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy

Jacqueline Bouvier, 1935.
Jacqueline Bouvier, 1935.
Photograph by David Berne in the
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

In honor of Jackie's birthday coming up on the 28th, I am celebrating with posts throughout the month dedicated to her life and style. And, since America is celebrating our Independence Day today, I thought it would be a great day to give you some tidbits on one of our Nation's greatest First Lady.

Jackie was born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier on July 28, 1929. She lived on Park Avenue and spent her summers in East Hampton until her parents divorced. Her mother remarried in 1942 and moved Jackie and her sister, Lee into their new blended family's home just across the Potomac from the nation's capital. They then spent their summers in their new family's 28 room Victorian estate in Newport, Rhode Island.

She loved horses and was a skilled rider. In 1940, she scored a double victory at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden. “Miss Bouvier achieved a rare distinction,” The New York Times reported. “The occasions are few when a young rider wins both contests in the same show.”

In high school, her innate sense of style was already obvious to her classmates. It was said that "She could put on a beret the right way while the rest of us would put one on and look like someone’s cleaning lady trying to cover her hair."

Besides riding her horse, Jackie spent her time writing poetry, painting, and was an avid reader. In 1947, when graduating high school, she ranked in the top 12 percent of students in the country on college board exams. That very same year, as a debutante, she was named "Queen Deb" by a society columnist.

That Fall, she enrolled in Vassar College, where of course she made the Dean's list. Shortly after, she met John Fitzgerald 'Jack' Kennedy, who at the time was a young congressman, on a train from Washington, D.C. to New York where they chatted briefly. It would be three more years before they met again.

In 1949, Jackie spent her Junior year in college, in Paris - she spoke fluent French, living with a French family while taking classes at the University of Grenoble and studying art history at the Sorbonne.

The following year she decided not to return to Vassar College but enrolled instead at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. from where she graduated with a B.A. in French Literature. After graduation, she and her sister, Lee, embarked on a trip abroad. They chronicled their adventures and in 1974, One Special Summer, was published featuring Jackie’s illustrations.

That same year, Jackie won Vogue magazine's "Prix de Paris" essay contest. Her subject was 'People I Wish I Had Known'. Those she sited were Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde, 19th Century French poet, Charles Baudelaire, and Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Russian Ballet Russes. The requirements for the essay were rigorous and Jackie beat out 1279 other college seniors. According to her biography on the National First Ladies Library, in addition to the essay, the submission required an original theme for an entire issue, illustrations, articles, layout and design, and an advertising campaign that could be tied into the issues content. As the winner, she was entitled to a position as junior editor spending half the year in New York and the other half in Paris. However, she turned down the position at the insistence of her mother, who feared she would stay in France.

Instead, Jackie took a position at the Washington Times-Herald as the "Inquiring Camera Girl" making $42.50 a week where she would snap on-the-street pictures of people and ask them questions about current events. While in this position she covered the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1952, Jackie again met Massachusetts congressman John F. Kennedy, this time at a dinner party thrown by mutual friend, journalist Charles Bartlett and the two later began dating. That November, Jack was elected to the Senate.

In 1953, her engagement to Jack was announced and in September of that year they were married at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Newport where a crowd of 3,000 surged past a police barricade, nearly swarming the bride. After the ceremony, she and Jack stood in a receiving line for 3 hours greeting their 1300 guests. They honeymooned in Acapulco, then made their home in McLean, Virginia.

In 1954, Jackie suffered a miscarriage and then in 1956, their daughter, Arabella was stillborn. Finally in November of 1957 their daughter, Caroline was born. They purchased a Federal style home in Georgetown and in 1958, Jack was reelected to the Senate. Jackie organized his campaign schedule and edited several speeches as well as made several short speeches in Italian, French, and Spanish to the ethnic constituents.

In 1960, John received the Democratic presidential nomination. Jackie was once again pregnant and while on bed rest she penned a weekly syndicated newspaper column, “Campaign Wife.” It was also during this time that Jackie, who wore primarily fashion from French designers, sought help from Diana Vreeland and Hubert de Givenchy on chosing an American designer.  Wearing an American designer versus French was meant to help her husband's bid for the presidency. She chose Oleg Cassini as her official designer, but her fashion was still heavily influenced by French design.

JFK was, of course, elected as the 35th President of the United States, and shortly after, Jackie gave birth to their son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr. In January, 1961, Jack was sworn in and for the ceremony, Jackie wore Cassini’s greige A-line coat with a Halston’s pillbox hat. 

For the evening’s whirl of balls, she debuted an ensemble of her own creation, executed by Ethel Frankau and Emeric Partos.  It was an ivory column floor length dress with silver-embellished bodice, veiled with a sheer over-blouse. A matching cape added a royal touch.

Jackie influenced Jack to invite many artists in all disciplines to his inauguration ceremony as a symbol of the Administration's intent to support the arts.  Her appearance in the large pillbox hat at the swearing-in ceremony overshadowed this news, however, and started a popular millinery style.  

Stay tuned for Part Two:  Jackie - The Happiest Time.


  1. Wonderfully lovely post - I so adore that quote about how she already had a finely tuned, ingrained sense of sophisticated style as a teenager (beret wearing is a bit of fine art, it's true).

    Wishing you and your family a joyful, marvelous 4th of July, dear Denise!

    ♥ Jessica

  2. I do not know a lot about Jackie, though I've always thought she was very classy. Maybe the classiest first lady this country has seen or ever will see. The lady just embodied elegance.

  3. Oh my! Another fabulous post mama! I rd every wd and loved it all! I put the bk her and her sister wrote on my Amazon queue now! Sounds like an interesting rd! I look fwd to the other posts! Going to share this on my fb now too!! xox

  4. I love seeing here in a different decade then we usually associate her with. Just proves that she was always a classy lady!

  5. Was there anything she couldn't do? I know very little about her so this was very interesting to read. Looking forward to part 2 :)

  6. So very interesting to read and remember about such a beautiful and fashionable lady! Thank you for this fantastic post!
    ~xoxo, CoriLynn


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