Updated: Jun 27, 2019
“One man can make a difference, and every man should try.”
When you say the name Jackie Kennedy, the words that come to most Americans’ minds are style, elegance, First Lady . . . and tragedy. In a grief-stricken country mourning for their president, Jackie Kennedy still managed to change the face of fashion and everyday life. She also rose well-rounded, well-loved children and was a powerful inspiration to America when it most needed it. This is the stirring story of Jackie Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, style icon and First Lady; an inspiring tale for women all over the world. I hope you enjoy this glimpse at the woman in the pink suit!
Jackie Lee Bouvier was born to parents John Vernou Bouvier the Third and Janet Lee Bouvier on July 28, 1929 in Southampton, New York. Young Jacqueline had a very privileged childhood. Her parents insisted on the best for their daughter. Jackie went to the finest public schools, studied ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House, and played piano. Her mother strongly encouraged her to ride, plopping her on a horse as soon as she could walk. Jackie reciprocated just as excitedly, winning national championships by the age of just ten. However, she wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about school! Her teacher was quoted saying, "a darling child, the prettiest little girl, very clever, very artistic, and full of the devil." She often acted up in boredom. The privileged and colorful upbringing did not erase all marks of sadness on young Jackie’s life, however. Her parents, Janet and Jack, fought often, Janet angered by rumors of Jack’s affairs. She quietly hired a private detective to tail Jack and see if the rumors were true. Unfortunately, they were. Janet and Jack divorced. In this time, the idea of a divorce was scandalous. To pour salt in the wound, the not so secretive detective sold this information to the papers. Because the Bouviers were influential members in society, the gossip was hot news. Jackie was ashamed and embarrassed.
At age ten, she began to split her time between her father and mother’s house. Jackie became reserved and quiet, often retreating to books for comfort. This was clearly a very depressing time for her. Jacqueline preferred her father much more than her mother, but that didn’t stop her mother from giving her advice that she would remember for the rest of her life. Janet Bouvier told Jacqueline and her sister Lee: “Do you know what the secret to happily-ever-after is? Money and power.” One might suggest that despite Jackie’s feelings toward her mother, she certainly considered this information while selecting her husbands.
Jacqueline Kennedy is a style icon. When she was a teenager, she won a contest run by Vogue, and was offered an internship with the magazine. Although this seemed to be young Jackie’s dream, she declined the offer at her mother’s suggestion, as she thought it would be more difficult for Jackie to find a husband! Considering the rocky relationship they had, this was a pointed action on the daughter’s part. Was she trying to please her mother? Find a husband? Make an impact in society? Or was family just that important to her? She did say that “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” Family was one of the most important things in her life, so she might have just wanted to respect her mother.
John and Jackie met at a dinner, where they immediately hit it off. John was quoted saying, “I leaned over the asparagus and asked her for a date.” The happy couple was married on September 12, 1953, and Jackie became Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy. The wedding was called the “social event of the year.” A total of 1,200 people attended the reception! An article published on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum read: “The bride, given in marriage by her stepfather, Hugh D. Auchincloss, wore a dress of ivory tissue silk, with a portrait neckline, fitted bodice, and a bouffant skirt embellished with bands of more than fifty yards of flounces. Her rosepoint lace veil, worn first by her grandmother Lee, was draped from a tiara of lace and orange blossoms. Jacqueline wore a choker of pearls and a diamond bracelet that was a gift from the groom. The bride’s bouquet was of pink and white spray orchids and gardenias.” Jackie certainly was stylish! The happy couple’s daughter Caroline was born on November 27, 1957. Another son, named John F. Kennedy Jr., was born in 1960, and a third son, Patrick, in 1963, while they were residing in the White House.
Jacqueline’s life changed drastically when her husband decided to run for office. Despite previous doubts, she dove headfirst into campaigning alongside other members of the Kennedy clan. Jackie wrote a popular newspaper column called ‘Campaign Wife.’
The election was an incredibly close one. However, JFK won, and Jackie Kennedy became First Lady. Jacqueline charmed millions with her elegance and grace, becoming an incredibly popular public figure! Women immediately began to mimic her style, copying the iconic wide necklines, oversized buttons, and simple bows. Jackie wasn’t all style and no substance, however. She quickly began the historical and important work of restoring the White House to its classy design. Jackie was also committed to making the White House informative to visitors and others in the country. She filmed a documentary titled “A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy.” She later won an Emmy for the film! While her husband was rather well-liked, Jackie constantly stole the show. She handled many important public affairs tastefully, creating respectful relationships with other countries because of her charm. John made jokes that she was more popular than he was, but he always considered more than just a wife, but a valued advisor relating to all presidential issues. America flourished under the young family’s care.
However, the period of peace was not meant to last. On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was shot in the head in Dallas, Texas. He was rushed to the hospital. America was shocked and horrified. Jackie Kennedy refused to leave his side. She commented: “I want to be there when he dies.” Lady Bird Johnson also offered her a change of clothes, an alternative to the iconic blood stained pink suit John had wanted Jackie to wear, but Jacqueline refused. She said, “I want them to see what they have done to John.” When John’s body was carried to the coffin, she placed her wedding ring next to him. “Now I have nothing left,” she said numbly. America was in grieving.
Jackie attempted to disappear from public eye after John’s death, immediately moving out of the White House, saying there were too many terrible memories. After eight quiet years, she married Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping tycoon, and becoming Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Scandal erupted in the country. Many believed that Jackie shouldn’t have married someone not American, but she insisted that she was happy. Aristotle too died on March 15, 1975, leaving Jackie as a widow again. When Onassis passed, Jackie moved back to New York City.
Still, even in the midst of heartbreak for the second time, Jackie wasn’t done. She worked tirelessly to save and restore the historical buildings of New York. Later, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal would be established to honor individuals who have made “an extraordinary impact on the environment of New York.” She also became a successful book editor, though by no means did she need to work. She also raised funds for the J.F.K. library to honor her deceased husband. Jacqueline died on May 19, 1994 from cancer. She was 64 at the time. Jackie was buried next to John F. Kennedy and his eternal flame she had designed. People all over the country mourned the death of the influential First Lady and style icon.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis accomplished much in her lifetime. She won an Emmy for her White House documentary, restored the White House, raised money for the J.F.K. library, saved several historical buildings in New York, and was the inspiration for the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis medal. A movie has been made about the events surrounding her husband’s death, in which Natalie Portman plays Jackie. She won an esteemed Vogue contest in her teens and wrote a popular newspaper column as John campaigned for president. She established strong ties with foreign countries as First Lady and improved the general well-being of the nation. She also wrote a book about the White House, and edited Michael Jackson’s autobiography.
While Jackie impacted society incredibly, her life was definitely not a fairy tale. The love of her life was shot and killed before her eyes, and her second husband died also. She suffered many miscarriages and all of her children but one passed away as well. In my eyes, Jackie should not be considered a role model just for her successes, but how she stood in the face of tragedy as well.