Decades later, Jacqueline “Jackie O” Kennedy Onassis is still highly regarded as one of the most popular First Ladies in US presidential history. With her iconic style and brushes with tragedy, Jackie’s life was the stuff of soap operas. With a husband like John F. Kennedy, of course, one needed all the charm one could get. What was she like behind the bloodstained Chanel suit? Read on for these 43 diplomatic facts about Jacqueline Lee Kennedy Onassis.
1. Poor Little Rich Girl
The woman we know as Jackie O was born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier to a privileged family on July 28, 1929. Her father was Wall Street stockbroker John Vernou “Black Jack” Bouvier III, and her mother socialite Janet Norton Lee. Despite her lofty origins, the Catholic-born Jackie would grow up slightly out of place with her WASP circles.
2. Dad Plays the Stock Market and Also Favorites
Jackie’s charm was evident from an early age, especially where her father was concerned. He openly preferred elder daughter Jackie to her younger sister Lee; referring to Jackie as “the most beautiful daughter a man ever had.” Father and daughter remained close even after her parents’ divorce.
3. Tell Your Mother to Read Page Six
It wasn’t always fun and games in the House of Bouvier: Jackie’s father John was an alcoholic and serial adulterer. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 has dampened their family fortunes, leading to the couple’s eventual separation in 1936. Young Jackie didn’t even have the privilege of going through it privately: tabloids aired the lurid details of her parents’ failing marriage.
4. Not a Neighsayer
Jackie had a way with horses. The young equestrienne started riding ponies when she was only three years old.
5. My House is Your House
Jackie was only 12 years old when she first toured her future and most famous home: the White House. Unfortunately, the little girl found herself frustrated by the White House’s lack of historic information for the public. Years later, when she became first lady, the Kennedy wife would make it her goal to fix this tourist unfriendliness.
6. Not One of the Girls
At the age of 22, Jacqueline Bouvier beat out 1,278 other essay applications to win a 12-month junior editor internship at Vogue magazine. However, she quit in the middle of her first day. Jackie feared the female-led office environment would hinder her odds on the marriage market. What was a 1950s workplace for but meeting a husband, after all?
7. Belle of the Ball
In 1948, a 19-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier was named by Hearst columnist Igor Cassini as “the Debutante of the Year.” This shadow of a charmed life would follow Jackie throughout her career.
8. Jackie on the Street
Before her marriage, Jackie enjoyed a journalism career as the “Inquiring Camera Girl” for the Washington Times-Herald. This job mainly centered around human-interest stories. Jackie would do “man on the street”-style interviews with random citizens and record their quotes. Imagine getting harangued on the street by the future First Lady.
9. Have a Bit of Faith
Jackie Bouvier and John F. Kennedy had run in the same social circles for years. It wasn’t until 1952 that they were formally introduced at a dinner party by a mutual friend. Sharing the same interests in reading, writing, travel, and Catholicism, Bouvier and Kennedy hit it off instantly.
10. There’s No Rush
Jackie Bouvier considered JFK’s marriage proposal for an entire month before she said yes. Why the wait? Part of it was scheduling; Kennedy was busy running for the US Senate, and Bouvier was covering the coronation of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.
11. The More the Merrier
In 1953, Jackie Kennedy tied to knot with JFK in front of 700 wedding guests in Newport, Rhode Island. The nuptials were considered the high society event the season, which included a 1,200-person reception at Hammersmith Farm. Even the dress was an event; her gown is still preserved today at the Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts.
12. Who Cares About Side Dishes When You’re the Main Course?
Today, JFK’s presidential libido is the stuff of infamy. How much did Jackie know about her husband’s affairs? According to most biographies, she was basically raised to expect it from her future husband. Men of their “rank” in society often kept mistresses; Jackie’s own father as a notorious philanderer who did the same to her mother.
In the end, JFK would always return to Jackie and never wished to outright replace her. No reason for a First Lady to be paranoid, at least in theory. As one source described: “It was a marriage of its time.”
13. Maybe Not, Baby
In total, Jackie and JFK had five pregnancies—but only two of their kids, Caroline and John F. Kennedy Jr., survived infancy. The first of these pregnancies ended with a miscarriage in 1955.
14. In Sickness and in Health
The second of Jackie’s pregnancies resulted in a daughter, Arabella, in 1956. Unfortunately, the girl was stillborn. Adding to her husband’s own health problems—JFK underwent spinal surgery in 1954—the early years of Jackie and JFK’s marriage were no honeymoon.
15. Baby Makes Three, Finally
While on the Senate re-election campaign trail with her husband, Jackie gave birth to her first living child, Caroline, on November 27, 1957. It was their third pregnancy. The family posed on the April 2, 1958 cover of Life Magazine.
16. Save the Date and the Votes
While on the campaign trail, the Kennedys realized that Jackie was a public relations boon to their operation. Whenever Jackie accompanied her husband to rallies, crowds were “twice as big” as when JFK went stag. John would heavily feature Jackie in ads and refer to her as “simply invaluable” to his public success.
17. Being Popular is a Job, Not a Passion
Although she was incredibly popular with the public, Jackie was not big on crowds. In private, she was observed as quite shy, uncomfortable with the attention, and not a “natural-born campaigner.”
18. Dressed to Impress
In 1959, the Kennedys began their early preparations for JFK’s 1960 presidential election. Jackie was in charge of his wardrobe, advising him on how to dress for the campaign trail.
19. The Pen is Mightier Than the Politician
Shortly after the launch of JFK’s presidential bid in 1960, Jackie Kennedy became pregnant for the fourth time. With her history of high-risk pregnancies, she could not accompany her husband on the trail and spent most of her time at home in Georgetown. But she kept busy: Jackie did her part by writing a weekly syndicated column, Campaign Wife.
The column featured the supportive wife giving interviews and answering correspondence on behalf of her husband.
20. She’s Got the Look
Jackie was a public fashion icon even before her husband became president. Her personal style was a regular fixture in women’s magazines, and she was listed alongside film stars as one of the most fashionable women in the world.
21. No One Likes a Showoff
Jackie’s taste for French fashion sometimes worked against her. The socialite’s penchant for fancy clothes was bad press to less “fortunate” fashionistas. Afterward, she would try to downplay her elitist background and refuse to (publicly) talk about her designer decisions.
22. Not Over the Hill on Capitol Hill
At the time of her husband’s inauguration, Jackie Kennedy was just 31 years old. This made her the third-youngest First Lady of the United States of America to ever hold office.
23. Mrs. Media Matters
To maintain her idealized image, Jackie Kennedy became the first First Lady to employ her own Press Secretary, Pamela Turnure. Together, the pair meticulously controlled Jackie’s image. Public statements were crateful crafted and photograph access to her children was heavily restricted.
24. Money is the Real Work of Art
American arts funding as know it is indebted to Jackie Kennedy. During her tenure as First Lady, she established the National Endowment of the Arts and began to establish the National Endowment for the Humanities, an initiative completed during the tenure of Lyndon B. Johnson. Her dream of founding an official Department of the Arts, however, went unrealized.
25. The Sweet Smell of Home Renos
Jackie Kennedy pioneered major restoration projects during her time the White House. In addition to many room renovations, she spearheaded the restoration of the historic Rose Garden and the East Garden, the latter of which was renamed in her honor as the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden after the assassination of JFK.
26. Ready for the Small-Screen
Jackie Kennedy was an Emmy Award winner. She won a special Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Trustees Award for her 1962 televised tour of the White House. To this day, Jackie remains the only First Lady to have won an Emmy.
27. Admirer from the East
Did Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev have a thing for Jackie? When the Kennedys met with the Soviet leader in 1961, Kruschev insisted on shaking the First Lady’s hand first. He also sent her a puppy, most notable for being from a litter of Strelka, AKA one of the dogs sent to orbit by the Soviet space program. Talk about an out of this world gift.
28. An Unfortunate Arrival
On August 7, 1963, Jackie gave birth for the final and arguably most tragic time. Her fifth child, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, was delivered five weeks prematurely via emergency C-section. He lived just 39 hours before succumbing to hyaline membrane disease.
29. Set Sail for Scandal
Following the death of her son, Jackie understandably fell into a deep depression. The public was less understanding about her coping mechanisms: the First Lady’s friend (and future husband) Aristotle Onassis invited her to recuperate on his private yacht. After some initial resistance, the President okayed his wife’s personal vacation.
The Kennedy administration and the public were much less happy about this trip.
30. It Was Hardly a “Vacation” …
Jackie would regret taking “too much” time for herself in “melancholy after the death of my baby.” The people wanted their First Lady, after all.
31. Last Exit in Texas
The killing of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 requires little introduction. Riding with her husband, the First Lady mistook the sound of gunfire for a motorcycle backfiring…until she heard the governor scream…
32. Think in Pink
After JFK was pronounced dead, Jackie refused to change out of her now infamously bloodstained Chanel pink suit. She wore it to Lyndon B. Johnson’s swearing-in ceremony, where she was asked to be present to “legitimize” the vice president’s impromptu administration. To quote Jackie herself, she wanted “them to see what they have done to Jack.”
33. Not a Woman of the World
President Lyndon B. Johnson offered Jackie an ambassadorship to France as a show of goodwill to his predecessor’s widow. She turned him down. In the future, Jackie would also turn down offers to be ambassador to Mexico and the United Kingdom.
34. Who’s Next?
The assassination of her beloved brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy, rendered Jackie increasingly paranoid about her children’s safety. She was reported saying, “If they’re killing Kennedys, then my children are targets…I want to get out of this country.” This need for safety perhaps influenced her love life…
35. What is Family Without a Security Detail?
Jackie married long-time friend Aristotle Onassis in 1968. In remarrying, she surrendered her right as a widowed First Lady to Secret Service protection. But it’s not like she went without; her new husband was a wealthy Greek shipping magnate who could provide the added security (and privacy) which Jackie desired for herself and her two Kennedy children.
36. Not a Matter of State, but Church
By remarrying and becoming “Jackie O.,” as the press dubbed her, Jackie invited the bad will of the general public—as well as the Catholic Church. Aristotle Onassis was a divorcee. More stressfully, he was a divorcee whose ex-wife was still alive. There were even talks that Jackie Kennedy might be excommunicated, although it never came it that.
37. You Can Put a Number on Grief
Jackie wrangled with her stepdaughter Christina Onassis over the estate of her late second husband after his death in 1975. Under Greek law, how much Jackie could inherit as a non-Greek widow was severely limited. Eventually, the twice-widowed First Lady agreed to a “modest” $26 million settlement in exchange of surrendering all other claims to her second husband’s worth.
38. Leave Them Wanting More
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis died after a long struggle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma on May 19, 1994. She was 64 years old. At the time of her death, as well as into the present day, she’s highly regarded as one of the most popular First Ladies in American history.
39. An Easy Act to Follow
Jackie’s first serious suitor was not John F. Kennedy, but rather the Wall Street banker John Husted. She was engaged to marry him at the age of 22, but the wedding plans didn’t last more than three months. Jackie was allegedly none-too-eager to settle for housewifery. Moreover, she got to know Husted better and didn’t like what she found, i.e. an “immature and boring” partner.
40. Sibling Rivalry?
Kennedy left nothing in her will for her younger sister Lee. A recent book makes a shocking theory about this snub: it alleges that Jackie’s husband, JFK, had an affair with his own sister-in-law. Naturally, such a rift would be hard to mend.
41. The Price of Staying
According to an unauthorized biography, Jackie Kennedy wasn’t always so amendable to her husband’s affairs. In this book, the author alleges that her father-in-law, Joe Kennedy Sr., offered Jackie $1 million to put up with JFK’s philandering. If JFK brought home any diseases, the price would jump to $20 million.
42. The Maternity Ward is Not a Red Carpet
Jackie gave birth to her son barely two weeks after JFK’s victory over Richard Nixon in the 1960 US presidential election. It was a tough delivery, with both mother and son spending two weeks in the hospital in recovery. The media took a huge interest in reporting their condition. The Kennedys were officially political tabloid celebrities.
43. Every Piece of You
As JFK was shot clean thought the head, Jackie Kennedy appeared to climb towards the back of their limo. The Secret Service agent believed she was trying to reach for a piece of her husband’s skull, which had flown across the car to the trunk. Jackie herself would testify that she couldn’t remember the incident at all, even after seeing the pictures.