Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy
July 28, 1929, in Southampton, New York
May 19, 1994, in New York, New York
Jacqueline Kennedy served as first lady throughout her husband John F. Kennedy’s single term from 1961 until he was assassinated in 1963.
Jacqueline was only 31 years old when she became first lady, and her youthful exuberance and elegant style completely reenergized the White House and the Washington, D.C., social scene. The Kennedy’s two children, John and Caroline, were only an infant and 3-year-old toddler when they moved into the White House, but Jacqueline managed a challenging social schedule while also protecting the privacy of her young children. To ensure the White House ran smoothly, Jacqueline hired additional staff to help organize her responsibilities. She also sought help from the vice president’s wife, Lady Bird Johnson, to sometimes represent her at social events.
Jacqueline was committed to historic preservation, and even before entering the White House, she announced that she would be directing a complete redecoration of the White House that would transform it from what she believed looked like “a hotel that had been decorated by a wholesale furniture store during a January clearance” into a “grand house.” To achieve this goal, she conducted the research, petitioned for funds, and organized the entire process. Key to the redecoration was the placement of many antiques, as well as the installation of art that she had borrowed from the Smithsonian. To ensure that all Americans could see and enjoy the revitalized White House, Jacqueline conducted an unprecedented televised tour of the mansion. Her legacy rests not only with interior decoration however, but also with entertaining. She hired a chef from Paris and hosted lavish dinners and parties to which she invited not only politicians, but also many prominent artists, dancers, poets, and musicians.
The assassination of her husband ended what many Americans considered to be a fairy tale White House existence, but it was Jacqueline’s strength and dignity in the days following the tragedy that memorialize her character for many.
Jacqueline noted to her White House secretary about her title, “The one thing I do not want to be called is first lady. It sounds like a saddle horse.”
Regarding the importance of parenting, Jacqueline commented, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.”