Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier and better known as Jackie, is perhaps the most famous First Lady in history. Young, beautiful and sophisticated, Jackie lived an enviable life of glamour and status as the wife of President John F. Kennedy until his assassination on 22 November 1963.
Widowed, Jackie became the focus of the nation’s grief and suffered from bouts of depression. She remarried in 1968 to Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate: this decision was met with backlash from the American press and public who saw Jackie’s second marriage as a betrayal of her relationship with the fallen president.
As well as her public persona as a dutiful wife and fashion icon, Jackie Kennedy was intelligent, cultured and independent. With a family life marred by tragedy, struggles with mental illness and constant battles with the American media and public, Jackie faced plenty of challenges amongst her privilege.
Here are 10 facts about Jackie Kennedy.
1. She was born to a wealthy family
Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born in 1929 in New York, the daughter of a Wall Street stockbroker and a socialite. Her father’s favourite daughter, she was widely praised as beautiful, intelligent and artistic, as well as being a successful horsewoman.
Her school yearbook remarked that she was known for “her wit, her accomplishment as a horsewoman and her unwillingness to become a housewife”.
2. She spoke French fluently
Jackie learnt French, Spanish and Italian at school before spending her junior year at Vassar College and studying abroad in France, at the University of Grenoble and later at the Sorbonne. On returning to America, she transferred to George Washington University to study for a BA in French literature.
Jackie’s knowledge of France proved useful diplomatically later in life: she impressed on official visits to France, with JFK later joking, “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it!”
3. She briefly worked in journalism
Despite being awarded a 12-month junior editorship at Vogue, Jackie quit after her first day after one of her new colleagues suggested she would be better off focusing on her marriage prospects.
However, Jackie ended up working at the Washington Times-Herald, initially as a receptionist before being hired to work in the newsroom. She learnt interview skills on the job and covered an assortment of events and met a variety of people in her role.
4. She married US Representative John F. Kennedy in 1953
Jackie met John F. Kennedy at a dinner party through a mutual friend in 1952. The pair quickly became smitten, bonding over their shared Catholicism, experiences of living abroad and enjoyment of reading and writing.
Kennedy proposed within 6 months of their meeting, but Jackie was abroad covering Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Their engagement was announced in June 1953, and the pair married in September 1953, at what was deemed the social event of the year.
5. The new Mrs Kennedy proved to be invaluable on the campaign trail
When John and Jackie married, John’s political ambitions were already apparent and he quickly began campaigning for Congress. Jackie began travelling with him as he campaigned in an effort to enable them to spend more time together with their young daughter Caroline.
Despite not being a natural-born politician, Jackie began to take a hand in John’s congressional campaign, actively appearing alongside him at rallies and advising on his wardrobe choices in order to cultivate his image. Jackie’s presence noticeably increased the size of the crowds who turned out for Kennedy’s political rallies. Kennedy later said Jackie had been “simply invaluable” on the campaign trail.
6. She quickly became a fashion icon
As the Kennedys’ star began to rise, they faced more scrutiny. Whilst Jackie’s beautiful wardrobe was envied the country over, some began to criticise her expensive choices, deeming her out of touch with the people due to her privileged upbringing.
Nonetheless, Jackie’s legendary personal style was emulated the world over: from her tailored coats and pillbox hats to strapless dresses, she pioneered two decades of fashion choices and styles, becoming a much-scrutinised trendsetter.
7. She oversaw the restoration of the White House
Jackie’s first project as First Lady following her husband’s election in 1960 was to go about restoring the historical character of the White House, as well as making the family quarters actually suitable for family life. She established a fine arts committee to oversee the restoration process, sought expert advice on decoration and interior design and helped fundraise for the project.
She also hired a curator for the White House and made efforts to reobtain items of historical importance to the White House which had been removed by previous first families. In 1962, Jackie showed a CBS film crew around the newly restored White House, opening it up to ordinary American viewers for the first time.
8. She was by her husband’s side when he was assassinated
President Kennedy and First Lady Jackie flew to Texas on 21 November 1963 for a short political trip. They arrived in Dallas on 22 November 1963, and drove as part of a motorcade in the presidential limousine.
As they turned into Dealey Plaza, Kennedy was shot multiple times. Jackie immediately tried to climb onto the back of the limousine as chaos ensued. Kennedy never regained consciousness and died after attempts to save him. Jackie refused to remove her blood-stained pink Chanel suit, which has since become the defining image of the assassination.
She was on board Air Force One after the assassination, when Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President.
9. She had a controversial second marriage to Aristotle Onassis
Unsurprisingly, Jackie suffered from bouts of depression throughout her life: firstly following the death of her infant son Patrick in 1963, then after her husband’s death and again after the assassination of her brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy, in 1968.
In 1968, roughly 5 years after John’s death, Jackie married her long-time friend, the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. This marriage lost Jackie the right to Secret Service protection but granted her wealth, privacy and security in the process.
The marriage was controversial for a few reasons. Firstly, Aristotle was 23 years Jackie’s senior and exceptionally wealthy, so some branded Jackie a ‘golddigger’. Secondly, many in America viewed the widow’s remarriage as a betrayal of the memory of her dead husband: she had been viewed as a martyr and immortalised by the press as a widow, so her rejection of this identity was met with condemnation in the press. The paparazzi renewed their hounding of Jackie, nicknaming her ‘Jackie O’.
10. She managed to transform her image in the 1970s and 1980s
Aristotle Onassis died in 1975 and Jackie returned to America permanently after his death. Having avoided having a public or political profile for the past 10 years, she began to gradually re-emerge onto the public stage, attending the 1976 Democratic National Convention, working in publishing and leading campaigns for the preservation of historic cultural buildings across America.
Her active participation in political life and charitable causes later in life won her the admiration of the American people once more, and since her death in 1994, Jackie has continually been voted as one of the most popular First Ladies in history.