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Jackie Kennedy Onassis: Biography, Facts, And Things You Didn't Know

People | September 11, 2020

Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy enjoys herself at a picnic circa the 1960s. (Getty Images)

It would be impossible for any parent to know that their daughter would grow up to be not only a scholar and journalist but also a century-defining fashion icon and First Lady of the United States, but it wasn't a surprise for wealthy Wall Street stock broker John Vernou Bouvier III and his socialite wife, Janet Lee, that their daughter, born July 28, 1929 as Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, became a woman of great renown.

Of course, she was born a beauty—her father called her "the most beautiful daughter a man ever had," which sounds very sweet until you realize she had a sister—but more importantly, she was brilliant and notably tenacious, even at a young age. She went to the finest schools Manhattan had to offer, and by the time she was in high school, she was fluent in French, Spanish, and Italian. While her grades were top notch, her teachers weren't huge fans, as she often acted out, bored by a curriculum she sailed through.

College also proved rocky. She dropped out of the famed "Seven Sister" Vassar College, opting instead for a stint in Paris before finally finishing her academic career at the co-ed and more modern George Washington University. She went on to apply her literary talents to big name publications like Vogue Magazine and the Washington Times Herald.

It was her career in journalism that eventually led her to a budding but ambitious politician running for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts at the relatively young age of 35. Although the two were instantly smitten with each other, future Senator John F. Kennedy waited until he actually won the seat to propose to her. They married on September 12, 1953.

Jacqueline Bouvier by David Berne in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, 1935. (David Berne/Wikimedia Commons)

The First Lady Of Arts And History

We all know what happened next. John. F. Kennedy served America well enough to win her trust and eventually won the presidency from Richard Nixon on November 8, 1960. At only 31 years old, the woman now known widely as Jackie Kennedy became one of the youngest first ladies in U.S. history. Ever since Eleanor Roosevelt moved into the White House in 1933, it has been customary for the person in this unique leadership role to champion a current cultural issue, and for Jackie, it was the arts. She brought in amazing contemporary artists to demonstrate their talents in Washington, from painters to composers and dancers.

She is maybe, however, best known for bringing a feminine touch to the White House itself, as she is largely responsible for renovating and refurbishing large parts of the iconic building and its furniture. But this was no frivolous pastime. She took an academic approach to what others called her "redecoration," a term she loathed. "It must be restored—and that has nothing to do with decoration," she explained. "That is a question of scholarship." She was pivotal in keeping the traditions of both the architecture and the furniture that, to this day, hold a special place in many American citizens' hearts.

 The 1960s were a revolutionary time for fashion, and Jackie was more than willing to express her own unique style with off-the-shoulder dresses and bright colors, which set her apart from the more modest and conservative attire of previous first ladies. However, she was somewhat mystified by the fuss over her appearance. "All the talk over what I wear and how I fix my hair has amused and puzzled me," she once mused. "What does my hair have to do with my husband's ability to be president?"

Official portrait of Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy. (White House/Wikimedia Commons)

The Dark Side Of Camelot

As glamorous as her life appeared, Jackie suffered many hard days. In 1963, she was struck by twin tragedies. First was the heartbreaking loss of her son, Patrick, who was born prematurely and survived only two short days. He was buried next to his sister, Arabella, who had been stillborn in 1955. The second tragedy occurred on November 22, 1963, during a parade in Dallas, Texas, when her husband was shot in the head less than a foot away from her in the back of a custom-built, open-air limousine. As the bullets flew, she tended to him as best she could, and when the fatal shot hit, she infamously crawled onto the back of the trunk to grasp for the bits of skull and brains that had landed there. For more than 50 years, people have speculated over what was going through her mind at the time, and they'll never have answers: She later claimed to have no memory of the act.

President Kennedy died that day at Dallas's Parkland Hospital, where Jackie refused to change out of her famous blood-soaked Chanel suit. When the new first lady, Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson, asked her if she wanted a fresh outfit, Jackie reportedly refused to change because "I want them to see what they have done to Jack."

Picture of President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination. (Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News/Wikimedia Commons)

Her Heart Went On

While undoubtedly one of the most famous women in the world, Jackie backed out of the limelight after the tragedy of her husband's demise and attempted to lead a secluded life. After the assassination of her brother-in-law, Robert F. Kennedy, she retreated even further, as she began to fear for the lives of her children. Although she found love again with Greek multimillionaire Aristotle Onassis, she outlived him as well and spent her last years pursuing her interests in writing and publishing. She died at the age of 64 of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and was buried next to J.F.K. in May 1994, just after a eulogy given at her grave site by then-President Bill Clinton.  

Tags: famous people | first ladies | jfk assassination

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