Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is a White House legend. From Melania Trump — who’s undergone a stunning transformation — to Michelle Obama to Hillary Clinton, the United States has seen a wide range of highly influential First Ladies pass through its halls over the years. However, out of all of history’s First Ladies, few come close to having the same impact.
Throughout her husband John F. Kennedy’s (JFK) short time in office from 1961 to 1963, Jackie O became an American icon. Known for her elegance and beauty, as well as her advocacy for the arts, millions of women saw Jackie O as an inspiration and trend-setter (via The New York Times). Few of America’s First Ladies have reached the same level of celebrity, or garner the same levels of public adoration.
After her husband’s world-shattering assassination, Jackie O became the symbol of a country gripped by shock and grief (via Vanity Fair). To this day, many people conjure the unforgettable image of Jackie O in that pink, blood-soaked Chanel suit when they hear her name. However, Jackie O had a long and fascinating life afterwards that isn’t nearly as well known. Here is the untold truth of Jackie O.
Before becoming the First Lady, Jackie O was a reporter and photographer
It’s hard to imagine Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis holding down a 9-to-5. Most of us probably imagine that she went straight from famous debutante to doting wife of a politician. However, it turns out that the First Lady enjoyed a promising career prior to her marriage as a reporter and a photographer.
According to Vogue, Jackie O won the publication’s Prix de Paris essay competition, and was selected from 1,279 candidates to be a junior editor when she was just 21. However, she ended up quitting on her first day, as she thought the role would hinder her chances of making a good match.
In the 2021 book Camera Girl: How Miss Bouvier Used Imagination & Subversion to Invest Jackie Kennedy, author Carl Sferrazza Anthony explored Jackie O’s later career as a reporter for the Washington Times Herald between 1951 and 1953. Apparently, she began her role at the paper as a receptionist, but wanted more of a challenge, and was promoted to photographer. The young Jackie O also worked as an interviewer — one of her subjects was her future husband, John F. Kennedy (via the Daily Mail).
Jackie O almost married someone other than JFK
Jacqueline Kennedy became Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis after JFK’s death. For many devoted fans, her second marriage came as a shock — it was impossible to imagine Jackie O with anyone other than JFK (via The Washington Post). However, as it turns out, the former First Lady had a few other suitors prior to her first husband. In fact, she almost married one of them!
One of her suitors was the stockbroker, John Husted Jr. The couple were engaged in 1952, just one month after they began dating; their engagement was announced in the The New York Times. At the time, Jackie O apparently wrote a letter to a friend describing Husted as “the right one,” saying she had “the deepest happiest feeling in the world” (via Reader’s Digest).
However, Jackie O broke off the engagement after three months, because, according to the biography Camera Girl: How Mis Bouvier Used Imagination & Subversion To Invent Jackie Kennedy, she found him “immature and boring” (via The Telegraph and the Daily Mail).
Jackie O is responsible for the White House we know today
One of the most lasting influences of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is actually the White House itself, as the iconic dwelling underwent massive renovations in 1961. According to documents released by the John F. Kennedy Library in 2012, Jackie O was enormously involved in almost all aspects of the project. The Washington Post also explained how these papers revealed a lot about the hidden strength, resolution, and determination of the First Lady.
Apparently, the restoration project was Jackie O’s brainchild. In fact, she had even helped to pass legislation that designated the White House as a historical monument within a month of her move to the building. The papers also showed that Jackie O had visited the building as a tourist at the age of 11. Her memories of the visit included no guidebook; when Jackie O arrived, she added one and even edited the first draft.
Jackie O was also determined to restore the building’s interior to be more historically appropriate. She and Lorraine Pearce, the new White House curator, poured over old pictures and receipts to track down old artworks and decorative items that had historic significance.
Jackie O's original wedding dress was destroyed 10 days before the wedding
Jackie Kennedy Onassis had the most beautiful wedding ever. With its impressive guest list, breathtaking design, and the presence of the pope, it’s no wonder that Life magazine said the event was “just like a coronation.”
One of the most memorable things about the wedding was Jackie O’s fairytale wedding dress. The dress was designed by Ann Lowe, a Black designer and dressmaker, who’d been selected by Jackie O’s mother. According to Brides, Lowe was a well-respected designer, with a roster of clients that included the Rockefellers and the Roosevelts, but she wasn’t given credit for Jackie O’s dress.
It turns out, the dress that Jackie O wore on her big day wasn’t actually the original. Apparently, the first dress was ruined when a pipe burst in Lowe’s studio just ten days before the wedding, soaking the wedding dress and the bridesmaid dresses. Lowe and her team were forced to recreate the dresses in just a week, reportedly working night and day to catch up — a pretty incredible feat, considering the first dress had taken eight weeks to create (via Glamour)!
Jackie O refused to change out of the famous bloodstained pink dress she wore the day JFK was assassinated
The assassination of John F. Kennedy is one of those moments in history that everyone knows; the image of his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, grabbing onto her husband as the shots ring out is a moment that most people can picture easily. When JFK was shot in 1963, Jackie O was wearing a pink Chanel-inspired suit. His blood splattered all over Jackie O as she tried to tend to his wounds and shield him (via Biography).
After JFK passed away, Jackie O boarded Air Force One, where a change of clothes had been laid out. As she explained to Life magazine, she wiped some blood off her face. “One second later, I thought, ‘Why did I wash the blood off?’ I should have left it there; let them see what they’ve done.”
That’s why Jackie O refused to change into the fresh, clean clothes. By keeping her bloodstained suit on, she intentionally created a powerful and moving image. She even asked to be photographed as she left the plane, in one of the most impactful First Lady fashion moments in history.
Jackie O took a member of the paparazzi to court
Like many people in the public eye, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had to deal with her fair share of paparazzi harassment. In fact, one member of the paparazzi, Ron Galella, was so aggressive in his pursuit in the ’60s and ’70s, that she took him to court — twice. According to Town & Country, Galella’s pursuit came close to ruining her life. When he followed her to Greece, she said she had “no peace, no peace of mind, was always under surveillance, imprisonment in my house.” Finally, in 1981, Galella stopped after a judge threatened a 60-year sentence.
Speaking to WWD, Galella explained that he was proud of his photos. Apparently, he even gave her a copy of his book, Jacqueline, as a way of saying thank you for making him famous. He also recalled a time when Jackie O “grabbed me by the wrist, pinned me against her limousine and said, ‘You’ve been hunting me for the three months now,’ and I said, ‘Yes.'” It’s clear that while Galella was much more than a nuisance for Jackie O, he never really understood the distress he was causing.
Jackie O had a seriously privileged childhood
Before she became Jacqueline Kennedy or Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, she was Jacqueline Bouvier. According to the book Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Life Beyond Her Wildest Dreams, by Danforth prince and Darwin Porter, Jackie O’s upbringing was extremely privileged — but her family certainly had its secrets. As far as her childhood went, Jackie O enjoyed a pretty privileged lifestyle. She was born in 1929 to John Bouvier III, a stock broker, and Janet Lee, an American heiress.
Jackie O and her family lived in Manhattan and spent summers in a massive mansion in the Hamptons called Wildmoor (via The Wall Street Journal). By the sounds of things, the Bouvier girls wanted for nothing as children — even though their family’s supposed ancient wealth appears to be a fabrication.
As Porter explained to Express, the display of money and grandeur was all a show, as the Bouviers’ ancestry consisted of “cabinet makers, maids, ironmongers, tailors, shopkeepers, tavern owners, farmers, and chimney sweeps.” Additionally, their mother was reportedly actually descended from Irish immigrants. Apparently, the Bouvier family even had a pretend coat of arms!
Jackie O's famous televised tour of the White House won her an Emmy
After renovating and restoring the White House, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis appeared in a now-legendary televised tour of the building in 1962. In the tour, Jackie O demurely led a CBS host through the White House, explaining all of the alterations and items of interest in the building. According to papers released by the John F. Kennedy Library, she also played a crucial role in editing her lines for the program (via The Washington Post).
The hour-long tour was a roaring success, with 56 million live viewers, according to WNYC’s Sarah Fishko. The First Lady even won an Emmy for her role in the production. According to Reader’s Digest, Jackie O was unable to attend the ceremony, but Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of Vice President Lyndon Johnson, accepted on her behalf. Today, the Emmy is on display at the JFK Library in Boston.
It’s evident that Jackie O worked hard to preserve history, one of the weird rules the First Lady is forced to follow.
Jackie O became a book editor after the death of her second husband
After the death of her second husband, Aristotle Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis returned to the workforce. While she’d previously worked as a reporter and an “inquiring camera girl,” this time, she set her sights on editing at Viking Press, and later at Doubleday. According to the book Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Jackie O approached her acquaintance Tommy Guinzburn, the Viking Press president, to ask for a job. Because she had little experience, she was given the role of consulting editor, a junior position with a starting salary of just $200 a week.
Jackie O went on to work as an editor for 19 years, until her death in 1994. She worked her way up through the ranks, publishing successful books like Moonwalk, Michael Jackson’s biography; Dancing on My Grave, a memoir by dancer Gelsey Kirkland; and English translations of novels by the Nobel Prize winner Naquib Mahfouz. Apparently, Jackie O was completely dedicated to her job. As Steve Rubin, the head of Doubleday once wrote, “Few people understood how committed and talented she was at the work she chose to do.”
Jackie O wasn't exactly a sweet, quiet child at school
If you’ve ever seen clips or images of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis during her reign as America’s First Lady, you know it’s hard to imagine her having a “bad” side. Jackie O always presented herself as a dignified, poised, and elegant woman (via ABC News).
However, as it turns out, Jackie O wasn’t always quite so well-behaved. According to Biography, she used to get up to a fair amount of mischief as a child. One of her teachers once said she was “a darling child, the prettiest little girl, very clever, very artistic, and full of the devil.” Yikes! Another teacher was even more blunt, saying, “Her disturbing conduct in geography class made it necessary to exclude her from the room.” It’s certainly hard to imagine the demure Jackie O acting out in class — but it seems she was always quite as sweet as we thought!
Jackie O helped Hillary Clinton in the '90s
Despite leaving the White House after her husband’s death in 1963, and pursuing a career in editing, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis maintained a lifelong interest in politics. In 1993, The Seattle Times reported that Jackie O paid a visit to Hillary Clinton the year before, shortly after her husband became the President. Apparently, she gave Hillary advice on how to maintain privacy for the family while serving as the First Lady.
Frank Mankiewicz, who was the press secretary to Jackie O’s brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy, confided that, “She is much more active in and around and on behalf of the Clinton administration than any other Democratic candidate or administration.” He added that the Clintons’ “youthfulness and vigor” may have been the reason for her particular interest.
When Jackie O died in 1994, the Clintons spoke about her impact on the nation and on their family. “The nation has lost a treasure and our family has lost a dear friend,” Hillary shared. She went on to describe how Jackie O had been a “great support to [her] personally,” and had taught her how to be a supportive mother.
Jackie O covered the Queen's coronation as her last assignment as a reporter
While working as a reporter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had some pretty important assignments. Her final assignment was to cover Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, as The Telegraph reported.
When she eventually became the First Lady in 1961, Jackie O officially met Queen Elizabeth. If you’ve seen Netflix’s The Crown, you may remember the fictionalized version the meeting. In the show, the Queen opens up to Jackie O. Later, she hears that Jackie O publicly called her “a middle-aged woman so incurious, unintelligent and unremarkable that Britain’s new reduced place in the world was a surprise but an inevitability.” Ouch!
So what was Queen Elizabeth and Jackie Kennedy’s real relationship like? According to Vanity Fair, there are plenty of rumors about whether Jackie O really did insult Queen Elizabeth. However, it appears the pair met again for lunch the following year. Jackie O spoke to the press later, saying only, “I don’t think I should say anything about it except how grateful I am and how charming she was.” Perhaps the First Lady had a royal telling off — or perhaps the pair really did get along!
Jackie O was greatly influenced by a year spent in Paris
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was often praised for her distinctly chic and European sense of style. Apparently, her stylish tastes actually dated back to her junior year of college, which she spent in Paris. As The New York Times reported, the year changed her life. During her time abroad, the young Jackie O lived with a host family, attended classes, and learned to love everything about the French language and culture.
In the book Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis by French literature professor Alice Kaplan, Kaplan posits that Jackie O picked up not only her iconic style, but also her imagination and her “razor-sharp wit” from the French.
Additionally, Jackie O’s host, Claude du Granrut, confided that she and Jackie O had become life-long friends. She even visited the White House and noticed how much French interior design had influenced Jackie O during her famous restoration.
America was shocked when Jackie O remarried five years after JFK's death
When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis remarried five years after the devastating assassination of John F. Kennedy, the country was pretty surprised. Her second husband was Aristotle Onassis, a very wealthy Greek businessman; the pair were wed in a secret Greek Orthodox ceremony. According to Time magazine, “To most Americans […], Jackie’s marriage symbolized her goodbye to an era and a hero.”
Apparently, the American public weren’t the only ones who were shocked by the marriage. Even Jackie O’s mother told Life magazine that her daughter had informed her about the plan the day before. Additionally, it seems that people were right to be confused by the match, as the couple reportedly turned out to have little in common. In Onassis’ obituary in Time, he was quoted saying their marriage was filled with “nights of long silences.”
Eventually, it seems that Jackie O found some happiness in her love life. According to Town & Country, she spent her final decade living with Maurice Tempelsman. As a friend once reportedly told The Baltimore Sun, “He protects her, understands her position and respects her privacy.”
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