Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Fashion Icon and First Lady

Her pillbox hat, her love of family and her passion for the arts compose the portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. As a young widow, she protected the late President Kennedy’s reputation from critics. Eventually, she tuned out public opinion, married a wealthy shipping mogul and raised her children abroad. After her second husband’s death, Jackie pursued her lifelong dream, living quietly among New York’s literati as a book editor.

Jackie Kennedy’s Early Days

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born on July 28, 1929, in Southampton, New York, daughter of Janet Lee and John “Black Jack” Bouvier, a handsome stockbroker. Jackie had one younger sister, Caroline Lee.

In boarding school, Jackie won Vogue’s Prix de Paris essay contest, but declined the prize trip to New York and Paris. But while attending George Washington University, she studied abroad in France, strengthening her love for art, literature and fashion. After college, she worked as a photographer/reporter.

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Kennedy’s Life as First Lady

Bouvier met John F. Kennedy, the capital’s most eligible bachelor, in 1951, and married him in 1953. After a miscarriage and the stillbirth of a baby girl, Mrs. Kennedy gave birth to Caroline in 1957, and John Jr. in 1960, just weeks after her husband was elected president.

Her New York Times obituary notes that the new first lady brought class and charm to the Kennedy presidency, with “the whispering, intimate quality of her voice … the bouffant hair and formal smile for the Rose Garden and the barefoot romp with her children on a Cape Cod beach.”

She did more traveling than any previous first lady, visiting more than a dozen countries. She also established the White House Historical Association and through donations she retrieved furnishings belonging to James Madison, Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln.

On February 14, 1962, she led a tour of the restored White House on CBS, which was watched by three out of every four Americans, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated while sitting next to Jackie in an open car in Dallas, Texas.

That day, Lady Bird Johnson, wife of new President Lyndon Johnson, wrote in her diary, “You always think of someone like her as being insulated, protected. She was quite alone. I don’t think I ever saw someone so much alone in my life.” At the funeral, the new first lady admired the former’s strength: “Maybe it was a combination of great breeding, great discipline, great character. I only know it was great.”

Learn more about Jackie Kennedy’s role in the White House and view a photo gallery at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.

The Rest of the Story

In 1968, Jackie wedded Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate, shocking a public who still pictured her as a grieving widow. She then moved her family to Greece.

After Aristotle Onassis died in 1975, “Instead of endorsing a cause, as many ex-First Ladies and underemployed princesses have done, she took a job,” wrote Martha Duffy for Time magazine. She worked as a book editor for 18 years.

In the mid-80s, she and Maurice Templesman, a financier from Belgium and an acquaintance of JFK, became companions and eventually lived together on Fifth Avenue until her death from cancer on May 19, 1994. Days before she died, Jackie returned home, believing further treatment was pointless. John Kennedy Jr. said, “She did it in her own way and in her own terms.”

After her death, notes from the December 1963 “Camelot interview” with Life magazine journalist Theodore White were released. White wrote in his memoir how he’d set aside his own journalistic integrity at Mrs. Kennedy’s urging, to, in her words, “rescue Jack from all these ‘bitter people’ who were going to write about him in history.”

This article was originally written by Shannon Firth; it was updated June 22, 2017.