By the time of the 1960 election, Jacqueline Kennedy was portrayed in the media, not as another Eleanor Roosevelt, but rather as another Dolley Madison. The messages were about her youthful and fashionable looks as assets. In 1959 Life magazine introduced her as “John Kennedy’s Lovely Lady” and even said “the U.S. is going to see more and more of one of the prettiest women to decorate a flag-draped speakers’ platform” (Qtd in Collier and Horowitz, 1999, p. 45). In contrast to many predecessors, Mrs. Kennedy’s coverage pointed out her unusualness, her “striking appearance and ultra-smart clothing make her one of America’s ten most photographed women but they fit no known image of a prospective first-lady-to-be” (Qtd in Collier and Horowitz, 1999, p. 48). Jacqueline Kennedy’s youth and education also appeared to be a possible issue. U.S. News & World Report questioned, “Jackie’ Kennedy: First Lady at Thirty?” (Qtd in David, 2002, p. 78). Newsweek defended her as a, ‘Stunning Egghead’ and focused on her education, her grades, her fluency in languages, and her age, “at thirty the youngest and prettiest wife of a presidential candidate since Dolley Madison” (Qtd in David, 2002, p. 85). Rather than focus on her previous career, the coverage emphasized her escort and social role, her help to Jack Kennedy’s career, and her partnership in his efforts to win the presidency. Jackie Kennedy campaigned for him on her own, unlike so many previous candidates’ wives. By doing so, she took what had become the accepted, if not the expected, route leading to the White House. The news articles emphasize over and over this type of partnership, her supportive role, despite her pregnancy and lessened travel. This paper, by referring to a number of scholarly articles and sources, examines Jackie’s Kennedy’s life and deeds, focusing on the prominent and inspirational role she played to other women in America. To begin with, the notable role for candidates’ wives marked a new development, fostered by the proliferation of television sets. By 1960, nearly 90 percent of American homes boasted at least one set (Zelman, 1980). Mamie Eisenhower had not ignored the medium--she had chatted amiably with Edward R. Murrow on “See It Now,” but the aging military wife lacked the charisma of a star. Both candidates’ spouses tried to do better in 1960, and one major newspaper emphasized how they had broken precedents: “Never before have the wives of both candidates been so active . . . Mrs. Nixon sits in on strategic councils with her husband, travels extensively, and follows a busy schedule of press conferences” (Qtd in David, 2002, p. 88). Not many years had passed since Eleanor Roosevelt had deemed campaigning for one’s husband to be in poor taste--a view that Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower apparently shared. Neither Jackie Kennedy nor Pat Nixon took real pleasure in the political game but each had learned, with varying degrees of success, to disguise her feelings. Pat Nixon insisted she found handshaking invigorating and the difference in crowds interesting, while the less experienced wife of the Massachusetts senator fought to curb her tongue on the subject. She had already angered reporters with her flip answers about wearing sable underclothing. Her lack of enthusiasm for the long hours of handshaking and small talk that went with winning primaries showed up in several ways. In the Midwest, she had reportedly baffled one audience by suggesting that everybody join in singing “Southie is my Hometown,” a song virtually unknown west of Massachusetts (Collier and Horowitz, 1999). Jackie Kennedy’s pregnancy (announced soon after her husband’s nomination) allowed her to retire to Hyannisport for the rest of the campaign, an absence generally interpreted as her best contribution to victory. Some wags suggested that the impending birth had been contrived to keep her home, and one story labeled the pregnancy a hoax: John Kennedy would wait for the election returns to come in and then turn to his wife and say, |Okay you can take out the pillow now” (Qtd in Watson and Rienner, 2000, p. 117). Although Jackie’s political interest remained very low, she evidently had known the goal of John Kennedy’s ambitions before she married him in 1953.
According to her cousin, John Davis, she had initially dismissed John as “quixotic because . . . he intended to be President” (Qtd in Watson and Rienner, 2000, p. 119). John Davis concluded that Jackie found the unity and spirit of the Kennedy clan appealing after the “dissipation and squabbling” in her own family, but that she never completely disguised her boredom with politics--or her preference for discussing art and artists (Qtd in Watson and Rienner, 2000, p. 34). If the woman whose husband would be president did not enjoy going to the people, she could perfect another campaign style which made them come to her. By remaining aloof--but glamorous and confident in her aloofness--she stirred up more interest than if she had mingled with the crowds and hugged every child in sight. Jackie Kennedy had the uncanny knack of intriguing a nation, partly because her personal history read like a fairy-tale with more than its share of sophistication, money, and villains. Born on Long Island in 1929 to a stockbroker and his society-conscious wife, Jackie Bouvier attended the fashionable Chapin School in New York and then the prestigious Miss Porter’s in Connecticut. After her parents divorced and her mother was remarried, this time to Hugh Auchincloss, who was considerably wealthier and more successful than Jack Bouvier, Jackie and her younger sister Lee divided their time between Merrywood, the Auchincloss estate outside Washington, and Hammersmith Farm in Newport, Rhode Island. When time came for college, she took two years at Vassar and a year in Paris before finishing at George Washington University. Her stepfather arranged through a family friend for her to go to work for a Washington newspaper and soon she had her own byline for a column, “Inquiring Photographer” (Collier and Horowitz, 1999). Although many other young women in the 1950s compiled similar records of international travel, multilingual competence, and careers of their own, none of the others topped off their accomplishments with marriage to a senator who seven years later won the presidency. Jackie’s youth (she was only thirty-one when she became First Lady), her wit (she had joked with reporters about the meaning of egghead), and her flair for fashion all put her in sharp contrast to her immediate predecessors. She would have aroused curiosity even if she had done nothing more than play the White House hostess, but she resolved to do more. Just weeks after John Kennedy’s victory over Richard Nixon, Jackie gave birth to a son, and within days, she was announcing through her social secretary, Letitia Baldrige, “sweeping changes so the White House would become a showcase of American art and history” (Qtd in Watson and Rienner, 2000, p. 34). Following this precedent-breaking, pre-inaugural announcement, Jackie assembled a large staff, until eventually Baldrige reported that she had forty people in the First Lady’s Secretariat. Not all of them could boast the credentials of Baldrige, who came well prepared for the job. The daughter of a congressman, she was a veteran of American embassies in both Rome and Paris, and she had been on the Kennedy staff since the summer of 1960, well before the outcome of the election was clear (Zelman, 1980). Various observers did not fail to note how the wife of the president tailored her public statements to complement his upbeat, energetic approach to the office. While John Kennedy incorporated phrases about a new frontier, his wife talked of new beginnings and the best of everything. The New Yorker, in an amusing article entitled “Mrs. Kennedy’s Cabinet,” underlined the parallels when it compared the Kennedys’ appointments. Both John and Jackie had included Republicans (Letitia Baldrige and Douglas Dillon), the New Yorker pointed out, and both had rewarded early boosters (in her case, the hairdresser Kenneth). Their most important selections, however, had come slowly, with both Kennedys announcing on the same day the designer of her inaugural wardrobe and his secretary of state. Both Cassini and Rusk had been, the New Yorker explained, “rather dark horses” (Qtd in Watson and Rienner, 2000, p.
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37). As soon as her husband was sworn in, the new First Lady moved to leave her imprint on his administration. Old tensions about whether a president’s wife should stress humility in order to appeal to the people or set herself apart at a royal distance went all the way back to the Monroe administration. Jackie Kennedy quickly took her place in the elitist camp. Within a week of the inauguration, she had begun her campaign to upgrade the taste of the nation. On January 25, she met with an old friend, the artist William Walton, and experts from the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Gallery to discuss plans for restoring to the White House its original furnishings. That same afternoon she took tea with George Balanchine, the Russian choreographer who then headed the New York City Ballet. By the end of her first week on the job, she had made clear that although she had listed her priorities in the same order as had Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower, placing husband and children first, she meant to perform in a very different way (Schwalbe, 2005). For a start, she meant to gain notice, and she began in what had traditionally been the province of presidential wives. Each White House family had enjoyed considerable freedom to choose what to bring into the mansion and what to throw out. Over the years many valuable pieces had simply disappeared--sold at auction or carted off as junk. Presidents did not usually involve themselves in the decisions (James Monroe and Chester Arthur were the notable exceptions), and wives could choose to reflect their own personal preferences or treat the mansion as a museum of the country’s treasures. Following structural renovations in the 1920s, Grace Coolidge had prevailed on Congress to pass legislation permitting the president to accept appropriate antiques, but so few were forthcoming that the law had little effect. Lou Hoover had attempted to stimulate interest in the White House by asking a secretary-friend to write a book on the subject, but depression times were hardly conducive to attracting donations of the Federal or Early Empire styles (Schwalbe, 2005). The early 1960s found Americans in a more giving mood, especially when a popular First Lady and new tax laws encouraged them in their generosity. Television did its part by making Jackie Kennedy a celebrity. During her first year in the White House, two networks produced documentaries, showing how she had popularized the pillbox hat, bouffant hairstyles, and the name "Jacqueline" for baby girls. No one could explain exactly why she had achieved such instant stardom, but one commentator suggested that she appealed to the country’s fascination with youth. The youngest First Lady since the 1890s, she underlined her youth by being frequently photographed with her two little children. More subtly, however, Jackie Kennedy offered a new model of womanliness. Here was a First Lady who seemed acquainted with Europe, informed about literature and the arts, yet attractive enough to compete with movie actresses and sex symbols. The "dumb blond" stereotypes of the 1950s appeared curiously dated, and NBC concluded its adulatory program on Jackie Kennedy with the question: “Whatever became of Brigitte Bardot?” (Collier and Horowitz, 1999) This enormous popularity helped promote the campaign to furnish the White House with authentic antiques. The First Lady prevailed on wealthy individuals to contribute, assembled a professional staff to oversee the collection, and engaged scholars to give guidance and advice. To insure that her efforts could not be cancelled by a successor with different tastes, she secured passage of legislation making the furnishings of the White House of historic or artistic interest to be inalienable and the property of the White House. John Kennedy feared that she might be criticized for extravagance, so it was arranged that the sale of White House guidebooks, which began July 4, 1962, would help finance the project (Schwalbe, 2005). Jackie Kennedy’s efforts to restore the White House (she did not like the term redecorate) received considerable publicity, including a one-hour special on national television during which millions of viewers watched her move through the mansion and describe the provenance and significance of the furnishings and artworks. Jack Gould, television reviewer for the New York Times, pronounced her an extremely able historian, art critic, and narrator, but even such an admirer as he could not fail to notice that she sidestepped the substantive questions. When narrator Charles Collingswood asked her what relationship the federal government should have with the arts, she thought it too complicated to answer but she reiterated her view that the White House deserved only the best (Zelman, 1980). But something besides Jackie Kennedy’s interest in art came through that night. In escorting television cameras around the White House, she projected the image of a little girl, her breathy and hesitant, Marilyn Monroe-type voice moving over a very narrow pitch range. For those viewers who had seen Jackie at her television debut on the Edward R. Murrow “Person-to-Person” program in 1953, this appearance marked some progress. A new bride at that time (the program was entitled Senator John Kennedy and His Bride), she had said very little, and her incongruous holding of a football during the time she was on screen caused some viewers to wonder if she had anything to say (Schwalbe, 2005). Her participation in the televised tour of the White House in early 1962 was more than a personal milestone. Harry Truman had escorted television crews around the renovated White House in his administration, and Tricia Nixon would later perform this task for her father. Jackie did not come across as exactly professorial, but she did inject a somewhat worldly note, and she signaled the possibility that a president’s wife could bring some of her own interests to the job of First Lady, at least as long as those interests remained traditionally feminine. Jackie rationed her appearances--even those at family gatherings. Her cousin John Davis explained how a group of Bouviers and Auchinclosses proceeded to the White House after the inaugural parade, but the new First Lady would not come downstairs to see them, even after her mother went to intercede. True, the schedule of a president’s wife at inauguration time is packed, and Jackie had given birth by Caesarean section only two months earlier, but her relatives were understandably bewildered by her treatment--to them, she was, according to Davis, just Jackie (Schwalbe, 2005). Most Americans remained oblivious, of course, to tensions within the Bouvier-Auchincloss clan, but they could read in any newspaper that the new president’s wife had little time for the luncheons and teas that typically filled a First Lady’s calendar. Citing obligations to her children, Jackie Kennedy simply refused to go. Sometimes she sent her husband or her secretary or enlisted the vice-president’s wife, but she adamantly preserved most of her time for herself. Her refusals to appear caused considerable embarrassment to those left with the task of inventing excuses for her. Katie Louchheim, an active Democratic Party regular, acknowledged that she could not persuade Jackie to meet even briefly with the consort of an important South American, although the visitor was such an ardent admirer of the American First Lady that she had brought a piece of her wedding silver as a gift (Collier and Horowitz, 1999). Although reporters later grumbled about Jackie’s failure to cooperate with them, they continued to turn out flattering copy. Even Margaret Mead, the anthropologist who wrote regularly for Redbook, climbed aboard the press’s pro-Kennedy bandwagon and suggested that the new First Lady had managed to alter Americans’ ideas about White House occupants. Allowed little freedom to voice their own opinions or expose their own tastes, most First Ladies had attempted to remain discreetly unobtrusive, but not Jackie Kennedy, who, Mead explained, had "gladdened the eye" and awakened Americans to their cultural heritage (Zelman, 1980). Mead’s analysis, stated in such general terms, missed an important point about the Kennedy years.
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