Jacqueline Lee "Jackie" Kennedy Onassis (née Bouvier, July 28, 1929 – May 19, 1994) was an American socialite, book editor, writer, and photographer who became First Lady of the United States as the wife of President John F. Kennedy. As first lady, her popularity was due to her dedication to the historic preservation of the White House, her fashion sense, and her devotion to protecting her children, which endeared her to the American public. During her lifetime, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was regarded as an international fashion icon.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born on July 28, 1929 in Southampton, New York, to Wall Street stockbroker John Vernou Bouvier III and socialite Janet Lee Bouvier.
Her mother was of Irish descent, and her father had French, Scottish, and English ancestry. Named after her father, she was baptized at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan and raised in the Roman Catholic faith. A sister, Caroline Lee, was born four years later on March 3, 1933.
Jacqueline Bouvier spent her early childhood years in Manhattan and at Lasata, the Bouviers' country estate in East Hampton on Long Island. She looked up to her father, who likewise favored her over her sister, calling his elder child "the most beautiful daughter a man ever had".
From an early age, Jacqueline was an enthusiastic equestrienne who successfully competed in the sport and horse-riding remained a lifelong passion for her. She took ballet lessons, was an avid reader, and excelled at learning languages, speaking English, French, Spanish, and Italian. French was particularly emphasized in her upbringing.
In 1935, Jacqueline Bouvier was enrolled in Manhattan's Chapin School, which she attended for Grades 1–7. She was a bright student but often misbehaved; one of her teachers described her as "a darling child, the prettiest little girl, very clever, very artistic, and full of the devil".
The marriage of the Bouviers was strained by the father's alcoholism and extramarital affairs; the family had also struggled with financial difficulties following the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The couple separated in 1936 and divorced four years later, with the press publishing intimate details of the split.
When their mother Janet Lee married Standard Oil heir Hugh Dudley Auchincloss, Jr., the Bouvier sisters did not attend the ceremony, because it was arranged quickly and travel was restricted due to World War II. They gained three stepsiblings from Auchincloss's previous marriages, Hugh "Yusha" Auchincloss III, Thomas Gore Auchincloss, and Nina Gore Auchincloss, and Jackie formed the closest bond with Yusha, who became one of her most trusted confidants. The marriage later produced two more children, Janet Jennings Auchincloss in 1945 and James Lee Auchincloss in 1947.
After the remarriage, Auchincloss's Merrywood estate in McLean, Virginia, became the Bouvier sisters' primary residence, although they also spent time at his other estate, Hammersmith Farm in Newport, Rhode Island, and in their father's homes in New York City and Long Island. Although she retained a relationship with her father, Jacqueline Bouvier also regarded her stepfather as a close paternal figure. He gave her a stable environment and the pampered childhood she never would have experienced otherwise. While she adjusted to her mother's remarriage, she sometimes felt like an outsider in the WASP social circle of the Auchinclosses, attributing the feeling to her being Catholic as well as being a child of divorce, which was not common in that social group at that time.
After seven years at Chapin, Jacqueline Bouvier attended the Holton-Arms School in Northwest Washington, D.C. from 1942 to 1944, and Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut, from 1944 to 1947. She chose Miss Porter's because it was a boarding school that allowed her to distance herself from the Auchinclosses, and because the school placed an emphasis on college preparatory classes. In her senior class yearbook, Bouvier was acknowledged for "her wit, her accomplishment as a horsewoman, and her unwillingness to become a housewife". She graduated among the top students of her class and received the Maria McKinney Memorial Award for Excellence in Literature.
In the fall of 1947, Jacqueline Bouvier entered Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, at that time a women's institution. She had wanted to attend Sarah Lawrence College, closer to New York City, but her parents insisted that she choose the more isolated Vassar. She was an accomplished student who participated in the school's art and drama clubs and wrote for its newspaper.
Due to her dislike of Vassar's location in Poughkeepsie, she did not take an active part in its social life and instead traveled back to Manhattan for the weekends. She had made her debut to high society in the summer before entering college and became a frequent presence in New York social functions. Hearst columnist Igor Cassini (brother of Oleg Cassini, who would become her official designer when she became the first lady of the United States) dubbed her the "debutante of the year".
She spent her junior year (1949–1950) in France—at the University of Grenoble in Grenoble, and at the Sorbonne in Paris—in a study-abroad program through Smith College. Upon returning home, she transferred to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in French literature in 1951.
While attending George Washington, Jacqueline Bouvier won a twelve-month junior editorship at Vogue magazine; she had been selected over several hundred other women nationwide. The position entailed working for six months in the magazine's New York City office and spending the remaining six months in Paris. Before beginning the job, she celebrated her college graduation and her sister Lee's high school graduation by traveling with her to Europe for the summer. The trip was the subject of her only autobiography, One Special Summer, co-authored with Lee; it is also the only one of her published works to feature Jacqueline Bouvier's drawings. On her first day at Vogue, the managing editor advised her to quit and go back to Washington. She followed the advice, left the job and returned to Washington after only one day of work.
Bouvier moved back to Merrywood and was referred by a family friend to the Washington Times-Herald, where she was hired as a part-time receptionist. A week later she requested more challenging work, and was hired as an "Inquiring Camera Girl" despite her inexperience, paying her $25 a week. The position required her to pose witty questions to individuals chosen at random on the street and take their pictures for publication in the newspaper alongside selected quotations from their responses. During this time, Bouvier was briefly engaged to a young stockbroker named John Husted. After only a month of dating, the couple published the announcement in The New York Times in January 1952. After three months, she called off the engagement because she had found him "immature and boring" once she got to know him better.
Jacqueline Bouvier and U.S. Representative John F. Kennedy belonged to the same social circle and were formally introduced by a mutual friend at a dinner party in May 1952. She was attracted to Kennedy's physical appearance, wit and wealth. The pair also shared the similarities of Catholicism, writing, enjoying reading and having previously lived abroad. Kennedy was busy running for the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts; the relationship grew more serious and he proposed to her after the November election. Bouvier took some time to accept, because she had been assigned to cover the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London for The Washington Times-Herald. After a month in Europe, she returned to the United States and accepted Kennedy's marriage proposal. She then resigned from her position at the newspaper. Their engagement was officially announced on June 25, 1953.
Bouvier and Kennedy married on September 12, 1953, at St. Mary's Church in Newport, Rhode Island. The wedding was considered the social event of the season with an estimated 700 guests at the ceremony and 1,200 at the reception that followed at Hammersmith Farm. The wedding dress was designed by Ann Lowe of New York City, and is now housed in the Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts. The dresses of her attendants were also created by Lowe, who was not credited by Jacqueline Kennedy.
The newlyweds honeymooned in Acapulco, Mexico, before settling in their new home, Hickory Hill in McLean, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Kennedy developed a warm relationship with her parents-in-law, Joseph and Rose Kennedy.
In the early years of their marriage, she took continuing education classes in American history at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. But the couple faced several personal setbacks. John Kennedy suffered from Addison's disease and from chronic and at times debilitating back pain, which had been exacerbated by a war injury; in late 1954, he underwent a near-fatal spinal operation.
Additionally, Jacqueline Kennedy suffered a miscarriage in 1955 and in August 1956 gave birth to a stillborn daughter, Arabella. They subsequently sold their Hickory Hill estate to Kennedy's brother Robert and bought a townhouse on N Street in Georgetown. The Kennedys also resided at an apartment at 122 Bowdoin Street in Boston, their permanent Massachusetts residence during his congressional career.
Kennedy gave birth to daughter Caroline on November 27, 1957. At the time, she and her husband were campaigning for his re-election to the Senate, and they posed with their infant daughter for the cover of the April 21, 1958 issue of Life magazine.
On January 3, 1960, John F. Kennedy was a United States senator from Massachusetts when he announced his candidacy for the presidency and launched his campaign nationwide. Shortly after the campaign began, Jacqueline Kennedy became pregnant. Due to her previous high-risk pregnancies, she decided to stay at home in Georgetown.
Despite her non-participation in the campaign, Jackie Kennedy became the subject of intense media attention with her fashion choices. On one hand, she was admired for her personal style; she was frequently featured in women's magazines alongside film stars and named as one of the 12 best-dressed women in the world. On the other hand, her preference for French designers and her spending on her wardrobe brought her negative press.
On November 25, Jacqueline Kennedy gave birth to the couple's first son, John F. Kennedy, Jr. On January 20, 1961 her husband was sworn in as president.
The discussion about Kennedy's fashion choices continued during her years in the White House, and she became a trendsetter, hiring American designer Oleg Cassini to design her wardrobe.
Although Kennedy stated that her priority as a first lady was to take care of the President and their children, she also dedicated her time to the promotion of American arts and preservation of its history. The restoration of the White House was her main contribution, but she also furthered the cause by hosting social events that brought together elite figures from politics and the arts.
Throughout her husband's presidency and more than any of the preceding first ladies, Kennedy made many official visits to other countries, on her own or with the President and she proved popular among international dignitaries. During the Kennedys' first official visit to France in 1961, Jacqueline Kennedy impressed the public with her ability to speak French, as well as her extensive knowledge of French history.
At the urging of U.S. Ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith, Kennedy undertook a tour of India and Pakistan with her sister Lee Radziwill in 1962. The tour was amply documented in photojournalism as well as in Galbraith's journals and memoirs. In addition to these well-publicized trips during the three years of the Kennedy administration, she traveled to countries including Afghanistan, Austria, Canada, Colombia, United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey, and Venezuela.
In early 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy was again pregnant, which led her to curtail her official duties. She spent most of the summer at a home she and the President had rented on Squaw Island, which was near the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. On August 7 she gave birth to a boy, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who died two days after birth. She was deeply affected by Patrick's death and proceeded to enter a state of depression. Jacqueline Kennedy's friend Aristotle Onassis was aware of her depression and invited her to his yacht to recuperate.The trip was widely disapproved of within the Kennedy administration, by much of the general public, and in Congress. The First Lady returned to the United States on October 17, 1963.
On November 21, 1963, the Jacqueline Kennedy the First Lady and the President embarked on a political trip to Texas, the first time that she had joined her husband on such a trip in the U.S.
After a breakfast on November 22, they took a very short flight on Air Force One from Fort Worth's Carswell Air Force Base to Dallas's Love Field. She was wearing a bright pink Chanel suit and a pillbox hat, which had been personally selected by President Kennedy. A 9.5-mile (15.3 km) motorcade was to take them to the Trade Mart, where the president was scheduled to speak at a lunch. But he was shot during the trip and died shortly after in Parkland Hospital.
Jacqueline Kennedy's unlaundered suit became a symbol of her husband's assassination, and was donated to the National Archives and Records Administration in 1964. Under the terms of an agreement with her daughter, Caroline, the suit will not be placed on public display before 2103.
Following the assassination and the media coverage that had focused intensely on her during and after the burial, Kennedy stepped back from official public view. Kennedy spent 1964 in mourning and made few public appearances.
She purchased a house for herself and her children in Georgetown but sold it later in 1964 and bought a 15th-floor penthouse apartment for $250,000 at 1040 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in the hopes of having more privacy.
After her husband's assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy relied heavily on her brother-in-law Robert F. Kennedy. He had been a source of support after she had suffered a miscarriage early in her marriage; it was he, not her husband, who stayed with her in the hospital. In the aftermath of the assassination, Robert became a surrogate father for her children until eventual demands by his own large family and his responsibilities as attorney general required him to reduce attention.
In early 1968 Robert Kennedy's advisors urged him to enter the upcoming presidential race. Despite her concerns, Jacqueline Kennedy campaigned for her brother-in-law and supported him.
Just after midnight PDT on June 5, 1968, an enraged Palestinian gunman mortally wounded Robert Kennedy who died the following day at 42 years old.
After Robert Kennedy's death in 1968, Kennedy reportedly suffered a relapse of the depression she had suffered in the days following her husband's assassination nearly five years prior. She came to fear for her life and those of her two children, saying: "If they're killing Kennedys, then my children are targets ... I want to get out of this country".
On October 20, 1968, Jacqueline Kennedy married her long-time friend Aristotle Onassis, a wealthy Greek shipping magnate who was able to provide the privacy and security she sought for herself and her children.
The wedding took place on Skorpios, Onassis's private Greek island in the Ionian Sea. After marrying Onassis, she took the legal name Jacqueline Onassis and consequently lost her right to Secret Service protection, which is an entitlement of a widow of a U.S. president.
The marriage brought her considerable adverse publicity. She was condemned by some as a "public sinner", and became the target of paparazzi who followed her everywhere and nicknamed her "Jackie O".
During their marriage, Jacqueline and Aristotle Onassis inhabited six different residences: her 15-room Fifth Avenue apartment in Manhattan, her horse farm in New Jersey, his Avenue Foch apartment in Paris, his private island Skorpios, his house in Athens, and his yacht Christina O.
Aristotle Onassis's health deteriorated rapidly following the death of his son Alexander in a plane crash in 1973. He died of respiratory failure at age 69 in Paris on March 15, 1975. His financial legacy was severely limited under Greek law, which dictated how much a non-Greek surviving spouse could inherit. After two years of legal wrangling, Jacqueline Onassis eventually accepted a settlement of $26 million from Christina Onassis—Aristotle's daughter and sole heir—and waived all other claims to the Onassis estate.
After the death of her second husband, Onassis returned permanently to the United States, splitting her time between Manhattan, Martha's Vineyard, and the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. In 1975, she became a consulting editor at Viking Press, a position that she held for two years.
She resigned from Viking Press in 1977 and was hired by Doubleday, where she worked as an associate editor under an old friend, John Turner Sargent, Sr. Among the books she edited for the company are autobiographies of ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, singer-songwriter Carly Simon, and fashion icon Diana Vreeland. She also encouraged Dorothy West, her neighbor on Martha's Vineyard and the last surviving member of the Harlem Renaissance, to complete the novel The Wedding (1995), a multi-generational story about race, class, wealth, and power in the U.S.
In addition to her work as an editor, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis participated in cultural and architectural preservation.
She remained the subject of considerable press attention, especially from the paparazzi photographer Ron Galella, who followed her around and photographed her as she went about her normal activities; he took candid photos of her without her permission. She ultimately obtained a restraining order against him, and the situation brought attention to the problem of paparazzi photography.
From 1980 until her death, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis maintained a close relationship with Maurice Tempelsman, a Belgian-born industrialist and diamond merchant who was her companion and personal financial adviser.
In the early 1990s, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis supported Bill Clinton and contributed money to his presidential campaign. Following the election, she met with First Lady Hillary Clinton and advised her on raising a child in the White House.
In November 1993, she was thrown from her horse while participating in a fox hunt in Middleburg, Virginia, and was taken to the hospital to be examined. A swollen lymph node was discovered in her groin, which was initially diagnosed by the doctor to be caused by an infection. The fall from the horse contributed to her deteriorating health over the next six months. But in December, she developed new symptoms, including a stomach ache and swollen lymph nodes in her neck, and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer.
She began chemotherapy in January 1994 and publicly announced the diagnosis, stating that the initial prognosis was good. She continued to work at Doubleday, but by March the cancer had spread to her spinal cord and brain, and by May to her liver and was deemed terminal. Onassis made her last trip home from New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center on May 18, 1994. The following night at 10:15 p.m., she died in her sleep in her Manhattan apartment at age 64, with her children by her side.
In the morning, her son John F. Kennedy, Jr. announced his mother's death to the press, stating that she had been "surrounded by her friends and her family and her books, and the people and the things that she loved". He added that "She did it in her very own way, and on her own terms, and we all feel lucky for that."
On May 23, 1994, her funeral Mass was held a few blocks away from her apartment at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, the Catholic parish where she was baptized in 1929.
She was interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, alongside President Kennedy, their son Patrick, and their stillborn daughter Arabella. President Bill Clinton delivered a eulogy at her graveside service. At the time of her death, Onassis was survived by her children Caroline and John Jr., three grandchildren, sister Lee Radziwill, son-in-law Edwin Schlossberg, and half-brother James Lee Auchincloss. She left an estate that its executors valued at $43.7 million.
Even after her death, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis remained one of the most popular First Ladies. She was featured 27 times on the annual Gallup list of the top 10 most admired people of the second half of the 20th century, higher than that of any U.S. president.
In 1999, she was listed as one of Gallup's Most-Admired Men and Women of the 20th century.
In 2011, she was ranked in fifth place in a list of the five most influential First Ladies of the twentieth century for her "profound effect on American society".
In 2015, she was included in a list of the top ten influential U.S. First Ladies due to the admiration for her based around "her fashion sense and later after her husband's assassination, for her poise and dignity".
In 2020, Time magazine included her name on its list of 100 Women of the Year.
Jacqueline Kennedy became a global fashion icon during her husband's presidency. After the 1960 election, she commissioned French-born American fashion designer and Kennedy family friend Oleg Cassini to create an original wardrobe for her appearances as First Lady. From 1961 to 1963, Cassini dressed her in many of her most iconic ensembles, including her Inauguration Day fawn coat and Inaugural gala gown, as well as many outfits for her visits to Europe, India, and Pakistan. In 1961, Kennedy spent $45,446 more on fashion than the $100,000 annual salary her husband earned as president.
Kennedy preferred French couture, particularly the work of Chanel, Balenciaga, and Givenchy, but was aware that in her role as first lady, she would be expected to wear American designers' work. After noticing that her taste for Paris fashion was being criticized in the press, she wrote to the fashion editor Diana Vreeland to ask for suitable American designers, particularly those who could reproduce the Paris look. After considering the letter, which expressed her dislike of prints and her preference for "terribly simple, covered-up clothes," Vreeland recommended Norman Norell, who was considered America's first designer and known for his high-end simplicity and fine quality work. She also suggested Ben Zuckerman, another highly regarded tailor who regularly offered re-interpretations of Paris couture, and the sportswear designer Stella Sloat, who occasionally offered Givenchy copies. Kennedy's first choice for her Inauguration Day coat was originally a purple wool Zuckerman model that was based on a Pierre Cardin design, but she instead settled on a fawn Cassini coat and wore the Zuckerman for a tour of the White House with Mamie Eisenhower.
In her role as first lady, Kennedy preferred to wear clean-cut suits with a skirt hem down to middle of the knee, three-quarter sleeves on notch-collar jackets, sleeveless A-line dresses, above-the-elbow gloves, low-heel pumps, and pillbox hats. Dubbed the "Jackie" look, these clothing items rapidly became fashion trends in the Western world. More than any other First Lady, her style was copied by commercial manufacturers and a large segment of young women. Her influential bouffant hairstyle, described as a "grown-up exaggeration of little girls' hair," was created by Mr. Kenneth, who worked for her from 1954 until 1986.
Jacqueline Kennedy was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1965. Many of her signature clothes are preserved at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum; pieces from the collection were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2001. Titled "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years," the exhibition focused on her time as a first lady.
In her years after the White House, Kennedy underwent a style change; her new looks consisted of wide-leg pantsuits, silk Hermès headscarves, and large, round, dark sunglasses. She even began wearing jeans in public. She set a new fashion trend with beltless, white jeans with a black turtleneck that was never tucked in and instead pulled down over her hips.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis acquired a large collection of jewelry throughout her lifetime. Her triple-strand pearl necklace, designed by American jeweler Kenneth Jay Lane, became her signature piece of jewelry during her time as first lady in the White House.
Often referred to as the "berry brooch," the two-fruit cluster brooch of strawberries made of rubies with stems and leaves of diamonds, designed by French jeweler Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co., was personally selected and given to her by her husband several days prior to his inauguration in January 1961. She wore Schlumberger's gold and enamel bracelets so frequently in the early and mid-1960s that the press called them "Jackie bracelets"; she also favored his white enamel and gold "banana" earrings. Kennedy wore jewelry designed by Van Cleef & Arpels throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s; her sentimental favorite was the Van Cleef & Arpels wedding ring given to her by President Kennedy.
In 2012, Time magazine included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis on its All-TIME 100 Fashion Icons list. In 2016, Forbes included her on the list 10 Fashion Icons and the Trends They Made Famous.