The Early Years
|The Bouvier-Kennedy wedding was a national event. When Jackie arrived at the church, a crowd of more than three-thousand launched through police barricades to greet her. Jackie was resplendent in an heirloom dress of ivory silk taffeta. The bouffant skirt and lace veil were perfect antique touches. Inside the church, an audible gasp was heard when she entered. All eyes were on Jackie as she walked down the aisle past eight hundred people (even though the church only sat four hundred). The congregation included Governors, Senators, Congressmen, and other celebrities. The couple honeymooned in Acapulco, Mexico after a fairy-tale reception at her step-father’s estate in Newport, Rhode Island.The earliest years of their marriage were difficult according to both Jack and Jackie.
Like all marriages, these early years took a great deal of compromise. But things were particularly complicated for Jackie when, as an essentially private person, she was thrust into the boisterous and very public life of a United States Senator. She adjusted, and then excelled, becoming an integral part of Jack’s intellectual and professional development. She also became an essential part of his very survival as she nursed him back to health after a botched surgery to correct the constant back-pain he suffered since an accident he suffered while serving in World War II.
With Jackie at his side, both behind the scenes and in the public view, Jack would win every election he entered including the Presidency of the United States. Everyone agreed that he wouldn’t have done it without her. Jackie did not bother to put on a phony show of enthusiasm on the campaign trail. The crowd sensed that and it impressed them. When Jackie addressed them, sometimes in fluent French, Spanish, or Italian, they knew that they were getting a sincere voice and real opinions. This was priceless for Jack’s campaign, and Jackie was tireless with a modern message. Of course, when the exultant Jack won the Presidency, he knew he owed it all to Jackie. Jackie however, was overwhelmed and frightened by the idea of being First Lady. She was only 31 years old.
Little did she know, she was about to be anointed American royalty. Jackie would redefine the role established by all the First Ladies preceding her, and become the standard by which all First Ladies after her would be judged. A national obsession, the slightest detail about Jackie would be picked up by the press as major news story for the next three years.
As First Lady, Jackie would prove invaluable to her husband in the same ways she did as a Senator’s wife. John Kennedy Galbraith, remarked, “Jacqueline Kennedy was deeply involved,” She would render keen judgment with the politicians they would encounter – helping JFK judge who would help and who would hurt his policies. She would also be the perfect bridge between her husband’s ideas and his constituency. She spoke French at a Cajun festival in Louisiana, Spanish to Puerto Ricans in New York, and Italian to immigrants in Boston. She was able to communicate the most complex ideas simply and elegantly.
Jackie may have carved out her role as First Lady, however the press would guarantee her great impact on style. She was revolutionary. She grafted an old-world elegance with new-world energy and she became the embodiment of the American spirit. She introduced classic lines and sleek profiles and presented herself in ways that are as fresh now as they were in 1961. Jackie forever modified fashion and dress for not only a female public figure, but the American woman.
Anything was possible. The young President blazed his New Frontier at home and abroad, while his wife mesmerized heads of state and the American people. This was the reign of Camelot, and Jackie was its chief designer. She literally transformed the White House with her wildly successful restoration and glittering pageants of culture that she brought through its doors – a coterie of diplomats, artists, intellectuals, and jet-setters. Packed into three scant years was an unforgettable whirlwind of power and grace.