The Early Years
|The Early Years >
|When she was already an icon of the 20th century, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy once remarked, “I’ve always been the same person.” Of course, Mrs. Kennedy was very right – the resolute independence and strength, the sense of glamour and refinement which would later mesmerize the planet, was evident from even her earliest years:
Jackie was born in privileged circumstances to unique parents. Her mother, Janet Lee was an athletic and ambitious woman from a wealthy New York family. Her father, John Vernou Bouvier III, who Jackie herself claimed, “cut a devastating figure,” had movie-star good looks and a perpetual dark tan that, along with his playboy lifestyle, earned him the nickname “Black Jack”. Jackie seemed to inherit the best of both her parents – she would receive her father’s good looks and joy for life along with her mother’s polish and athleticism.
Jackie was raised in the elite social circles of New York City and Long Island. This meant she would enjoy great wealth and privilege as a young child. She was surrounded by elegant affairs and elegant people; she spent her time strolling along in Central Park or learning to ride horses in East Hampton. However, her station meant she was expected to act within strict social rules. Depression-era high society had a very definite idea of how young girls were supposed to behave and what they were meant to aspire to. The highly intelligent and independent Jackie often chafed at these restrictions.
On one occasion, 4-year-old Jackie was taken for a walk through Central Park when she wandered away from her nanny and sister. The panic-stricken nanny ran home to report the terrible news to Jackie’s mother. Poor Janet was beside herself for more than two hours when she finally received a telephone call from Central Park’s police precinct. The officer explained that he found a little girl who gave him this phone number but would not give him her name. “Could she be yours?” He asked. A hysterical but hopeful Janet ran to the police station to find Jackie sitting quite calmly on a stool, entertaining the police officers with her questions and comments. She had obviously become the darling of the Central Park Precinct. The officer turned to Janet with a smile on his face and reported that young Jackie had approached a policeman and announced, “My nurse and sister seem to be lost.”
Jackie would progress throughout her childhood – delighting to be around with her looks and charm – testing her mother’s patience, while being spoiled wildly by her father. At the East Coast’s most prestigious schools for girls, first the Chapin School, then Holton Arms and Miss Porter’s, Jackie became known for her intellect and rebelliousness, still chafing under the expectations that she be trained as a hostess and wife. One comment on a report card sums up this contradiction, “I wouldn’t have kept Jacqueline, except that she has the most inquiring mind we’d had in the school in thirty-five years.”
In fact, the art and literature which would become Jackie’s life-long loves would provide her earliest sanctuaries from the real-life troubles which threatened to destroy her idyllic childhood. As her parents’ marriage deteriorated and dissolved, as her father experienced dire financial difficulties, and as her mother moved her two daughters away from their beloved father after her remarriage to Hugh D. Auchincloss, Jackie would tuck herself into a corner to voraciously read, write or draw – lost deep in her own world.
Of course, this natural reserve of course did not prevent Jackie from forming a healthy adolescence. In fact, the mystery of her deepest thoughts made her all the more alluring to everyone around her as she blossomed into womanhood. She was a passionate young woman who was more complicated that the conventional rites of passage of a girl of her time. She was proclaimed “No. 1 Deb of the Year” by Igor Cassini when she was sixteen, she was popular at her schools where she excelled academically, and was immediately accepted at prestigious Vassar College at seventeen. But Jackie was not entirely enthusiastic about all this. She saw even more in her life for herself. She was extremely idealistic she began to consider seriously how she could best serve society and humanity, and enjoy deeper pleasures in life for herself.