Jackie Kennedy Onassis, The Most Influential First Lady

Astrid Kieser Kisting, Opinion Editor

Though she was well known for being the first lady to former president John F. Kennedy, Jackie offered so much more than that to the world. She has influenced many things that are still relevant today and she had effortless style. She was born in 1929 in Southampton, New York. As a child, she enjoyed horseback riding, writing, and painting, and she continued to cultivate these passions throughout her adulthood. Her parents divorced when she was young and she then attended boarding school when she was fifteen. When she was a junior she studied abroad in France and relished in their magnificent culture and refined her knowledge of the French language. She moved on to attend George Washington University in 1951 and then attained a job as a reporter-photographer at the Washington Times-Herald.

Jackie met John F. Kennedy in 1951, and two years later, when he was a senator, they got engaged. In September of 1953, they got married at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Rhode Island. In 1957, they had their daughter Caroline and in 1960 John announced that he would be running for president. She initially traveled with him but after she got pregnant she was advised to stay home. Despite being at home, she wrote an article famously known as, “Campaign Wife,” and in 1960 when John successfully became president she gave birth to their son, John F. Kennedy Junior a week later. She endured tragedy during her time as first lady, especially when her husband was brutally assassinated on November 22nd, 1963.

During her time in the White House, perhaps when she was most well known, she helped to invite America’s talented citizens and make the White House a showcase for their talent. She hosted musicians, actors, Nobel Peace Prize recipients, and intellectuals. One could argue that she is most known for her White House restoration project in which she restored the White House to its original elegance. She advocated for helping to educate the American people about the historic monument in the article, The White House: A Historic Guide (1962). She instituted the White House Historical Association, and she hired a Smithsonian curator to catalog all of their findings of treasures found at the manor. She encouraged Congress to pass a law to allow people to donate historic art to the White House, and ensure that the people who stayed there couldn’t just dispose of it. This ultimately led to the televised recording of her White House tour in 1962.

Jackie, in my eyes, was the most influential first lady the American people have ever had. Parents have named their daughters Jacqueline or Jackie after her and women have copied her style whether it be her bouffant hairstyle, pillbox hats, or flat-heeled pumps. She has even inspired the current Gucci Jackie purse collection. It’s a saddlebag and was originally made by Gucci and still is today. Jackie was often photographed with it and it eventually became known as, “the Jackie.” She’s also famous for wearing her blood-stained pink Chanel suit after the assassination of her husband. Just 99 minutes after her husband died, she stood beside the next president (Lyndon Johnson) as he took the oath of office. She was encouraged to change but replied to the people, “Let them see what they’ve done.”

Jackie endured many hardships during her time as first lady and even afterward. She lost her husband while witnessing his assassination beside him, she lost two children, and she was a woman in a male-dominated political society. Jackie is the most influential first lady, not just because of the fashion trends that she inspired but because of the most iconic American monument, the White House. If it weren’t for her, the White House wouldn’t be what it is today. We wouldn’t have well-preserved art or an appreciation for the beautifully rich history in America. Jackie may be remembered for her elegant etiquette, spectacular style, and for being John F. Kennedy’s wife, but she was so much more than that. I highly recommend watching the movie, Jackie. Natalie Portman gives an exquisitely breathtaking performance of Jacqueline Kennedy, and there is more history to learn about; that deserves to be learned about. Jackie once said, “Once you can express yourself, you can tell the world what you want from it… All the changes in the world, for good or evil, were first brought about by words.” It is evident that Jackie did much more than that.