On November 22, 1963, Jackie Kennedy began to get dressed to accompany her husband on his presidential campaign to Dallas, Texas. Jackie Kennedy was an introvert who carried herself with sophistication and intelligence. The First Lady never accompanied her husband on political endeavors, but made this one exception: to support her husband on his presidential tour around the state of Texas. Jackie Kennedy was a fashion icon, who inspired the nation with her chic, effortless wardrobe. The First Lady dressed in a two-piece pink Chanel suit that was paired with a matching pillbox hat. This ensemble later become a daunting symbol of tragedy. John F. Kennedy set out on a two-day, five-city tour of Texas in November of 1963.1 This was to seek support for his New Frontier policies while also campaigning for the 1964 presidential elections. President Kennedy anticipated trouble and potential protests on his trip to Texas. Before his visit, there were five-thousand fliers distributed around Dallas stating that President Kennedy was wanted for treason. This was triggered by his support for the ongoing civil rights movement. The two of them flew to Dallas, accompanied by Vice President Johnson and his wife Lady Bird. Kennedy was scheduled to give a speech in Trademark at noon.
Jackie had just lost a child, but agreed to take on the role of “Campaign Wife” once again. This role is what helped her husband get elected in 1960. And now, he would need to demonstrate a strong hand on his tour of Texas.2 This tour would be a chance to remain close to her husband amidst the grief of losing her child. Jackie was in a vulnerable state and wanted to be with her husband. So, Jackie agreed to accompany him, which was a decision that would haunt her for thirty years after the passing of her husband. Jacqueline Bouvier, a 22-year-old socialite, had caught the eye of John Kennedy in May, 1952. The pair was introduced to each other by the journalist Charles L. Bartlett, who was a mutual friend of both Jackie and John. They were destined to meet since they both ran in the same social circles. The pair married in September of 1953.
During Jackie’s first year of being Mrs. Kennedy, she found herself pregnant with her first child. Her husband decided to run for President against Richard Nixon in 1960. Jackie refused to be useless to her husband during this time. Even though Jackie was ordered to remain home during her pregnancy by her doctor, she did not stay silent. Jackie wrote in the nationwide newspaper every week in the column titled, “Campaign Wife.” This gave readers an insight into the daily life of Jackie Kennedy, who was the wife of a presidential candidate.3 This column gave Jackie a voice, which she used to educate voters on current policies and initiatives. JFK won the election against Nixon in 1960. However, Jackie did not relish the role of First Lady. When she was asked what roles she would like to take on, she replied: “As little as possible. I’m a mother. I’m a wife. I’m not a public official.”4 But whatever womanizing tendencies John F. Kennedy had prior to entering the White House, those tendencies became clear in the years of his presidency. The president’s hitlist of women ranged from journalists to nineteen-year-old interns, from call girls to Marlene Dietrich, and allegedly to Marilyn Monroe. No one was off limits for the President. President Kennedy even confided in the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan that he needed a woman every three days, otherwise he would have a dreadful headache.5 However, this never stopped Jackie Kennedy’s love or support for her husband.
On November 12, 1963, Kennedy recognized the importance of winning Florida and Texas, and planned to visit both states.6 And Jackie decided to accompany him on the presidential tour through Texas. The public loved and admired the all-American power couple that was John and Jackie Kennedy. Men were dispatched from Washington to prepare for the President and First Lady. Jackie and John then boarded a plane heading for San Antonio, TX on November 21, 1963. Jackie and John arrived at San Antonio airport. Jackie Kennedy put on her crème Chanel ensemble that matched her husband. Jackie encountered excited fans screaming for her and the president. From here, First Lady Kennedy zipped through the Alamo city for a two-hour and twenty-five minute tour, before heading to Houston. In Houston, Jackie did a wardrobe change to attend the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) at the Rice Hotel. Jackie was accompanied by the vice president and his wife, along with her husband, who was on stage giving a speech on the Alliance for Progress.7 Jackie then was called on by her husband to give a speech, and being fluent in Spanish, she delivered the speech in Spanish. Jackie stated how she was so happy and honored to be with the people of Texas. She also stated how happy she was to be there with her loving husband at the LULAC meeting. From here, Jackie and the President flew to Fort Worth, TX. The two landed in Dallas’ Love Field airport. While driving to their next destination, they were to pass the Texas School Book Depository at Dealey plaza with crowds lining the street. Meanwhile, Lee Harvey Oswald, who recently became a new employee at the Book Depository, was setting up his rifle on the sixth-floor window.
At 12:30pm, President Kennedy was shot at twice, once near the back of the neck and the other on the right side of the head.8 As Mrs. Kennedy was grappling with what was happening, she grabbed her husband and laid over his body. Parts of his brain had landed on her pink Chanel two-piece suit, which seeped and left red patches of blood on her suit. The driver of the Lincoln limousine then raced to the nearby hospital Parkland Memorial, where Dr. Malcolm Perry and Dr. Charles Crenshaw attempted to save the president from his wounds9 Jackie Kennedy during this time was urged to change, because she was covered in the president’s blood. The First Lady refused and remained in her suit, stating that she wanted the public to see what they had done to her and to her husband. The president succumbed to his wounds and was pronounced dead at 1 pm. Her last words to her husband were, “I love you, Jack. I love you.”
At 2:38 pm, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States while aboard the airplane prior to take-off. This airplane would take the newly widowed Kennedy, the 36th president, and the newly appointed first lady back to Washington, DC. Jackie displayed multiple emotions, from fear to shock to immense grief on the ride back to Washington. Jackie Kennedy was still in her pink Chanel two-piece suit covered in her late husband’s blood. When the newly widowed Kennedy landed in Washington, she was escorted to the White House by her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy, and was greeted by swarms of paparazzi. All Jackie had on her mind was to get home to see her children to tell them the news.
Jackie Kennedy then planned her husband’s funeral. She wanted the world to see what they had done to her family and what they had taken away from the nation. So, the funeral would be broadcast live on CBS. Jackie became the first public widow. Jackie held herself with poise to model how the public should mourn. The funeral took place three days after the death of her late husband, on November 25, 1963 in Arlington Virginia.10
The day of the funeral, a horse-drawn caisson carried the casket down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.10 Jackie Kennedy was waiting there with her two children Caroline Bouvier Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr., and other grievers, including Robert Kennedy. Jackie modeled the funeral to follow that of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. Jackie placed John F. Kennedy’s casket where President’s Lincoln had laid in the east room of the White house. Once her husband’s casket arrived at the White House, Jackie began to march with her two children, following the casket to St. Matthews Cathedral, which was an eight block walk from the White House.10 John Jr. was seen saluting his father’s casket as he stood next to his mother and sister. Jackie marched with courage and refined dignity to show a brave face to the nation. She walked hand and hand with her two children, displaying a unified front that moved the nation. Jackie wore a black veil covering her face to symbolize a widowed bride, along with a black two-piece suit.
Ten days following the assassination of President Kennedy, the newly widowed Jackie departed from her home where she had the last memories with her husband. On the eve of her departure from the White House, Jackie received a call from President Johnson, who told her that she still had a valuable role to play in American society and that she was loved by so many including himself.13 President Johnson went on to say, “My mother and my wife and my sisters and you females got a lot of courage that we men don’t have. And so we have to rely on you and depend on you, and you’ve got something to do. You’ve got the President relying on you. And this is not the first one you’ve had! So there are not many women, you know, running around with a good many Presidents.”14 Jackie laughed, then said, “‘She ran around with two Presidents.’ That’s what they’ll say about me.”15 Jackie entered a deep depression following this.
After the death of her husband, Jackie Kennedy faced the “winter of her despair,” which entailed endless grief and post-traumatic stress disorder.16 Jackie Kennedy relived her husband’s death repeatedly. She rehearsed the same sequence, thinking if only she had looked to her right, she could have saved her husband. This would become a vicious cycle that led to endless drinking and insomnia. Jackie then found the strength to overcome and go on with her life after the year 1964. She wanted to protect her husband’s image at all costs, and she began creating the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum as a memorial to her husband. Even in death, she still protected his image. Afterwards, she went on to preserve and protect America’s cultural heritage by halting destruction of historic buildings, such as Renwick Building, Grand Central Station, and Lafayette Square. In May 1994, Jackie Kennedy Onassis passed away in her sleep from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Jackie Kennedy captivated the nation with her intelligence, beauty, strength, and grace.
John F Kennedy