Camera girl : the coming of age of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy

As First Lady of the United States (1961 - 1963), then as the wife of one of the world’s richest men (1968 - 1975), until the time of her death in 1994, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was among the most photographed and well known women in the world.  But did the world really know that much about this enigmatic woman, who became an international celebrity? In a 1972 interview she stated,“People often forget that I was Jacqueline Bouvier, before being Mrs. Kennedy or Mrs. Onassis. Throughout my life I have tried to remain true to myself.” 

In this new biography Carl Sferrazza Anthony writes about her early life and that of her maternal and paternal families. His meticulous research and analysis are quite different from that found in many other biographies, past and present. The woman we thought we knew had more intelligence, depth and complexity to her than she permitted or wanted to be revealed. In the aftermath of her husband’s assassination and the days honoring and burying the slain President, all of which had Jacqueline Kennedy's care and imprint, one of the President’s advisors remarked that beneath her beauty, elegance and seeming veil of inconsequence, there was a great deal more to her. All of that is delineated in Carl Sferrazza Anthony’s biography which covers her life up to her marriage to then Senator John F. Kennedy.

Jacqueline Bouvier grew up in a time when it was a detriment for young women, especially those of a marriageable age, to reveal their intelligence. It was more important for a young woman to be lovely, charming, seemingly helpless and fully dependent on the man in her life. The young Jackie Bouvier was lovely, charming, extremely intelligent, witty, easily bored, but not at all helpless and not necessarily eager to depend on a man, or anyone else, for her existence. She was fiercely independent and had been under the controlling domination of her mother, Janet Lee Bouvier Auchincloss, who was known for her “very quick and at times violent temper," and was someone who instilled fear in her own children and in others. Bertha Kimmerle, Jackie and sister Lee’s nurse, witnessed Mrs. Bouvier’s frequent hitting of young Jackie. “Mrs. Bouvier gave Jacqueline a very severe spanking because the little girl had been too noisy in her play. She would spank Jacqueline quite frequently and became often irritated with the child, but for no reason that I was able to see.”  In fact, she may have been a psychologically and physically abusive mother to Jackie, whch may have had longlasting effects on her. “Even the cynical Gore Vidal would admit that 'her life in the world had been a good deal harder than she ever let on.' "

Jacqueline Bouvier was the daughter of two people who brought individual personal problems and idiosyncrasies to their marriage which resulted in a horrifically contentious, public separation, then divorce, and a lifelong hatred of each other, with young Jackie as a pawn in the relationship. However, as a young adult, she learned how to work around and between them to get and do what she wanted. Her strong will and patient determination to eventually achieve what she thought best would serve her well over her lifetime. 

She completed her undergraduate work at George Washington University and was remembered by Muriel McClanahan who taught an advanced English course, Short Story. “She [Jackie] was an extremely intelligent young woman, but she also possessed a brilliant imagination. This coupled with a genuine talent for the craft of writing. She had a gift as a writer and might have become prominent in her right as a writer had she followed another path … She was beautiful, and she could write like a million. She didn’t need to take my class.” For a while Jackie Bouvier worked as an inquiring reporter and photographer for the Washington Times Herald newspaper, lugging around an extremely heavy Graflex. Initially her column was listed as “Inquiring Photografer,” then renamed “Inquiring Camera Girl."  Frank C. Waldrop was executive editor of the newspaper and said, "She didn't know anything about taking photographs. But she certainly knew how to get to people. ... She treated [her job] as a business, small, but important enough as a start in a writing career. She was just very serious." In addition to her reporter's work, she worked on a script for television and several books

Her undergraduate years spent in Europe, specifically in France where she developed her fluency in reading and speaking French, would be invaluable when she later met the young Senator John F. Kennedy. In previous articles and biographies there have been references to her having translated some works in French, about Vietnam, into English. In fact she did a great deal more. There were important books about the history of Vietnam and Senator Kennedy "needed her to read all the books and determine what passages were relevant to his purpose ... she would translate these from French into English and process them all into one definitive report. The report needed to cover the history of the French in Indochina, from colonization onward, with all the official records explained." She took on this assignment in late March, 1953 and it "would result in her eighty-four-page report on France's political, military,, economic, and social control over its Indochinese colony of Vietnam."

In America’s queen the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis author Sarah Bradford writes there were many aspects of Jackie's upbring that would later benefit her as First Lady. In her last marriage to Hugh Auchincloss, Janet Auchincloss was the chatelaine of two estates, Merrywood and Hammersmith Farm, over which she directed a large support staff of servants. Based on how her mother oversaw these two estates, Jacqueline Kennedy may have been one of the best prepared First Ladies to assume that position. She was organized and knew how to get the best work out of the White House staff, which was achieved with delegation, determination and kindness, not fear. With her strong historical knowledge of American history she went on to refurbish the White House and make it a place of oustanding historical significance.

Jackie Bouvier was as interested in what took place in the U.S. Senate as was the Senator. Aide Ted Sorenson said, "Whatever political work she did for him, they kept strictly between them." It was a Senate page, Fritz Carl "Duke" Zeller, who remembered her frequent visits to the Senate and listening to speeches and floor action votes, sitting in the diplomatic gallery, dressed very casual in Capri pants. She and the Senator would exchange notes by way of the Senate page, who never read what was in them. Later, as Mrs. John F. Kennedy, she would create her own public persona. "But behind the scenes, her husband relied on her analytical, linguistic, and communication skills as crucial factors in their mutual, ambitious pursuit of the presidency."

Jacqueline Bouvier married Senator John F. Kennedy on September 12, 1953, at St. Mary’s Church in Newport, Rhode Island in a mass celebrated by Boston's Archbishop Richard Cushing.  All of this was orchestrated by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., who was a master organizer and public relations promoter, which he used to benefit the political ambitions of his son.  As Jackie Bouvier recalled thinking about her very domineering, dictatorial mother,  “Oh Mummy, you don’t stand a chance.” And what followed for Jackie Bouvier would be a very distinct and compelling history, marked by glory, tragedy and achievement.