10 Surprising Facts About Jackie Kennedy On Her Anniversary | TIME

10 Surprising Facts About Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

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On May 19, 1994, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, one of the most famous First Ladies, died at age 64 in her New York City apartment from non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer. 

She was buried beside her first husband, former President John F. Kennedy, widely referred to as JFK, whose assassination she witnessed in Dallas in 1963. Even before the tragedy, the First Lady was already in the global spotlight, revered for her style and intellectualism.

To mark the 30-year anniversary of Kennedy Onassis’ passing, here are 10 surprising facts you may not have known about her. 

Jackie Kennedy Onassis was a “superior” student with “an incredibly wicked wit”  

The future First Lady was born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier on July 28, 1929 in Southampton, N.Y. 

She had one younger sister. Her parents separated in 1936, with the years following the “most acrimonious” period, as the estranged couple fought bitterly before their divorce in 1940, Carl Sferrazza Anthony, author of Camera Girl: The Coming of Age of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy and other works, tells TIME. Anthony met Kennedy Onassis in 1975 and corresponded with her for years after.

Her mother remarried, and Kennedy Onassis grew up between her stepfather’s estates in Fairfax, Va. and Newport, R.I., her father’s apartment in New York City, and the family home in East Hampton.

She was a talented child who rode horses, wrote poetry, and made art. She was “superior” in academics starting in grade school, Anthony says, although she struggled at her boarding high school.

“She was in trouble a lot for defying authority, and yet she still got very good grades,” he says. 

She first attended Vassar College, and managed to make the honor roll, but “hated Vassar” because of its confining rules about women and strict curfews. According to Anthony, Kennedy Onassis was reportedly expelled from Vassar for staying out too late with a date and getting back to campus after curfew. He says she was reinstated after her mother and stepfather intervened, but transferred to George Washington University, where she graduated. 

Her bold streak continued into adulthood. Katherine Jellison, professor of U.S. gender and women’s history at Ohio University, tells TIME that because of the quiet demeanor Kennedy Onassis put forth as First Lady, most people don’t know “she had an incredibly wicked wit.” 

“She was very intelligent, she had this great sense of humor,” Jellison says. “When she was on stage, she apparently could make the most funny and biting comments about situations or other people. With her inner circle, they just thought she was hilarious.” 

She studied abroad in Paris and was briefly detained in Vienna

While studying in college, Kennedy Onassis spent a year abroad in Paris. She started by taking intensive French language classes at the University of Grenoble in September 1949, then traveled to Capri, Italy before enrolling at the Sorbonne in October, Anthony says. 

Over Christmas break she visited Vienna, which had been divided between occupying powers post World War II. There, she was detained by Soviet troops after being warned not to take photographs of their headquarters. Anthony says the former First Lady recounted, through letters, being held and questioned for at least three hours and threatened with being brought back to Siberia.

During her time in Europe, she also journeyed to Spain, England, Ireland, Scotland, and took a road trip through rural southern France. 

Jackie Kennedy Onassis was a journalist before getting married

Kennedy Onassis was always interested in writing, Anthony says. She won a “very prestigious literary award in high school” and was active in her school newspaper. 

In her senior year of college, she beat out almost 3,000 female college seniors to win a seven-month essay writing competition for Vogue magazine. The prize was a job as a junior editor with Vogue—six months in Paris and six months in New York City.

However, her mother, who was “bewildered by her desire to work,” did not want her to take the job and move to New York, where she would live with her father, Anthony says. Kennedy Onassis did start working at Vogue, but didn’t last long after her mother called her constantly and badgered her into quitting, he adds. 

After that, Kennedy Onassis’ stepfather helped her get a job through connections at the now-defunct Washington Times-Herald newspaper as an office clerk, according to Anthony. But she wanted to be a reporter, and after pitching a story about interviews reacting to a visit from then-Princess Elizabeth, later to be queen, her editor gave her a chance. 

From 1951 to 1953, she was the newspaper’s “Inquiring Camera Girl,” taking pictures and conducting interviews. In 1953, she traveled to London to cover the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Jacqueline Bouvier Photographing Dale Chestnut
Jacqueline Bouvier, future first Lady, photographs Dale Chestnut feeding goldfish on the roof-top pond of the Washington Times-Herald building in 1952. Bettmann Archive—Getty Images

She was engaged to another man before JFK

Around the time she got her newspaper job, Kennedy Onassis was briefly engaged to a man named John Husted. 

“John Husted really loved her, it was clear that she liked him, but wasn’t in love with him,” Anthony says. “He was very nice to her and they got along well, they seemed to be good friends. He had dared her—why don’t we get married, and if you decide you want to, then show up at this place and this time, and we’ll (get engaged)”—and they did.

However, “Husted was a little bit more superficial than she realized—as she said, it was over when she realized that the most exciting thing for him was making a great martini,” Anthony says.

At the time, she was also meeting for the second time up-and-coming Congressman Jack Kennedy. She was first introduced to her future husband in May 1951 at a dinner hosted by newspaperman Charles Bartlett and his wife, Martha, who wanted to set them up. But it wasn’t until she met JFK again in December, just after she got engaged to Husted, that she became more interested in the future President, according to Anthony. 

“She started seeing him as a friend and she clearly liked him,” the biographer says. They were both passionate readers of Lord Byron’s poetry and shared feelings about Vietnam’s independence.

“There was a lot of substance that Jackie had with JFK that excited her intellectually,” Anthony says. “Whereas there was nothing at all like that with John Husted, so she broke off the engagement.” 

Jackie Kennedy Onassis wrote a report on Vietnam that JFK reportedly used in speeches

Kennedy Onassis used her linguistic and intellectual skills to support JFK’s work even before they were married, according to Anthony. 

The biographer says he found documentation that while the pair were dating, she wrote an 84-page report for the then-Senator on France’s political, social, military, and economic control of Vietnam, later estimating that she translated about ten books from French. JFK used sections from the report in his first major foreign policy speech to the Senate in 1953. He gave another speech, also based on the report, in 1954 that earned him his first national press coverage as a potential presidential candidate, helping to pave his path to the White House.

JFK and Jackie Kennedy at their wedding
In a scene from the Kennedy-Bouvier wedding, groom John walks alongside his bride Jacqueline at an outdoor reception in Newport, Rhode Island in 1953. Bachrach—Getty Images

She intended to keep working after marriage

Kennedy Onassis got engaged and married to JFK in 1953.   

She had written in her 1947 high school yearbook that her intention was “not to be a housewife.” But in that era, Jellison points out, “if you were from a well-to-do family, you needed to marry someone who is well-to-do.” Any job a young woman pursued was “biding her time until she could make that well-placed marriage that her mother had urged her to do,” the historian adds. 

The dichotomy that had been set up for her was that she could either work or be married—not both, Anthony says. Yet despite the social norms, he says, “she had made it clear that she intended to go back to work at the newspaper after her honeymoon—so she had originally planned to be a working wife.”

However, a PR firm working for her fiancé’s family put out a press release announcing their engagement that said she formerly worked for the newspaper, essentially forcing her to give up her job, and “so she was outmaneuvered in that,” Anthony says.   

“She was shocked,” he says, according to an interview she gave to a reporter reacting to the press release. According to an excerpt from his book, she said: “Things are a little confusing right now. To tell you the truth I didn’t expect the wedding announcement to be made public until Friday of this week. But, now, having read the morning newspapers I find it difficult to add anything to the story.” 

Kennedy Onassis apparently harbored other professional ambitions beyond journalism as well: “At one point she seriously thought about becoming an actress,” Jellison says. The young woman verbalized this dream after she married JFK, but said she didn’t think her father-in-law would probably look favorably on it, according to Jellison.   

Jackie Kennedy Onassis was aware of her husband’s indiscretions, according to some historians

JFK’s affairs, which came to light publicly after his death, were known to his wife, Jellison and other historians say.

In a 1952 letter to an Irish priest the year before she got married, Kennedy wrote about her future husband: “He’s like my father in a way—loves the chase and is bored with the conquest—and once married needs proof he’s still attractive, so flirts with other women and resents you. I saw how that nearly killed Mummy.”

Womanizing upper-class males were not uncommon during that time period, Jellison explains.  

“It was just assumed that part of a wealthy man’s privilege is that he would have sexual experiences outside of marriage, that was just a given, and that the women’s role was to accept it, to look the other way,” and focus on her children and other causes, Jellison explains. 

Jellison compares the infidelity and elite social norms to that of another former President—Franklin D. Roosevelt. When the wives of both found out their husbands cheated on them, their parents convinced them to stay married to not destroy the men’s political careers, as “divorce would be the ultimate wrecking ball” for presidential aspirations in those time periods.

Story From Jackie
Jacqueline kneels on the bedroom floor, reading a storybook to her children, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy, at the White House, Washington, D.C. in 1962. John F. Kennedy Library—Getty Images

She gave birth to four children—two who preceded her in death

Kennedy Onassis, who was 31 when her husband became President, was the third youngest First Lady in U.S. history. She was also the first since the 19th century to occupy the White House during her child-bearing years, Jellison says.

Before her husband was elected president, Kennedy Onassis had a miscarriage in 1955 and gave birth to a stillborn baby girl in 1956. The couple’s daughter Caroline—who is currently the U.S. ambassador to Australia—was born in 1957.

Kennedy Onassis was pregnant during JFK’s presidential campaign in 1960, but because of her previous difficult pregnancies, cut short public appearances and went on full bed rest before giving birth. Their son John Jr. was born a couple weeks after the election. He died in a plane crash in 1999 at age 38, alongside his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette.

The couple’s youngest son, Patrick, was born prematurely and died a couple days later in 1963. “The loss of Patrick, from all accounts, was devastating to the whole Kennedy family—to the President, to Mrs. Kennedy and to the two children she already had, they’d been really looking forward to this baby,” Jellison says.

“Everyone said this brought them closer together,” Jellison says of the presidential couple. “For the first time they would be affectionate in public and be photographed together holding hands.” 

The baby’s death occurred in August, before JFK was killed in November. The couple’s fateful outing to Dallas was Kennedy Onassis’ first extended public appearance after the loss of their child, as she was just coming out of her mourning period, Jellison says. 

Jellison says the First Lady was a chain-smoker who also smoked while pregnant, before medical wisdom advised against it.

At the time, smoking was viewed as glamorous in the sophisticated debutante world, but a wide swath of the American public still thought it was “vulgar” for women to smoke. 

“There was a rule that the official photographer of the Kennedy White House was never supposed to take pictures of Mrs. Kennedy with a cigarette,” Jellison says. Photos of the First Lady smoking have since come out.

Jackie & Caroline Drive Off With Ari After Wedding
Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis, embracing her daughter, Caroline Kennedy, and her new husband, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, in Greece, Oct. 21, 1968. Express Newspapers—Getty Images

Jackie Kennedy Onassis remarried to a Greek shipping magnate

After JFK’s assassination, Kennedy Onassis was left with “the rug pulled out from under her,” Jellison says. Her next natural move was to marry rich—”something she had been taught by her mother from the cradle, just keep marrying up the scale”—Jellison explains.

In 1968, she married Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate 23 years her senior, who was one of the richest men in the world.

“She married Aristotle Onassis in part because he was so wealthy that she felt she wouldn’t have to worry about money and the physical security of her children,” Jellison says. “There was a fondness and I think respect between Jackie and Aristotle Onassis. It was not a great love story.” 

“In many ways he was a father-protector figure as well as a husband,” the historian adds. 

After a few years, the couple were largely living separate lives, with Kennedy Onassis staying with her children in New York City and Onassis in Europe. When he died in 1975, she released a statement that read: “Aristotle Onassis rescued me at a moment when my life was engulfed with shadows…We lived through many beautiful experiences together…for which I will be eternally grateful.”

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Sitting at Her Editing Desk
Jacqueline Onassis is shown in her office at Viking Press, as she talked about the first book she wrote and edited in 1977. Bettmann Archive—Getty Images

She became a book editor for nearly two decades before her death

After her second husband’s death, Kennedy Onassis went to work as a book editor for Viking Press and then Doubleday publishers. Over the course of 19 years, she acquired nearly 100 fiction and nonfiction books.

For the last few years of her life, she was also in a relationship with Belgian-American businessman Maurice Tempelsman. Jellison says this was probably Kennedy Onassis’ relationship of greatest equality, as he was her age and shared similar interests in the arts.

“He was much more a soul mate in terms of mutual interests than had been either of her husbands,” Jellison says. The historian concludes that Kennedy Onassis “was living a very satisfactory life in those last years, and working with books, which she loved.”

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