As first lady of the United States, Jacqueline Lee Kennedy Onassis – born Bouvier – was a tour de force of style, grace and sophistication. And like her husband, John F. Kennedy, she brought a sense of youthfulness to the White House and would become arguably one of the most iconic faces of the 20th century. Take these 40 rare photographs, which offer tantalizing glimpses into what life was really like for one of America’s most inspiring leading ladies.
40. Her childhood dog
Jackie was only six years old when this photo was taken, but she was already showing signs of what would become a lifelong fondness for animals. The future first lady would have several pooch pals over the course of her 64 years, in fact. She hailed from an affluent background, having been born to Wall Street mogul John Vernou “Black Jack” Bouvier III and Janet Norton Lee, a Manhattan socialite. And Jackie therefore enjoyed many privileges in her early life, including taking ballet and learning French.
39. A young equestrienne
Jackie first rode a horse at barely a year old – an early introduction that was courtesy of her mother. And at the age of 11, she had already become a successful equestrienne, competing in a number of national championships and scoring a double victory in one. “Miss Bouvier achieved a rare distinction,” a 1940 New York Times story read. “The occasions are few when a young rider wins both [horsemanship] contests in the same show.”
38. Horse riding in childhood
Horse riding would remain a passion for Jackie throughout her life, but it was during childhood that she truly flourished. This picture was taken in 1938 – when she was just nine years old – at the Piping Rock Horse Show in Locust Valley, New York. Around a year later, Jackie’s parents would sign divorce papers, marking the beginning of a turbulent time in the future first lady’s life.
37. The Bouvier sisters after their trip to Europe
In 1951 Jackie spent the summer traveling around Europe with her sister Caroline Lee Radziwill – born Bouvier. The siblings would later co-author Jackie’s only autobiography, One Special Summer, which detailed their European adventures. And this photo was snapped at the end of said trip, when the women were en route back to America.
36. On vacation at the Kennedy Compound
John F. Kennedy popped the question to Jackie in the summer of 1953, while she was working in England. The following June, the betrothed couple vacationed at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. And it would become a frequent getaway location for the pair, with the future president even using it as a base during his 1960 campaign.
35. Sitting for an interview
During John and Jackie’s 1953 retreat at the Kennedy compound, they were questioned by a reporter for a feature in Life magazine. And the engaged couple are pictured here during that very interview. The story ended up taking the front cover of the July 20 issue with the strapline, “Senator Kennedy Goes A-Courting.”
34. Family photos at the Kennedy Compound
It’s fair to say that back in the 1950s, the Kennedys were serious fashion icons. But it wasn’t just what the couple wore that captured the public’s imagination; it was how they vacationed, too. It’s no wonder, then, that their summer trips to the Kennedy Compound were of such interest – enough to take the front cover of a magazine, after all. In this snap, the future Mrs. Kennedy is inspecting photographs that hang on the wall of one of the estate’s buildings.
33. Fun at the Kennedy Compound
In 2012 the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate became the lucky recipient of the Kennedy Compound’s Main House. By then, it had seen years of history. After all, not only had John F. Kennedy organized his 1960 presidential campaign from there, but his brother Ted also lived there until 2009. And, of course, the summer retreat held many happy memories for Jackie, as pictured here, barefoot and carefree.
32. Sailing at the Kennedy Compound
Before the presidency swept into the lives of the Kennedys, they presumably had more time to enjoy simple pleasures like sailing. And the couple’s summer trip to the Kennedy Compound in 1953 – just before they married – produced plenty of lovely snaps, including this one. Indeed, the pair look absolutely content.
31. The Kennedy-Bouvier wedding
Just over three months after announcing their engagement, John and Jackie tied the knot at a Rhode Island church on September 12, 1953. And the wedding turned out to be quite the event, with around 700 guests attending the ceremony and a further 500 joining for the reception. The couple are pictured here on their big day, surrounded by the Kennedy family.
30. John and Jackie pose for wedding pictures
Unsurprisingly, John and Jackie’s wedding was widely considered to be the season’s hottest social affair. And that status was no doubt elevated by the latter’s glamorous ivory wedding dress, which can be seen in all its glory here. The gown is the work of Ann Lowe, a high-society fashion designer, and it’s now stored at the Kennedy Library in Massachusetts.
29. Trying to make a camera work
Following their wedding, Jackie and John traveled to Acapulco, Mexico, for their honeymoon. And upon the couple’s return, they moved into their new house in Hickory Hill, which is located in the Washington, D.C., suburb of McLean, Virginia. In this picture, the pair are pictured fiddling with a camera outside their vacation home in Hyannis Port.
28. The newly married couple
Meanwhile, in the first few years of their marriage, the John and Jackie faced multiple hardships. John, for his part, was blighted by Addison’s disease, a condition affecting the adrenal glands. And he was also troubled by back pain stemming from an injury he had received while in service. In 1954 John even had to have surgery on his spine, which almost proved fatal.
27. John after his operation
However, JFK’s operation in 1954 wasn’t his first. Over the course of his life, in fact, he underwent four different procedures to alleviate his back problems, including a particularly risky one in 1944. But it was the 1954 operation that took the biggest toll on the future president. Indeed, complications from a resulting urinary tract infection were so serious that a priest was called to read John his last rites.
26. The year of Caroline’s birth
In 1957 Jackie welcomed into the world a happy and healthy daughter, Caroline, who was named after Jackie’s sister. And the parents posed with their baby on the April 21 cover of Life magazine the following year. This particular photograph of a pregnant Jackie was snapped in September 1957 – just two months before Caroline was born.
25. Posing with John F. Kennedy Jr.
On November 8, 1960, John secured the presidency with a slender victory over opponent Richard Nixon. And just a fortnight later, Jackie gave birth to their first son, John F. Kennedy Jr. Meanwhile, this shot was taken on December 10, when JFK Jr. was only 15 days old.
24. A White House meeting
Of course, as first lady of the United States, Jackie was expected to follow a busy schedule of events. One of her earliest White House meetings, which took place in February 1961 in the Diplomatic Reception Room, is pictured here. This archived photograph shows Jackie talking with young representatives from the American Heart Association Fund Drive, twin girls Debbie and Donna Horst.
23. Watching the first American in space
Remember Alan Shepard? Well, he may not be a household name like Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, but in May 1961 the astronaut in fact became the first American to enter space. And yet he wasn’t the first human to make it; that accolade had gone to Russian Yuri Gagarin a month earlier in the Soviets’ first Space Race victory. Still, the Kennedys nevertheless watched the momentous occasion on television in a White House secretary’s office.
22. Boarding a plane
In 1961 the newly elected President Kennedy headed for his first official visit to Europe. His wife joined him, of course, but she also added her own extra stop onto the end of the trip: a tour of the islands of Greece. Here, she can be seen boarding a flight to Athens at a London airport alongside her sister Lee.
21. Arriving back from Europe
During the first lady’s solo trip to Greece, John reportedly ordered that his wife be kept away from multi-millionaire Aristotle Onassis. That’s according to Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who claimed as much in a book published in 2016. The president was apparently worried about Onassis – whom, incidentally, Jackie would later marry – and his womanizing ways. And so, Jackie and the Greek businessman did not encounter each other on that particular trip.
20. Admiring a painting
In 1928 American art collector Charles Loeser died and left an original Paul Cézanne painting to Calvin Coolidge, then-President of the United States. And “House on the Marne” still hung in the White House when the Kennedys arrived there some three decades later. Here, the 35th first lady can be seen admiring Cézanne’s work alongside Loeser’s granddaughter, Philippa Calnan.
19. On vacation
Just because you’re the President of the United States, it doesn’t mean you can’t take a vacation. And here, the Kennedy family are photographed at Hammersmith Farm in Rhode Island in September 1961. While it was admittedly a working holiday for John – who named a new head of the CIA during the trip – he still found time to relax with Jackie and the kids, as this cute snap proves.
18. Visiting a children’s hospital
As part of Jackie’s duties in her first year in the White House, she paid visits to hospitals. And with her kindness and warmth – as is obvious in this snap taken in 1961 at the D.C. Children’s Hospital – it’s not difficult to see why she was so widely loved. For instance, after a trip to Europe, one of the president’s advisors told her, “Once in a great while, an individual will capture the imagination of people all over the world. You have done this.”
17. Christmas at the White House
From her very first day at the White House, Jackie Kennedy took it upon herself to bring back to life the building’s historical character. For example, she stripped out the unremarkable furniture and replaced it with antique furnishings. And within Jackie’s first year in Washington, she made sweeping changes to the ways in which the White House’s furnishings and artwork were handled.
16. Sleigh riding at the White House
There’s nothing like a snowfall to transform an ordinary scene into something magical. Of course, when the White House is involved, it’s not exactly a typical scene to begin with. But it’s fair to say that this picture of Jackie riding in an open sleigh along the South Lawn is something really special. What’s more, the sleigh is being pulled by daughter Caroline’s very own pony, Macaroni.
15. A trip to India
When Jackie visited India in 1962, she may not have drawn crowds like Queen Elizabeth II or President Dwight Eisenhower did, but her presence was undoubtedly felt. Jackie took the trip at the suggestion of John Kenneth Galbraith, the U.S. Ambassador to India, and visited Pakistan along the way. The tour was well-documented by photojournalists, including this shot of the first lady, dressed stylishly and enjoying a cruise on Lake Pichola.
14. John F. Kennedy Jr. and the Empress of Iran
As part of her role as first lady of the United States, Jackie had plenty of formal duties to complete. In 1962, for instance, she was tasked with hosting Iranian Empress Farah Pahlavi at the White House. In this picture, Jackie can be seen introducing Pahlavi to her son, JFK Jr. And yes, that’s the Kennedy’s pony, Macaroni, in the background.
13. Kennedy celebrating the Nobel Prize winners
Jackie’s influence as a style icon didn’t stop when she entered the White House. If anything, she became even more of a fashion sensation when she took on the title of first lady at just 31 years old. And her youth and beauty captivated the nation. She looks as glamorous as ever in this photograph at an April 1962 dinner in Washington, D.C., which was held to honor the winners of the Nobel Prize.
12. Watching The America’s Cup race
In this stunning color photograph taken in September 1962, JFK and Jackie watch as sailing yachts race for The America’s Cup. That year was a notable one for the competition, in fact, marking the first time that the challengers had not come from Canada or Britain. Meanwhile, the Australian syndicate ultimately lost, but it ran a close race.
11. Jackie horse riding with her children
Jackie was happy to introduce her kids to horse riding, as her mom, Janet, had done with her. Indeed, equestrianism was one of the former’s lifelong interests, so it made sense that she continued to ride into adulthood. Sharing a horse with her in this November 1962 photo is John Jr. – not even two years old when the snap was taken – while her daughter, Caroline – here aged four – rides on her own.
10. The last Christmas
John F. Kennedy’s final Christmas in 1962 looked as though it was a merry one – if this adorable photo is anything to go by, that is. After all, he and Jackie are pictured surrounded by their family, including Jackie’s sister Lee and her husband and children. And the festive scene was captured in the White House that the first lady had spent months restoring.
9. Jackie outside the White House with her sister
Jackie’s sister Caroline went by her middle name, Lee, practically from birth. And in 1959 she entered into her second marriage – this time to Prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł, a Polish aristocrat. In this photograph, Jackie stands outside the White House in 1963 with Lee and her daughter – Jackie’s niece – Anna Christina Radziwiłł.
8. The Kennedy motorcade in Dallas
On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy traveled to Dallas, Texas, for a presidential visit. The trip was arranged to smooth tensions between local political figures and Democratic party members – as well as launch Kennedy’s re-election campaign. But while riding through Dealey Plaza, the president was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, an ex-marine. Jackie was by his side at the time, as pictured here.
7. Lyndon B. Johnson’s swearing-in
Just 128 minutes after Oswald had shot John dead, Jackie was aboard Air Force One. In this photo, she is seen standing beside Lyndon B. Johnson to witness him being sworn in as the 36th President of the United States. The swift transition was made partly due to concerns over Johnson’s own safety and his desire to provide the nation with some sense of order after such a shocking event.
6. The Kennedys leaving JFK’s funeral
John’s memorial took place over the three days following his death. The president’s body was flown back to Washington, D.C. Then, his coffin was taken to the Capitol building, where thousands of supporters gathered to pay their respects ahead of the state funeral. In this poignant picture, Jackie and her family can be seen leaving the ceremony on November 25, 1963.
5. Jackie at the opera
Meanwhile, in the years that followed John’s untimely demise, life for Jackie had to go on. But she mostly vanished from the public eye in 1964, understandably seeking privacy for herself and her children. A few rare photos of the former first lady in this period do exist, though, such as this one. The snap was taken in 1967, and it shows Jackie attending the opera at New York City’s Lincoln Center.
4. Attending the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Four and a half years after her husband’s death, Jackie attended the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, she had apparently been reluctant to go at all, as she felt wary of large crowds. And of course, the event was presumably a painful reminder of John’s death. But Jackie made the trip to Atlanta, Georgia, to pay her respects nonetheless.
3. Jackie with her new husband
In 1968 Jackie said “I do” again, this time to her old friend Aristotle Onassis. At this point in her life, she apparently wanted privacy and security – two things that her new husband, a wealthy shipping tycoon from Greece, could presumably provide. And while the marriage certainly thrust a great deal of attention on Jackie, she wasn’t afraid to be seen in public with him. This photo, for instance, was taken outside a nightclub in Athens around her 40th birthday.
2. Jackie in her riding gear
Jackie’s passion for horse riding continued as she went into her 40s, as this photo from 1970 demonstrates. She continued to ride horses for almost her entire life, in fact. For instance, 20 years after this snapshot was taken – and just a few years before her death in 1994 – the former first lady participated in the Orange County Hunt.
1. Smoking a cigarette
You may not know it, but Jackie smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for more than four decades. But only those who knew her personally were really aware. That’s because she controlled her image as first lady precisely, rarely being photographed smoking. But this picture was taken in 1970 – long after she had left the White House.