She was not so much raised as groomed. Her mother, of common Irish immigrant stock, placed a premium on appearances, calling her family the Maryland Lees; her paternal grandfather trumped up his lineage, transforming his French forebears from shopkeepers into noblemen. When a Bouvier orator spoke at the dedication of the George Washington Bridge, the family forever after referred to it as “our bridge.”
As she was growing up in New York City society, her world revolved around her father, John “Black Jack” Bouvier, a hard-drinking charmer who taught his two daughters to dress well and to create for themselves an aura of mystery. Born on July 28, 1929, and raised in New York, Jacqueline (she pronounced it the French way, Zhock-LEEN) became a class hellion at all the right schools: Miss Chapin’s, Holton-Arms and, at 15, Miss Porter’s, where, she once said, “all my friends adored [my father] and used to line up to be taken out to dinner when he came to see me.” Four years earlier she had been devastated when his indiscretions led her mother to divorce him and marry (for security, if not love—another lesson to learn) the wealthy investment banker Hugh Auchincloss.
At 14, in a poem, Jackie showed at least a glimmer of wanderlust: “I love the feeling down inside me/ That says to run away/ To come and be a gypsy/ And laugh the gypsy way.” Yet a prescribed adolescence was spent fox-trotting through subscription dances at the Plaza, where her sister Lee was considered the pretty one and Jackie the brain. “She was so much smarter than most of the people around her that she sublimated it,” recalled an escort. “When I’d take her to the Yale Bowl, she’d say to me, ‘Oh, why are they kicking the ball?’ I’d say, ‘Come on, Jackie, none of that.’ ”
Two years at Vassar were followed by a junior year in Paris at the Sorbonne, where “I have to write Mummy a ream each week,” she told her stepbrother Hugh, “or she gets hysterical and thinks I’m dead or married to an Italian.” On her return to the States, said a male friend, “she was no longer the round little girl who lived next door.” She transferred to George Washington University in Washington and, after graduating, took a $42.50-a-week job at the Washington Times-Herald as an inquiring photographer. “We used to tease her,” recalls retired photographer Joe Heiberger, who taught her how to use a Speed Graphic camera. “We’d say, ‘Jackie, find yourself a rich one while you’re out there.’ She would just smile.”