It was more than just meeting someone,” she later said of her Washington dinner-party introduction in 1951 to the dashing congressman from Massachusetts. “It started the wheels turning.” Both sets of wheels, apparently. “I made all his dates with all his girlfriends,” recalls Jack Kennedy’s longtime personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln. “And when Jackie came along, he didn’t ask me to make the dates. I knew that it was serious.”
They were in different countries when she received his proposal, but the announcement of their engagement had to be delayed until after publication of a Saturday Evening Post article on “The Senate’s Gay Young Bachelor.” And when the much-ballyhooed society wedding of the season did take place, on Sept. 12, 1953, it was with a poignant piece of artifice: Her stepfather was the one who walked her down the aisle while her adored—and increasingly alcoholic—father, John “Black Jack” Bouvier III, lay passed out in his nearby hotel room. Jackie had wanted a simple, elegant wedding gown. It was her fiancé who pushed her into a confection that one critic derided as “an atrocious mass of tissue silk taffeta, with excessive ornamentation of ruffles, tucks, stitchings and flowers.”
It would not be the last time she suffered to accommodate him. “We never had a home for five years,” she recalled of his burgeoning career. “Politics was sort of my enemy as far as seeing Jack was concerned.” By their third anniversary, the rift was pronounced. “I was alone almost every weekend while Jack traveled the country making speeches,” she said, calling their marriage “all wrong.”
There was also the matter of his infidelity, which became a quietly accepted fact of their lives. “I don’t think there are any men who are faithful to their wives,” she once said. “Men are such a combination of good and evil.” Still, there was no truth to the story that old Joe Kennedy offered her $1 million to stay in the marriage. “Why not $10 million?” she later snapped about the rumors.
It would be their children who would cement the marriage, but first Jackie suffered a miscarriage, then a stillbirth; when she could no longer face the decorated, sunlit nursery in their Virginia home at Hickory Hill, Jack sold the house to his brother Bobby and wife Ethel. Finally, Caroline was born in 1957, and John-John followed in 1960.
By the time of her first official press conference, Jackie’s priorities were obvious. “I have no desire to influence fashions. That is at the bottom of any list,” she told reporters. And what, they asked, was at the top? “Jack.”