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Monday, March 8, 2021

Who was the real Jacqueline Kennedy?

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Growing up, I always seemed to like what my mother liked. Perhaps it was because we were similar in so many ways or perhaps it was because that is what little girls do – they idolize their moms. I don’t know the reason, but I always seemed to like the people and things that my mother liked.

One of the people my mom absolutely adored was Jacqueline Kennedy. I remember my mom loved the fact that Kennedy was so cultured and educated and that she appeared to be such an attentive and dedicated wife and mother. My mom also loved Kennedy’s fashion. Even though my brother, sister and I are younger than the Kennedy kids, I often remember how our clothing resembled theirs. My mom loved how Kennedy dressed her children.

Like millions of other people, I watched ABC’s Tuesday evening special featuring the ever-graceful Kennedy. As I tuned in, I often found myself rewinding the show throughout the two-hour special to make sure I heard things correctly. Some of Kennedy’s comments surprised me a bit. I had to continuously remind myself that Kennedy was only 34-years-old, yet had been through so much, including the assassination of her husband four months prior to the recordings.

What seemed to astonish me most is how different she was at the time of the recordings compared to the woman she became later in life.

We are constantly changing and evolving as we get older. Obviously the person I was at 21-years-old is not the same person I am today. However, there are core aspects of my character, my being that are the same. That does not seem to have been the case with Jacqueline Kennedy.

From her own mouth, I learned of a woman who during her years as first lady was incredibly submissive, and maybe even a bit narrow-minded. That woman was a stark contrast from the woman I determined Kennedy to be when I was growing up. The Jacqueline Kennedy I recognized was one who was liberated, open-minded and vocal. The two Jacqueline Kennedys seemed polar opposites, even though they were the same woman. I wonder which was the real Jackie?

Before anyone misinterprets my questions as the rants of a modern-day feminist, let me say that I clearly understand the importance of being a supportive wife and an attentive mother. However, it baffles me to think that a person as educated and cultured as Kennedy could be so different at various points of her life.

In case my interpretation was wrong, I asked someone I respect immensely who was a journalist during the Kennedy era. He said my perception was right: Jacqueline Kennedy had changed significantly over time. I believe his words were “she became more worldly as she grew older” because life was different and her experiences were different. Rather than solely being someone’s wife, she also worked and contributed to her family.

By no means am I judging Kennedy during either period of her life, I just found it interesting that a woman I equated with liberation and forward thinking previously did not display those characteristics.

Perhaps the answer lies within her life. Maybe it is because of her experiences as a young wife, mother and first lady that she evolved into the more vocal, liberated woman that she was at the time of her death.

I have to keep reminding myself that times were so different then. The role of wife and mother constituted different things than it does now. So perhaps Jacqueline Kennedy was a woman of her time. She was also a woman who evolved with time.

Now I get it. Guess I answered my own question.

You can email comments to Shannon Williams at shannonw@indyrecorder.com.


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