A fascinating collection of letters written by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis during her high school years has recently come to light. Addressed to a girlfriend in England with whom she had shared her summers in fashionable Newport, Rhode Island, the letters are an intriguing mix of teenage gossip, mutual confidences and shrewd estimates of current boyfriends based, in Jackie’s case, less on physical attractiveness than on future potential. Of one prospective suitor she writes “I’m not so sure I’m that mad about him anymore. I don’t think he’ll ever be much in the world. He’ll be content to be a party boy the rest of his life. I just don’t think he has the will or the stuff to ever throw his heart into any real work. Oh, well……” Of another mutual acquaintance she observes approvingly “He has a lot of punch and steel in him and he’ll fight his way and really make something of himself”.

She also counsels against taking teenage romance too seriously, “The reason these boys don’t marry now is because they don’t want to be tied down before they’ve had a chance to make a good start in the world. It’s always surer to last if they sow their wild oats first.”

She was dismissive of most of her girlfriends. “Other girls are so shallow and nothing but flirts, talking about nothing but boys. They just giggle and are snippy and mean and sort of dumb”. She gleefully records her satisfaction on hearing ‘the joyous news’ that a well publicised engagement in her circle had just ended. “I ought to get a contract with MGM for the way I acted. I said ‘Oh, that’s awful. They were so sweet together. I did hope they’d get married etc. etc. I’ll burn in hell for that.”

Although at this stage her parents were divorced and her mother had remarried, Jackie remained strongly attached to her father, the handsome and notorious ‘Black Jack’ Bouvier who visited her regularly at Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut. Eagerly she describes the itinerary she has planned for his next visit. “New York, go with Daddy to see ‘Carousel’ then go up to Newhaven with him to see Yale – Harvard game and go to La Rue and the Maisonette…..”

As it turned out there was a slight change of plan, (her father had already seen Carousel). However he made sure his daughter was not disappointed and extended the visit by an extra day. In her next letter, illustrating Jack’s generosity and the acrimony still existing between her parents she ecstatically records the outcome. “Monday, I shopped and got three heavenly evening dresses. Mummy was livid but she let me keep them.”

Already her tastes were beginning to differ from those of her contemporaries. She apologises for sending on a copy of the Readers Digest “that dreary magazine” and, prophetically, offers her a subscription to Vogue instead. (She was to win the Vogue Prix de Paris competition and become a Vogue junior editor four years later). Her cultural horizons were also expanding beyond the respectable confines of Broadway and the Met. At a time when bebop was a minority taste and distinctly unfashionable she notes a late night visit to “two little dives on 52nd Street – the Downbeat and the 3 Deuces. I was petrified and we were practically the only white people there but there was this wonderful saxophone player….”

In spite of her privileged background – expensive schools, a family estate in Virginia and a summer home in Newport – the young Jackie clearly regarded herself as an obscure provincial lacking in worldly sophistication – a deficiency she was to make up for in the years to come. In a last letter commenting on her friends decision to remain in Europe and continue her travels further afield she confides, “I envy you. You know so much more about things than I do. You’ve lived so much more – travelling, I guess and living with sophisticated people instead of homey little folks like mine.”

The letters, along with other correspondence, are included in a collection of Kennedy memorabilia to be auctioned at Hantman’s, Potomac Md. On October 23rd.

Syd Cheatle.

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