Historical Resources

JFK in History:

Jacqueline Kennedy in the White House

Mrs. Kennedy and members of the corps de ballet, American Ballet Theatre, 22 May 1962.

Mrs. Kennedy and members of the corps de ballet, American Ballet Theatre, 22 May 1962. KN-C21922 (crop)

Mrs. Kennedy in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room, 05 December 1961.

Mrs. Kennedy in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room, 05 December 1961. KN-C19642 (crop)

To avoid the politically controversial use of public money for this work, Mrs. Kennedy established the White House Historical Association which would publish the first official White House guidebook (1962). All profits from the sale of the guidebook to the millions who toured the White House would be used to fund the restoration project and to purchase the furnishings and other historic materials located by the Fine Arts Committee. Together with the newly appointed White House Curator (a position Mrs. Kennedy championed), she approved the guidebook's text, chose which photographs would be featured, and designed the book's layout. The book was finally published to great success. Within six months of publication, 500,000 copies were sold. The book, The White House: An Historic Guide, continues to support the work of the White House Historical Association.

With her project near completion, Mrs. Kennedy agreed to conduct a televised tour of the Executive Mansion for CBS Television on February 14, 1962. A record audience of 56 million viewers tuned in to hear the First Lady as she guided them through the White House and its newly restored rooms. She expressed her vision of the White House as not only a place for the president to work and live, but also as a pilgrimage for every American, a showcase for art and culture, and a place of national pride. The tour was so well received that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Mrs. Kennedy an honorary Emmy Award for her achievement.

Mrs. Kennedy's interests in historic preservation went beyond the White House walls. She asked her friend, Mrs. Paul Mellon, to redesign the President's Rose Garden, thus making it a natural sanctuary and retreat just outside the Oval Office and an ideal space for greeting special visitors and large groups. Upon learning that the historic homes which lined Lafayette Square across the street from the White House were scheduled for demolition to make room for large government office buildings, she personally intervened and commissioned a new plan that, by placing the new office buildings in back of the period townhouses and sheathing them in red brick, preserved the historical identity of the famous square. Mrs. Kennedy also advocated the restoration of Pennsylvania Avenue, the main thoroughfare which connected the White House to Capitol Hill, and supported creation of a national cultural complex, which eventually became the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. Her interest in preservation extended beyond the United States and included her involvement in the rescue of the ancient Egyptian temples at Abu Simbel which were threatened by the flood waters created by the Aswan Dam. Her enthusiasm for historical preservation contributed to its growing influence throughout the nation and enhanced Americans' understanding and appreciation of their heritage.

Mrs. Kennedy was also a patriot. Like President Kennedy, she believed that American civilization had come of age. Together they celebrated American arts and letters and encouraged Americans to take pride in their artistic, as well as their political, heritage. They used diplomatic occasions at home and abroad to express core national values; to celebrate American history, culture, and achievement; and, to enhance the role of the arts in national life. As First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy planned state occasions notable for their elegance, transforming the White House into a showcase for cultural and intellectual achievement. Authors, scientists, artists, musicians and actors mingled with politicians, diplomats and statesmen. In the East Room she had a portable stage built for memorable musical and dramatic performances, including a series of concerts for young people. Through her activities, Mrs. Kennedy instilled a new public regard for the arts. In the world of fashion, Mrs. Kennedy became a trend-setter. Designers, magazines, newspapers and the public were influenced by her taste.

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Jackie,Jacqueline Kennedy,first lady,White House,Tour,Restoration,Historical preservation,culture,White House entertaining,traveling ambassador,Mrs. Kennedy,mother,As first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy brought beauty, grace, intelligence, and cultivated taste to the White House. Her interest and support of the arts inspired an attention to culture never before evident at a national level.,