Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Papers Opened by JFK Library

For Immediate Release: February 13, 2012
Further information: Rachel Flor (617) 514-1662

Boston —The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum today announced that it has opened and made available for research the first section of the Personal Papers of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. This portion of the collection features never-before-seen historic records from Mrs. Kennedy’s years as First Lady, including material relating to her efforts to restore the state rooms of the White House and her highly acclaimed televised tour of the First Family’s home, which aired on February 14, 1962 – fifty years ago tomorrow. 

The Personal Papers of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis were donated, along with other historical materials, to the Kennedy Library by Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, Jr. The opening of this collection follows the September 2011 release of Jacqueline Kennedy’s 1964 oral history interviews, which were shared as part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Presidency. 

“Students, scholars, and the general public continue to be fascinated by Jacqueline Kennedy and the pivotal role she played in our nation’s history,” said Tom Putnam, Library Director. “These new documents demonstrate her work as First Lady, her legendary attention to detail, and the incredible range of her understanding of art, history, and public diplomacy.” 

On January 20, 1961, at the age of 31, Jacqueline Kennedy became the third youngest First Lady in United States history. Upon her arrival at the White House, Mrs. Kennedy’s first major project was a scholarly restoration of the presidential mansion. She believed that, as the national stage for American culture and diplomacy, the White House should be furnished with antiques in the style of past presidents, paying homage to the rich history of the United States. 

"All these people come to see the White House and they see practically nothing that dates back before 1948," Mrs. Kennedy said in a September 1, 1961 interview with Hugh Sidey of Life magazine. "Everything in the White House must have a reason for being there. It would be sacrilege merely to ‘redecorate’ it – a word I hate. It must be restored – and that has nothing to do with decoration. That is a question of scholarship." 

Within a month of becoming First Lady, Mrs. Kennedy established a White House Historical Association and Fine Arts Committee, made up of experts in historic preservation and decorative arts. Soon after, she created the post of White House curator and helped pass legislation designating the White House as an historical monument, further establishing the President’s home as one of the nation’s most significant museums. 

The Personal Papers of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis provide new insight into the First Lady’s extraordinary hands-on efforts that led the restoration of the state rooms of the White House, as well as her extensive knowledge of the historic furnishings, artwork and décor that would set the standard for future presidencies. Highlights of the collection include meticulously detailed handwritten notes on subjects ranging from the overall principles that would guide the project, down to the particulars of historic preservation standards. 

In one of the documents, for example, Mrs. Kennedy outlines plans for the numbering system that would be used for cataloguing artifacts in the collection, considering even the smallest details of the markings themselves: “Special red marking pen is fine for china – as long as it doesn’t wash off. I know the red paint the Met uses can only be removed with a certain chemical – so if the marking pen is washable – surely someone could learn to use the little brush.” 

Additional highlights of the collection include fabric samples, wall covering mock-ups, and original sketches by Mrs. Kennedy which became the basis for the design of the Oval Room curtains. Galley copies of the White House Guidebook, which was first commissioned by Mrs. Kennedy, show the First Lady’s deep involvement in every part of the publication, from the text, to the photographs and layout. 

Early in 1962, as the restoration project neared completion, Mrs. Kennedy agreed to conduct a televised tour of the Executive Mansion for CBS Television. First broadcast on February 14, 1962 and eventually syndicated worldwide, a record audience of 80 million viewers tuned in to hear the first lady as she guided them through the White House and its newly restored rooms. Archival material featured in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis collection, including correspondence between CBS producers and the White House, Mrs. Kennedy’s original notes on historical details of each room, and several reworked drafts of the script, provide a behind-the-scenes look into the lengthy preparations that were made by the First Lady and her staff leading up to the tour. 

Following the tour, the White House was inundated with messages from the public expressing their appreciation for Mrs. Kennedy’s warm welcome into the First Family’s home. In one of many such notes that can be found in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis collection, one person wrote, “Your broadcast tonight is something I hope every person in our country heard. I cannot tell you how much interest and historical fact you brought up. This is something I believe will benefit everyone. My congratulations. A Republican Joseph L. Tonetti”. The tour was so well received that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Mrs. Kennedy an honorary Emmy AwardTM for her achievement. The Emmy statue is now on display in the Museum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, along with the red wool dress that Mrs. Kennedy wore on the tour and other artifacts relating to the restoration. 

The collection of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis papers contains personal and professional materials relating to her public and private life, as well as her role as First Lady of the United States. The papers document her interest in such topics as the restoration of the White House, travel, State visits, arts and culture, press coverage, and her involvement in a variety of cultural projects, organizations and associations. This preliminary opening contains files related to the White House and personal staff members under the employ of Mrs. Kennedy Onassis during the Kennedy Administration. The remaining portions of the collection will open as they are processed by Kennedy Library archivists. 

The newly opened section of the Personal Papers of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis can be accessed through the Research Room of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. To download the finding aid, click here. Members of the media may request material for press coverage by contacting Rachel Flor, Director of Communications, at (617) 514-1662. Please note: the unpublished writings of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis are copyrighted. For further information, contact the Kennedy Library reference desk at (617) 514-1629. 

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is one of 13 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and is supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential Library’s archives currently include more than 8.4 million pages of the personal, congressional and presidential papers of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and more than 40 million pages of over 300 other individuals who were associated with the Kennedy Administration or mid-20th Century American history. In addition, the archives hold more than 400,000 still photographs; 9,000 hours of audio recordings; 7.5 million feet of motion picture film; and 1,200 hours of video recordings. 

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy administration, the Kennedy Presidential Library and Foundation have embarked on a three year initiative aimed at educating new generations about the timeless values that President Kennedy championed and their relevance today. Through on-going conferences, public forums and the use of cutting-edge technology, including the launch of the nation’s largest online digitized presidential archive and an award-winning interactive youth website (www.JFK50.org), the Kennedy Library is bringing to life the challenges, achievements and impact of President John F. Kennedy’s thousand days in office for people around the world. 


Download the Press Kit for the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Papers