“I don’t want them to think they are ‘official’ children,” Jacqueline Kennedy remarked about her toddler daughter and infant son shortly after becoming First Lady in 1961. The exhibition First Children: Caroline and John Jr. in the Kennedy White House looks at the public’s fascination with the President’s progeny, a fascination fed by the media. Through photos, articles, commercial products, and film, the faces of the Kennedy youngsters helped cement the new President in the public’s collective mind as a national figure with whom anyone could identify. While her husband saw value in this humanized imagery, Mrs. Kennedy sought to protect her children from the public eye by focusing her efforts on creating “normal” childhoods for them in the midst of world attention.
The majority of the over 120 objects, images, and ephemera shown are from the Library’s museum collection and archives; most are exhibited for the first time. Included are selections from the gifts sent to the Kennedy children by both heads of state and the public at large; memos that reveal their mother’s efforts to balance media access and privacy; photographs and film footage of the family in both official and private capacities; and games, magazines, comic books, and trading cards created to capitalize on the status of the “First Children” within American celebrity culture.
Among the exhibition highlights are a play house from Charles de Gaulle and a 60” giraffe by Steiff lent by Caroline Kennedy; and an original Grandma Moses painting, July Fourth, on loan from the White House. All were used in Caroline Kennedy’s White House bedroom.