‘He’s like my father in a way - loves the chase and is bored with the conquest’

MEETING JFK: As Jackie Bouvier fell in love with JFK, her letters to Fr Joseph Leonard reveal misgivings about marriage

President John F Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy as they attend one of five inaugural balls in Washington.

President John F Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy as they attend one of five inaugural balls in Washington.


Michael Parsons

In July 1952, from her home in ‘Merrywood’, a 46-acre estate overlooking the Potomac river in McLean, Virginia, northwest of Washington DC; Jacqueline Lee Bouvier wrote to her trusted friend Fr Leonard in Ireland to say: “I think I’m in love with - and I think it would interest you - John Kennedy - he’s the son of the ambassador to England - the second son - the oldest was killed. He’s 35 and a Congressman.

JFK had been elected to the US House of Representatives in 1946 in the strongly Democratic 11th Congressional district in Massachusetts-beating his Republican opponent by a large margin. He served as a congressman for six years. In 1952, he decided to run for the senate against the incumbent Republican Henry Cabot Lodge II.

Jacqueline wrote “I don’t think he’ll win.” But he did, albeit narrowly. Kennedy won just over 51 per cent of the vote and Lodge just over 48 per cent. The result spelled the end of the Protestant Lodge dynasty in Massachusetts and the rise of the Catholic Kennedys boosted by the support of a large Irish population in the state.

Jackie’s early impressions of JFK had given her “an amazing insight on politicians - they are really a breed apart. I keep thinking about what Byron said ‘Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart - it’s woman’s whole existence’. “

But she was clearly smitten and began to speculate about marriage. She had her misgivings: “Maybe it will end very happily - or maybe since he’s this old and set in his ways and cares so desperately about his career he just won’t want to give up that much time to extra-curricular things like marrying me!”

But in December 1952, after JFK had, indeed become a Senator she confided to Fr Leonard that she had not seen much of JFK that summer :

“He hurt me terribly when he was campaigning and never called up for weeks. I think he was as much in love with me as he could be with anyone and now maybe he will want to get married because a Senator needs a wife, but if he ever does ask me to marry him it will be for rather practical reasons - because his career is this driving thing with him”.

She continued: “It’s so strong a personality - like his father [Joseph Kennedy] who has so overpowered Mrs [ROSE]Kennedy he doesn’t even speak to her when she’s around and her only solace now is her religion.”

And, in a rare reference to her own father [John Vernou Bouvier ]who had left her mother in 1936 when Jacqueline was just seven years old, she added about JFK: “He’s like my father in a way - loves the chase and is bored with the conquest - and once married needs proof he’s still attractive, so flirts with other women and resents you. I saw how that nearly killed Mummy”.

She admitted to the priest that JFK was “older than anyone I’ve known and brighter than me (so many of my beaux are dumber - I think it’s a curse for a girl to be bright) and he’s a Senator. Maybe I’m just dazzled and picture myself in a glittering world of crowned heads and Men of Destiny- and not just a sad little housewife”.

She showed maturity and foresight by claiming to know “that world can be very glamorous from the outside - but if you’re in it - and you’re lonely - it could be a Hell”.

But she overcame her reservations and, in June 1953 she sent a telegram from Newport, Rhode Island via Western Union to “Rev J Leonard All Hallows College Dublin” which read: “Announcing Engagement To Jack Kennedy Tomorrow Letter Follows So Happy Love - Jacqueline”.

To her great regret, Fr Leonard’s advanced age and declining health prevented him from taking up her request to travel to America to marry the couple - a ceremony instead performed, in September 1953, by Archbishop Richard Cushing of Boston who later became a Cardinal and also famously celebrated JFK’s funeral Mass.

Following her marriage, Jackie moved into the house JFK had acquired and her letters to Fr Leonard at this time are on notepaper embossed with their new address “Hickory Hill, McLean, Virginia”. Hickory Hill was close to the family home ‘Merrywood’ where she had lived of her mother and step-father. McLean, in Northern Virginia was an affluent suburb of Washington DC and home to many politicians, diplomats and government officials. Jackie loved the house and wrote to Fr Leonard to say: “It is brick, painted white - about 6 miles outside of Washington - & it has 6 acres - lots of grass to run on -& a stable & a little orchard” but she hated the name: “Unfortunately it already bore the cloying name of Hickory Hill so we have to keep it or the postman won’t know where it is”.

In August 1956 JFK sought the Democratic Party’s nomination for the US Vice Presidency ahead of the election scheduled for November. He was defeated by Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee who joined Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois on the ticket. In November, the incumbent President, the Republican Dwight Eisenhower and his vice presidential running mate easily beat Stevenson and Kefauver.

JFK’s career was on the rise. He sold ‘Hickory Hill’ to his brother Robert F “Bobby” Kennedy and he and Jackie moved into the Washington suburb of Georgetown. Jackie needed new notepaper.

JFK secured the Democratic Party nomination for the 1960 presidential election. Eisenhower having served two terms could not stand again and the Republican Party selected his vice-President, Richard Nixon to run. In the election On November 8th, 1960, JFK narrowly defeated Nixon.

Two weeks after the election, Jackie gave birth to John F. Kennedy. Jr at Georgetown University Hospital. John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th president of the United States on January 20th, 1961. He, Jackie, their daughter Caroline and new baby ‘John Junior’ moved into The White House.