Jackie Kennedy’s brief career as a photojournalist included interviewing and photographing Irish diplomats in Washington for St Patrick’s Day in 1952, according to newly discovered documents.
In a rare departure from diplomatic protocol, the Irish Embassy staff in Washington DC agreed to be photographed and interviewed by a leading American newspaper for the national holiday.
The journalist's name was Jacqueline Bouvier. A year later she quit a promising career in journalism to become a politician's wife by marrying Senator John F Kennedy.
Ms Bouvier had joined the Washington Times-Herald newspaper in 1951 – on a salary of $42.50 a week – after graduating from George Washington University and taking a short course in photography. She was assigned to the job of the "Inquiring Camera Girl" and was dispatched daily to photograph people and ask them a topical question of the day. Their responses and photos were used for a daily feature in the paper.
For March 17th, 1952, she was sent to the Irish Embassy to ask ambassador John Joseph Hearne and his staff the question: "What to you is the significance of St Patrick's Day?"
Mr Hearne described St Patrick’s Day as “first and last a religious feast, the rededication of our people to the religious faith and moral tradition identified with the Irish race for 1,000 years”.
Second secretary Francis A Coffey said St Patrick “brought into Ireland the civilisation that was to mould western Europe”.
As a novice, Jackie's article was not bylined and it was published under the generic title "Inquiring Photografer". She confirmed her authorship, and recalled her visit to the embassy, in a letter to her friend and confidant Dublin priest Fr Joseph Leonard later in 1952.
She sent a clipping of the article to Fr Leonard in Dublin and said of the ambassador and staff: “They were so sweet.” She said she loved hearing their accents – which made her “so homesick” she could “hardly get . . . out of the place” . This confirms what an unexpectedly powerful impression Ireland had made on her during her first visit to Dublin – just two years earlier in 1950.
Jacqueline Bouvier, who would graduate to bylined article status, hoped to become a famous journalist and joked about her future with Fr Leonard. "When I'm really famous and syndicates are fighting for my every word and I feel like hopping over and seeing you – I'll just do it and write about Dublin – or a profile of you for the New Yorker."
But later in 1952, she met her future husband and became a housewife. He proposed over the phone when she was in London in June 1953 to report on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. They married in September 1953.