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Jackie Kennedy’s Last Visit to the White House

ST-A4-93-62 27 November 1962.President Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (JBK), and children in White House Nursery.. [Scratches throughout the negative].Please credit "Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston"

(Jackie Kennedy with John, Jr. and Caroline in 1962. White House photo by Cecil Stoughton, via the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library)

It had been eight years since Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis left the White House, eight years since black bunting had hung from the East Room windows and her husband’s body rested on the same bier that had held Abraham Lincoln’s.

So begins a terrific Michael Ruane story about plain old common decency in the White House between two families that had been bitter political opponents.

On February 3, 1971, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis — recently married to shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis — was welcomed back to the White House by First Lady Pat Nixon. Jacqueline’s kids Caroline and John Jr. had spent nearly three years growing up in the White House from 1961-63, until John F. Kennedy‘s murder brought everything crashing down.

(Nixon Presidential Library and Museum)

Now it was time to unveil the official White House portraits of John and Jackie Kennedy, and Pat Nixon, wife of President Richard Nixon, invited Jackie and her kids to attend the ceremony.

The two women could not have been from more different backgrounds. Pat Nixon was born in a Nevada mining town and grew up on a farm outside Los Angeles… Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born in exclusive Southampton, on Long Island, the daughter of a Wall Street stockbroker. She attended private schools, Vassar College and had studied in France.

And of course, John Kennedy had beaten Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential contest. The wheel of fate makes its turns. Most remarkable these days, sadly, is the sheer normalcy and decency of Pat Nixon’s gesture, and of cordial relations between two leading families of opposite parties.

(Caroline Kennedy in the Oval Office in 1962. White House photo by Robert Knudsen)


(President Kennedy and John Jr. in 1963. White House photo by Cecil Stoughton)

It was Jackie Kennedy’s idea to skip the formal unveiling and instead make a private visit with her kids (by then ages 10 and 13), to “slip in unobtrusively to Washington, and come to pay our respects to you and to see the pictures privately.”

There’s much more in the story itself: Eight Years After JFK’s Assassination, Jackie Kennedy Slipped into the White House for One Last Visit »

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