Symbols of Possibility
The public image of the Kennedys was one of enthusiasm, vitality, and opportunity. There was an energy in the country that had been missing during the Eisenhower years. John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to be proactive citizens. Jackie led by example, publicly committing herself to the arts and historic preservation. She also promoted children's causes such as education, welfare, and artistic awareness. While the president and first lady became symbols of what individual Americans could achieve, their life was not as charmed as it appeared to the public.
Soon after the inauguration, Jackie made a conscious effort to establish a life for herself and her children that was independent of politics and the White House. She requested a house in the country where she could take Caroline and John. The family leased a house near Middleburg, Virginia, called Glen Ora, about an hour outside of Washington, D.C. On average, she and the children would spend two long weekends a month there. Although Jackie always looked glamorous and energetic during her public appearances, she was frail and vulnerable. Her long recovery from her difficult pregnancy and the stress of moving into the White House combined with the constant media scrutiny took its toll on her physically and emotionally.
Middleburg, Virginia, was established in 1787 by Levin Powell. He bought the land on which Middleburg was built at a cost of $2.50 an acre from Joseph Chinn, who was George Washington's first cousin. Once called Chinn's Crossroads, Powell renamed the town Middleburg because it was located midway between the two nearest cities on the Ashby Gap trading route.
While she was away, Jackie continued to conduct business via phone calls and courier. But most of her time was spent playing with her children, teaching Caroline to ride, shopping in local stores, and taking walks. Jackie and the children ate most of their dinners quietly at home, and the only people she regularly socialized with were the parents of Caroline's local friends. Jackie loved the countryside so much that at the end of the year, the family bought thirty-nine acres on a secluded hillside. They built a house there and named the property Wexford after the county in Ireland from which Jack's ancestors hailed.
The Kennedy family, 1962
Photo Credit: Cecil Stoughton, White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
While part of Jackie's desire to carve out her own space was to give her children a safe haven, she was also driven to solitude by the ongoing problems in her marriage. Exacerbating the pain of Jack's infidelities was the fact that it was an open secret among the White House press corps. At the time, it was unthinkable to report on the extracurricular sex life of a president, though Jack's womanizing and the tension between him and Jackie was common knowledge.
Prior to being inaugurated, Jack assumed he would have to curb his extramarital affairs. But once he was in office, his womanizing actually intensified. He even had a long on-again, off-again affair with Jackie's press secretary Pam Turnure. Ironically, it was Jackie's graceful demeanor and elegance, along with her fierce loyalty, that provided Jack with his best cover.
THEY SAID …
“Jackie was a realist, and she must have accepted certain problems in their marriage. But remember: JFK admired her, adored her and was enormously proud of her. She loved Jack in spite of all his infidelities and he loved her — in spite of all his infidelities.”
— Arthur Schlesinger, special assistant to President Kennedy
Jackie might have presented a united front with her husband publicly, but privately she frequently expressed her pain at Jack's infidelities. Prior to his election, she expressed doubts that she could stay in the marriage. But Jackie knew the consequences of divorce went far beyond the breakup of a family. It would have forever shattered Kennedy's chance to be president. She had a deeply rooted sense of duty, and staying with her husband despite his infidelities was part of that. She did not want to subject her children to divorce the way she had suffered through her parents' breakup. But perhaps there was a larger reason. For all the heartache his philandering caused her, Jackie remained hopelessly enamored with her husband.