After the restrictive confines of boarding school, college gave Jackie a chance to assert her independence. Her grades and college entrance exam scores were good enough to give Jackie her choice of colleges. She chose Vassar, a highly regarded women's college located eighty miles north of Manhattan in Poughkeepsie, New York, on the Hudson River. One of around two hundred incoming freshmen, she studied Shakespeare, religious history, literature, and languages. Outside of class Jackie joined the staffs of The Vassar Miscellany News and the art club and worked as a costume designer in the drama club. Typically, classmates remembered her as being fun to be around but extremely secretive. Her trick was to get other people to talk about their lives without revealing anything personal in return.
At the time of Jackie's admission, Vassar was one of the Seven Sisters — the name given to the elite liberal arts women's colleges on the East Coast, which also included Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, and Wellesley. Founded in 1861, Vassar became coed in 1969 and remains one of the nation's top ranked colleges.
Initially, Jackie enjoyed the freedom offered by college life, and although she was particularly enthralled with her classes — Jackie later called her Shakespeare teacher, Helen Sandison, an inspiration — she was less enamored of Poughkeepsie. She soon spent every weekend away from campus.
After her debutante season, Jackie started dating. Most of her suitors were young men attending Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. She particularly enjoyed going to college football games. But none of the would-be beaux sustained her interest and there were seldom more than one or two dates. Her most solid relationship remained with her father. She regularly took the train into Manhattan to spend the weekend at his apartment. Sometimes she would bring friends, who would be utterly charmed by Black Jack. Ironically, most of his girlfriends during this time were only a few years older than his daughter. Rather than be upset, Jackie was pleased that so many women found her father attractive.
Jack, on the other hand, worried about having his daughters taken away by another man. Knowing it was inevitable, he did his best to keep Jackie and Lee from falling for the wrong kind of guy. He repeatedly told them that all men were rats and that it was important to always keep them guessing — and waiting. Playing hard to get would get Jackie and Lee what, and who, they wanted. His advice was decidedly on-target. The more aloof Jackie was, the more men she had trying to catch her eye. She developed a coy, flirtatious personality and adopted a soft, little-girl voice that many of her old schoolmates saw as an obvious affectation. But men were captivated. They were also invariably left frustrated. All of her flirtations were just that.
Jackie and her father, John V. Bouvier III, 1947
Photo Credit: Morgan Collection/Hulton Archives/Getty Images
In July and August 1948, Jackie took her first trip to Europe with family friends Helen and Judy Bowdoin and Julia Bissell. The trip came about after the Bowdoins' stepfather urged Hughdie to let Jackie go, too. Janet agreed and recruited Helen Shearman, Jackie's former Latin teacher at the Holton Arms, to act as the girls' chaperone. They traveled aboard the Queen Mary and spent seven weeks traveling through England, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy.
THEY SAID …
“She told me about the complicated relationship with her father, whom she admired and respected because women were crazy about him. She'd say to him about the mothers of some of her friends, ‘What about her?’ and he'd say, ‘Yes, I've had her.’ She thought that that was the most wonderful thing. She had all the wrong standards.”
— John “Demi” Gates, in America's Queen
The group disembarked in Southampton, England, and took the train to London. The city was still trying to rebuild after the devastating bombings it suffered during World War II. For Jackie, it was a very moving, emotional experience. They visited the severely damaged St. Paul's Cathedral. One of the highlights of the entire trip for Jackie was meeting Winston Churchill at a Buckingham Palace garden party.
In France, they visited many museums, including the Louvre. Jackie loved being able to see in person works of art she had studied in school. She was especially enamored with the palace at Versailles, where she spoke to the guides in fluent French.