Jacqueline Kennedy

First Lady of the New Frontier

Barbara A. Perry

In a mere one thousand days, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy created an entrancing public persona that has remained intact for nearly forty years. Even now, a decade after her death, she remains a figure of enduring—and endearing—interest. Yet, while innumerable books have focused on the legends and gossip surrounding this charismatic figure, Barbara Perrys is the first to focus largely on Kennedys White House years, portraying a First Lady far more complex and enigmatic than previously perceived.

Noting how Jackies celebrity and devotion to privacy have for years precluded a more serious treatment, Perrys engaging and well-crafted story illuminates Kennedys immeasurable impact on the institution of the First Lady. Perry vividly illustrates the complexities of Jacqueline Bouviers marriage to John F. Kennedy, and shows how she transformed herself from a reluctant political wife to an effective, confident presidential partner. Perry is especially illuminating in tracing the First Ladys mastery of political symbolism and imagery, along with her use of television and state entertainment to disseminate her work to a global audience.

“In her clear, engaging study, Perry . . . argues that Jackie exerted an impressive, enduring cultural influence on Washington and the White House, an influence unsurpassed by other first ladies. . . . Perry's book has a special focus that has been insufficiently developed in other studies. Although sympathetic to her subject, Perry identifies some of Jackie’s less favorable traits and at times discusses her marriage when it relates to the book’s focus. . . . General readers will find [this book] enjoyable, and scholars will appreciate its research base.

—History: Reviews of New Books

“The book’s strength lies in Perry's attention to detail.

—Publishers Weekly
See all reviews...

By offering the White House as a stage for the arts, Jackie also bolstered the presidents Cold War efforts to portray the United States as the epitome of a free society. From redecorating the White House to championing Lafayette Squares preservation to lending her name to fund-raising for the National Cultural Center, she had a profound impact on the nations psyche and cultural life. Meanwhile, her fashionable clothes and glamorous hairdos stood in stark contrast to the dowdiness of her predecessors and the drab appearances of Communist leaders spouses.

Never before or since has a First Lady (and her husband) sparkled with so much hope and vigor on the stage of American public life. Perrys deft narrative captures all of that and more, even as it also insightfully depicts Jackies struggles to preserve her own identity amid the pressures of an institution she changed forever.

Grounded on the authors painstaking research into previously overlooked or unavailable archives, at the Kennedy Library and elsewhere, as well as interviews with Jacqueline Kennedys close associates, Perrys work expands and enriches our understanding of a remarkable American woman.

About the Author

Barbara A. Perry is White Burkett Miller Center Professor of Ethics & Institutions, University of Virginia.

Additional Titles in the Modern First Ladies Series