Written by Barbara A. Perry, White Burkett Miller Center Professor of Ethics and Institutions and Presidential Studies Director at UVA’s Miller Center. She is the author of Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier and numerous publications on the Kennedy presidency and family. You can follow her on Twitter @BarbaraPerryUVA.
This week in London a recently discovered cache of Jacqueline Kennedy’s letters will go on the auction block. Nineteen of her missives to British diplomat David Ormsby Gore, Lord Harlech, are expected to fetch thousands of dollars. Ormsby Gore befriended John F. Kennedy in pre-World War II England, when JFK’s father served as US ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. During Kennedy’s presidency, Lord Harlech, Britain’s ambassador to the US, became a trusted confidante to his good friend in the White House.
Following the president’s assassination and the 1967 death of Ormsby Gore’s wife, Sissie, in a car accident, Mrs. Kennedy’s relationship with the British diplomat deepened. They traveled to Southeast Asia, visiting the ancient temple complex at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Soon after, Lord Harlech proposed marriage to the former first lady. She declined, and Ormsby Gore was devastated. When Jackie’s brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy, was assassinated in 1968, she turned to her friend Aristotle Onassis for solace, safety, and financial security, marrying the Greek shipping magnate on his private island of Skorpios. Lord Harlech couldn’t comprehend the match of two seemingly dissimilar individuals, but the new Mrs. Onassis explained in a letter to him, “If ever I can find some healing and some comfort—it has to be with somebody who is not part of all my world of past and pain.”
In 2013 I appeared on C-SPAN’s First Ladies Series to comment on Jacqueline Kennedy, based on my book about her White House tenure. A few days later an intriguing e-mail arrived from Dan Samuel, an elderly Englishman, retired in Connecticut. He described his long friendship with Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and noted that he had saved a number of letters from her. Would I like to know more about them? Absolutely, I responded. Could he send copies of them to me?
What ensued were fascinating phone, e-mail, and letter discussions, as we corresponded for several months about the bundle of historic materials he had archived. Samuel had come to know young Jackie Bouvier through an office mate during his 1951 fellowship at SAIS in Washington. The mate’s brother, John Husted, became Jackie’s first fiancé. A handsome junior stock broker, Husted seemed the perfect match for the striking debutante. But she ended the engagement after a few months, writing to Dan Samuel this heartfelt explanation: “Things have been rather confused—I was engaged to John Husted—and now I’m not anymore—It wasn’t a very happy time for a while but now I know it was right to break it. I went into it too fast and then it seemed very wrong—If it hadn’t affected another person I’d say it was good that it happened—it made me grow up and I needed to do that.”
Less than a year after Jackie ended her first engagement, she began dating a youthful congressman from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. Not long after he won election to the Senate, JFK asked Miss Bouvier for her hand in marriage. Among the archives that I acquired from Dan Samuel was his engraved invitation to Jack and Jackie’s September 12, 1953 wedding and the reception at her step-father’s opulent Newport estate, Hammersmith Farm.
I will be sharing these newly discovered Kennedy letters at the seminar, “JFK at 100,” sponsored by UVA’s Lifetime Learning, this May in Boston. You can find more information here.