What Would Jackie Do?

Written by Justine Rothbart

 

The Rev. Joseph Leonard with Jacqueline Kennedy, then Bouvier, at All Hallows College in Dublin in 1950.

The Rev. Joseph Leonard with Jacqueline Kennedy, then Bouvier, at All Hallows College in Dublin in 1950.

 

Continuing with my fascination obsession with the Kennedys, I’ve decided to write a blog post on, yet again, the Kennedys. The other day while I was reading the Washington Post, this article caught my eye: Jacqueline Kennedy’s Letters to Irish Priest Pulled From Auction Amid Controversy. A few weeks earlier, I remember hearing the news of how newly discovered letters written by Jackie Kennedy will be put on auction. All Hallows College in Dublin, Ireland originally put the letters on auction to help their financially struggling institution. These 31 letters were written by Jackie Kennedy to an Irish priest, Father Leonard, from 1950 to 1964. She started writing these letters when she was 21, which was long before she knew her future fame. They include very personal information about topics such as marriage and faith. Since the announcement, there has been strong opposition. Many people say putting these letters up for auction is an invasion of Jackie Kennedy’s privacy. Several think it’s disrespectful to financially benefit from someone else’s private information. Diana Reese, from the Washington Post, said “Privacy is becoming an artifact.”

The common question being asked is, “What would Jackie Do?”

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Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s correspondence with Father Joseph Leonard were recently pulled from auction

Would she want these letters to be available to the public? What does she want us to do?

As archivists, we are constantly asking those questions. We try to balance privacy and access gracefully (as gracefully as Jackie). Sometimes, however, the answer is not clear. Putting the letters on auction is, yes, technically legal. But is it moral? Who decides what’s right and wrong?

For some historians, this discovery has been described as a “treasure trove.” Some call it the “autobiography she never wrote.” However, as Reese reminds us, Jackie Kennedy was a very private person who chose not to write her own memoir. Her feelings expressed in these letters were probably only intended to remain between her and the priest.

For many of us, our initial instinct is to read and share these letters. But I think we often forget that archival materials are linked to real people. Real feelings. Real emotions. We need to take a step back from our first instinct and try to walk in Jackie’s shoes. If Jackie Kennedy did not write her own memoir, maybe she wouldn’t want to share these letters. It was recently announced that they are “now exploring with members of Mrs. Kennedy’s family how best to preserve and curate this archive for the future.” I am happy to hear that Kennedy family is now involved and trying to figure out the best solution.

So what does the future hold for these letters? We don’t know. Right now we don’t know if they will become publicly available in the future or if they’ll be locked away forever. But the question we are all trying to figure out is…what would Jackie do?

 

 

Keeping the Kennedys Alive

Written by Justine Rothbart

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I was not alive in 1963. I don’t remember JFK’s inauguration day. I don’t remember his years in the White House. And I don’t remember that tragic day in November of 1963. And why do I feel as if I do? Why am I so fascinated with the Kennedys fifty years later?  Why do I feel as if I know them?

One word: Archives.

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Photography by Jaques Lowe from the exhibit “Creating Camelot” at the Newseum.

John F. Kennedy was the first president to essentially use the television as a way to talk to the United States (JFK Presidential Library). He was the first president to have an official White House photographer on staff. The TV and photographs captured those White House years in an unprecedented way. They captured Caroline and Jack Jr. playing in the Oval Office. They captured those tense days during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And they captured JFK’s forever-lasting funeral procession through the streets of DC.

Those photographs and the films are now archival materials. They are stored in archival institutions, such as the JFK Presidential Library and the National Archives. These materials are what keep the Kennedys alive today. As I watch JFK’s inauguration speech I feel a sense of hope and optimism. As I watch Jackie Kennedy’s White House tour, I feel her sense of pride. As I see photographs of Jackie on the day of her husband’s funeral, I feel her sense of utter grief and pain.

Those feelings rushed back for many people yesterday on November 22, 2013 – fifty years after JFK’s assassination. I spent the entire day at the Newseum for “JFK Remembrance Day.” I looked at never-before-seen images of the Kennedy family during happier times. I listened to stories from people who personally knew the president. I watched Walter Cronkite deliver the news during the real time viewing of the 1963 CBS news footage.

 CBS News live coverage of November 22, 1963 in the Great Hall of the  Newseum on "JFK Rememberance Day": November 22, 2013

CBS News live coverage of November 22, 1963 in the Great Hall of the Newseum on “JFK Rememberance Day”: November 22, 2013

This day was all possible because of the archival materials and museum objects that still exist. As archivists, we are the memory keepers. We re-tell the story. We make it seem as if you were there. We keep the Kennedys alive.

Don’t miss the JFK exhibits at the Newseum on display through January 5, 2014.

Also, check out Jackie Kennedy’s recently released oral histories from 1964.

“We’ve had news of an accident”

Written by Justine Rothbart

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AAUW member Judge Sarah Hughes (left) swears in Lyndon B. Johnson as Jackie Kennedy and others watch. November 22, 1963. (Image by Cecil Stoughton, White House Photo Office. Courtesy of LBJ Presidential Library, Austin)

AAUW member Judge Sarah Hughes (left) swears in Lyndon B. Johnson as Jackie Kennedy and others watch. November 22, 1963. (Image by Cecil Stoughton, White House Photo Office. Courtesy of LBJ Presidential Library, Austin)

Fifty years later, we remember the tragic day of November 22, 1963. As the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Archives Intern, I looked back through oral histories to find the story of one person who was not only a witness, but a key figure in history on November 22, 1963: Judge Sarah T. Hughes.

Click here to read the full story of Judge Sarah T. Hughes.