In July 1960, John F. Kennedy was announced as the Democratic presidential candidate at the Democratic National Convention, with VP candidate Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird Johnson by his side. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, however, was notably not by his side. Having learned earlier in his campaign that she was pregnant, Jackie was staying home on doctor’s orders, having already suffered a number of pregnancy losses. But those who remember JFK’s campaign will remember the pivotal role that Jackie played in President Kennedy’s election, from her TV interviews to her newspaper column “Campaign Wife.” According to a new biography on Lady Bird Johnson, it was the former Second Lady who helped Jackie see a role for herself in JFK’s campaign that she could carry out from home — and from there, her now-iconic First Lady campaign spread its wings.
Per new Lady Bird biography Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight by Julia Sweig, excerpted in Vanity Fair, the Johnsons traveled to the Kennedys home in Hyannis after the 1960 DNC, where Jackie had been awaiting their arrival.
“Six months pregnant at the time, Jackie had not attended the convention, and Bird found her unsettled by exactly how she might help Jack with the presidential campaign,” Sweig writes. “Surveying the Hyannis home filled with Cape Cod curios, images of sailboats, and fashionable floral drapes, Bird tried to comfort the very private Jackie, suggesting she help her husband’s campaign by inviting journalists to see the house and talk about something that seldom interested Bird: home decor.”
The JFK Presidential Library‘s record of Jackie’s contributions to his 1960 campaign indicate that she took Lady Bird’s advice to a tee: “During the campaign, she learned that she was pregnant and her doctors instructed her to remain at home,” the report corroborates. “From there, she answered hundreds of campaign letters, taped TV commercials, gave interviews, and wrote a weekly newspaper column, ‘Campaign Wife,’ which was distributed across the country.”
Biographer Sweig places Lady Bird’s advice to Jackie in the greater context of her growing political aspirations, and hints that the Second Lady’s shrewdness was at the heart of Jackie’s ultimately successful campaign: “With this suggestion, Bird, now a seasoned campaigner, gave Jackie a way to manage her delicate pregnancy after two miscarriages and feel politically useful to her husband. She also gave her a platform and context for projecting her public image.”
Even the timing of Jackie’s “Campaign Wife” series, which began on Sept. 16, 1960, suggests she may have been influenced by that July visit from the Johnsons. And while history has since shown that Jackie and Lady Bird never did enjoy the closeness of, say, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, this biography seems likely to reveal more famous moments in which we never knew Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson played a role.
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