On September 12, 1953 John “Jack” Kennedy and Jaqueline “Jackie” Bouvier were married in a large ceremony held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Newport, Rhode Island followed by a huge reception held at Hammersmith Farm, the stepfather of the bride’s oceanfront estate. At the time of the wedding, the groom was a U.S. Senator and destined to become President of the United States. The bride was a roving reporter/photographer and she was also destined to become the fashionable and, perhaps, the most famous First Lady. Before I discuss the details of the wedding and the reception, let’s start with how the couple meet …
Most sources indicate that Jack and Jackie were introduced by a mutual friend, Charles Bartlett, in May 1951 at a small dinner party held in Georgetown located just outside of Washington, D.C. (In his version of their first meeting he indicates that he “leaned across the table for the asparagus and asked her for a date”) Another possible story of their first meeting happened several years earlier in 1949 when they met casually on a train traveling from New York to or from Washington, D.C. (Her version and first impression on meeting him was that “he was charming and handsome but a hopeless flirt”) In reality, throughout the years, Jack and Jackie casually dated and would sometimes have long periods of time without seeing each other. Jack was busy in Washington, D.C. or campaigning in Massachusetts and Jackie was in Europe vacationing with her sister before going to London to cover the Queen’ Elizabeth II coronation.
It seems that absence could really make the heart grow fonder, and when Jackie returned from England Jack proposed on June 24, 1953 with a stunning Van Cleef & Arpels engagement ring. The design of the ring was very unique and featured a 2.88 carat diamond and 2.84 carat emerald with several baguette diamond accents. (Special Note: Jackie later had the ring redesigned and replaced the baguette diamond with marquis and round diamonds. Later, after the death of her husband, Jackie had the ring reset to the original design for sentimental reasons)
After the engagement was announced the wedding planning quickly started in earnest and everybody seemed to have an option from the mother of the bride, Janet Auchincloss, to the mother of the groom, Rose Kennedy. The only thing not questioned was the type of ceremony, since both the bride and the groom were Catholic, the location selected was St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Newport, Rhode Island. The nuptial mass was officiated by Cardinal Richard Cushing, the Archbishop of Boston, and a special papal blessing was received from Pope Pius XII.
From the Kennedy perspective, the wedding would be seen as a political event with an extremely large guest list of Washington senators and congressmen and Massachusetts politicians. The invitation list would be approximately 800 guests for the church services and 1500 guests for the reception at Hammersmith Farm. The bride’s sister Lee (who had recently married Michael Canfield a few months earlier in April 1953) would serve as matron of honor and her stepsister, Nina Auchincloss, was the maid of honor. Ten additional bridesmaids were also the bride’s attendants and all were wearing pink taffeta dresses. The groom’s brother, Bobby Kennedy, served as best man and his other brother Edward Kennedy, brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, brother-in-law Michael Canfield, Lem Billings, Red Fay, Charles Bartlett and several others served as ushers.
Every wedding has some problems and there was a major problem with Jackie’s father, “Black Jack” Bouvier. Jackie’s parents had a bitter divorce back in 1940 amid adultery claims; Jack was a known womanizer as well as a heavy drinker and gambler. Despite her father’s problems Jackie adored him and he was very proud her and very honored to be escorting her down the aisle. But on the morning the wedding when someone went to get Jackie’s father he was found passed out drunk and it was clear that he would not be able to perform his duties, he was quietly and quickly sent out of town to avoid any embarrassment. When Jackie arrived with her stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss, the reporters were told that Jack Bouvier had suddenly come down with a very bad cold and would be unable to attend the wedding. Jackie was deeply disappointed about the situation with her father and she somehow blamed her mother for inadvertently causing it to happen.
Almost 4 miles away from the church was the reception site, Hammersmith Farm which was the 300 acre estate of Hugh and Janet Auchincloss. At the reception, the bridal couple spent three hours greeting guests on the receiving line, then after lunch the party continued with several speeches, dancing, cake cutting and the bridal bouquet toss.
After the wedding, the bridal couple went to New York and stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan before catching a flight to Acapulco, Mexico for their honeymoon. They spent two weeks in Mexico and then stopped in California for a short stay at the San Ysidro Ranch in located in Montecito.
Historical Note: While on their honeymoon, Jack caught a large sailfish on a deep sea fishing trip and Jackie had the “trophy fish” stuffed and mounted. Many years later after Jack became President of the United States; the “honeymoon fish” was hung in the White House.
Special Note: This post originally appeared on my other blog, theenchantedmanor.com
For more detailed information about the Jaqueline Kennedy’s bridal dress and other items worn on her wedding day, please click on the link to An American Bride – Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy.