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Historian Offers Insight on Jacqueline Kennedy Tapes

Historian Offers Insight on Jacqueline Kennedy

Catherine Allgor, UC Riverside expert on American first ladies, calls Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis a "woman of her time and place."

(September 14, 2011)

Catherine AllgorEnlarge

Catherine Allgor

The tapes Jacqueline Kennedy recorded four months after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, in November 1963 remind us that First Ladies – and all of the men and women in our history books – are human beings, in their own time and place, says Catherine Allgor, professor of history and Presidential Chair at the University of California, Riverside.

Allgor, known nationally as an expert on the role of women in American political history and on America’s first ladies, is available to comment on the tapes and on what they tell us about how the woman known for her poise and intelligence viewed herself and her world.

Jackie Kennedy, Allgor says, “was a woman of her time and place.”

“Her articulateness, her insight, her apparent education juxtaposes uneasily with her little-girl wistfulness and her aching insecurity,” she says. “The Jacqueline we see in photographs and waving at crowds gives an impression of confident command, but the woman so happy that she has made her husband proud has more in common with her infamous relative, ‘Little Edie’ of Grey Gardens (the rundown mansion where Jackie Kennedy’s aunt and first cousin, Edith ‘Big Edie” Bouvier Beale and Edith ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale lived). Both were women of refinement and intelligence trapped in privileged worlds ruled by men. Both tug at the heart strings.”

Popular consensus is that the Jacqueline Kennedy tapes won’t add much to our understanding of that period of U.S. history, Allgor says. She disagrees: “That depends on whose history. Her remarks about her marriage and how she felt about herself, about men and women, show Americans how much feminism changed our lives, and how far we have to go.”

The recordings are being released today along with a book, “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life WithJohn F. Kennedy.”

Allgor is the author of “Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government” and “A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation.” President Obama has nominated her to the board of trustees of the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation.

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