How A Visit To India In 1962 Turned Jackie Kennedy Into A Legend

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It’s March 1962, and First Lady Jackie Kennedy has landed in the Indian capital of New Delhi. Without her famous husband at her side, she meets politicians, tours the sights and even greets a baby elephant with glee. Two weeks later, she returns to the United States. But the impact of her visit will be felt for many years to come.

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Born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier on July 28, 1929, as a child Jackie split her time between Manhattan in New York City and her family’s estate on Long Island. Her father John, a stockbroker on Wall Street, idolized his daughter. Consequently, she soon grew into a confident and independent young girl.

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In 1940  Jackie’s mother Janet divorced John. Two years later, she remarried Hugh Dudley Auchincloss Jr., heir to the Standard Oil fortune, and moved with her two daughters to her new husband’s estate in Virginia. But in 1944 the future Mrs Kennedy chose to escape to boarding school in Connecticut. And there she swore never to become something so mundane as a housewife.

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In 1951 Jackie graduated from George Washington University in Washington, D.C, and began a coveted internship at Vogue. However, after she had spent just one day in the magazine’s New York office, a superior delivered some questionable advice. Apparently, he told the aspiring editor that, at 22, she should be more focused on finding a husband than establishing a career.

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Apparently, Jackie took her managing editor’s advice and left New York for Washington. She had a brief engagement to a stockbroker that was called off in January 1952. Then she finally met the man who would become her husband. He was politician John F. Kennedy, then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Soon the pair fell in love, and on September 12, 1953, they were married in a Catholic ceremony on Rhode Island. Four years later, after two failed pregnancies, Jackie gave birth to a daughter, Caroline. Meanwhile, John, now a senator, had begun his re-election campaign and had started to notice how much bigger the crowds were when his wife was at his side.

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On November 8, 1960, John won his bid to become president of the United States. By this point, Jackie had become something of a national celebrity, with her fashion choices discussed in great detail by the press. And as she was the youngest First Lady in more than 60 years, that scrutiny would continue throughout her husband’s career.

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Despite her earlier disregard of the housewife role, Jackie claimed to be dedicated first and foremost to caring for her husband and their family, which by now included an infant son. However, she was also a passionate advocate for the arts, and was committed to preserving the history of the the United States.

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Furthermore, it soon became apparent that Jackie’s presence was an asset to her husband as he navigated his presidential responsibilities around the world. In France, for example, her language skills and cultural knowledge won over President Charles de Gaulle. While in Vienna she managed to charm premier of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev. She even received a puppy, the offspring of a canine astronaut, as a gift.

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In fact, Jackie, rather than her husband, was fast becoming the star of the couple’s international engagements. And in 1962 it was agreed that she would take a two-week goodwill tour of India and Pakistan – without John at her side. Instead, she would be accompanied by her sister and U.S. ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith, a friend of the president.

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On March 12 Jackie touched down at New Delhi’s Palam Airport, where Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister of India, welcomed her. And from the moment that her trip began, the First Lady received an enthusiastic welcome from the local people. So much so that they dubbed her Amriki Rani, which means Queen of America.

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Over the course of the next 14 days, Jackie explored the best of what India and Pakistan had to offer. In Agra she paid two visits to the Taj Mahal, viewing the famous monument both during the day and by the light of the moon. Meanwhile, at Raj Ghat, she laid roses at a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.

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In Jaipur in Rajasthan, the First Lady met with local polo players and even took a ride on an ornate howdah perched upon an elephant’s back. And across the border in Pakistan, she reunited with an old friend. One year previously, she had met the country’s president, Mohammad Ayub Khan, when he had visited the United States.

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Now Khan welcomed Jackie to the city of Lahore, where she watched a traditional parade. Apparently, she also visited the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region and the famous Khyber Pass. However, there the planned offering of a lamb was hastily canceled through fear of offending the animal lover.

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In Lahore Khan also surprised Jackie with a thoughtful gift. During his visit to America, he had learned that the First Lady was a passionate equestrian. So in his home country he presented her with a beautiful horse. Later, the animal would travel all the way to the United States, conveniently sidestepping any lengthy quarantine procedures.

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At the time, the relationship between Pakistan and the United States was considered of great importance – particularly in light of the ongoing Cold War. But despite Jackie’s contribution to winning over such an important ally, the media seemed more concerned with her fashion choices than any political prowess she might have shown.

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In fact, it was reported that Jackie and Lee brought a vast amount of luggage to India and Pakistan. They had more than 60 pieces between them – and , on one occasion, the First Lady changed her outfit five times in a day. With a special wardrobe created by Oleg Cassini, a favorite designer, she appeared comfortable yet glamorous in the warm Indian spring.

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Writing about Jackie’s trip for Life magazine, journalist Anne Chamberlin noted that the crowds there to receive her were not as big as they had been for previous important guests, such as Queen Elizabeth II and John’s predecessor President Eisenhower. However, she praised the First Lady’s impeccable conduct throughout the tour.

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After two weeks, Jackie returned to the United States, where she was met with praise from her husband’s advisers. An official visit from the President, they reasoned, might have been fraught with political tension. However, Jackie’s effortless charm had doubtless improved diplomatic relations between the two regions.

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The next November, Jackie was riding in a limousine with John in Dallas, Texas, when a gunshot killed him. Grief-stricken, she removed her family from the public eye, eventually embarking on the publishing career that she had once coveted. In 1994 she passed away at the age of 64 – remembered forever as one of the most famous First Ladies.

 

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