tv First Children - Caroline and John Kennedy Jr. CSPAN May 28, 2022 12:15pm-12:51pm EDT
john f. kennedy under fives, antoinette antonio and i'm janice hodgson. i'm the museum curator here for the librarian museum. i'm alan price director here at the librarian museum, and we're delighted to welcome you to a virtual tour of first children caroline and john jr. in the white house. welcome. i hope you'll you'll enjoy it with us.
so janice, obviously, we're in an area here showing a lot of different magazine covers. can you tell us a little bit about what this part of the exhibit is? well this deals with how the media fed the public fascination with the children and you know, it's what feeds what, you know, the public were interested they were young kids in the white house there hadn't been one young kids in the white house since the early 20th century and the media played into that and you can see you know, this sick a sampling of magazine covers from the time period and wanted it to run the gamut of things like newsweek.
which would be considered, you know an informed, you know periodical to more tabloidy type of things like motion picture, you know, how long can they hide the truth from caroline, you know these scientilating titles when in reality the the article, you know says something like how long can they hide the truth from caroline that she's not just like the girl next door and her family aren't like your neighbors, you know, they're in the white house you had media pointing out. yeah. they're the equivalent of a royal family for this country and the children were part of that. how hard was it for mrs. kennedy to kind of control all of this, especially when you compare to what the first family deals with today in terms of social media in terms of the press was she allowed and did she have more control in terms of media? she tried as much as she could to have control. it was a time as you said we're you know, the majority of americans were getting their news from printed sources you had the element of television that was relatively new by 1960 when kennedy is running for
president. i think 90% of american households had tvs by that time 10 years before it was a fraction of that. so it's the medium that kennedy played to and the kids ended up being recorded, you know as well and they'd be broadcast in your living room. so these were the first first children who were more widely on television television. yes, and they were the youngest kids to occupy the white house since teddy roosevelt's kids at the beginning of the 20th century. so there was an interest and you know when kennedy was running for president. it was the first time that something like 47% of the of americans who were eligible to vote were like the age 40 and under so they were the same age range as the president like him. they were world war two veterans who have young families, so the
kids were part of what helped. people identify with kennedy and he's trying to recognize. yeah and kennedy recognized the value in that. his wife wanted to preserve the children's privacy as much as possible. so these memos that were informal memos written by her that are part of our archives wants to peer salinger who is was kennedy's press secretary? talk about how you know, she there's well we know there's nothing we can do about. the tabloids and the children being in the media, but well this photo play article. i mean, it's just the quotes are wrong. they're nanny would have never said that we can sue them usually she was advised to just let it go because more more attention will be created by
trying to to protest these things in this memo over here. she references this this life magazine cover and but she notes in this memo specifically, you know, jfk was responsible for letting life use martial hawk hawkins cover of macaroni. that's the the pony here if he approves anything else on children john and he for look etc. could i be told about it first so yeah, there's you get this. yeah when it comes to the media. yeah. well, i like this line right here if the press has questions about the children. what does christmas? yeah say that they don't want to give it away. yeah, this is kay is very sorry, but she doesn't want to give any info about the children this year. this is october 1962 and by that time she's saying you know major effort to be made this year to keep children out of papers and
magazines. so how long after they arrived in the white house did her hard effort start to keep well very early very early. i didn't take very long. yeah, kennedy's family moved in in february 1961. this is april 1961 and mrs. kennedy was upset that photographers using zoom lenses and things we're taking pictures of her kids while they were playing on the white house long from the fence. and she wanted they requested a ban. on that type of activity it didn't mean that it never it didn't continue to happen. but there there was. you know with certain. level of respect so it did help curb things. the white house photographers would take these pictures and mrs. kennedy would have photo shoots and then the she would
select and the white house would select which ones they would circulate. so i would say the photo shoots the pictures that were sent to the press and to the magazines. this would be the more modern day equivalent of putting it on your own instagram because as a mom, you know, she wants to protect her children, but she also understands that there is a fascination with the first family and this was a way of dealing with it. there was enough interest that pictures of the family, you know were as as much wanted by people as you know, an official presidential portrait. how does she walk that line of giving the people what they want versus protecting her kids. well as you can see from the memo, sometimes it didn't work to the level that she wanted. she wanted tighter control than what she was able to achieve you sense it in. you know the memos and some of the the other things in her
papers or writings that she was going to try and put up a fight but a lot of times, you know, there was nothing much that could be done about certain things. she was as popular as the children they wanted to remain on her good side. i would say if they wanted to be continued to allow be allowed to come in and they were only very limited photographers who were allowed to actually go into the white house and photograph the children. so did they stay off the lawn when she asked i i think they did but there are some references later on to photographs being shot through the fans. so, you know, i guess make it depended on the the individual photographer and the type of publication maybe yeah. did she have any? particular type of publication that she was more geared towards
well. she hated the tabloids, you know, and she but she realized that there was nothing she could do about it. she did, you know, make statements to the effect that you know, it's one thing if they put my husband or me on the cover, but my children are another thing. but it was it really became out of control unless it was something that she might be able to be claimed to be completely libelous so next i'm going to take you into the section that kind of ducktales with this, you know discussion of mrs. kennedy and wanting to protect her children and their privacy and part of how she did it. well now we've done to another exhibit. we are in the white house school area and this is really fascinating. this is not the first white house school, but it likely was the last time the white house
had a school inside. jacqueline kennedy had an experience where caroline had ballet classes outside of the white house, which was no issue until they became until her husband became president and then they were caroline was being followed by reporters. so she decided this is kennedy decided to create what was initially called a playgroup you're kind of evolved into a nursery and then by the time carolyn what caroline was school age became a first grade classroom and john jr. was part of the playgroup ultimately, but it was comprised of children. who were the kids of their close friends and the parents all pulled their resources and funded? the salary of the teachers the parents pooled resources for the supplies books. there was a trampoline that was
purchased for the the school kids. it was her way of providing her kids with an environment where they were learning in something like a classroom setting with other children, but again, it was controlled they were. in you know behind is for private walls. and they were still in the they were yeah, and these were they knew the parents of the other students and they weren't going to be blabbing to reporters about you know, was this her way of giving them she's known for saying she wants her children to have a happy normal life. obviously as normal as it can be when yeah, you're living in the white house was this her way to give that to them. yeah. this was a way. and she it's interesting because in doing that it also brought the white house school into
focus with current events of the time from the time that she announced. this is kennedy announced the press that the school was being developed some of the first questions were is it going to be integrated? because you know when kennedy took yeah. took office. you know segregation had been rendered illegal by the supreme court in the previous decade, but of course, you know most schools were not compliant particularly in the south. and from the time he was on the campaign trail. he that was part of his campaign that he would fight for for equal rights that he would fight for to enforce desegregation laws. he was slower doing them than a lot of people wanted him to be so the correspondence that he got reflected, you know, both sides and the question about integration of the white house school was coming from both people who encouraged that as a
way a very visible way for kennedy to demonstrate his sincerity. and from racist white supremacists who said well, what business do you have telling us that our children have to go to school with -- when? you're not doing this with your children. this school start out integrated. it did not start out integrated did this goal become into it became integrated at the time that they created the first grade classroom the african-american boy who became part of the the school was avery hatcher. who was the son of andrew hatcher who was kennedy's assistant, press secretary. this was something that had very mixed opinions the subject of integration. having a class in the white house in and of itself. how was that received by the public? people were interested in it.
some people wanted to know how it's funded. it was it was also something where occasionally you'd see an article caroline skipped school because she didn't go to a class because of some family outing or something and the kids were a large presence within the white house. they would routinely, you know, they'd be outside doing their exercises or they'd be playing out on the lawn at the time. did the public get to see any of these pictures or was it just something that they had heard of and seen it was something they had heard of and seen articles about so they knew it existed and they knew caroline went to the school avery hatcher was the only one who was actually named. because he was the child being integrated which kind of puts him. in a different spot because they they consistently said well we this that's a private matter. we don't reveal the names of the children, but they reveal they very hatcher's name.
you know, it's interesting to me the contrast between these two bays of the exhibit. the first one the images are just so staged where this feels so much more intimate almost like normal childhood. yeah. they're they're like family snapshots basically except it was at the white house example most people know is the and one that actually did get a lot of media coverage. it was stanley tredex image of john jr. under the resolute desk. playing while while kennedy's sitting at the desk, but that's a that's yeah iconic. yes. so we're gonna move on actually to that section of these event now. it so here we are in the next exhibit. let's call this one behind this scenes. and obviously that is what we're
seeing here. these are portraits some from the official white house photographers really giving us. an inside look as to what life was like in the white house for the children. yeah. it's it's just like, you know your family albums at home. you've got pictures of your kids in their halloween costumes or oh here we are walking outside the house, you know just happens to be the white house. then we do have a few official, you know images that were taken specifically for the media. these were taken for one of the photojournals by stanley tredick and it just illustrates how the kids had free reign and this was a shoot that happened while mrs. kennedy was away. it happens. so you have yeah not coincidentally. yeah. this was something that she did know that her husband wanted to do this is actually the shoot that she references in the memo
in the first gallery, but under even under normal circumstances, he the kids were allowed this type of free reign they are there are accounts of diplomats and heads of state visiting one-on-one with kennedy in the oval office and being interrupted by caroline. wanted to come in and give her father a kiss john junior coming in. to to show his father something. andre gremico got interrupted by john junior and he noted. oh, you know and soviet union we loved the kids. they're really popular there. so and this is what kennedy knew, so this was a a meeting with his closest advisors and you just look at the the seriousness obviously of what was being discussed, you know, and and you have a little kid playing, you know. in the same space everybody's
kind of used to i guess is presence. they're not really paying attention. you don't seems like these images help humanize the administration for americans, but they humanize america for others overseas. yes. so the president knew exactly what he was doing then he was allowing a lot of these pictures to be taken. he did understand that his children and he enjoyed having us his children. i mean, he really, you know liked having his children bargeon on him. he took a real delight in them, but he also recognized that like alan said this helped humanize their image. and he saw the benefit of putting out pictures like this for the public to see they had a sandbox on the lawn. they had a swing set the kids, you know swam in the fountain. here's the trampoline that was bought for the white house school kids. they're cooking, you know, hot dogs and and hamburgers outside.
this wasn't meant for public consumption. this was just documenting, you know, a family, you know gathering with friends invited. these are real intimate family photos when you're in any other family these would be typical family photos. for a first family at this time. these are really intimate photos. so i love this one of john jr. who's playing with the recording room equipment there are images of him playing around in the you know, the helicopter that was used by the president sitting at the controls and things like that. this image is one that was taken by one of the the preferred, you know photographers the kennedy's used and outside photographers. so this was an image that was done for public consumption. actually this one predates the white house.
this is in georgetown, but it represents something that was a daily activity for caroline and her father that continued into the white house. she would have she would sit with him when he would have breakfast every morning. yeah, and that was you know a time they had together and there was interestingly yes would have been in their private quarters as opposed to these types of images taken by the white house photographers that happened in what you could think of as not not public spaces, but not the strictly private spaces. these were the spaces that were open to other white house staff to you know to dignitaries in some cases to the press so and in a lot of the photos we've seen the children clearly had free run of the white house now, did they ever come into contact with the press with any reporters? because they're also in the white house. so did they have any
interactions with them they they did run into that. it's a reporters frequently, especially well. i don't know how frequently but i think it was something that wasn't necessarily anticipated when they first got into the white house. the first interaction caroline was well, she went into the white house communications room. that's that's what it was and there were some reporters there and someone just casually asked or was your father and he's she said something like oh, he's he's not doing anything. he's just sitting around with his shoes off and you know, not doing anything and it ended up, you know, and it's like that it makes the washington post yeah interesting to me try as parents to create as normal a childhood as possible in the strangest of circumstances where it may be impossible. so that's that's a tight line to walk. yeah, and just yeah things images that that emphasized just
the the normalcy of childhood behavior but in a setting where you're not used to seeing that, you know. yeah. as they really are just kids being yeah the offshoot of the pot one of the offshoots of the popularity of the the kids was then they start finding he started getting into this area of the commercialization of the children, which was something this is kennedy understandably had a problem with and we're going to be going that section next. okay from behind the scenes here. we are in the area of pop culture and this is the part of the exhibit where we really get to learn about the country really the whole world's fascination with the kennedy family. this is actually a record album. yeah, yes first family was very
popular, you know sold. millions of copies, but it was somewhat controversial for the time period von meter was this fellow who you know? started gaining some attention because he was able to mimic kennedy's voice and accent quite well, our archives show that jacqueline kennedy did want to try and suppress it and then was kind of dissuaded from making a big deal about it because it would only create more interest in it, but she she drew a line with von meters life performances. you can see from the cover you have this adult, you know dressed up like a little kid and you have a baby carriage there so the children did feature on the album which by today's standards would be considered very gentle but stand up
comedians had never used a president as a subject really let alone until yeah. yeah political cartoons have a long history. but yeah live performance. yeah not yeah after vaughn meter appeared on the ed sullivan show jacqueline kennedy drafted this memo to her personal secretary. of having she saw it. she had a serious problem with it because he had a child in the sketch and the child's name was caroline. and it's a wonderful internal memo because it really gives you a sense of how angry this type of of commercialization of her children made her she doesn't understand better. yeah, she said, you know, we didn't inferior interfere with the album. we don't as she puts it, you know, i don't give a -- what he does with the album.
but that it's in appalling taste, but he should make money out of a five year old child. i would just like him to know. that i consider him a rat as far as the children are concerned and but then she leaves it up to her secretary, you know, either if you think this should be communicated to him do it. otherwise just forget about it. he did. he was concerned and and distressed himself because he never meant to offend. the the president in the first lady kennedy had no problem with it. he actually kind of liked it but have offended mrs. kennedy. let's respond this way. so these are some of the other pop culture items. we have paper dolls plates. we have charm bracelets.
yeah, bubblegum cards activity books little cartoon books. and and really there was no their images weren't licensed in the way that celebrities will license their images. so these are unauthorized they were yeah. yeah as you see down here we have this doll made by madame alexander and they called it caroline. there was also an adult doll that came with it called jacqueline and the two dolls were sent to the white house madame alexander was hoping for some type of official approval. well, she didn't get it. so then unlike some other manufacturers who just would have gone on and continued to promote the doll. she you know, it did go up for sale. they were advertisements in papers during the holiday season in 1962 and you know one of the articles said, oh some new kennedys are in town.
matter alexander then came out and tried to say well they have nothing to do with the kennedys. they're just dolls named jacqueline and caroline she was really hoping that mrs. kennedy would say. oh, i think these dolls are wonderful, and she didn't she she tried to claim that they didn't represent the kennedy's but obviously they did they even had wardrobe ensembles that coincided with that dovetailed with the families interests you had little writing outfits and things like that for the horses. so as with some of the paper dolls and those items and the other dolls there was a lot of focus on mrs. kennedy and caroline as far as the fashion goes, but then you have something else like this. this is a board game featuring the kennedy. yes. and it was developed by a couple of editors from the harvard lampoon and it all has to do
with brokering power and media image. it's very much a reflection of of the influence of television on a persona, so it's not just you know, you can see a range of kennedy's represented here but includes the two children so you have categories like social standing influential friends popular support position of importance, and it's a rather complicated game. the instructions are multi-pages long, but you can see, you know, the tongue and cheat character of some of these cars alternative events card. yes. yes, turn of events cards which determined whether you you as a player were one of the kennedys and depending on what card you pulled it determined whether you were going to lose points in a category or gain points. so something like john jr's first word is cuba, so he loses
influential friends caroline swallows live frog loses person. yeah. so it's it's just, you know a great kind of quirky example of some of the the products that were produced during the time, you know, the kennedy that kennedy was in office again something that's not authorized by the first family. you go from you know, these these commercial items to you know other parts of the exhibit which focus on what you know in the midst of this blitz of publicity in these commercial items what people were moved to send the children and in caroline's case that was predominantly dolls, you know, the the gifts tended to be very separated and you know, established gender kind of roles of the time so here we are at
the next exhibit we can obviously see there are lots of dolls here these were sent to caroline as gifts. correct. yes, somebody heads of state. some by individuals from the various countries that the dolls came from some we don't know who sent them. we just know the countries they represent most are in like costumes that reflect the particular countries national identity. i like, you know, i'm just being subjective in this case because this is a girl i'm particularly fond of she was given she was a state gift given to caroline kennedy by the president of cyprus in 1962, and she's dressed in in a rural costume, but i just like, you know the heft of her and the glancing
eyes are just are just wonderful. so, you know, she she was given to all so frequently that they were newspaper articles about the size of her her collection when she was given a new doll. the phrase i liked best was she has a doll united nations? obviously she received so many dolls and this is just a fraction of what was kept what happened to all the other dolls. how did they decide what was kept and what else happened to the rest of the dolls? the the impression is that state gifts, you know from important personages. standard to be hang on to or stored although there are some we know they received and they disappeared it may be that the kids actually played with them and destroyed them. so a lot of the dolls were were set aside as being special caroline kennedy particularly mentioned her the hina doll sets that were given to her as being special sets that she really caught her imagination as a child.
other toys that came from you know average, you know, your everyday citizens. sometimes they were kept and stored and ended up just coming directly to the presidential library others were given away. i understand that the combination of world dolls with a map of the world was used as part of her geography instruction. well, you know, it's similar to her her grandmother rose kennedy. yes, rose. kennedy had a map set up where her dolls were, you know, and she was big on, you know teaching her kids geography and i see that you in this display. you have the flags of the different countries along with the dolls. so that students coming today can make those same geographic connections. yeah. yeah. that was something we worked with the education department. tying it into that united nations of dolls, you know theme and when we look at some of the
outfits of the dolls these are things. that are really timeless they were mostly primarily based on national folk costumes, which could vary from region to region within a country and local locale. so, you know, it was it was how these countries self-identified. with their folk traditions, so some of these dolls are actually dolls that you can go to any of these different countries and purchase today still get similar ones like the the doll from guatemala dolls being produced as souvenirs today, you know, really pretty much resemble that while seeing all the dolls along with the international flags and markings has really been so informative as was the entire exhibit. this really is just a fantastic piece of history that we have here located in boston. so i just want to thank you for
having me and hosting me and giving me an inside look. well. it's been great having you here with us appreciate this history and curious having been through the exhibit. what is a highlight what sticks out in your mind or is there some deeper reflection about what this exhibit represents for you? you know, really the thing that stuck out to me most as we walk through the exhibit. is that president kennedy and mrs. kennedy? above all they were a mom and a dad and this really gives us an inside. look at president kennedy's last few years of his life getting to spend time with the children. and of course we had the conversation about mrs. kennedy trying to protect the children when it comes to their exposure to the world the media the press. that's just something that a mother does and then also the juxtaposition how she in a way tried to control what was put out in the media in terms of