Fifty years after Jacqueline Kennedy publicly expressed her gratitude for the outpouring of support following the death of President John F. Kennedy, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
has opened a new series of condolence mail from the First Ladys personal papers. The series contains condolence that was forwarded to and managed by Mrs. Kennedys personal secretaries. Of note, a letter from Maxine McNair, mother of Denise McNair, one of the four girls who were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in September 1963, was discovered among the documents in this series.
The Personal Papers of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis were donated, along with other historical materials, to the Kennedy Library by Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, Jr. The opening of this series follows the February 2012 opening of documents relating to Mrs. Kennedys White House restoration, and the September 2011 release of Jacqueline Kennedys 1964 oral history interviews.
"Few documents are as powerful as these simple letters written to Mrs. Kennedy by ordinary citizens from all corners of the globe and all walks of life in conveying the dramatic impact John F. Kennedy had on our world and how much his loss affected those who lived through his presidency," said Tom Putnam, Kennedy Library Director. "We are honored to house these treasures and to share them with the public."
In the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy, people from all over the world wrote to Mrs. Kennedy and her children expressing their sympathy and respect. On January 14, 1964, the still grieving widow recorded a message for national broadcast thanking people for their support, saying:
I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the hundreds of thousands of messages -- nearly eight hundred thousand in all -- which my children and I have received over the past few weeks. The knowledge of the affection in which my husband was held by all of you has sustained me. And the warmth of these tributes is something I shall never forget. Whenever I can bear to, I read them. All his bright light gone from the world. All of you who have written to me, know how much we all loved him and that he returned that love in full measure.
Unlike the condolence mail in the Librarys John F. Kennedy Papers, the documents released today were managed by Mrs. Kennedys personal secretaries because they required special handling or contained requests for charity, mass cards, photographs or other wishes. Each piece of condolence mail within this series includes an outgoing carbon response letter from Mrs. Kennedys office in lieu of the mass-produced response card that was sent for general condolence mail. The series contains about 22,000 items including telegrams, letters, cards, photographs, and other tokens of sympathy from the general public and various organizations, both American and international, government and foreign officials.
In Maxine McNairs letter, sent five months after her daughter was tragically killed, she writes to Mrs. Kennedy, Isnt it strange how people with so much to give to the world are taken? Thats Gods will however, and not for us to question. Mrs. Kennedys personal secretary, Nancy Tuckerman, replied expressing Mrs. Kennedys gratitude for her thoughts and prayers.
Additional examples of letters from this collection include one from a French teacher describing memorial tributes made by her students and asking for photographs of the Kennedy family to give as prizes for the contest; a photograph of a young boy named Kennedy in Nigeria holding a picture of the President; a letter from a 10-year-old girl asking Mrs. Kennedy to visit her home in Louisiana; and letters and photographs from several artists wishing to give their tribute pieces to Mrs. Kennedy.
The collection of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Papers contains personal and professional materials relating to her public and private life, as well as her role as First Lady of the United States. The papers document her interest in such topics as the restoration of the White House, travel, State visits, arts and culture, press coverage, and her involvement in a variety of cultural projects, organizations and associations. This preliminary opening contains files related to the White House and personal staff members under the employ of Mrs. Kennedy during the Kennedy Administration. The remaining portions of the collection will open as they are processed by Kennedy Library archivists.
The newly opened section of the Personal Papers of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis can be accessed through the Research Room of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.