Jacqueline Kennedy restores the White HouseJacqueline Kennedy Archive of Letters and Other Materials Regarding the Renovation of the White House. An extensive archive of more than 150 items including drafts of letters, retained carbon copies of letters, progress reports, press releases, photographs, and other mementos directly related to Jacqueline Kennedy's White House renovations from the papers of Sally Powers. Ms. Powers served as secretary to Lorraine Pearce, the first appointed curator of the White House. The archive reveals many details behind the project such as specifics of President Kennedy's interests in the project, the First Lady's personal style and management skills, and suggestions and comments made by her and the committees.
John F. Kennedy's election in 1960 heralded a new era of style, grace and optimism to the White House. The new First Lady was noted for her beauty, elegance and passion. Mrs. Kennedy had a deep appreciation of aesthetics and a strong sense of history. These traits made her the ideal person to head a project that once executed resulted in the most influential restoration in White House History.
Just weeks after the inauguration, on February 23, 1961, a twelve member Fine Arts Committee was established to develop restoration plans and "locate authentic furniture of the date of the building of the White House and raise funds to purchase this furniture as gifts." Henry F. du Pont, founder of the Winterthur Museum and revered as the most important collector of Americana decorative arts of his day, was named chair with Mrs. Kennedy serving as honorary chair.
The Green Room, Red Room, and Blue Room were target as the highest priority. The State Dining Room and the East Room, at either end of the house, were equally high-profile. The committee sought to procure furniture and artwork that were either owned by previous presidents or were iconic of specific periods in the building's history. The Committee sent out letters requesting donations of items they hoped to acquire for the Executive Mansion. They were astonished by the response, and were soon barraged with offers ranging from extraordinary presidential heirlooms to old quilts and spittoons.
Mrs. Kennedy's next goal was to create and staff a White House infrastructure to accomplish this project and others in the future. On March 29, Lorraine Pearce was appointed the first curator of the White House, Sally Powers was named her secretary. Janet Felton was selected secretary to the Fine Arts Committee. The papers offered here are from the papers of Sally Powers and document the progress of the Committee throughout the entire project.
Most notably, the archive includes 11 sheets filled with Mrs. Kennedy's handwriting (16 pages total) comprised of drafts of letters and notations to Janet Felton and Lorraine Pearce with suggestions and comments. These include:
Jacqueline Kennedy Autograph Draft Letter four pages on White House letterhead, 5" x 8", undated, but likely October 1961. The draft is directed to the President General of the Daughters of the American Revolution: "Dear _____ Mrs K has asked me to write to you about [this passage has been crossed out and edited in pencil in Lorraine's hand to read as follows] I am certain you know of the Bellangé chair ordered by President Monroe for the Oval Room [Oval has been crossed out and replaced with "Blue"], which is now in the DAR museum in Washington. If the DAR will present [edited in pencil to read "lend"] this chair to the White House, Mrs. K would like to have Mrs. ____ , the Pres of the DAR present it & have the presentation covered by the press. This would take place in the Oval [crossed out and edited as "Blue"] Room - in front of the Monroe pie table, recently discovered in the W. House. Mrs. _____ placing [crossed out and edited to read "You could then place"] the chair in front of side of the pie table - would make a pair of the original chairs there. The only original Bellangé chair given by Miss Catherine Bohlen of Villanova, Pa. now stands to the left of the pie table.
Then Mrs K would like to ask to have the executive Board of the D.A.R. to have tea with me. [edited in pencil to read "After the ceremony I should like"] Because the DAR has such roots in America's past, Mrs. K feels it would be most fitting to have them present the 1st publicized piece of Presidential furniture that has been returned to the W. House. I would hope that their fine example would encourage other museums & collectors to return other pieces of Presidential furniture.
A special provision would be made in the bill passed this spring which provides that any furniture not wanted in the W. House by future occupants will be displayed in the Smithsonian. This chair would be returned to the DAR should a future 1st family wish to remove it. [This entire paragraph has been crossed out in pencil.]
At the top of the letter is a note in Mrs. Kennedy's hand addressed to Lorraine Pearce: "Lorraine - for you to write to Mrs. Klapthor or whoever is your contact with DAR. If Mrs. Klapthor thinks I should write directly to DAR head - then have this letter drawn up for me to sign." The pencil edits suggest that the eventual letter was re-drafted to be directly from Mrs. Kennedy to the President-General of the D.A.R.
Jacqueline Kennedy Typed Letter (Unsigned) with Annotations in Her Hand. One page on White House letterhead, 5" x 8", undated. Addressed to Robert Breedon of the National Geographic Society. "It is thrilling to finally have the painting of the Lincoln reception for Grant as a part of the White House collection, and I wish to thank you for initiating this 'coup.' How fitting to have it here where the event took place. Thank you for your share in making this contribution possible." She adds, written in pencil, "I think it is almost our most exciting contribution so far." This painting remains in the East Room to this day.
Jacqueline Kennedy Autograph Draft Letter Signed with her initials, " JBK". One page on White House letterhead, 5" x 8", dated October 31, 1961 in another hand at top. Addressed to James W. Fosburgh, the chairman of the paintings committee: "I am sure the way you have lighted your pictures will be a solution to our problems -- so if there is anything we should do to Red Room before walls are rehung - would you tell Janet. Perhaps you should even come & look again - as we will hang pictures pretty much as they are now to cut down on all that red. Thanks, JBK."
Jacqueline Kennedy Draft Letter Signed "Affectionately, Jackie." Two pages, front and back of a 5" x 8" sheet of White House letterhead. Draft letter partly typed and partly Autograph Letter Signed on White House letterhead, May 11, 1962, to Betty Beale. Beale was a longtime syndicated society columnist for the Washington Star newspaper. Mrs. Kennedy adds a lengthy annotation occupying half of the front and all of the verso of the sheet: "As you can see, there are only 8 pictures. That is because we decided the only way for our Committee to accomplish something really worthwhile was to settle only for the best - even if it takes us much longer to raise the money to acquire them. All these pictures are very expensive - all have a reason for being in the W. House. They are of great Americans or historical figures of interest...So the pictures we acquire should all have a certain reason & appropriateness for being in the White House. They can be of people or events that are a part of our history - of significant American landscapes or historic houses. But they still can and must be great pictures or we will defeat our own purpose - of acquiring art for the W. House which will augment the feeling everyone has when they come here - a feeling of pride in the nation's most beloved house - & a feeling of pride in our country's history."
The First Lady confides the Kennedy White House is a madhouse
Jacqueline Kennedy Draft Autograph Letter Signed "Jackie." Four pages on two sheets of White House letterhead, 6.75" x 8.75". A letter to friend, philanthropist and committee member, Jane Engelhard. In part: "Am dashing this off before we leave for Mexico...I am thrilled with Family Dining Room...Jack's office is a madhouse as you can imagine - Every now + then I hear something like the Montcalm business + it is so upsetting - Most of the time it goes amazingly well - but all the bright people work in politics + war + I wish he could get someone who knew something precious when they saw it for the thank you side - I will see that all is remedied find that unknown man + get the book up in our own library - It is sad because if J had seen that book he would have brought it home. It is just the kind of thing he most appreciates. Daddy was in the Cincinnati + that book would be such a treasure I will find it... "
Jacqueline Kennedy Autograph Note (Unsigned) A typed note to Mrs. Kennedy from Janet Felton, 1963. The typed note reads: "The news has leaked out about Mr. Babb. Pam is being pressed for a confirmation or release and could use some of his 'statement.'"
The First Lady then writes, "Janet - call Babb. OK release with him. Get his correct title - give him a rough idea of space we have - so a) he will fill it up, b) won't go overboard & give us enough books for a Library of Congress... Yes, let her go ahead - use as much as possible - see marked parts. Tell him to appoint whomever he wishes to help him. - He doesn't need to clear it with me - Tell him the only thing to be tactful about is geography (appoint at least one Western + Southern helper - even if they don't do anything - or we get complaints otherwise. Tell him the Pres. is more excited about this than anything. I showed him the plan - the sooner the better."
Professor James Babb, who was given the task of assembling a definitive list of books and stocking the White House Library, selected a committee to assist with this project that included the editor of the Adams and Jefferson papers, members of the White House Fine Arts Advisory Committee and a host of distinguished scholars, librarians and publishers.
Jacqueline Kennedy Autograph Notes. Three pages, 5" x 8", on White House letter head, undated; containing numbered notes on various topics: "There has been more confusion about the rug + General Cocke... I am as irritated as I can be. The last word I have from Janet today is that you want to give General Cocke. Perfect. We always wanted it. I agree with you the price for a rug is madness... What I suggest is a stark strip carpet like we have in the State Dining Room. It is much cheaper + worn spots easily replaced... 4 I was apalled [sic] by the Montcalm incident I have found the man + the book, which Jack, who had never even seen it, was overjoyed with + now has in our own library... and the Marquis has been thanked. Sometimes those things happed - unfortunately always with the wrong people. I will write Montcalm myself + he should have Jack's letter by now."
Other materials in this voluminous archive includes more than 50 photographs, many original photos of Mrs. Kennedy and Committee members and staff; files with over 100 retained copies of White House correspondence relating to the redecoration; numerous reports (some to the President and First Lady) detailing all aspects of the project; press releases; copies of Acts of Congress that provided for the protection and preservation of the treasures Mrs. Kennedy was bringing into the White House; her draft introduction for the White House guidebook; and much more.
Among the retained carbon copies is one of a letter from the First Lady to Vice President Lyndon Johnson dated June 5, 1962. The show her enlisting the skills of the country's most consummate politician on the mundane errand of securing a chandelier: "I have decided it would be best for just one White House chandelier from the United States Capitol...I would like to request either the one that was in your office or the one in the Senate Committee on Appropriations Room. These are the old East Room chandeliers of 1873...As everything in the room was used in the White House at the time of President Grant, there is just no reason, except Mr. Stewart's stubbornness, why the chandelier should not be there...Dear Lyndon, let us face a most unpleasant reality - Mr. Stewart...doesn't want to give up something under his wing...I simply cannot understand such selfishness. I have worked myself to the bone for the last year and a half to make the White House what it should be, not for myself, but for the people who see it and for the future...I have never been so determined about anything as I am to get that chandelier from Mr. Stewart - and get it we will!...You, who have accomplished so many masterpieces of persuasion in the Capitol, are the only person who can make him see the light..."
Tragically, the Kennedy tenure in the White House was short-lived. The intellectual and artistic renaissance that the White House renovations promised to herald was never realized. Ultimately, the renovation became emblematic of the brief, golden Kennedy years, an era now remembered Camelot.
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