Publication Date

April 2016

Advisor(s)

Patricia Hill

Major

History (HIST)

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

Since the term “First Lady” was initially used in the mid-nineteenth century to describe the role of women accompanying the president in the White House, each of the women who have served as First Lady has maneuvered the role in her own way. This thesis argues that Jacqueline Kennedy was particularly notable in her use of and influence on reconfiguring the position during her First Ladyship from 1961 to 1963. Despite the short length of time in the role, she, drawing from Eleanor Roosevelt’s example, went beyond the role of social hostess that was traditionally a First Lady’s primary public responsibility and molded the First Lady into an American symbol that began to parallel presidential importance. As First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy was simultaneously able to blend both traditionally feminine roles with the progressively independent roles of the new woman of the 1960s in ways that simultaneously influenced the construction of her own ephemeral media image and transformed the position of First Lady forever. Her self- presentation changed the way the national media and the American people viewed the First Lady and shaped their subsequent expectations of the women who would fulfill the position in future years. As a result of this analysis, I hope to shed light on the function of a First Lady and the role new media plays in communicating ideas to a public audience by analyzing her impact on the White House restoration, cultural taste, fashion, and American pomp and circumstance.

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