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Janet and Jackie
The Story of a Mother and her Daughter, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
By Jan Pottker
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2001 Writer's Cramp, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Janet Lee's story begins and ends with lush grasslands. First there was the verdant kelly green of Ireland; at the story's end, there was the sea-green lawn leading from the shingled house at Hammersmith Farm down to Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay. The ancestors of Janet Lee Auchincloss and her daughters traveled — from potato-famine Ireland to the social enclave of Newport — up a golden road lined with many thousands of dollar bills, some lettuce-fresh and others old money's worn olive.
Although Janet's narrative must start in Ireland — for all her forebears are Irish — during her lifetime she wanted nothing more than to escape from what she felt was her ethnic taint. She held no nostalgia for shamrocks, wee leprechauns, or Tara's heroes. In fact, Janet denied her Irish heritage, falsely claiming to be entirely English Catholic. She maintained this harmless fiction all her life and took care to select husbands whom she appraised as being a few rungs up the social ladder from her own Lee family.
Janet would have three husbands in all: John (Jack) Vernou Bouvier, the father of her daughters Jackie and Lee; Hugh D. (Hughdie) Auchincloss, the father of her daughter Janet Jr. and her only son, James; and a last, brief marriage to Bingham (Booch) Morris. Neither her first marriage nor her last made her happy. Hughdie would turn out to be the only man for her. This was the successful marriage: the one that lasted thirty-four years, from 1942 until Hughdie's death in 1976. Janet's daughters Jackie and Lee affectionately dubbed their mother's husband "Uncle Hughdie," and he, in turn, became their benevolent surrogate father, offering stability and a coddled childhood that their own father could never have provided.
Janet met Hughdie when she was still recovering from that awful first marriage. Hughdie was Jack's opposite in character and wealth, and he bested Jack at ancestry, too. Although Janet had thought her marriage to a Bouvier — who touted his own mythical lineage — had brought her a full league from her Irish origins, Hughdie's solid Scottish Presbyterian progenitors were even more attractive to her than the Bouviers had been.
Hughdie's ancestor Hugh Auchincloss was born in Paisley, Scotland, in 1780. (The name Auchincloss is an ancient Ayrshire patronymic, meaning "field of the stone.") He left for America at age twenty-three. Hughdie would be his great-grandson.
This first Hugh Auchincloss sailed on the Factor in 1803 to found a branch of his family's dry-goods business in downtown Manhattan. In 1806 he married a young woman, Ann Anthony Stuart, from a comfortably off family in Philadelphia. Her father was a slave owner who left, on his death, a "Negro wench" to his daughter. By 1808 Hugh had a dry-goods business in New York City in his own name and was living at 14 Gold Street. He had also become a founding member of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.
Unfortunately, Hugh had not thought to renounce his British citizenship as fervor grew against England's treatment of American warships. When the United States declared war against Great Britain in 1812, he had to obey President James Madison's proclamation for aliens to move "forty miles from tidewater so that [they] might not be able to render aid or give comfort to the enemy." Taking advantage of his position as best he could, he hitched mules to a wagon packed tight with dry goods, went west, sold his goods, and returned to New York after the war more prosperous than before.
Hugh and Ann Auchincloss had thirteen children, yet only one of their sons produced male heirs — so the entire clan named Auchincloss is descended from this one man. He was born in New York City in 1810 and was named John. In 1835, when John was twenty-five, he married Elizabeth Buck, age nineteen. He continued in the family firm in Manhattan — by now, his father had achieved the presidency of the American Wholesale Dry Goods Association — and lived with his wife at 11 West Fifty-seventh Street. However, Elizabeth's father, also a merchant, had established a fine residence on Newport's Liberty Street, so in 1851 John and Elizabeth Auchincloss demonstrated their success by escaping the noise and hubbub of Manhattan and setting up a flourishing summer home in Newport.
John and Elizabeth and, eventually, their nine children summered in a Newport house a few blocks from town on Washington Street, facing Goat Island and the deep malachite water of Narragansett Bay. The house — still standing, although modified — was a largish but rather ordinary-looking two-story frame structure with a basement and attic and generous front and side yards fenced to separate the property from surrounding farmland. In that Newport house one summer day, on July 8, 1858, Ann gave birth to Hugh Auchincloss Sr., who would be Janet's father-in-law.
* * *
But long before Janet met any of the Auchincloss family, she had married into the Bouvier family and given birth to two Bouvier daughters, Jackie and Lee. Michel Bouvier — great-grandfather to the Jack Bouvier who would be Janet's first husband — arrived in the United States from France in 1815, says John H. Davis, his descendant and biographer. Michel went to Philadelphia rather than New York, where the Auchinclosses had been settled for twelve years as solid middle-class retailers. Michel, a skilled laborer, resumed the cabinetmaking and carpentry he had learned in France. Across the Delaware River on the banks of New Jersey, Joseph Bonaparte was fashioning a new life for himself following the defeat of his younger brother Napoleon at Waterloo. Bonaparte hired Michel to do carpentry on his great estate and, when the property burned to ashes, charged Michel with the task of reconstruction. Michel's fee put him on solid ground and allowed him, eventually, to invest in real estate.
Michel's sons saw that they could do better for themselves in New York City, where money was more important than lineage. John Vernou Bouvier Sr., Jack Bouvier's grandfather, founded a stock brokerage firm and increased the Bouvier holdings. His brilliant son and namesake, John Vernou Bouvier Jr., who was to be Jack Bouvier's father, was uninterested in financial success. Instead, he graduated valedictorian from Columbia University in 1886 and received an A.M. degree in political science in 1887. Bouvier Jr. went from graduate school immediately to Columbia's law school, earning his law degree in one year (two years was then the norm) and passing the bar at the same time, in 1888. He specialized in trial work and eventually made a name as one of New York's most distinguished attorneys.
He married Maude Sergeant in 1890. A year later their first child was born. The boy was John (Jack) V. Bouvier III, who was to marry Janet and become father of Jackie and Lee. By 1893 John and Maude had moved from Manhattan to a rented house in Nutley, New Jersey. The young attorney didn't mind the commute into Manhattan, and his wife enjoyed the country, so they built an estate in 1895 that they named Woodcroft.
Another son was born, and a daughter. Then, more than ten years later, Maude gave birth to twin girls, Maude and Michelle. Maude roundly spoiled the children at home; even the German governess couldn't mitigate her indulgences. Jack was high-spirited, and whenever his teachers disciplined him, his mother would tell him he wasn't to blame — rather, she denounced the "bad French blood" inherited from his father's side. As Davis tells the story, one day Jack's father found him in the barn, pricking his finger and squeezing out drops of blood. "When asked what he was doing," Davis writes, "he replied that he was trying to squeeze all the naughty French blood out of himself."
* * *
Despite the French line that came through the Bouviers, Jack's daughters, Jackie and Lee, would be mostly Irish. Jackie's Irish majority was camouflaged by her French maiden name Bouvier and her well-known love of all things French. But Jackie was faux French and, instead, authentically Irish. On the other hand, the clan Jackie married into — the Kennedy family — has throughout the years loudly ballyhooed their Irish heritage.
Coincidentally, the same potato fungus (Phytophora infestans) that had tainted thousands of acres of Irish farmland with black rot brought to America the four families that would eventually intersect at some of the most memorable ceremonies of the second half of the twentieth century. Janet's great-grandparents the Lees, her grandparents the Merritts, and both Rose and Joe Kennedy's great-grandparents the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys all came to the United States from Ireland to escape the potato famine. The legacy of these families, along with that of the Bouvier family, culminated in Janet's grandchildren Caroline and John Kennedy Jr.
Some believe that every year is cruel to the Irish, but the years 1845 to 1850 were especially sadistic. In 1840 this overpopulated country, with its millions of unemployed men, was fed chiefly by the potato crop. Potatoes were Ireland's fundamental nourishment; in fact, potatoes were often the only food on the table. The consequence of a potato blight that mysteriously began spreading in 1845 was catastrophic: one million Irish dead from starvation or from the diseases that ravaged a famished population.
Families were so desperate for food that they fed their children grass or, if they lived near the water, seaweed. Emigration to the United States was for the lucky ones who could afford passage. Others arrived in the new country because they had been evicted by crop-poor landowners who were given the right to send their tenants to America, much as they would have transported — in better times — sacks of potatoes. Ship captains witnessed starving Irish embark with mouths stained green from eating grass and subsequently watched only two-thirds of these voyagers disembark, the rest having been buried at sea after succumbing to diseases below decks. For good reason, the vessels bringing Irish immigrants to New York and Boston were dubbed "coffin ships."
But the stronger passengers survived. The proportion of immigrants streaming into America from Ireland alone jumped to one-third of all newcomers. The greatest number, including the Kennedys, traveled to Boston or other parts of New England. Others, like the Lees, landed in New York. With no money, these immigrants stayed where they were and sought jobs. Very few traveled south, and fewer went west.
Survival, to most who arrived, was their highest goal: Ireland had ingrained in them a sense of hopelessness and fatalism, and they carried this dismal philosophy with them to the new country. Very few Irish immigrants had the motivation and talent to dream and plan.
* * *
As Manhattan's merchant-class Auchincloss family was summering in Newport and as the Wall Street Bouviers were prospering, the Lees — and the Kennedys — were fleeing the potato famine. Janet's great-grandfather Thomas Lee was born in County Cork, Ireland, in 1810. He married Frances (Fanny) Smith, and their first child, Mary, was born in Ireland. The couple arrived in the United States in time for the December 20, 1852, birth of James Lee, Janet's grandfather. Throughout their marriage, Thomas and Fanny lived in Newark, New Jersey, a city with a large Irish immigrant population. Thomas Lee was a laborer who worked for the India Rubber Company, which imported crude rubber from such regions as Indonesia, Eurasia, and South America, as well as India.
Since the 1700s, rubber had been used to waterproof shoes and clothes, but the drawback was its stickiness. During the 1820s, Charles Macintosh, a Scottish chemist, found that spreading a coal-tar solvent on top of rubber and placing the combination between two layers of fabric prevented clothing from becoming tacky. He opened a factory that manufactured double-textured, waterproof jackets known as mackintoshes. In 1839 the American inventor Charles Goodyear discovered vulcanization, which kept rubber products from softening in heat and becoming brittle in cold, problems that impaired the mackintosh raincoats and boots worn by New Englanders. Although Thomas Lee's specific task at India Rubber is not known, vulcanization (still the basis of rubber manufacturing) requires workers to eliminate rubber's undesirable characteristics by treating it with sulfur and then boiling the foul mixture. Toiling in a rubber factory certainly was not only unpleasant but dangerous.
Thomas's labor at the factory did not keep him from establishing an active family. He and Fanny had six children in twelve years of marriage. Although Mary's birth date is not certain, she was probably born in 1851. James was born the following year in Newark. The couple's remaining children were also born in Newark: Thomas (his father's namesake) was born in 1857, Fanny (her mother's namesake) in 1859, Teresa in 1861, and Joseph in 1863. Thomas Lee, like many other Irish, did not fight for either the North or South in the Civil War but instead remained in Newark, sweating in the fetid rubber factory, seemingly unaffected by the conflict.
When the "green mouths," as the impoverished Irish grass-eaters were dubbed, entered the United States, they brought cholera, consumption, and typhus with them. Thomas and Fanny were more fortunate than many of the era's parents because they lost only one child, young Fanny, before she was eleven years old. But the couple's other five children thrived.
Mary, the eldest, was put to work in a cotton factory when she was in her teens, but James was far luckier. As a firstborn son, his parents had high expectations for him. James was a smart boy, and his mother and father — unlike many other working-class immigrants of the mid-1850s — stressed education for their sons. Thomas and Fanny stretched his meager income to cover private tuition for James and his younger brother Thomas at Cathedral School, a Newark parochial high school.
After graduation, James enrolled in Philadelphia's La Salle College, established by the Brothers of the Christian Schools and named after the organization's seventeenth-century French founder, John Baptist de La Salle. There, James read the writing of Brother Azarias (Patrick Francis Mullany), a distinguished Catholic philosopher and professor of literature. Brother Azarias had actually left La Salle a few years before, to help establish Rock Hill College (no longer in existence) in Ellicott City, Maryland, and the brother's magnetism drew James down to Maryland. James enrolled in Brother Azarias's pedagogy classes and was electrified by the new thoughts on teaching that characterized that part of the century. During the young man's coursework, he discovered the writings of the progressive educator Horace Mann, who had founded the country's first state-sponsored normal (teaching) school in Massachusetts in 1839 and later established a college in Ohio called Antioch. James absorbed a reverence for the process of learning, expounded by Brother Azarias and demonstrated by the teaching order of the Christian Brothers.
Indeed, James was also shaped by the influence of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), who had founded both Philadelphia and the tiny community of Ellicott City, Maryland, in the Patapsco Valley. When James arrived at Rock Hill College, he found the town recovering from a disastrous flood that had swept through, killing thirty-six residents and destroying many buildings. It must have been difficult for him to adjust to this rural environment after having lived in Newark and Philadelphia. At least James could travel easily — first by train from Newark to Baltimore, and from there to Ellicott City — because his college town was the last stop on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
Education was an exciting field in the mid-1800s, and James became its proponent at Rock Hill, receiving a teaching certificate upon graduation. James continued to focus on education and learning; after earning his undergraduate degree, he came back to the Newark area and continued his schooling in New York City, receiving his M.D. at Bellevue Medical College, New York University.
Excerpted from Janet and Jackie by Jan Pottker. Copyright © 2001 Writer's Cramp, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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