Jacqueline Kennedy and the Architecture of First Lady Diplomacy

by Elizabeth J. Natalle (Author)
©2018 Monographs XVIII, 234 Pages
Series: America and Global Affairs, Volume 2


This unique rhetorical analysis of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s communication uncovers five forms of soft diplomacy that catapult her to the top of all American first ladies as a model of international influence. Her use of interpersonal, fashion, language, cultural, and state diplomatic strategies constitutes an architectural plan of smart power. Breaking away from the stereotype of Mrs. Kennedy as a style icon, the evidence in this monograph supports her astute awareness of how to support the Kennedy Administration’s foreign policy during the Cold War era by engaging state visits to Europe and South America, receiving heads of state at the White House, creating cultural ideals of freedom through art and preservation, and using French and Spanish to speak directly to the people of other countries. Her persuasive tactics set the stage for future first ladies to excel in a role that requires creativity and sound judgment. Students in communication, political science, history, rhetoric, and women’s studies will benefit from this book in their own study of first ladies, the presidency, foreign policy, and Cold War history. Written in an engaging style, Jacqueline Kennedy and the Architecture of First Lady Diplomacy will appeal to a range of scholarly interests across disciplines.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Jacqueline Kennedy and the Architecture of First Lady Diplomacy
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Part I. Theorizing First Ladies and International Diplomacy
  • Chapter 1. American First Ladies and Diplomacy
  • First Ladies and Diplomacy
  • Jacqueline Kennedy’s Architectural Plan for Diplomacy
  • Soft Diplomacy and Persuasive Influence
  • Preview of Chapters
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 2. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s International Education
  • Early Life and Education
  • The Kennedy Marriage and Network
  • The White House Years
  • Creating a Working Environment
  • Organizing for Success
  • Fostering International Relationships
  • Notes
  • References
  • Part II. Mrs. Kennedy’s State Visits
  • Chapter 3. Canada and Fashion Diplomacy
  • Solidifying Canadian-American Friendship
  • Fashion Diplomacy
  • The Concept of Fashion Diplomacy
  • Fashion Diplomacy in Canada
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 4. France, Austria, and England: Personalities and Cold War Threat
  • Savoir Faire and the NATO Negotiations in Paris
  • The Press and International Broadcasting
  • Fashion Diplomacy
  • Interpersonal Diplomacy
  • The Bellicose and the Sequined in Vienna
  • Failed Diplomacy versus Latent Effects of Interpersonal Mediation
  • The Two First Ladies
  • After Vienna
  • Friendship in London
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Venezuela, Colombia, and Mexico: The Southern Hemisphere and the Alliance for Progress
  • Puerto Rico and Venezuela
  • Colombia
  • Mexico
  • Fashion and Interpersonal Diplomacy Through Children
  • Language Diplomacy
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 6. India and Pakistan: Negotiating in Twos
  • Interpersonal Diplomacy: Two Leaders and Two Ambassadors
  • A Prime Minister and a Field Marshal-Cum-President
  • Mediation between Two Ambassadors
  • Children and the Cultural Arts
  • Cultural Activities in India
  • A Different Kind of Culture in Pakistan
  • Fashion Diplomacy
  • The Press and International Diplomacy
  • Reporters and Reporting
  • Film
  • The Architecture of Diplomacy
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Part III. Domestic Diplomacy and Foreign Policy Strength
  • Chapter 7. Cultural Diplomacy
  • The Kennedy Administration Plan for the Arts
  • State Visits and Interpersonal Diplomacy
  • State Dinners and Entertainment
  • Cultural Activities and the Diplomatic Community
  • Fashion Diplomacy
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 8. The Mona Lisa and Abu Simbel
  • Saving Abu Simbel
  • The Mona Lisa and Franco-American Diplomacy
  • The National Gallery
  • Malraux’s First Visit to the United States
  • The Mona Lisa’s Journey and Display
  • The Impact on Diplomacy
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 9. Orchestration of the State Funeral and the JFK International Legacy
  • Funeral Diplomacy
  • Post Funeral Diplomacy
  • The Television Appearances
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

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I began researching Mrs. Kennedy in 1998, when I responded to a call for book chapters on 20th century first ladies. As a scholar who studies women speaking on the public platform, I find it academically rewarding to explore first lady public speaking to discover their effects on both American society and the world at large. I chose Jacqueline Kennedy because I grew up during the Kennedy Administration, my maternal grandmother worked on the 1960 Kennedy Campaign for President, and I vividly remember the exercises we did in school to “duck and cover” under our desks and in the hallway should a nuclear bomb explode. My mother had prepared a kind of bomb shelter in our basement—complete with supplies and canned goods so we could weather the storm if the Communists should drop the bomb. Kennedy and Khrushchev were always on the tip of the tongue when people talked politics in those days. When President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, my grandmother happened to be staying in our home while my parents were out of town for the weekend. We sat in front of the television and cried together for four days. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was simultaneously the loneliest and most dignified woman on the world stage that weekend in 1963, and I shall never forget my intrigue watching her carry out her role. ← xi | xii →

Writing about Jacqueline Kennedy initially helped me understand the context of my childhood, but the project morphed into something larger: I have become academically interested in the public role that American first ladies play in the life of the American people and the way some successfully navigate the role and others don’t. It quickly became apparent to me that Jacqueline Kennedy was not like other first ladies; she had public speaking apprehension and used silence as a primary rhetorical strategy, yet she was and still is one of our favorite first ladies. Why? Mrs. Kennedy navigated the age of television with intelligence and grace, and she instinctively knew how to assist her husband in his foreign policy endeavors by engaging what we call today soft diplomacy. She was important, as all first ladies are important, but she was the modern first lady to create the architectural plan for how a president’s spouse can effectively support a government within the global context of the presidency. Since the age of mass media, particularly television, all American presidents and first ladies perform their duties on a world stage, and President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy were the first presidential couple obligated to do so. As such, the leadership of the United States is now, by extension, leadership of the world.

First ladies are often overlooked and understudied. They do not have an official job description, yet citizens elect a president and then expect the first lady (so far, the spouse has always been a woman) to carry out activities that support the goals of the presidency. We need to engage more comprehensive study of first ladies to determine what she contributed and why she was effective—if she was. Jacqueline Kennedy offers a case wherein we can see the persona of first lady as something much deeper than celebrity or fashion icon. The public is mistaken if it thinks that’s all she was; the public is also mistaken to confuse the persona of Jacqueline Kennedy with Jacqueline Onassis. Kennedy and Onassis were two different stages of one person’s life, and she behaved differently in those stages. This book concentrates on the Kennedy persona.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy believed strongly in the strength of America and the leadership role the United States needed to play in the dangerous nuclear negotiations of the 1960s. She used her skill to support John F. Kennedy, and she set the example for all first ladies after her. I hope this monograph demonstrates the vitality and effectiveness of her role performance and that the reader will reconsider her as a major instrument of international diplomacy during the Cold War.

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This project has evolved over 20 years and there are many people who helped along the way. Mrs. Kennedy is the only modern first lady not to have written a memoir or documented her time in the White House. As she told Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, “I want to live my life, not record it.” This decision on her part has made research very difficult because there is no first person account to consult. Even the extensive, but fragmented, oral history that she gave to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in the spring of 1964 is focused on John F. Kennedy, not her. This was certainly a missed opportunity. Mrs. Kennedy was also so fiercely private that she insisted on sealed records for much of her work in the White House. The Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis Papers at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum reflect her decision. However, over the years, and especially at the mark of the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Presidency, Caroline Kennedy has slowly given legal permission to release materials, including her mother’s oral history, as a service to scholarship. The fact that an assassination cut short the term of office also greatly hampered what would have been more systematic organization of files and other materials that researchers have come to expect in a presidential library. On the other hand, the Kennedy Library, in particular, is one of the best and most ← xiii | xiv → efficient presidential libraries in its efforts to digitize documents and make materials available to the public. I greatly benefitted from the ability to cross check information gathered many years ago that is now in digital format and to discover new materials now online that were not available during my last research trip to Boston.

Over the years, I made six visits between 2000 and 2012 to the Kennedy Library for research purposes. Many people assisted me, from the security and cafeteria staff to the employees at the front desk and bus drivers who took me back and forth to the T-stop. Most of all, two people have assisted me above all others: Stephen Plotkin in the Reference Room and Laurie Austin in the Audiovisual Archive. I won a Theodore Sorensen Scholarship in 2007 to work at the JFK Library. Later, I met and spent time with Mr. Sorensen when he lectured on the Cuban Missile Crisis at UNC Greensboro. He was absolutely delightful, spoke to me about his relationship to Jacqueline Kennedy, and he very much enjoyed meeting one of his “scholars.”

At the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, Curator Lisa Kathleen Graddy met with me personally in 2009 to talk about the First Ladies Exhibit and Mrs. Kennedy in particular. We organized a private tour and seminar in 2013 for the First Ladies Research Network of the National Communication Association. Graddy and her staff met with us and answered all our questions with great professionalism and insight. Archivist Jean Henry at the National Gallery of Art worked with me on the Mona Lisa and King Tut exhibits. The Library of Congress staff in the Manuscript Division was also very helpful.

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) has assisted me in multiple ways. I wish to thank the Department of Communication Studies for travel funds, the Office of Research and Economic Development for publication subvention funds, the Dean’s Office of the College of Arts and Sciences for a research leave in the fall of 2007, and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program for a Linda Carlisle Research Grant to specifically work on the original chapter that became the basis for this book. The staff of the Jackson Library at UNCG has been particularly helpful. Mark Schumacher in the Reference Department tracked down numerous sources and wrote emails in French to try and locate materials at the Charles de Gaulle Foundation. Gaylor Callahan in the Interlibrary Loan Department obtained many sources for me and was so helpful when materials such as the oral histories from the JFK Library were not digitized and needed to be special ordered. When Gaylor passed away in 2017, I was so terribly sad that we could not share this book together in its final form. I also wish to thank my colleague and friend, Jerry ← xiv | xv → Pubantz, of the Political Science Department, for our work together in the Honors College and the conversations that led to the offer of a book contract in this series he is co-editing. Of course, I am grateful for the assistance of the editors at Peter Lang as the book has moved along toward publication.

I wish to thank my husband, Larry Hyjek, for assisting me on numerous trips to Boston and for his support of the project over all these years. There were times when I believe he thought I would never finish what has become my “second dissertation,” but he knew all along that my preoccupation with Jacqueline Kennedy was always more than academic. She is my role model for the very ideals that make the world a humane place: beauty, elegance, privacy, family enjoyment, reading, language, fashion, art, travel, and insatiable curiosity are all aspects of life that she personifies for me. If this world is a stage for men and women as merely players, then I hope that Jacqueline Kennedy demonstrated through her behavior as First Lady of the United States that the persuasive power of that role does, indeed, influence our international lives. The architecture of diplomacy is much needed in our present world situation, and I have learned something from her every day for the last twenty years about the value of enacting the tactics of diplomacy as a communicative approach to life.

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American first ladies are in the unfortunate position of enacting a public role that has no job description and no pay. As our national system of governance took shape, no one seemed to have thought beyond the duties of the president to the duties of the spouse of the president. Social custom assumed that the wife of the president would simply support her husband in whatever way wives perform their duties—we have termed this the enactment of the presidential partner role.1 To their credit, first ladies created roles for themselves and responded to the need for behavior that supports a presidential administration in meaningful ways beyond being a devoted wife. Robert Watson’s popular typology summarizes twelve sub-roles connected to first lady role expectations: wife and mother, public figure and celebrity, social hostess, symbol of the American woman, White House manager and preservationist, campaigner, social advocate and champion of social causes, presidential spokesperson, political party booster, diplomat, policy expert and lobbyist, and presidential counselor and confidante.2 Of course, not all first ladies are skilled in all behaviors, nor are they required to be. History imposes choices on each presidential administration, and first ladies develop whatever communication forms they deem appropriate for the rhetorical circumstances they find themselves negotiating. ← 3 | 4 →

In this monograph, I address the purpose of this new Peter Lang series, entitled American Politics and Global Affairs, by offering an unusual look at one first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, and I make the argument that her role in President Kennedy’s smart power tactics created the architectural model for soft diplomacy that all first ladies followed after her. This series states its mission to publish studies that explore the intersection between American politics and the highly interdependent world of international actors and forces. At the time of the Kennedy Administration, from 1961 to 1963, those one thousand days were fraught with global nuclear risk, thus creating one of the more tense international periods in modern history. The ideological struggle between Democracy and Communism, coupled with the nuclear military threat, necessitated a type of diplomacy beyond upping the military anti through missile production and placement. Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy knew they could destroy each other at the push of the metaphoric red button. In response, military containment was a priority in American foreign policy; the Cuban Missile Crisis is evidence of that challenge. However, in addition to hard power tactics, the Kennedy Administration wisely used soft power tactics that significantly involved Jacqueline Kennedy to create worldwide attraction to the ideology and policies of the United States. It is her role of diplomat that I concentrate on here.

By focusing on only one role, I break from traditional first lady research where the totality of the first lady’s performance is judged by the multiple roles she does and does not play while in the White House. By choosing the path of theory development through intension, I am able to see an increasingly fine set of details that break through the problem of how to judge effectiveness. It is possible to understand the significance of a first lady by looking deeply at her skills in relation to the success of the president’s policies rather than making a general judgment about the first lady as “popular” or “well liked” by the American people. This changes the research question from, Is the woman in question a good first lady? to What is the significant expertise of the woman in question that makes her an effective first lady? By focusing on a first lady’s expertise, I am able to go beyond poll numbers and descriptive history to predict what makes a successful first lady given the rhetorical exigencies, or circumstances, of the situation. President Kennedy needed to negotiate a set of demands that required a very particular repertoire of persuasive strategies if the safety of the global population was to remain intact. Jacqueline Kennedy knew how to execute the appropriate strategies as a player in the interdependent world of Cold War actors and forces. Looking at the first lady as an independent ← 4 | 5 → actor moves the unit of analysis from presidential couple to first lady herself, thus elevating the significance of the first lady in American politics. In this way, we can better understand and judge the political effect of a first lady’s communication within the scope of the administration in power. In the case of Jacqueline Kennedy, this analytical move allows me to rebut the common consensus that Mrs. Kennedy was nothing more than a style icon. She was, in fact, significantly more than a media celebrity; she was a highly intelligent first lady who played verbal silence and limited public speech against nonverbal codes of conduct that enhanced presidential foreign policy. She set the stage for the possibility that first ladies could themselves engage the foreign policy process, as Glenn Hastedt demonstrates in his analysis of Rosalynn Carter and Hillary Clinton.3

Questions arise concerning method when researching first ladies. What is the best way to study and make sense of the diplomatic work first ladies have completed? How do we know the impact of any given first lady regarding American diplomacy? Conducting research on the role of first ladies is not consistent methodologically given that scholars are located in several disciplines—history, rhetoric/communication, and political science—and have specific academic perspectives. First ladies scholarship, in particular, suffers from the external belief that it is more important to study presidents than first ladies. This is an ill-conceived position to take given our current understanding of the statistical significance of first lady public communication. As political scientist Lauren Wright demonstrates so well in her study of Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama, first ladies have significant effect on public opinion and the ultimate judgment of the efficacy of any modern presidential administration.4 Additionally, it is confounding to expect models for research to yield consistent findings when three different academic disciplines pose questions for study about 47 women who have held the position since 1789.

Scholarship based in historical context carries the heavy burden of examining the rhetorical situation synchronically, or within the single moment in history, rather than the diachronic concept of points in time. The synchronic approach is appropriate given that first ladies serve a finite time in the White House; however, scholars often impose diachronic analysis by making the mistake of using current concepts and ideology that are far ahead of the historical time in question. An inherent problem with first lady analysis, therefore, is the impulse to generalize today’s theoretical constructs, such as gender and agency, to previous time periods when those concepts were not part of the ← 5 | 6 → analytical landscape, nor were first ladies thinking in such a manner.5 For example, the JFK Library’s “twitter project” in 2010 tempted scholars to justify Mrs. Kennedy’s Campaign Wife newspaper column as more influential than it actually was during the 1960 presidential campaign.6 Significantly, translating a newspaper column into 140 character tweets distorts the historical meaning of the original messages. Confronting these analytical-methodological problems for this book, I made two decisions: first, the primary method of investigation is rhetorical criticism. The method suits my training in rhetoric and communication studies. Rhetorical criticism involves the examination of text to determine strategies that result in persuasive effect. In this case, both Jacqueline Kennedy’s speaking and coded nonverbal communication serve as the primary evidence for my conclusions. Second, I decided to use current lexicon from the diplomacy literature, but I do so with the knowledge that the evidence from my research supports the claims rather than distorts the historical situation and the conclusions that can be drawn from the situation. It is my hope that the model of international diplomacy that emerges can be used as a standard for future first lady research across disciplines because I embrace the interdisciplinary threads of analysis that come from rhetoric, history, and political science. Note that the interest here is in role behavior and the expected patterns that manifest the role rather than policy-making process. As first lady research evolves, both role and process become more intertwined, but scholars have not done a particularly strong job of demonstrating the historical evolution of effectiveness in either role or process. Mrs. Kennedy is the modern exemplar of the diplomatic role that has led to the more recent success of first lady participation in foreign policy.

First Ladies and Diplomacy


XVIII, 234
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (July)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVIII, 234 pp.

Biographical notes

Elizabeth J. Natalle (Author)

Elizabeth J. Natalle is Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and has a Ph.D. in Communication from Florida State University. She co-edited Michelle Obama: First Lady, American Rhetor and has published previously in Rhetoric Society Quarterly and Women’s Studies in Communication.


Title: Jacqueline Kennedy and the Architecture of First Lady Diplomacy
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254 pages