On Valentine’s Day in 1962, fifty years ago today, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy gave television viewers an exclusive tour inside the White House, an unprecedented event for its time. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum released personal papers from Mrs. Kennedy on Tuesday, reports ABC News. These historical documents reveal the upcoming televised broadcast and her committed project of restoring the White House.
It also shows how much detail and research she put into this endeavor. In the papers, Mrs. Kennedy obviously has a remarkable range of understanding for art, history and public diplomacy. In November 1961 she wanted the White House to become a national symbol, thereby taking on the task of restoring, not redecorating, the executive mansion.
Jacqueline Kennedy said in an interview, “when people were coming to the White House everything inside was from 1948 to the present (1961)”. There was no cultural or historical significance to it, “everything needed to have a reason.” According to the Washington Post, she recalls visiting the White House when she was 11 years old. All that she remembers was being shuffled through with no guidebook for the visitors. Mrs. Kennedy’s papers make known the galley copy of a White House tour guidebook with her edits in the margin showcasing her future as a literary editor. The guidebook is still in publication today.
She made significant changes to the White House TV tour script. Lorraine Pearce became the first-ever White House curator hired by Kennedy. Both of them would go through photos, receipts and other documents to find what belonged to the White House. One item was a heavy oak desk Queen Victoria gave to President Hayes. This was the desk John, Jr. liked to crawl into.
“A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy” aired on CBS, ABC and NBC during prime time, states the Museum of Broadcast Communications. This documentary would later be syndicated to more than 50 countries worldwide. After Kennedy’s completion of planning and fundraising for her restoration project, she took us through the various rooms with CBS correspondent Charles Collingwood. Here was a rare opportunity to see inside the White House and get a history lesson from the First Lady. It was like getting a personal tour from her.
This was the most watched documentary of its time with 80 million viewers. Jacqueline Kennedy would later earn an honorary Emmy for her extraordinary effort. When you watch this White House tour documentary it is rather sad at the end. She was so passionate with her work. Unfortunately she and the children had to eventually leave near the end of 1963.