By Michael Braverman | August 18, 2017 | Culture
Connect with East Hampton history through beautiful photographs of the future Jacqueline Kennedy in the must-see exhibition “Young Jackie on the South Fork.”
Five-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier leading her pony, Buddy, at the Southampton Riding and Hunt Club’s annual horse show, August 1934, as photographed by Bert Morgan.
The eyes are dark and wide set, and in most of the photographs they look directly and unflinchingly at the camera. The face is generally serious and unsmiling, but not unfriendly, and radiates poise, confidence, and intelligence.
Strikingly, the face of Jacqueline Bouvier as a child and young woman is the precise face, except for the trace of some added years and a more cultivated beauty, that left the world breathless when the glamorous Jackie Kennedy became America’s first lady and a global celebrity. Later, it would be the face of courage, in full view of a grieving world, when she instantly became the most recognized widow on earth.
The early black-and-white photographs are on display at Clinton Academy in East Hampton, in a show titled “Young Jackie on the South Fork” that was organized by the East Hampton Historical Society. They were taken by Bert Morgan, considered the dean of high-society photographers, who worked in the Hamptons, Palm Beach, Newport, Saratoga, and other fashionable locales from the 1920s to the 1980s. Morgan could hardly have guessed at the destiny of the self-assured girl he photographed in the 1930s and early 1940s, but what he captured suggests a person quite out of the ordinary, even in her predictable social sphere in that time and place. For that reason, the exhibition is provocative. You can’t help wondering if you see any foreshadowing, in the resolute, pensive look of this child in her jodhpurs and tweed jacket, of the woman who would later captivate the country, whose images were some of the most iconic of her generation.
“Where we had options, we were able to really decide which look, which expression, which movement was telling a story we wanted to share,” says Jill Malusky, executive director of the East Hampton Historical Society, who chose the photos for the show. “Because Bert photographed her frequently, there was an acceptance, a familiarity, and she let her guard down. He captures some really playful expressions. It was said by teachers that young Jackie was spirited and mischievous, and you can see that look in a few images. I’d like to think this roguish spirit has a strength to it, and over time, she cultivated it into the grace and reserve we see in her later images—that sort of selfpreservation takes real power.”
Morgan’s photos in the show and in the related book Young Jackie: Photographs of Jacqueline Bouvier reveal the moneyed, privileged world in which his subject grew up. With the encouragement of her socialite mother, Morgan began photographing Jackie when she was 3 years old for the social pages of local newspapers, then continued shooting her at horse shows, dog shows, and parties. Most of the pictures, particularly the earliest, are equestrian, showing her at 4 and 5 years old on a pony or horse, in riding gear, competing at various shows or mounted on her favorite horse, Danseuse. Riding, jumping, and foxhunting became lifelong passions for Jackie. And when she isn’t with a horse in the Morgan photos, she is often with a dog. She appears marginally more comfortable and happy with the animals than with the adults around her.
Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born in Southampton Hospital on July 28, 1929, and continued to summer in or visit the Hamptons for years. Both sets of her grandparents, the Bouviers and the Lees, newly wealthy Catholic families with newly invented aristocratic lineages, had homes in East Hampton. Her parents were married on Buell Lane in St. Philomena’s Catholic Church, now called Church of the Most Holy Trinity. Most of Jackie’s parents’ and grandparents’ generations are buried in East Hampton.
The Bouvier estate, located on Further Lane near the ocean and the Maidstone Club, was named Lasata—a Native American word meaning “place of peace.” Here, on 12 acres that held a stable, jumping ring, and paddock, Jackie learned to ride and spent happy summers with her close-knit family. She had easy, loving relationships with her father and grandfather, who indulged her in every way (including later sending her horse to Vassar to be with her), but had a more complicated one with her less affectionate mother.
In many ways, Jackie’s childhood was idyllic; her parents’ contentious marriage was the exception. Her father, nicknamed Black Jack, was known to drink, gamble, overspend, and have extramarital affairs. While he may have been an imperfect husband, he seems to have been a very good father who adored his daughter and was in turn adored by her. Jackie’s parents fought, and the financial situation was occasionally rocky. Her mother, Janet, found comfort in horseback riding, as did Jackie as an adult. Her parents finally divorced in 1940, when Jackie was nearly 11.
As one historian puts it, Janet taught Jackie “that a woman could succeed only by marrying for money, albeit at the cost of much pain and suffering.” This was certainly true to some extent, since, according to Jackie’s biographies, financial insecurity was always a concern, and she depended on wealthy men. With her elegance and refinement, intellect and acumen, schooling and travels, social skills, some family money, and immense assurance, she was well positioned to achieve what she set her sights on.
A timeline of young Jackie’s activities paints a picture of her early life in East Hampton. Summer 1931: Her second birthday is celebrated at a family cottage named Rowdy Hall; she shows Hootchie, her Scottie, at the East Hampton dog show. 1932: She begins to ride horses. 1935: She and her mother win third prize in the East Hampton family riding competition. 1937: The family visits Lasata before her parents’ final separation; she wins in her class at the Southampton Horse Show. 1938: With her father at Lasata; wins a blue ribbon at the East Hampton horse show. 1940–’41: Multiple wins at the East Hampton horse shows. 1942: Summer with her father and the married Englishwoman he is seeing, in an East Hampton rental. 1947: Grandfather’s 82nd birthday at Lasata. 1949: Jackie’s 20th birthday at Wildmoor on Apaquogue Road.
By the time Jackie enrolled at Vassar College as a literature major, in 1947, her interests had shifted away from East Hampton toward the social scene in Newport and the Virginia hunt country, where her mother, now married to the extremely rich Hugh D. Auchincloss Jr., had homes. Jackie soon began studying and traveling in Europe, perfecting her French, enhancing her proficiency in art and literature, and becoming a highly cultured young woman.
Her most intimate connections to East Hampton faded as she put her childhood and adolescence behind her, but there’s no doubt that her confidence and strength, the ways she valued family and community, her love of horses and nature, and her creative instincts, particularly for writing, were all nurtured in the Hamptons.
The Bouvier family had been embedded in East Hampton history since 1910, when John Vernou Bouvier Jr., Jackie’s grandfather, known as the Major, bought a small house called Wildmoor on Apaquogue Road. In 1925, Jackie’s grandmother, Maude Sergeant Bouvier, who had her own family money, purchased Lasata (built in 1917). After receiving an inheritance from an uncle, the Major bought the house from his wife in 1935. While we don’t know their private business affairs, the purchase seems to indicate theirs was not a marriage with shared assets. Though their relationship was troubled for years, they managed to remain together.
The Bouvier links to East Hampton did not break with Jackie and Little Edie. Bouvier Beale Jr., the grandson of Big Edie and Phelan, and cousin of Jackie, recalls some family history: “I remember, as a child, visiting East Hampton to celebrate birthdays with my grandmother at places like the Palm. [My wife] Eva and I got married in Bridgehampton in 1980, with a reception at Gurney’s on the ocean. Little Edie was at our wedding, which was very special for us. It was during that time that we fell in love with East Hampton and Amagansett all over again, eventually purchasing a home. I feel immense pride in owning property in a town where my family has such deep roots. The family connection to East Hampton remains as strong as it was decades ago.”
Commenting on the Morgan photography exhibit and the interest in young Jackie, Bouvier Beale says, “We have wonderful letters from Jackie to the Edies, talking about her nostalgia for her youth and those sunny summer days spent at Lasata with all the Beale cousins, where Big Edie would sing to them under the tree. Jackie mentions how great it would be to get all the cousins together again and cook hamburgers and carve pumpkins at Halloween.”
Beale’s wife, Eva Marie, maintains the Grey Gardens archives. She recalls, “Jackie said in a letter to the two Edies that people fall into two classes: life-enhancing or life-diminishing.” Jackie wrote, “In the Life-Enhancing category, I put Daddy and both of you.”
In 2008, the Beales published the book Edith Bouvier Beale of Grey Gardens: A Life in Pictures, featuring Little Edie’s writings and drawings and memorable photographs of a woman now celebrated for her originality and style. “We were overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response to our book, and that was when we knew we needed to start a brand that would keep their legacy alive,” Eva Marie Beale says. “With Big and Little Edie as our muses, Grey Gardens (shopgreygardens.com) is a lifestyle brand that represents those who stay true to themselves and take pride in expressing themselves through character and style. We place a big focus on luxury and quality, so that our pieces can be enjoyed and passed down to generations to come.”
So the Bouvier family legacy in East Hampton lives on via contemporary innovations like branding. The exhibition “Young Jackie on the South Fork” reminds us just how important this family history is, through the determined face of this exceptional young woman on horseback.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF THE BERT MORGAN ARCHIVE
June 13, 2018