Jackie and Diana

                Influential women throughout the ages have shaped our history by capturing the imagination of their times and by creating a legacy for themselves.  It is rare to find two such influential women with similar backgrounds who have captured the imagination and respect of the world within a fifty year period. Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Diana both led incredibly similar lives and yet remained individuals as they influenced the world.  Each experienced turbulent childhoods, strained marriages, and success in their personal accomplishments.  However, at each stage of their lives they displayed their own individual personalities through the different ways that they handled similar situations.

                 Jacqueline Bouvier was born on July 28, 1929, to Janet Norton Lee and John Vernou Bouvier III, into a family of social prominence and great wealth.  Her father was a stockbroker who carelessly surrounded himself with other women.  Her mother was an accomplished horsewoman who, unlike Jackie, did not have the patience for her husband’s pursuit of pleasure.  Jackie’s parents divorced in June 1940 after twelve years of an unhappy marriage.  It was also at this time that Jackie’s distrust of the media began to blossom when in a social column of the New York Daily Mirror, the Bouvier family was dissected in the spotlight under the heading SOCIETY BROKER SUED FOR DIVORCE. (Mulvaney, 42)  The public element of her parents’ divorce and the shame and years of turbulence it created caused Jackie to dislike the idea of divorce.  Jackie’s strong Catholic upbringing also made her see divorce as a last resort.  When commenting on her family’s disoriented condition, she stated, “There have been so many marriages in every part of the family…you don’t know who your relatives really are.” (Mulvaney, 40)  Jackie saw her family as extremely broken after her parents’ divorce and she therefore began to form a negative opinion of her mother’s decision to end her marriage to an adulterous husband.  This reaction to the chaotic events of her childhood would later play a dominant role in forming Jackie’s extreme patience.

Jackie Bouvier during her childhood

   Princess Diana as a young girl


       Similarly to Jackie, Diana was born into a family of wealth and influence.  Diana Spencer was born on July 1, 1961, to Frances and Johnnie Spencer.  Johnnie was heir to the seventh Earl Spencer.  He was the head of one of England’s oldest and wealthiest aristocratic families. Like Jackie’s parents, Diana’s mother and father were not suited to each other.  Diana’s mother was in love with Peter Shand Kydd.  She moved to London and filed for a divorce from Diana’s father.  The divorce ended in a custody battle, which Diana’s mother lost.  She was only allowed to see her children on the weekends.  The pain Diana saw in her own mother’s loss of her children would cause Diana to be untiringly present in her children’s lives at all times, even after her divorce from Prince Charles.  The maternal affection Diana showed towards her sons and the world were a result of the pain she saw her own mother experience as a result of being deprived from the joys of motherhood.  From the turmoil of divorce Diana felt the best way to secure a child’s happiness was through the love of his mother.  Jackie, on the other hand, learned that the main effect on the condition of a child’s happiness was the overall security of the family.

       As the daughter of two wealthy parents, Jackie was sent to the Chapin School in 1935.  Although later in life she would demonstrate a great love for learning, Jackie started off her years as a student by constantly being sent to the head mistress.  She performed many silly and sometimes malicious pranks on other students.  The disorder of her home resulted in her lack of respect for discipline.  Even when she went off to the ninth grade in Miss Porter’s School in 1943, she was still dealing with commotion at home.  That same year her mother married Hugh D. Auchincloss II, which only increased the rift and tension between Jackie’s parents.  Although she had matured from her days at Chapin, the turmoil at home only perpetuated her willful disobedience of rules and regulations.  Jackie was born into a world of wealth and opportunities, but the divorce of her parents (at a time when divorce was uncommon) caused her to have a disorderly childhood.  However, over the years, Jackie used the strength and wisdom she gained from her misfortunes as a child to become a driven and well-educated woman, who would later be an example for many women in her country.


Jackie Kennedy at Miss Chapin's school in New York City -1935



Diana with her guinea pig 'Peanuts', which she brought with her to school
         Diana Spencer was first sent to West Heath public school in 1973.  Her sister, who was a prefect, was a hard act to follow.  Her parents’ divorce and the favoritism shown towards Jane, Diana’s sister, made Diana’s first years at West Heath a difficult time.  Similarly to Jackie, she oftentimes played pranks on other students.  Diana also earned herself a reputation as a bully, as she herself verifies when she stated, “I was pretty ghastly for the first term.  I was a bully…” (Mulvaney, 60)  Diana also matured in time, despite her chaotic home life.  She especially matured from her first community service experience with the Sevenoaks Voluntary Service, which focused on working with physically and mentally disabled patients.  She became a very accomplished athlete at West Heath and she gained refinement at a finishing school in the Alps, the Institute Alpine Videmanette.  The unrest she faced in her home as a young girl gave her many attributes.  Jackie used her childhood to form a strong academic drive.  However, Diana used her past experiences to create a generosity and compassion for others, which enhanced her maternal affection towards her country and her children.

 Newlyweds Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and John F. Kennedy with ushers

        Jacqueline Bouvier and Diana Spencer found themselves in very strained marriages very shortly after leaving school.  Jackie and John F. Kennedy had a long-term “sporadic courtship” which led to their marriage in 1953 in Newport. (Mulvaney, 60)  Jack Kennedy was deprived of maternal love as a child.  His mother’s mistakes led him to form a very unromantic relationship with Jackie.  In the beginning, Jack always looked at his marriage to Jackie as an act of duty that would compliment his political career and not as a storybook romance.  Through the years their love grew but the ‘ideal love’ that was presented by Jackie through her manipulation of the media was far from accurate.  Along with his practical feelings towards marriage, Jack also found himself easily tempted by other women.  This further disregard of his marriage vows also stemmed from his fear of betrayal, which was generated in the relationship he had with his mother during his childhood.  Jackie dealt with Jack’s adulterous nature very patiently.  Although her marriage parallels that of Princess Diana, Jackie’s personality allowed her to see the good in staying with her philandering husband.


     Diana Spencer was married to Prince Phillip Charles Arthur George in July of 1981.  Like Jackie and Jack’s marriage, Diana and Prince Charles married because of duty and social status.  Diana’s marriage to the Prince was described by a close friend as, “a dirty job –but someone had to do it.” (Fairley, 19)  Diana and Charles had little romance in their courtship, engagement or marriage.  Diana simply fit the description of an appropriate bride for a Prince.  Prince Charles also resembled John F. Kennedy in that he too found himself in a mother-son relationship that was lacking an emotional bond.  This led Charles to disregard any emotional aspect of his marriage and any sanctity in his marriage vows.  Diana, too, was faced with a marriage to an adulterous husband.  Charles’ adultery was focused on one woman, Camilla Parker-Bowles.  This love affair chipped away at Diana’s self-confidence, to the point where she sought comfort in her own affair with James Hewitt.  Although Jackie and Diana were both involved in similar marriages of duty and not love, they handled their misfortunes in different ways.  Jackie steadfastly stood by her husband after the chaos she saw during her own parent’s divorce.  However, Diana wouldn’t act passively and accept her husband’s philandering.  She sought revenge and comfort through her own affair, and eventually sought freedom from the doomed marriage through divorce.  Diana and Charles were divorced in 1996.  




Princess Diana at her Wedding in July 19

Kennedy family portrait: (left to right) Eunice, Jean, Rosemary, Robert, Edward, Joseph Sr., John, Rose, Pat, Kathleen and Joe Jr.

         During her marriage to John F. Kennedy, Jackie faced great pressure from her in-laws. The Kennedys were an American success story.  Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jackie’s father-in-law, was a self-made man.  Rose Fitzgerald was the catch of Irish Catholic society.  Between the two of them, they formed a family that became 'royal' by popular appointment.  Jackie faced pressures to uphold the Kennedy image, especially from her mother-in-law, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Rose personified all of what was expected of Jackie as the wife of a politician in the Kennedy family.  She was pressured to stay with Jack through the hardest times, and she was expected to create a strong family image for Jack’s political career.  She was even bribed to stay with Jack with a million dollars by her father-in-law. (Mulvaney, 57)  Jackie faced the pressure of the Kennedys steadfastly and with great patience.  She continued and even improved the legacy of the Kennedys by continually supporting Jack.

Diana was also faced with in-laws that demanded a great deal from her.  By marrying into the royal Windsor family of England, she not only took on the title of princess but also had the potential to one day become the Queen of England.  The Windsor family exerted pressure in order to emphasize the importance of image and tradition within the royal family.  Queen Elizabeth especially made it difficult for Diana to adjust to the royal family and to life as a royal princess.  She herself had always sacrificed personal happiness for duty, and constantly pressured Diana to do the same, as seen when she stated, “She’ll just have to buck up.” (Mulvaney, 127)  Diana at first did everything she could to please her in-laws, but in time her own independent nature caused her to see more value in her personal happiness than any vague ideas she had of duty.  Jackie used her patience and perseverance to slowly overcome the barriers she faced with the Kennedys, while Diana eventually took steps to create her own path, which contradicted the one that the royal family had made her.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

John and Jackie Kennedy and their two children, Caroline and John Jr.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Diana both experienced similar difficulties in their childhoods and their marriages, but they each also gained great success in their personal achievements.  Jackie’s greatest achievement was motherhood.  Jackie had two children with Jack.  She was the mother of Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, Jr.  Caroline Kennedy was born on November 27, 1957, after Jackie had suffered from a miscarriage and a still birth.  John F. Kennedy, Jr., was born in 1960, soon following another failed pregnancy for Jackie.  After her struggle to have children, she proved to be a very affectionate mother.  This affection is seen when she stated, “I think seeing one’s children growing up is the most delightful thing any woman can think about.” (Andersen, 257)  She was extremely maternal and did everything within her power to protect her children.  She guarded them from the press and from the troubles of her marriage.  Unlike her own parents during her unhappy childhood, Jackie worked hard to provide a secure and traditional family to make her children happy.

Diana also found her greatest achievement in life through motherhood.  Like Jackie, she had two children while married to Charles. Prince William was born on June 21, 1982.  Prince Harry was born on September 15, 1984.  Like Jackie, Diana made her children her first priority.  She lavished her children with her attention and love. Unlike the traditional mother-son relationships of the royal family, Diana made sure to be constantly present throughout her sons’ lives.  However, even though Diana and Jackie had similar factors influencing their roles as mothers, Diana’s methods differed from Jackie’s.  Diana felt her personal happiness would be more beneficial to her ability to be a good mother than an attempt to maintain a secure traditional family.   She believed her motherly love for her children would overcome the difficulties they would face during the divorce between her and Charles.  Like Jackie, Diana also attempted to protect her children from the media. However, her views on her need for personal happiness took a dark form when it caused her to use her own children as pawns in her messy and public divorce with Charles.  Even though there were ‘bumps in the road,’ for the most part, Diana had achieved great success in her role as mother, through the love of her two sons.


Prince Charles and Princess Diana with young Prince William and Harry-1991

The cover of Life magazine for the September edition of 1961.  In it is an in depth article outlining Jackie's plans for the restoration of the White House.

Along with her achievement as a dedicated mother, Jackie also found success in her life through her attempt to create an image for herself, as she rose to the challenge of being the first lady.  During her stay in the White House, Jackie was able to instill the American public with an appreciation of American art and culture.  She also took on the physical restoration of the White House.  Through her many cultural and social projects, Jackie effectively elevated America’s pride in its culture heritage.  Her strength and wisdom allowed her to take on and achieve success in her new public position.  However, it was her personal love of culture that inspired her to focus her energy on the improvement of American culture in the sixties.

       Princess Diana achieved many successes in her position as the Princess of Wales.  She took advantage of her elevated role in life to take on many charitable projects.  Like Jackie, she saw and used her position through marriage to bring about positive change.   Diana found success in her many projects as a princess.  She involved herself with projects for AIDS victims, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, and the Leprosy Mission, among other charitable organizations.  Like Jackie, Diana had the opportunity to use her position in life to provide a positive change in the 

world.  However, Diana’s personality inspired her to focus her energy on change through generosity towards those less fortunate, while Jackie improved the world through her cultural knowledge.  Both women lived through similar lives, which motivated them to take the opportunity to affect the world in a positive way.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Princess Diana both received enough adoration and respect from their contemporaries to establish them as two of this century’s most influential women.  Through their similar lives, they arose to become unique and independent women.  Both of these women faced turbulence in their childhoods, stained marriages, and success in their personal achievements. However, through it all, they became individual women of influence who sought to improve the world around them.  Even the tragic ends of their 'fairy tale' lives were both marked by feelings of loss.  Jackie faced the death of her husband while Diana faced a messy divorce.  Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis died on May 20, 1994, and Princess Diana died in a tragic car accident on September 6, 1997.  Even though we are no longer blessed with the physical presence of these two women, in the end their parallel pasts and many talents, were able to constructively influence the history of their times.

Princess Diana talks to amputees Jan. 14, 1997, at a clinic on the outskirts of Luanda, Angola. The Princess was one of the leaders of the worldwide movement to find and destroy abandoned battlefield land mines
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