1951 Vogue Essay

Research by Steven L. Brawley

Vogue's 1951 “Prix de Paris” Competition

Self-portrait submitted by Jackie as part of her winning essay "People I Wish I had Known" (copyright Conde Nast Publications)

"A self portrait written from the author’s viewpoint is liable to be a little biased. Written from the viewpoint of others it would probably be so derogatory that I would not care to send it in. I have no idea how to go about describing myself but perhaps with much sifting of wheat from chaff I can produce something fairly accurate.

As to physical appearance, I am tall, 5’7”, with brown hair, a square face and eyes so unfortunately far apart that it takes three weeks to have a pair of glasses made with a bridge wide enough to fit over my nose. I do not have a sensational figure but can look slim if I pick the right clothes. I flatter myself on being able at times to walk out of the house looking like the poor man’s Paris copy, but often my mother will run up to inform me that my left stocking seam is crooked or the right-hand topcoat button about to fall off. This, I realize, is the Unforgiveable Sin.

I lived in New York City until I was thirteen and spent summers in the country. I hated dolls, loved horses and dogs and had skinned knees and braces on my teeth for what must have seemed an interminable length of time to my family.

I read a lot when I was little, much of which was too old for me. There were Chekov and Shaw in the room where I had to take naps and I never slept but sat on the window sill reading, then scrubbed the soles of my feet so the nurse would not see I had been out of bed. My heroes were Byron, Mowgli, Robin Hood, Little Lord Fauntleroy’s grandfather, and Scarlett O’Hara.

Growing up was not too painful a process. It happened gradually over the three years I spent at boarding school trying to imitate the girls who had callers every Saturday. I passed the finish line when I learned to smoke, in the balcony of the Normandie theatre in New York from a girl who pressed a Longfellow upon me then led me from the theatre when the usher told her that other people could not hear the film with so much coughing going on.

I spent two years at Vassar and still cannot quite decide whether I liked it or not. I wish I had worked harder and gone away less on weekends. Last winter I took my Junior Year in Paris and spent the vacations in Austria and Spain. I loved it more than any other year of my life. Being away from home gave me a chance to look at myself with a jaundiced eye. I learned not to be ashamed of a real hunger for knowledge, something I had always tried to hide, and I came home glad to start in here again but with a love for Europe that I am afraid will never leave me.

I suppose one should mention one’s hobbies in a profile. I really don’t have any that I work at constantly. I have studied art, here and in Paris, and I love to go to Art Exhibits and paint things that my mother doesn’t put in the closet until a month after I have given them to her at Christmas. I have written a children’s book for my younger brother and sister, as it amuses me to make up fairy tales and illustrate them. I love to ride and fox hunt. I will drop everything any time to read a book on ballet. This winter I am trying to catch up on things I should have learned before. I am taking typing and Interior Decorating outside of college and learning to play bridge and trying to cook things from recipes I found in France. I am afraid I will never be very successful over a hot stove.

One of my most annoying faults is getting very enthusiastic over something at the beginning and then tiring of it half way through. I am trying to counteract this by not getting too enthusiastic over too many things at once."

Notes: In 1951 Miss Bouvier beat out more than twelve hundred of the college women in America to win Vogue's Prix de Paris competition, with her essay on "People I Wish I Had Known."  Carol Phillips, managing editor of Vogue said at the time: "Each paper is excellent – there is no exception. She is a writer… my only worry is that she might marry some day – and go off on one of those horses she speaks about." 

Who did she say she would like to have known? In her essay, she listed playwright Oscar Wilde, poet Charles Baudelaire and ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev. Despite winning the competition, she ultimately declined the award and became the "inquiring camera girl" for the Washington-Times Herald.

Copyright Steven L. Brawley, 2002-2015. All Rights Reserved.