In keeping with a longstanding presidential tradition, President and First Lady Obama welcomed their predecessors President and First Lady Bush back to the White House to view their official White House portraits last week.
President and Mrs. Nixon extended a similar invitation to Mrs. Kennedy Onassis and her children, Caroline and John, when the portraits of President and Mrs. Kennedy were completed in 1971.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had not set foot in the White House since the assassination of her husband in 1963 and eight years later she remained reluctant to return.
First Lady Pat Nixon was sympathetic to her predecessor’s apprehension and took every precaution to assure the former First Lady that her family’s visit would be both memorable and completely private.
So, in early 1971, Mrs. Kennedy Onassis and her children returned to the White House for the first time since 1963 and joined the Nixon family for the portrait viewing, a tour of their former home, and a family dinner. The press had no knowledge of the visit, and no White House photographers were invited.
In a letter she wrote after the visit thanking First Lady Pat Nixon for her consideration and kindness, Mrs. Kennedy Onassis wrote, “A day I had always dreaded turned out to be one of the most precious ones I have spent with my children.”
As part of a new exhibit commemorating the Centennial of Pat Nixon, the story of the White House visit is told through the letters from the Kennedy Family, and an interview with Caroline Kennedy:
Harmony Barker is a Research Assistant at the Richard Nixon Foundation.