Jacqueline Kennedy inspired women with her dignity and sense of fashion, but her granddaughters -- and many other young American women today -- were shocked when they heard her comments on marriage and women in politics, according to Mrs. Kennedy's daughter, Caroline.
Mrs. Kennedy created her oral history of her husband's White House in 1963, just four months after he was assassinated. She was only 34, succeeded the grandmotherly Mamie Eisenhower as the country's first lady, and was speaking more than a decade before the first bra was burned as act of feminine rebellion.
Many of Mrs. Kennedy's comments in "Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy", out in stores Wednesday, with their Victorian-like tilts, would baffle today's women.
Mrs. Kennedy recalled that women would write her as asking where she got her opinions from. Her reply? "I get all my opinions from my husband, which is true. How could I have political opinions? His were going to be best."
In the recording Jacqueline says that women are "too emotional" for politics. "I think women should never be in poltiics. We're just not suited for it," said Kennedy. Her role as wife was to "create a climate of affection" and present her husband with "children in good moods" to help relieve the tension of his job.
This is the same woman, her daughter Caroline Kennedy points out, who would go on to became a "big booster" of Emily's List, the political action committee that supports female candidates, and who supported women's full participation in the work place. She went to marry Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, was widowed a second time, became an accomplished book editor, and led fights to preserve the country's cultural heritage. Among the battles she led and won was to preserve New York City's Grand Central Terminal, block construction of a tower that would have cast a shadow over Central Park, and prevent the demolition of buildings around Washington's Lafayette Square.
She also guided the creation of her husband's presidential library and the Kennedy Center for the performing arts.
Nevertheless, the comments from a woman who had long been seen by Americans but rarely heard were a surprise to many – including her own granddaughters.
"It's funny, my daughters listened to it, too, and they were absolutely horrified that this was, did she really think that?" Caroline Kennedy told "Good Morning America's" George Stephanopoulos today. "And of course, you know, time has moved on."
In other conversations with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, Caroline Kennedy said that in hearing her mother's comments she was sure her mom "would've winced" at hearing them too.
She called her mother's statements in the oral history "just a snapshot of a moment in time" that "needs to be put in kind of broader context to round out the picture."
Jacqueline Kennedy passed down her private feminism to her daughter, she said.
"American history wasn't as interesting as European history because there weren't enough women in it," and was "missing so much of what women bring to public life," Caroline Kennedy remembers.
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, who wrote a forward to the oral history, noted that Jacqueline Kennedy was from a different era.
"Well-bred young women of Jacqueline's generation were not encouraged to sound like intellectuals. Nor would it help her husband for her to vent her more caustic opinions around anyone but their most trusted friends," Beschloss said.
He points out that by the 1970s Jacqueline Kennedy had "emphatically dropped" her opinion that women were "too emotional" for the rough and tumble of politics.
For Caroline Kennedy, her mother evolved with the times, even helped set the pace of change.
"I think she was a very big booster of women and the role of women in history and public life, and she obviously became one of the women in American history," she said.