News & Politics

When Jackie Kennedy Interviewed My Mom for Her Column

The Library of Congress helped me track it down decades later.

Jackie in her “Inquiring Photographer” guise. Thanks to the Library of Congress’s research efforts, one of her columns is now more than just family lore. Photograph courtesy of the Everett Collection.

When Jacqueline Bouvier was in her early twenties, she wrote the “Inquiring Photographer” column for the Washington Times-Herald, in which she’d pose a question to a handful of people in town and print their photos and responses. One of them was Yvonne Chouteau, a dancer with the Ballet Russe passing through DC on tour. At a 1952 rehearsal, the future First Lady asked Chouteau what she thought of popular American dances like the jitterbug. Her answer: “That’s an art in itself. . . . I’ve tried and I’m so awkward. We have some kids in the troupe who are just fantastic. That’s a dancer’s greatest relaxation—to dance some more. We’ll do three ballets one evening, then go out and dance all night . . . .” The encounter became family lore. Last year, after decades of searching, Chouteau’s daughter—Christy Conway, who lives in Indiana—got her hands on the original column. She told us what that was like.

“My mom would have been about 24 when she and some fellow dancers were approached by a young woman with a camera. Mom and her had a brief exchange—they spoke a little French, and the woman said how much she loved the ballet. Then years later, during [JFK’s] inauguration, we saw a photo and Mom said, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ There was the same woman—Jacqueline Bouvier.

“For years in the ’60s and ’70s, Jackie was in the news for taking care of her kids, getting remarried, and you’d see her in all these elegant outfits. We’d say, ‘Mom, there’s your friend Jackie.’ She’d give a little smile. It brought back a time, maybe, when she was feeling good about what she’d attained in her profession. And here was this other young woman who had also attained a level of accomplishment. At that time, not many women were working outside the home.

“In 1977, when I was in college, I got interested in seeing the column—I’d only heard about it. I found out the Times-Herald was available, but you’d have to go to DC to see the microfiche. Every few years, I’d try to see if new research methods would help me find the column. I wanted to make my mom happy by letting her see it.

“Last year, I threw a lifeline out to the Library of Congress, and [a librarian] got back to me in less than a week to say she’d take a look. It was easy to trace because of the dance company’s performance schedule.

“I don’t know how Mom would have reacted, because she died in 2016. I wish I could have found it earlier.

“But I was tickled [by the column] because it did sound like my mom—she wouldn’t know anything about contemporary dance.

“I couldn’t help but smile thinking of both women—my mom and Jackie—becoming the women they’d continue to become.”

This article appears in the March 2024 issue of Washingtonian.

Sylvie McNamara
Staff Writer