Photo Exhibit: Young Jackie Kennedy in the Hamptons at Clinton Academy

Janet Lee Bouvier and Jacqueline Bouvier with their horse Stepaside
Janet Lee Bouvier and Jacqueline Bouvier with their horse Stepaside, Photo: The Bert Morgan Archives

There is a wonderful exhibition of photographs of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis on view through Columbus Day weekend at the Clinton Academy in East Hampton.

All the photos were taken when Jackie was a little girl in the 1930s. As part of high society, she and her younger sister spent summers at their parent’s estate, Lasata, on Further Lane in East Hampton, swimming, riding and playing games. But Jackie, her mother thought, was special. At the time, one of the New York City newspapers published a weekly supplement—brown ink on thicker paper—to keep track of the doings of this social set. For that purpose, the paper had a photographer out for the summer to provide them with pictures of these people. Everybody, including those being photographed, wanted to see everybody all dressed up and smiling and going to fairs, playing croquet, tennis or whatever.

Jackie’s mother, Janet Lee, encouraged this society photographer, Bert Morgan, to specifically take pictures of Jackie, not just for one event or another, but for all occasions she attended from the time she was 4-years-old until she was 15. Many of these photographs wound up not only in the Bouvier family albums, but also in the newspapers. Bert and his son Richard, at the time of their retirement from photographing the social set, had nearly 500,000 negatives of photographs they’d shot.

In any case, Jackie is adorable, and you can go to Clinton Academy and enjoy Jackie, the future First Lady, as she grows up, and look at her sister Lee and her friends and parents. There are also photographs, in a second floor gallery, of some members of society at that time taken by others—photos the Historical Society owns.

There were two photographs from this era that I found particularly amusing. Neither is of Jackie. One of them is of a handsome young couple sitting on a split rail fence bordering a horse pasture. He is square-jawed with dark hair all slicked back as he smiles admiringly at his girl. She is very pretty, with curly blond hair, and she shows a little leg as she looks at the camera. The woman is the internationally known Swedish ice skater and Olympic champion Sonja Henie, who was at this time in the middle of her star turn as a film actress.

Here’s the caption:

“The former Sonja Henie and her husband, Dan Topping, sun themselves on a summery afternoon at the Bradley Dresser cottage on Rivers Road in East Hampton. They were married in Chicago last week and are spending their honeymoon here.

“Topping was part owner of both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees. He was married six times. His marriage to skating and movie star Henie lasted six years.”

The second photo shows a handsome beach house in the Hamptons. A couple walk side-by-side down a wooden stairs to the beach. It is their wedding day. She is a dowager woman of a certain age. He’s a nervous younger man in an ill-fitting suit. Here’s the caption:

“Fowler Mccormick And Bride, Anne Stillman, At East Hampton Cottage, June 6, 1931.

“Fowler McCormick, grandson of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and heir to the Harvester millions, with his bride, the former Mrs. Anne Stillman, at their Oceanside cottage at East Hampton, L.I. The marriage of the young man, he is 32, to Mrs. Stillman, who is 51, took place three hours after she heard the news that she had been divorced from Mr. James A. Stillman.

“Mrs. Anne “Fifi” McCormick was quoted, right after the wedding ‘Perhaps I have vulgar taste; I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of reporters riding along with me on trains. I like beautiful jewelry, I love beautiful clothes and stockings that cost lots of money. I’m going to like working with my husband.’”

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