This article is adapted from a recent public inquiry pointing out that there is no entry for the first-born of Jacqueline Kennedy under the section marked “children” in her National First Ladies Library online biography.
by Carl Sferrazza Anthony, Historian of the National First Ladies Library
Until research in 1997 discovered the fact, there was no public record of the name of Jacqueline Kennedy’s stillborn child in 1956. Several of her siblings at that time disclosed that the child was never baptized, registered with a birth certificate or legally named. Instead, Jacqueline Kennedy would later make reference to this lost first-born with the sentimental name of “Arabella.”
In 1963, when the child’s remains were later transferred from a local Catholic cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island to be placed alongside those of President Kennedy and the infant Patrick Kennedy, the widowed First Lady did not want a gravestone marked with the informal “nickname” which she had given her.
It is not even clear that President Kennedy was aware of this “name.” Nor was Jacqueline Kennedy known to ever make a written record of this name; it was simply a reference spoken among those with whom she was closest at the time. She made no known further mention of the name after the initial period of loss.
Naturally, the loss of any child is a traumatic experience, perhaps a first one in particular. In later editing the book A Thousand Days by her friend, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jacqueline Kennedy affirmed that she and the President had “five children in ten years,” which he interpreted to be an understandably defensive view from her perspective, having been pregnant with that many children in that number of years.
She made this remark, Schlesinger thought, in reaction to comparisons often made between her and her sister-in-law Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy, who gave birth to eleven children, all of whom lived to adulthood.
The other “child” which Jacqueline Kennedy referred to was actually a miscarriage she suffered, also an experience before the birth of her daughter Caroline in November 1957.
Along with her son John, Jr. who was born after his father’s November 1960 election to the presidency but before his January 1961 inauguration, Mrs. Kennedy gave birth to her son Patrick Bouvier Kennedy in August of 1963, while she was First Lady.
Unfortunately, he died of an infant lung ailment within two days.