Image: John F. Kennedy with wife Jackie and daughter Caroline in 1960.
Jacque Lowe  /  AP, file
John F. Kennedy with wife Jackie and daughter Caroline on Nov. 9, 1960.
updated 9/14/2011 7:04:29 PM ET 2011-09-14T23:04:29

Caroline Kennedy says her daughters were "horrified" listening to taped interviews of grandmother Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' old-fashioned views on the role of women.

In the 1964 interviews with Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the young widow described her marriage as "a rather terribly Victorian or Asiatic relationship" and said she got all her opinions from her husband, President John F. Kennedy.

Caroline Kennedy said Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" that her two daughters were "absolutely horrified" when they listened to that portion of the tapes.

She said they asked: "Did she really think that?"

But Kennedy says the tapes are "just a snapshot of a world we barely recognize."

Reintroducing Jackie
The audio recordings are being released Wednesday along with a book, "Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy."

The former first lady encountered in the book was not yet the jet-setting celebrity of the late 1960s or the literary editor of the 1970s and 1980s. But she was also nothing like the soft-spoken fashion icon of the three previous years. She was in her mid-30s, recently widowed, but dry-eyed and determined to set down her thoughts for history.

Kennedy met with historian and former White House aide Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. in her 18th-century Washington house in the spring and early summer of 1964. At home and at ease, as if receiving a guest for afternoon tea, she chatted about her husband and their time in the White House. The young Kennedy children, Caroline and John Jr., occasionally popped in. On the accompanying audio discs, you can hear the shake of ice inside a drinking glass. The tapes were to be sealed for decades and were among the last documents of her private thoughts. She never wrote a memoir and became a legend in part because of what we didn't know.

Video: Tapes reveal inner thoughts of Jackie O. (on this page)

The book came out Wednesday as part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's first year in office. Jacqueline Kennedy died in 1994, and Schlesinger in 2007.

The world, and Jacqueline Kennedy, would change beyond imagination after 1964. But at the time of these conversations black people were still Negroes and feminists were still suspect even in the view of a woman as sophisticated as Kennedy, who a decade later would grant an interview to Gloria Steinem's Ms. magazine. In the book's foreword, Caroline Kennedy faults Schlesinger for asking so few questions about her mother.

As historian Michael Beschloss notes in the introduction, Jacqueline Kennedy once accepted that wives were defined by their husbands' careers and worried about "emotional" women entering politics. She enjoyed having her husband "proud of her," saw no reason to have a policy opinion that wasn't the same as his and laughed at the thought of "violently liberal women" who disliked JFK and preferred the more effete Adlai Stevenson.

"Jack so obviously demanded from a woman — a relationship between a man and a woman where a man would be the leader and a woman be his wife and look up to him as a man," she said. "With Adlai you could have another relationship where — you know, he'd sort of be sweet and you could talk. ... I always thought women who were scared of sex loved Adlai."

She talks about JFK
There are no spectacular revelations in the Schlesinger discussions and virtually nothing about JFK's assassination. Kennedy's health problems and his extramarital affairs were still years from public knowledge and from the knowledge of aides such as Schlesinger, who would often say he saw no "bimbos" in the White House halls. Jacqueline Kennedy speaks warmly throughout of her husband, remembering him as dynamic and perceptive and free of grudges, an assignment his wife and others took on for him.

Like any powerful family, the Kennedys had complicated relationships with those who shared their lives at the top. They valued loyalty, vision and ingenuity. They hated dullness, indecision and self-promotion, even among their own.

Video: Tapes reveal Jackie Kennedy’s candid thoughts (on this page)

Jacqueline Kennedy dismissed the idea that the eldest Kennedy son, Joseph Jr., would have been president had he not been killed in World War II. "He would have been so unimaginative, compared to Jack," she said. She contrasted the integrity of Robert F. Kennedy, the president's brother and attorney general, with the designs of sister-in-law Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Robert Kennedy had begged JFK not to appoint him, fearing charges of nepotism. Eunice Kennedy, meanwhile, was eager to see her husband, Sargent Shriver, named head of the department of Health, Education and Welfare.

"Eunice was pestering Jack to death to make Sargent head of HEW because she wanted to be a cabinet wife," Jacqueline Kennedy tells Schlesinger. "You know, it shows you some people are ambitious for themselves and Bobby wasn't."

Hard views on other leaders
Politics means doing business with people you otherwise avoid and Jacqueline Kennedy logged in many hours. She endured dining with journalists and members of Congress who had criticized her husband. She called Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg "brilliant" but added that "he talks more about himself than any man I've ever met in my life." White House speechwriter Theodore Sorensen had a "big inferiority complex" and was "the last person you would invite at night." She referred to France's Charles de Gaulle, whom she had famously charmed on a visit to Paris, as "that egomaniac" and "that spiteful man." Indira Gandhi, the future prime minister of India, was a "prune — bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman."

She was especially hard on Lyndon Johnson, who had competed bitterly with her husband for the presidency in 1960 and became vice president through the kind of hard calculation for which the Kennedys became known: Johnson was from Texas and the Democrats needed a Southerner to balance the ticket. Once in office, Johnson's imposing personal style and reluctance to speak up during cabinet meetings alienated the Kennedys. They mocked his accent and his manners, while he resented the Kennedys and other "Harvards" he believed looked down on him. Many top aides left soon after Kennedy was assassinated. Robert Kennedy became a public critic of Johnson's presidency and challenged him for the nomination in 1968.

"Jack said it to me sometimes. He said, 'Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon were president?'" she recalled.

Slideshow: Kennedy's legacy (on this page)

Historians have described President Kennedy as unemotional and undemonstrative. But his widow recalls him lying on the floor with the kids, watching the late fitness instructor Jack LaLanne on television. They would follow LaLanne's moves and at times the president's toes would touch with his son's. JFK "loved those children tumbling around him in this sort of — sensual is the only way I can think of it."

Her closest moments with her husband came during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union seemed on the verge of nuclear war. She would lie down with him when he took a nap and walk with him, the two saying little, on the White House lawn. Some officials had sent their wives away, but the first lady resisted. If the bombs fell, she wanted them to be together.

"If anything happens, we're all going to stay right here with you," she remembers telling her husband. "Even if there's not room in the bomb shelter in the White House. ... I just want to be with you, and I want to die with you, and the children do, too — than live without you."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Tapes reveal Jackie Kennedy’s candid thoughts

  1. Closed captioning of: Tapes reveal Jackie Kennedy’s candid thoughts

    >>> we are back now with the voice of former first lady of the united states jacquelyn kennedy recorded and kept secret for decades until now. jackie kennedy was famously private, unlike even minor celebrities today she never wrote a memoir. shortly after the assassination of her husband, the president, she sat down with a historian and spoke with candor about her husband and other things of the era. it is part of the book. on friday oop oop of we purchased a copy we shared early excerpts with you. tonight on what would have been their 58th wedding anniversary . andrea mitchell has more.

    >> reporter: she was still in what her daughter described as the extreme stages of grief, speaking publically only once.

    >> the knowledge of the affection in which my husband was held by all of you has sustained me.

    >> reporter: while famously private, the young widow sat down and secretly recorded her most personal thoughts for posterity.

    >> it's just not as simple as it sounds.

    >> reporter: in sharp contrast to the formal white house guide.

    >> i think every first lady should do something to help the things she cares about.

    >> reporter: this jackie kennedy paints an intimate family portrait . jfk kneeling at the end of the bed to say his prayers, something she described as childish and sweet. the president crying over the bay of pigs fiasco and dismissing lyndon johnson , his successor.

    >> bobby told me this later and i know jack said it to me sometimes. he said, oh, god, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if lyndon was president. so many times he'd say if there was ever a problem.

    >> reporter: also influenced by this call a month after her husband's death two days before christmas, 1963 .

    >> i hope that you are doing all right.

    >> oh, i'm doing fine. thank you.

    >> you know how much we love you. you have a good christmas, dear.

    >> thank you. the same to you.

    >> good night.

    >> reporter: hours later she learned he was showing off for a room full of reporters. other snapshots. remember show she charme eed the french president ?

    >> i accompanied her.

    >> reporter: in private she called degalle an egomaniac and martin luther king , jr., phony. dr. king was overheard making crude comments about jackie kennedy kissing her husband's casket on the day of the funeral.

    >> in politics, things do change quickly. jack would never -- he would often say -- never get in anything so deep that you have lost all chance of conciliation.

    >> reporter: the most poignant moments are about family. a 3-year-old john, jr., is asked what happened to your father. he answers, he's gone to heaven. and jackie describes pleading with her husband not to evacuate the family to camp david , telling him she wants to die with him rather than live without him. andrea mitchell , nbc news, washington.

Photos: Kennedy's legacy

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  1. Baby face

    John F. Kennedy at the age of six months in Brookline, Mass., 1917. His mother, Rose Kennedy, named him in honor of her father, John Francis Fitzgerald, the popular Boston mayor known as "Honey Fitz." (John F. Kennedy National Historic Site via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Childhood memories

    Young John F. Kennedy, his brother and three sisters are shown in 1923 with his mother, Rose Kennedy. The children are,from left, Eunice, Kathleen, Rosemary, John, and Joseph, Jr. When John was just three years old, he became sick with scarlet fever, a potentially life-threatening illness. He recovered but was never very healthy as a child. (Kennedy Family Album via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Young athlete

    Kennedy in the football uniform of the Dexter School, a private elementary school in Brookline, Mass., in 1927. The Kennedy children were encouraged to be competitive and play to win. He and his older brother, Joe, collided while racing bicycles and John ended up with 28 stitches. (Boston Globe via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Big family

    American multi-millionaire Joseph Patrick Kennedy, right, the newly-appointed ambassador to London, with his wife Rose Kennedy, second from right, and eight of their nine children, in London, 1937. From left: Edward, Jeanne, Robert, Patricia, Eunice, Kathleen, Rosemary and John F. Kennedy. After graduating from high school, John followed his brother Joe to Harvard and also played football. There, he ruptured a disk in his spine, which bothered him the rest of his life. A summer break visit to London sparked his interest in history and government. (Keystone / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. War hero

    Kennedy aboard the PT-109 in the South Pacific, in 1943. After graduating from college, both John and Joe joined the Navy. John was assigned to the South Pacific where he commanded a patrol torpedo boat. On Aug. 2, 1943, his crew was struck by a Japanese destroyer splitting their boat in half and killing two of his men. Kennedy led his surviving men to a small island where they were found by natives six days later. His brother, Joe, was killed a year later when his plane blew up during a mission in Europe. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Start of a career

    Kennedy at one of his campaign headquarters in 1946. Upon returning from the war, Kennedy had serious discussions with his father, who convinced him to run for Congress. He won the seat and began his political career, serving three terms in the House. In 1952, he was elected to the Senate. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Finding his mate

    Sen. Kennedy and his fiancee, Jacqueline Bouvier, prepare a sailboat in Hyannis, Mass., June 27, 1953. She was working as a photographer at the Washington Times-Herald in 1951 when they met at a dinner party in Georgetown. They were engaged two years later. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Wedding bells

    Sen. Kennedy and his bride, Jacqueline Bouvier, walk down the church aisle shortly after their wedding ceremony on Sept. 12,1953, in Newport, R.I. Soon after they wed, Kennedy had two operations on his back. While recovering, he wrote a book about several U.S. senators called "Profiles in Courage," which won the Pulitzer Prize for biographies in 1957. (Keystone / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Reaching out

    Kennedy greets residents of Baltimore on May 13, 1960. Kennedy won Maryland in the 1960 election with 54 percent of the vote. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. JFK at the DNC

    Kennedy addresses his supporters at the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Defeating Lyndon Johnson, Adlai Stevenson and other rivals, Kennedy was nominated as the Democratic Party's choice for president. He delivered his acceptance speech on July 15, the final night of the convention. (Ed Clark / Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Nominating a VP

    Kennedy speaks to Sen. Lyndon Johnson at the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 1960. Southern Democratic leaders told Kennedy he could not win the presidency without having Johnson on the ticket. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Turning point

    A view from the control room as Kennedy and Richard Nixon participate in the first televised presidential debate on Sept. 26, 1960. Nixon looked tired and ill during the debate, while Kennedy looked well-rested and healthy. Those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won; television viewers thought it was a victory for Kennedy. After the debate, polls showed Kennedy taking a slight lead over Nixon. (CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. First lady's touch

    Jacqueline Kennedy greets her husband following his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961. In his inauguration speech, he urged Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." (Henry Burroughs / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Inheriting Vietnam

    Kennedy speaks from behind the podium as a map of Laos at left reads "Communist Rebel Areas, 22 March 1961," at the State Department Auditorium in Washington, D.C., March 23, 1961. Kennedy continued the policy of his predecessesor, Dwight D. Eisenhower in supporting the government of South Vietnam. (Abbie Rowe / National Park Servie via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Discussions with Ike

    President Kennedy meets with former President Dwight Eisenhower at Camp David in Thurmont, Md., on April 22, 1961 to discuss the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. CIA-backed Cuban emigre forces failed to overthrow the Cuban government, led by Fidel Castro. (Paul Vathis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Cold War heats up

    Kennedy meets with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the Vienna summit at the U.S. Embassy in Austria on June 3, 1961. The two leaders clashed sharply over the future status of the divided city of Berlin. (Ron Case / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Cuban Missile Crisis

    Kennedy addresses the nation on Oct. 24, 1962, about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The president announced that days earlier, the United States discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. In his speech, the president stated that the United States would regard an attack "...against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union." The crisis ebbed after Soviet leader Krushchev agreed to remove Soviet rockets from Cuba in return for the United States removing its missiles from Turkey. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Stops on the trail

    Kennedy chats with a group of miners during his travels on the 1960 campaign trail. (Hank Walker / Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Space mission

    Astronaut John Glenn, right, shows President Kennedy his "Friendship 7" space capsule at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in this Feb. 23, 1962 photo. In May of 1961, only four months after taking office, Kennedy addressed Congress, making space travel a goal of his administration. On July 16, 1969, the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon. (Cecil Stoughton / The White House via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Ich bin ein Berliner

    Thousands watch Kennedy give a speech on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin, Germany. Kennedy's support of a democratic West Germany was central in the Cold War, a conflict that defined the Kennedy administration. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Civil rights

    Kennedy speaks with civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on Aug. 1, 1963. In June of that year, Kennedy sent a bill to Congress that aimed to give all Americans the right to service in public facilities. This legislation would later become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law less than a year after Kennedy's death. (Three Lions via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Family vacation

    President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, with their children, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy, along with the family dogs, in Hyannis Port, Mass., Aug. 14, 1963. (Cecil Stoughton / The White House via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Three brothers

    President Kennedy and his brothers, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, left, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, center, outside the Oval Office, Aug. 28, 1963. (Cecil Stoughton / The White House via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Nuclear test ban

    Vice President Lyndon Johnson (far right) and a group of senators watch Kennedy as he signs the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty on Oct. 7, 1963. Kennedy joined leaders of the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom in signing the treaty to ban all above-ground testing of nuclear weapons. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Kidding around

    Kennedy works in the Oval Office while his son, 2-year-old John Jr., plays under his desk on Oct. 15, 1963. John Jr. was born less than three weeks after Kennedy won the election in November 1960. (Liaison Agency via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Shots fired in Dallas

    President Kennedy and his wife travel in the motorcade in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963. Moments later, Kennedy would be fatally shot in the head by a gunman. He was the fourth president to be assassinated. ((PRNewsFoto / Newseum) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A new president

    Just two hours after President Kennedy was shot, Jacqueline Kennedy stands by Vice President Johnson as he takes the oath of office from federal judge Sarah Hughes (left), on Air Force One. Johnson would aim to continue the programs of the Kennedy administration. He would also create the Warren Commission to investigate Kennedy's death. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Junior salute

    John F. Kennedy Jr., 3, salutes as the casket of his father is carried out from St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 25, 1963. (JFK Presidential Library) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Funeral procession

    Kennedy's funeral procession enters Arlington National Cemetery. When he took the oath of office, Kennedy was the youngest ever to be elected to the presidency. Less than three years later, he was the youngest president to die. (National Archives / Newsmakers via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Lasting tribute

    Bugler Army Sgt. Maj. Woodrow English plays taps during a burial ceremony for Sen. Ted Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery, Aug. 29, 2009. The final resting place of American heroes opened its gates to embrace one more, as Edward Kennedy was buried near his two slain brothers. Former President John F. Kennedy's gravesite, marked with the eternal flame, is at the lower right. (Richard A. Lipski / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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