Inside The Tragic Death Of Arabella Kennedy, John And Jackie Kennedy’s Firstborn Daughter

Published May 25, 2024

On August 23, 1956, Jackie Kennedy gave birth to her first child with John F. Kennedy, a stillborn daughter she would later call Arabella.

Arabella Kennedy

Wikimedia CommonsJackie Kennedy in 1957, a year after giving birth to her first daughter, Arabella.

It is no secret that the Kennedy family has seen more than its fair share of heartache — so much so that many have speculated about a “Kennedy Curse.”

This curse supposedly extended to the children of John F. Kennedy. His wife Jackie became pregnant five times during the couple’s marriage. Sadly, only two of these pregnancies resulted in living children.

This is the story of Arabella Kennedy, the stillborn daughter of the Kennedy family, and the unfortunate happenings of the Kennedy clan.

The Birth Of Arabella Kennedy

John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline (Jackie) Bouvier married on Sept. 12, 1953, in New Port, Rhode Island. Both born to upper-class families, JFK and Jackie’s marriage was politically advantageous for the couple. John F. Kennedy, a World War II veteran and politician, had his sights set on the presidency. Jackie, a socialite and patron of the arts, longed to use her influence for good.

Jackie first became pregnant in 1955 but later suffered a miscarriage after the first trimester. A year later, she was pregnant again.

John And Jackie

Alpha Historica / Alamy Stock PhotoJackie and John F. Kennedy’s marriage was fraught with tragedy and scandal.

This time, her pregnancy advanced past the first and second trimesters without issue. It seemed as though Jackie would be able to carry the baby to term. Tragically, this was not the case.

On Aug. 23, 1956, Jackie awoke to find herself covered in blood. She rushed to the hospital, where she delivered a daughter by cesarean section. The child, whom Jackie would later affectionately call Arabella, was stillborn.

Meanwhile, John F. Kennedy was cruising with friends on a yacht in the Mediterranean. When he received the heartbreaking news that his child had died, he was reportedly reluctant to return home to comfort his wife.

According to the Huffington Post, JFK refused to end his vacation until his friend George Smathers told him bluntly: “You better haul your ass back to your wife if you ever want to run for president.”

The couple buried their daughter at a Catholic cemetery in Rhode Island. Years later, Jackie had the baby’s remains transferred to Arlington National Cemetery to be buried beside her father in a grave simply marked “Daughter,” as the Kennedys never formally named their stillborn child.

The Kennedy Children

Jackie And John With Caroline

Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock PhotoJohn F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy with daughter Caroline in 1960.

Despite losing two children, Jackie Kennedy and JFK continued to try building a family of their own. Only a year after losing Arabella Kennedy, Jackie gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Caroline.

The next of the Kennedy clan came after John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960. Just two weeks after the election, Jackie Kennedy gave birth to John F. Kennedy Jr. However, this birth was not without complications.

The baby had been born about three weeks early and experienced respiratory problems. The situation called for a resident doctor to perform a tracheostomy on the infant and blow air into his lungs. He survived, but would later tragically die in a plane crash at only 38 years old.

John F Kennedy Jr

PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock PhotoJohn F. Kennedy Jr. in 1967.

In 1963, Jackie Kennedy was pregnant once again, and this time went into labor five and a half weeks early. She gave birth via emergency cesarean section, the same way she birthed Arabella Kennedy, to a four-pound, 10½-ounce son at Otis Air Force Base. The infant, named Patrick, struggled to breathe, and doctors diagnosed him with Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS). He died just 39 hours after birth.

Patrick Bouvier Kennedy

Public DomainPatrick Bouvier Kennedy being transported to Boston Children’s Hospital in 1963.

The couple never went on to have more children, as John F. Kennedy was assassinated only months after his infant son’s death.

The Curse Of The Kennedy Family

The misfortune experienced by the Kennedy family is something of a legend in American culture. Rumors of a “Kennedy Curse” have taunted the family for decades, and they are not altogether unfounded.

First, the Kennedy family has a long history of plane crashes, with four Kennedy family members — John F. Kennedy Jr., Ted Kennedy, Joe Kennedy Jr., and Kathleen Kennedy — dying or being seriously injured in plane crashes.

Several other tragedies have befallen the family since 1944, including: two assassinations, a deadly car accident, multiple fatal drug overdoses, a disastrous lobotomy, one fatal skiing accident, one conviction on murder charges, one rape accusation, a suicide, a fatal canoeing accident, and several cancer diagnoses.

The tragic stillbirth of Arabella Kennedy is often included on the list of Kennedy family tragedies. And although Jackie Kennedy only birthed two children who made it to adulthood, she still proudly stated that she was the mother of five children.

Arabella Kennedy Grave

Find A GraveThe grave of Arabella Kennedy in Arlington, Virginia.

When editing A Thousand Days, written by her friend, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jackie reportedly confirmed that she and JFK had “five children in ten years.”

As for Arabella Kennedy, it is unclear whether John F. Kennedy was aware of her name. According to the First Ladies Archive, Jackie Kennedy never left a written record of the name and refused to use it on her tombstone; she reportedly didn’t find it appropriate to put a name in the family burial plot that her husband may not have even recognized.

Today, the remains of John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, and their two infant children are buried together at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia — a visual reminder of tragic loss.

After reading the heartbreaking story of Arabella Kennedy, dive into the story of Rosemary Kennedy, JFK’s sister who received a lobotomy against her will. Then, peruse these vintage photos of the Kennedy family.

Amber Morgan
Amber Morgan is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Morgan, Amber. "Inside The Tragic Death Of Arabella Kennedy, John And Jackie Kennedy’s Firstborn Daughter.", May 25, 2024, Accessed June 21, 2024.