Jackie Kennedy was pregnant during her husband’s 1960 presidential campaign. She had difficult pregnancies in the past and could not handle the rigors of the campaign trail.
In 1960, the presidential debates were televised for the first time. Television was a new medium, and the debates ushered in a new era in which television dominated electoral politics.
Though she was precariously pregnant, Jackie Kennedy still found ways to be useful. To mark the debates, she hosted a series of television “listening parties” at her home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. She also invited Americans to ask friends into their own living rooms, imploring them to “Join in the Great Debate.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates recently announced the dates for the 2016 presidential debates:
September 26, 2016: First presidential debate
October 4, 2016: Vice presidential debate
October 9, 2016: Second presidential debate
October 19, 2016: Third presidential debate
Why not plan to gather your family together with friends to watch the presidential debates? You can learn about issues, share reactions, and have fun all at the same time! Need some help in putting together a presidential debate party? Here are three tips from Jackie Kennedy.
(Plus, keep reading for a fun and educational document from the JFK Library archives, including related questions to help your student dig into history).
1. Open Your Home
Jackie Kennedy provided a warm and personal setting for her debate party: her own home. She could have rented out a nearby reception hall or just had a Democratic committeewoman host it instead. But she didn’t. She felt it was important for her guests to watch the debate in her own living room.
Oftentimes, it is easier for us not to open up our homes. Our homes are never in tip-top shape (at least mine isn’t), plus there’s all the cooking and cleaning. Remember that Jackie Kennedy was pregnant. And she was nervous. Much was at stake for her family. In the days leading up to the debate, she said that she “lived in suspense waiting for the great moment and hoping Jack would do well.”
To help welcome others into your home, it's always a good idea to serve food. If you’re looking for some fun ideas for presidential debate fare, follow our Patriotic Food and Presidential Food boards on Pinterest.
2. Invite Friends
In her “Campaign Wife” newspaper column, Jackie Kennedy said, “I prepared for the first of the great debates…by inviting friends to watch it with me.” Her invite list was Democrats only. But she wrote, “I wanted to hold the first listening party to encourage people around the country to do the same, whether for Kennedy or Nixon.”
Take a cue from Jackie Kennedy and be sure to include likeminded people on your own debate party invite list.
3. Make Handouts
At Jackie Kennedy’s debate parties, she distributed fact sheets about the four major issues in 1960: peace, education, cost of living, and medical costs for senior citizens. This helped to educate the guests, while nudging them turn out for the party ticket.
You too can make fact sheets on important issues of the day: the economy, terrorism, jobs, and others. Check out your candidates’ official websites for their issue positions.
Now for the historical document from the Kennedy archives. I dug up this document at the Kennedy Library when I was doing research for my book on first ladies. It is the press release announcing Jackie Kennedy’s first TV-listening party.
Have your student read the document and answer these questions:
You can learn more about the presidential debates, including the historic Nixon-Kennedy debate, in our Presidential Elections unit study.
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