By Hannah Shaffer
In June 1995 President Bill Clinton began a relationship with 22-year-old White House Intern Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky was not the first intern to be charmed by a powerful man in charge. The same month 33 years earlier in 1962, another intern was dazzled by the man she considered “the most powerful man in the world.” The couple maintained a 17-month relationship that remained hidden for 41 years.
It was in the fall out of the Monica Lewinsky scandal that the other intern in the White House, who had gone unnamed for many years, was revealed to be then-19-year-old Mimi Beardsley. Mimi had been an intern in the press office during the summers of 1962 and 1963.
Without the press, Mimi may never have entered into a relationship with President John F. Kennedy. Without the press, Mimi may have never been exposed as Kennedy’s mistress. Without the press, Mimi may never have met the great love of her life.
Marion (Mimi) Beardsley was born on May 7, 1943 in Texarcana, Arkansas, but she grew up in Eastern New Jersey. The third of five children, Mimi attended Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut from when she was 15 years old until her graduation.
Miss Porter’s School was also where Jackie Kennedy graduated from in 1947. It was this connection, along with other White House workers at the time who had graduated from Miss Porter’s School, that gave Mimi the opportunity to visit the White House and to eventually be offered an internship. A month after President Kennedy’s inauguration, during Mimi’s senior year at Miss Porter’s, Mimi and the headmistress of the school drafted a letter to Jackie Kennedy requesting an interview. Because she would soon be a graduate – or “ancient,” as the school calls it – of Miss Porter’s, Mimi thought there would be no question about getting an interview.
It was Mrs. Kennedy’s social secretary Letitia Baldrige who responded to Alford’s letter. Also a Miss Porter’s alumna, Baldrige said Mrs. Kennedy was far too busy to have an interview, but she would be willing to have Alford come to the White House and be interviewed about the first lady. Alford agreed to speak to Baldrige and was soon on a trip to the White House to meet with her.
While at the White House, Alford got a tour from Priscilla Wear, commonly known as “Fiddle” because of a childhood nickname, who was also a Miss Porter’s alumna. Wear and Baldrige arranged for Alford to meet President John F. Kennedy while she was at the White House. In her memoir, Alford recalled the president asking her where she went to school and smiling “in recognition” at her response. He asked her where she was planning to go to college. She replied that she was looking at Wheaton and Hollins. He told her, “Well, it was nice to see you. Good luck.” And she thanked him. Then he was gone.
When she returned to school, Alford wrote up her article for her school’s paper, where she was the editor. Her story “Ancients in the White House” filled almost the entire issue of the Salmagundy. About a year after she visited the White House for the first time, Alford was offered a summer internship in the press office. Four days into her internship, her relationship with President Kennedy began. It was a relationship she kept secret for 41 years. In May of 2003, five year after Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky came to light, historian Robert Dallek published a book about Kennedy’s time in the White House. It was noted in the book that Kennedy had an affair with a 19-year-old intern but did not specify her name. Soon after, a reporter from the Daily News found Alford at work and asked to confirm her identity. She did, and issued a brief public statement about the affair:
“From June 1962 to November 1963 I was involved in a sexual relationship with President Kennedy. For the last 41 years, it is a subject I have not discussed. In view of the recent media coverage, I have now discussed the relationship with my children and my family, and they are completely supportive.”
In a 2012 interview with NBC News’ Meredith Vieira, Alford answered why she had kept this relationship a secret for so long. “When you keep a secret,” she said, “and when you keep silent about something, you do it because you think it’s keeping you safe; when, in fact, it’s deadly.”
According to Mimi’s memoir about her time with John F. Kennedy, “Once Upon a Secret: My Affair With John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath,” Mimi has had three surnames throughout her life. The first, Beardsley, was Alford’s given name at birth and she sported the name for 20 years. The second, Fahnestock, came from Alford’s first marriage, which lasted 40 years. Alford married Tony Fahnestock two months after Kennedy was assassinated.
According to an article in the Post-Standard, Mimi told Fahnestock about the affair on the day of Kennedy’s assassination. He told her to “never tell anyone else.” Mimi kept the secret from her parents and siblings, afraid that she would be found out. She continued to keep the secret after her divorce from Fahnestock in 1991 and his death in 1993.
Her third name, Alford, comes from her second marriage. Alford said in her memoir that without being outed as the intern Kennedy had an affair with during his presidency, she never would have met Dick Alford who she considers the great love of her life.
After being exposed as President Kennedy’s Mistress in 2003, Mimi refused to be interviewed. She released a public statement about the affair but would not answer questions. Mimi was living in Manhattan at the time, as was her future husband, Dick Alford. After she had been identified, Dick thought he had recognized Mimi running in his neighborhood and decided to write her a letter. Dick told John Mariani of the Post-Standard that he told Mimi to “hold by [her] guns and know what [she’s] doing” and invited her to coffee. He acknowledged she would probably receive countless offers but after four to six months, she responded and they had dinner. The couple was married October 2, 2005.
Dick Alford encouraged Mimi to write a book about her experience as an intern who had an affair with a president.
Mimi now goes solely by Mimi Alford. She wrote in her book:
“I am no longer the sheltered nineteen-year-old Mimi Beardsley, who entered a relationship with the most powerful man in the world. Nor am I the scared, emotionally crippled Mimi Fahnestick who spent a lifetime living with, and struggling to overcome, the consequences of that relationship. I am Mimi Alford, and I do not regret what I did. I was young and swept away, and I cannot change that fact.”