John F. Kennedy (1917-63)

Figure 1.--Father and Sons - Joseph P. Kennedy holds sons Joseph Patrick Junior (left) and 2-year old future president John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The photograph ]was taken in 1919.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in Brookline, Mass., May 29, 1917, the great-grandson of Irish immigrants. He became one of the most charismatic leaders of the United States when he was elected president in 1961. He was, at the age of 43, the youngest man and the first Roman Catholic ever elected to the presidency. Rich, handsome, elegant, and articulate, he aroused great admiration at home and abroad. His assassination in Dallas, Texas in November 1963 provoked outrage and widespread mourning. His term of office as president was short but launched American on a path of securing basic civil rights for all its citizens and a technology race with the Russians to the moon which was an important element in forging America's technological dominance in the last quarter of the 20th Century.


President Kennedy came out of the union of two remarkable Catholic Irish American families. The Kennedys like most Irish Anericans came to America as a result of the potato famine. Both the Kenndys and Fitzgeralds found opportunity and success in America. President Kenndy'd grandfather Honey Fitz became mayor of Boston. Politics was a major family concern from Jac\k's earliest memories.

The Kennedys

Patrick Kennedy (b.1823 - d. November 22, 1858) came from County Wexford in Ireland during the famine, they were a family of potato farmers. Patrick met Mary Johanna (b.1821 - d. December 20, 1888) on the ship taking them to America from Ireland. Their children included: Mary Kennedy (1851-1926), Joanna Kennedy (1852-1926), John Kennedy (1854-1855 died as infant), Margaret Kennedy (1855-1929), and Patrick Joseph Kennedy (1858-1929). Patrick Jr. married Bridget Murphy, had four children and died peniless at the age of 35. Patrick Joseph II (PJ), the youngest of those four children helped his mother with the small "notions" store she managed with difficulty. PJ also took odd jobs around the waterfront (Boston) and, when he was strong enough, became a stevedore, then and not one of the toughest laborer's jobs available. Because of his family's impoverished state he never finished grade school. PJ had a head for business. He started with a neighborhood bar on scrimped savings, he soon expanded his small empire into partnerships with neighborhood saloons; went into the coal business, the wholesale liquor business and finally into banking. PJ married Mary Augusta Hickey (b.December 6, 1857 - d. May 20, 1923) and had four children: children: Joseph Patrick Kennedy (1888-1969), Francis Benedict Kennedy (1891-1892), Mary Loretta Kennedy (b. Aug 6, 1892 - d. Nov 18, 1972), Margaret Louise Kennedy (b. Oct 22, 1898 d.Nov 14, 1974). Mary Hickey was the daughter of a "substantial" family, and become a political force in Boston's East End. By the time Joseph P. Kennedy (JFK's father) was born, PJ was a success. Unlike Honey Fitz (of the Fitzgeralds) PJ preferred to work behind the scenes to running for office, which, however, he had also done successfully, and his awesome power and control over his part of the city of Boston was concentrated in the "Board of Strategy", the group which selected candidates for political office.

The Fitzgeralds

Thomas Fitzgerald married Rosanna Cox. They had John Francis Fitzgerald (Honey Fitz) (b. 2/11/1863 - d. 10/1950)., he married Mary Josephine Hannon (b. 1866 - d. 1964). Honey Fitz was the third oldest of 8 boys. After his father died he raised his five younger brother, he grew up to become mayor of Boston. John and Josephine had six children. They were: Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennedy (Mrs. Joseph P., Sr.) (born 7/22/1890; died 1/1995) Agnes Fitzgerald Gargan (Mrs. Joseph F. Gargan). Agnes was born in 1892 and died in 1936. She and Joe Gargan had three children: Joseph, Jr. (Ted Kennedy's buddy), Mary Jo, and Ann. Eunice Fitzgerald (1900-23). Died of tuberculosis. Thomas Acton Fitzgerald (no dates available) John Francis Fitzgerald (no dates available). Frederick Fitzgerald (no dates available but he died a drunk at age 31). "Honey Fitz' father, Thomas had come to Boston from County Wexford in Ireland, during the potato famine of 1840, one of a group of penniless desperate men and women, for whom survival in the new land meant poverty, tenements and endless hours of backbreaking labour. Rose Mary Murray had also made that journey from Ireland and married Thomas in Boston, where they met. But both died in their 30s, leaving behind nine children and little money. Honey Fitz, third in line, had to leave Harvard Medical School, where he had been accepted after promising years at Boston Latin School, in order to help care for his brothers and sisters left behind. He and the family survived and soon entered ward politics, one of the few professions left open to the Irish in a city dominated by the "Boston Brahmins". By 1895 he had run successfully for Congress, serving three terms, and by 1906 he had been elected Mayor of Boston, a tenure which preserved his fame. His political bailiwick was the North End the place where young Jack Kennedy was to start his rise to the White house, and, an insufferable extrovert, he had attended every wedding, wake and holy communion, singing his famous "campaign" ditty "Sweet Adeline", often standing on a table.

Grandfather Fitzgerald was a mayor of Boston and a congressman and then my Grandfather Kennedy was a political leader of East Boston, although they didn't get along well. They lived and operated at the same time. My grandfather Kennedy operated at a tavern in East Boston, but he was terribly staigh-laced and he sometimes disapproved of my grandfather Fitzgerald.
[- Robert F. Kennedy]

Old Orchard Beach, Maine, was the summer retreat for both the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, along with most of Boston's Irish politcians. Rost first met Joe there.

At a time when the "Help Wanted" ads still specified "No Irish Need apply", Honey Fitz continued to dominate Irish Politics, etertaining in grand style the likes of Sir Thomas Lipton,the tea magnate and Admiral Togo of Japan. It was at this time that Joe and Rose began to 'go steady'--although they did not tell their parents.


Few presidents have been fortunate to have such strong willed and determined parents or to come from such a colorful political family. Jack and his older brother were old enough to know their grandparents and to be regailed with their political stories.


Jack's father, Joseph P. Kennedy was the son of a saloon keeper. He graduated from Harvard and at age 25 became the youngest bank president in the United States. He was a combative businessman and highly skilled investor. He made a fortune and got out of the stock market before the crash. He supported Franklin Roosevelt's candicacy, but never got the appointment in the adnministration he expected. The President did appoint him to head the Securities and Exchange Commission and he help craft needed legislation to restore public confidence in the stock market. He was appointed Ambassador to Great Britain in the critical years leading up to World War II. His efforts, however, to keep the United States from aiding Britain and out of the War destroyed the political anbitiond he held.


Rose had a traditional Catholic girlhood, but bloosemed into a strong-willed thoughtful young woman. She wanted to attend a liberal university, but the Catholic hierarchy objected and for political reasons her father insisted she attend a strict French convent. As a dutiful daughter she complied with her father's wishes. Rose, because of her mother's reluctance to leave the hearth, became her father's official companion, hostess, and assistant on his travels, whether political or in aid of Boston's Chamber of Commerse, which included trips to Hamburg, and the newly built Panama Canal to guage the effects of these ports on the well-being of "A Bigger, Better, Busier Boston". In 1908 they set out on a trip that wasto take them to Ireland, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany and Holland. Joe's courtship of Rose finally led to their mairrage in October 1914. Their mairrage was opposed by Rose's father, who had arranged trips to Palm Beach, Florida and even Europe and Central America to try to break up the romance. But Rose was determined. Honey Fitz eventually had to consent, but never regretted it.

During that last year a Dorchester High and the following year..joe and I managed to see each other rather often. Less often than we would have liked, but more often than my father was aware of, and enough in any case to reaffirm in our hearts how deeply we cared for eachother....I suppose no father really thinks that any man is good enough for his daughter. But my father was a hopeless case...believing that I could take my pick of any beau...he didn't want me..pledging my heart prematurely to any young man, however attractive and brilliant he might be.
[- Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy ]
We went steady for 7 years before we were married...but I was never seriously interested in anyone else.
[- Joseph P. Kennedy]

Joe Kennedy in 1914 married Rose Fitzgerald, the daughter of John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, a colorful Boston politician.

Figure 2.--Joseph Patrick (left) and brother John Fitzgerald were fiercely loyal and fiercely competitive brothers. They sometimes even brawled as boys. Joe was a natural athlete and had many talents, but was also a bit more serious. Young Jack Kennedy was a sickly child but fun loving and well liked. Despite his illnesses, Jack liked to compete in sports, the competitive spirit largely encouraged by his father.

Rose incouraged her children to read. She bought the boys' biographies of great men. When Jack was sick he read many biographies.


Joe and Rose Kennedy founded raised a remarkable family in which the young W UP>. It was a large, action filled family. There were nine children. The two oldest were Joe and Jack. Joe by all accounts used Jack as if not a punching bag, a good deal of older brother sparring. There is a good chance that if he had survived World War II that he would have been the Kennedy who became president. In addition to Jack, younger brothers Robert and Teddy would go on to have renarkable political careers. This did not happen by accident, it relates to the family atmosphere created by their parents. There were also a substanial number of grandchildren some of whom also entered public life.


Jack was a descendant of Irish Catholics who had immigrated to America in the 19th century. Jack was born into a political family.

Boyhood Clothing


Jack attended Choate, an exclusive prep school in Connecticut. He was a member of the Muckers, a group that delighted in practical jokes and bucking the school's traditions. Their antics nearly got Jack expelled. Surprisingly voted "Most Likely to Succeed." As a final joke on the school, Jack had rigged the election. Jack briefly attended Princeton University, and then entered Harvard University in 1936. At Harvard he wrote an honors thesis on British foreign policies in the 1930s; it was published in 1940, the year he graduated, under the title Why England Slept. Jack graduated from Harvard in 1940.

World War II

President Roosevelt appointed Jack's father Ambassador to Great Britain in 1938??. It was the most prestigious post in American diplomacy. Kennedy's appointment was a controversial appointment given Kennedy's Irish background. (Irish-Americans because of English policies in Ireland were ravidly anti-English.) Ambassador Kennedy proceed to oppose Ameruican support for Britain after the NAZI's launched World War II at the same time President Roosevelt was attempting to marshall support for Britain. Jack and his brother disagreed with their father. While Ambassador, Kennedy and his children traved to Rome or an audience with the Pope. Jack had toured Germany while his father was in London and got a little personal taste of what the NAZIs were like. He went on to enter the Navy after Pearl Harbor and distinguish himself when his PT boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy, despite grave injuries, led the survivors through perilous waters to safety. His brother Patrick was tragically killed in a bomber mission over the English Channel.

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier (1929-94)

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born in 1929 and grew up in affluent family circumstances. . Her father was John Vernon Bouvier III. Her mother was Janet Lee. The family lived in New York City and East Hampton, Long Island. She learned to ride at an earky age and had a passion for horses as a girl. Jackie was sent to exclusive private schools. In addition to her horses she akso studied balet. At school she liked to write poems and stories as well as draw illustrations for them. Her mother divorced her father and married Hugh D. Auchincloss (1942). Their mother brought Jackie and her sister to "Merrywood," his rural home near Washington, D.C. They spent summers at Auchincloss' Newport, Rhode Island estate for the summer social season. It was there that she received "the Debutante of the Year" accoldae during the 1947-1948 season. She went to Vassar. She spent her junior year in France pefecting her French and learning a great deal about French culture. She graduatied from George Washington University. As a result, Mrs. Kenndy entered the White House as one of the most urbanne cultured women in history. After receiving her degree she got a job as the "inquiring photographer" for the Washington Stara local newspaper. It was at this time that she meant then Senator Kennedy, one of Washington's most elugible bachelors.


Senator Kennedy and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier were married at Newport (1953). A good deal has been written about the Sentor's daliances. And there were ptoblem in the marriage by the time the Kennedys moved into the White House. These problems were on his mind as he wresteled with the Bay of Pigs, Cubam Missle Criis, Test Ban, détente, Civil Rights, and Viet Nam. [Clarke]

Figure 4.--There are a small number of photographic images that have defined our times this is one of them, the young John Kennedy saluting his father's casket in 1963. This image is indelibly seared upon the national consciousness.


The Kennedy's had four children. Only two survived birth, Caroline and John Jr. Senator Kennedy's election in 1960 meant that that the first young children of a president would be at the White House for the first time since Theodore Rossevelt's children at the beginning of the 20th century. Both were born before the family moved into the White House, but were very young as presidential children. They soon became the center of intense press coverage which Mrs. Kennedy did her best to limit. The Kennedy children delighted the nation as they covorted around the White House during the 3 years of the Kennedy administration. The children were always impeccibly dressed and usually beautifully behaved. The President and First Lady were both wonderful parents. And with all the press people and White House photographers around there is a wonderful record of their time in the White House. The country was horrified when the President was shot and were left with the haunting image of a young widow and her two adorable children who were too young to comprehend what had occurred to their fther who both adored.

Political Career

Jack after the War decided to run for political office after the War. In 1946, he was elected to the U.S. Congress; serving 6 years in the House of Representatives and 8 years as a Senator.

1956 Presidential Election

Sentator John F. Kennedy helped build his national reputation with a book--Profiles in Courage. Actually it was his second book. The first was Wild England Slept which repudiated the isolationist views of his father, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy. Kennedy was more of an editor of , but it won him a Pulitzer prise and helped burish his reputation, almost winning him the Democratic vice-presidential nomination in 1956.

1960 Presidential Election

Senator Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage and his good looks and carisma helped make him a star in the Democratic Party. He was a much sought after speaker in Democratic events, helping to build contats throughout the country. This made him an early front-runner when he announced his candidacy. It was to have a major impact on American politics. One major inniovation was Kennedy's skillful use of television. And he helped break the religious issue wide open. He was the first successful Catholic candidate for the presidency. He also revolutionized how presidential candidates run their campaigns. Candidates before the 1960 election financed their efforts to obtain the nomimation. Than the campaign was largely financed by their party. Kennedy changed this. The failure of the Democratic Party to match the fund raiding prowss of the pro-business Republicans was a factor in several Demnocratic losses. Senator Kennedy was blessed with a wealthy father whose financial support had been a major factor in his Congressional and Sebatorial campaigns and in winning the Democrativ nomination--especially the primary victories over rival Senator Hubert Humprey. Ambassador Kennedy had reportedly spent over $1 million even befor the 1960 primary season. Kennedy's innovation was a highly organized campaign staff. Knnedy set up a 9-room headquarters near Capitol Hill. From here staffers made contact with Party leaders all over the country, especially Party bosses and potential convention delegates. Large wall maps plotted the successes. The headquarters was essentially a corportae effot including not just political experts, but accountants, lawyers, and communicatiins specialists. A byword for successful campaign staffs became a rapid resppnse to events and moves by the opposing camp.


President Kennedy spent only 1,000 days in offices. He did not have the opportunity to persue many of the ininiatives he began. The Presidents detractors chrge that he was all fluff and image and that he was neithr a substantial figure nor did he have any important achievements. The vehemence of these asertions is string evidence that he did achieve something and that it is these achievements that critics dislike. The most important are thise in Civil Rights. He set in motion the Civil Rights legislation that President Johnson would finally push through Congress, But even without these laws, President Kennedy put the full force of the presidency behind the civil rights movement. Some argue that he was forced to do this. It is probably true that his focus was on the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union, but he also came to see the moral issues involved with Civil Rights. This chabged the dymamic of the Civil Rights movement and the ability of white racists to use terror to prevent change. In doing so, he began a major shift in American politics. Blacks turned to the Democratic Party and conservative southerbners to the Republican Party. The President's economic policies also put the country on course for a period of sustained prosperity during the 1960s. There were other important initiatives in domestic affairs, especially food stamps. The President's masterful handling of the Cuban Missle Crisis overted what could have easily turned into a nuclear exchange. It also demonstrated American resolve to the Soviet leadership. President Kennedy continued the American policy of resisting Soviet expansion in Europe, speaking to the Berlin people before the Berlin Wall, but began the movement toward disarmament with an initiative on nuclear testing. Other important orogramd were the Peace Corps and Space program. While today somewhat forgotten, the American success in the race to the moon would change attitudes around the world about Soviet science and progress, It also laid the foundaion for the modern Amerucan leadership in electronics and computers.


The American military mission to Vietnam had risen to 16,000 men during the Kennedy Presidency. And the decesion to remove (but not kill) President Diem further deepended the United States commitment. One of the unknowns of American history is how President Kennedy who almost certainly would hve been rrelected would have managed the growing crisis. One historian believes he would have pulled the military mission out. [Clarke]


Clarke, Thurston. JFK's Last Hundred Days: The Transformtion of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President (20913), 448p.

Wead, Doug. All the President's Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families (Atria: New York, 2003), 456p.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main President's page]
[18th Century] [19th Century] [20th Century] [21st Century]

Created: June 25, 1999
Last changed: 4:07 AM 2/25/2014