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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: The Kennedy Family Background

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (often called Jack) was born and spent his early childhood in a modest, three-story, wooden frame house at 83 Beals Street in Brookline, Massachusetts. Joseph P. Kennedy had purchased the house in anticipation of his marriage to Rose Fitzgerald in 1914. The family moved to a larger home nearby in 1921 when John was four years old.

The house at 83 Beals Street was built in 1909. It stands in a middle-class area which was still under development when the Kennedys moved to Brookline. They chose the neighborhood for its spaciousness, good schools, and its proximity to the trolley lines to Boston. Joseph Kennedy did not own a car when the family first moved there, so he took the trolley to work in Boston.

Joseph Kennedy had already begun his illustrious career in business and finance by the time he married. The son of a prosperous family from East Boston, Kennedy had attended Harvard and graduated in 1912. He was first a bank examiner and active in real estate and at 25 he became president of the Columbia Trust Company. In 1917 he became assistant general manager of the Fore River Shipyards. It was there that he met Franklin D. Roosevelt, for whom he later served as Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Kennedy left the shipyard in 1919 to accept a position in the investment firm of Hayden, Stone, & Company, a job that launched Kennedy into the stock market. Within a decade he made his first million dollars through stocks, and he also invested in the fast-growing motion picture industry.

Though he was shrewd and successful in business, Joseph Kennedy found over time that the same men he did business with would not socialize with him because of his Irish Catholic heritage. That led him to make several decisions about how to protect his children from the same problem. For example, he sent his sons to a private school that was favored by well-to-do Brookline families, because he thought his boys would be more accepted as adults if they established friendships at an early age.

His wife was endowed with intelligence, poise, and a zest for living. Educated in the U.S. and in Europe, she also grew up in the world of Boston politics. Through her father, John F. Fitzgerald, twice mayor of Boston around the turn of the century and member of Congress, she had opportunities to meet leading men and women in all fields, and she developed a keen interest in current affairs. Soon after marriage she focused on motherhood, with the arrival of four children in five years. She believed that raising a family was a profession as important and certainly as demanding as any other.

Both parents possessed a keen awareness of their heritage and how far their families had come, and they tried to develop the same sensibility in their children. Mrs. Kennedy later commented, "I think naturally of my grandchildren, where they came from and how they happened to be where they are. They came—on the Kennedy­Fitzgerald side—from ancestors who were quite poor and disadvantaged through no fault of their own but who had the imagination, the resolve, the intelligence, and the energy to seek a newer, better world for themselves and their families."1 Pride in the family heritage was not the only trait the Kennedys tried to develop in their children. It was in Brookline that the Kennedys began developing a wide range of values in their children: an appreciation of the arts, a sense of history, personal discipline, a spirit of competition and fierce determination, the blessing of religious faith, the worthiness of public service, pride in their Irish heritage, a love of books and the value of good education, family loyalty, and physical prowess. Together Rose and Joseph decided what more they wanted for their children, and then set out to make these things possible.

Questions for Reading 1

1. What kind of advantages did Joseph and Rose Kennedy have which they hoped to pass on to their nine children?

2. How did Rose and Joseph Kennedy's heritage affect their lives? How did it affect the way they raised their children?

3. Review the list of values the Kennedys wanted to instill in their children. Which two or three of these values do you believe are most important for children to accept? Check with your classmates to see if they listed the same values as you did; if not, why do you think there are differences among class members?

1Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Times to Remember (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1974), 518.


Adapted and excerpted from the National Park Service's visitor's guide for John F. Kennedy National Historic Site and the transcript of oral interviews with Rose Kennedy, John F. Kennedy National Historic Site, 1969.

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