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Reading 2: Daily Life at 83 Beals Street
The Daily Life excerpts are from a transcript of a house tour with Rose Kennedy, John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site, 1969.
When the children were ready for bed and had said their prayers they would come to the living room and play for a little while before we put them to bed....I spent a good deal of time reading to the children...I would make no engagements outside in the evening so that I could be with the children to help them with their school work, to doctor their colds, or to find out what activities they had been interested in during the day.
The piano was a wedding gift and at Christmas, with the tree over there by the south window, I would play and we would all sing Christmas carols. The children did not do too well with their piano lessons. Radio was a new thing then and they said that people wouldn't want to listen to them play when they could hear the same songs on the radio.
The pictures are copies of famous paintings I had studied in the European galleries. It gave me great pleasure to have these copies in my home and I thought it an inspiration for the children to grow up with them.
The pictures over the beds are copies of Italian paintings of the Madonna and Child I had seen and liked. My mother and father gave us Irish linen bedspreads, which were hand-embroidered with shamrocks, thistles and other Irish symbols and were great treasures. The photograph on Mr. Kennedy's dresser is of his mother and father. On the far wall are the traditional six month pictures of Joe Jr., Jack, Rosemary and Kathleen. Some people say that all babies look alike but I can tell the difference even at that age.
The christening dress in the corner was given to me by my mother-in-law, who had it made by the Franciscan nuns in East Boston where the family lived. All the children and John Jr., the presidentís son, have worn this dress. The little Irish bonnet, a gift, is profusely covered with shamrocks. The president was baptized at Saint Aidanís, the neighborhood church. Mothers were confined for three weeks then, and so the celebration was always a small, informal family gathering. I wanted the children christened as soon as possible so I was never present at the ceremony.
There were more toys in here then of course. The president liked steam engines, teddy bears and the usual boys' toys, but especially books of adventure. You couldn't give a sick child a radio or a television set then, to keep him occupied, because there were none in 1917. We spent a lot of time reading and entertaining the children here in this room, particularly when Jack had scarlet fever in 1920.
Guest Room and Boudoir
I used this smaller room as a study. On the desk is one of my wedding invitations and some early photographs of my family. Here I did my correspondence and kept a card file on the children's health. That was a most helpful system. I purchased a card file from the stationers near here and recorded all the important information about each of the children. It helped so much to be able to check back on symptoms of illness, weight, diet and all the important information, such as vaccinations, schick tests, confirmation dates, et cetera. I would recommend this idea to any mother.
We didn't do much formal entertaining here. We preferred to have informal dinners with a few friends. Cocktail parties were not customary in those days. A little wine or champagne was served at weddings and christenings.
We were very happy here and although we did not know about the days ahead, we were enthusiastic and optimistic about the future.
Questions for Reading 2
1. What impressions did you form about what life was like for the Kennedys between 1917 and 1921?
2. What kind of atmosphere or family environment did the Kennedys provide for their children?
3. What items displayed in the house reflected the Kennedy's values and beliefs?
4. What kinds of information did Rose Kennedy record in her card file? Why would keeping a file on each child have been important?