The Women's Vote

Mrs. Kennedy built her career on American curiosity about the Kennedy family, particularly their experiences as ambassadors to England prior to World War II. All the Kennedys, particularly Mrs. Kennedy, appeared glamorous and almost celebrity like as she met the Queen of England. This fascination provided a way for Mrs. Kennedy to gain women’s attention in the 1952 Senate campaign. Mrs. Kennedy’s role in politics, though, cannot be easily separated from her role as a mother. She believed that the way children were raised determined the adults they would grow to be, and as their mother, she had unique insight into her children’s character no one else could claim. A mother to nine children, she was able to speak to the challenges of being a mother, and offer unprecedented access to the candidate himself. “Who knows a man better,” she seemed to say, “than the woman who shaped his moral values and raised him?” What is most revealing about the appeal of Mrs. Kennedy as a mother and an individual at these events was that they were as much about Mrs. Kennedy as the candidate. A particularly telling moment came one afternoon when John F. Kennedy arrived at a tea – two hours late.

Mrs. Rose Kennedy with son, Joe Jr.,circa 1917
Mrs. Rose Kennedy with son, Joe Jr.,circa 1917. Photo courtesy of the NPS, John Fitzgerald Kennedy NHS.
He was wearing a hat, which was quite unusual behavior for him.  (His mother, however, was always imploring him to wear one as she was afraid he would catch cold.)  He turned to his mother and asked, “How do you like my hat?”  Without missing a beat, she turned to him and said, “I would have liked it much better two hours ago!”
Visitors looking at a photograph of Mrs. Rose Kennedy taken during a 1952 campaign tea.

This narrative perfectly expresses the attraction Mrs. Kennedy had for women. No matter that the candidate was two hours late – they were happy to sit and listen to her instead!

A ranger explains part of a site brochure.
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Photos on this page, unless historical images, by Joel Veak. All photos appear courtesy of NPS, John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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