Located on Boston Harbor, the Kennedy Library serves as a testament to President John F. Kennedy, the youngest person to be elected to the office of President at age 43. He has been the only President who was Catholic and the fourth president to be assassinated while in office.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Jack) was born May 20, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts. From his early years, Jack was not very healthy. In 1920, he had scarlet fever and was not expected to live. Kennedy understood that his large Irish Catholic family wanted him to succeed. He also knew that both his grandfathers had been Boston politicians; the role of a politician was a road he was destined to follow.
Jack was never a great student, but after his trip to Europe during the time father served as the Ambassador to England, he was much more motivated about his studies. Sports were always important to the Kennedy clan, and Jack’s older brother, Joe, was the better athlete. Jack ruptured a disc in his back, an injury from which he would never fully recover.
Both Joe and Jack joined the Navy after graduating from Harvard. Jack was appointed a Lieutenant (J.G) and assigned the command a patrol boat in the South Pacific, PT-109. While on patrol one night, PT-109 was struck and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Injured in the incident, Kennedy did save most of his crew. For his heroism, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his courage in combat.
It was his father that convinced Jack to run for Congress from the State of Massachusetts. He won his first seat in 1946. He served three terms in Congress and was then elected to the Senate in 1952. Although he was a popular Democratic politician in the 1950s Washington, Kennedy was not chosen to run on the presidential ticket in 1956.
Profiles in Courage
In 1955, while recovering from back surgery, Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957. The book told the stories of U.S. Senators who risked their careers to fight for the causes in which they believed.
The Kennedy family created the Profiles in Courage Award in 1989 to recognize and celebrate the quality of political courage that he admired most. There have been fifty-two awards presented to date.
Jack married Jacqueline (Bouvier) Kennedy in 1953. The couple had three children, Caroline, Patrick, who died soon after birth, and John Jr., who was born before the inauguration in 1960. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis died on May 19, 1994.
Kennedy set the bar high during his inaugural speech. American citizens needed to play an active role in their country and posed a simple challenge, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
In 1960, the young Kennedy family was a breath of fresh air for the country. They believed the White House should celebrate America, its history, culture, and achievement. They invited individuals from the arts, the world of science, and athletics to visit them. Mrs. Kennedy also restored all the rooms in the White House to reflect America’s history.
The world was captivated by the young President and First Lady. During a three day State visit to France in 1961, the Kennedys dazzled the French. The President was delighted in Jacqueline’s success. “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it.”
Although Kennedy was not the first to have a recording system in the Oval Office, it was Roosevelt who had the original installed. He used the recording system to keep accurate records of meetings.
President Kennedy created the Peace Corps, led the United States in exploring space, proposed a Civil Rights bill to the Congress, stared down a Soviet threat in the Cuban Missile Crisis, signed legislation to combat mental illness, and started the U.S. on its race to the moon.
Kennedy knew the importance of beating the Soviets and in 1961 challenged the space program and the county by proclaiming that “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” This singular mission gave the country focus and a rallying point.
November 22, 1963, is a day that will live in the Nation’s memory forever. A lone gunman assassinated the President as he rode in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas. Much has been written about that awful day. Suffice to say, the country was in shock at the loss of its leader, and the world lost a leader. Please be sure to read my post on the Sixth Street Museum about the events in Dallas that day.
Kennedy himself had chosen Harvard University for the site of his Presidential Library, but those plans were abandoned in 1975. The present site at Columbia Point overlooking Boston was selected instead. Designed by architect I.M. Pei, the Library was dedicated in October 1979 as a lasting memory of the mesmerizing young President. Presidential Libraries are all privately funded, and over a million people donated to the building fund to honor President Kennedy.
Visitors begin the self-guided tour with an in-depth look at the election of 1960. Kennedy and Nixon were in a close fight for the country’s highest elected office. Kennedy would beat Nixon in one of the closest presidential races to date. You move through Kennedy’s inauguration and on through his creation of the Peace Corps.
Only partially recreated is Kennedy’s Oval Office. Next to the Oval Office is a recreation of Robert Kennedy’s office. Jack’s brother, one of his closest advisors as well as the United States Attorney General. Kennedy’s interest in the Space Race is evident here, and you can see a small piece of moon rock.
There are artifacts on display throughout the Library from Jackie’s special Emmy for the televised White House tour to Jack’s multiple neckties.
The Library Pavilion with its massive American flag overlooks the water of Dorchester Bay and Kennedy’s personal sailboat, Victura.
John Kennedy only served a brief time in office, 1,036 days, but he will be remembered because of the magnitude of the decisions made and the coolness he maintained when faced with those difficult decisions. President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy are both interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC, along with their son, Patrick, who died shortly after his birth.
The Library stands as an ongoing tribute to the slain President and continues the philanthropic activities of the Kennedy family.