Rose Kennedy and her children, circa 1922. L-R: Rose Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy, Kathleen Kennedy, Rosemary Kennedy (seated in foreground), John F. Kennedy, and Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Bachrach Studios photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
When John F. Kennedy was born, his family was not yet wealthy and glamorous, and it hadn’t yet been plagued by tragedy.
His mother was the daughter of a former Boston mayor and future congressman.
And his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, worked for Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose wife’s uncle Teddy Roosevelt had been president of the United States eight years earlier.
When Fortune magazine in 1957 published its first list of the richest people in the United States, Joseph P. Kennedy was in the top 20. He had held high government posts by then, and John F. Kennedy would be well on his way to becoming the 35th president of the United States.
John F. Kennedy
His mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, said the bed was next to the window so the doctor could have good light.
His father bought the house in 1914 before he married Rose. He was an up-and-coming businessman who chose the house because it had plenty of space for kids to play in, and it was close to good schools, shops at Coolidge Corner and a trolley. Joe Kennedy didn’t own a car when he bought the house.
By the time Jack was born, his 28-year-old father owned a Model T and drove it to his job as assistant general manager of the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Mass. It was at the shipyard that he met Franklin D. Roosevelt, assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy. Roosevelt later appointed Joe Kennedy as chair of the SEC and as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Rose Kennedy was a 26-year-old housewife, the daughter of former Boston Mayor John Francis ‘Honey Fitz’ Fitzgerald. In 1917, Honey Fitz had been out of the mayor’s office for three years, but he would serve briefly in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1919. Later he ran unsuccessfully for the U. S. Senate and for governor of Massachusetts.
Rose Kennedy recorded details about her children — their births, illnesses and shoe sizes — on notecards she kept in a wooden box. When her second son was born, she wrote,
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Born Brookline, Mass. (83 Beals Street) May 29, 1917
Soon nicknamed Jack, he shared a room with his older brother Joseph, Jr., during the years the family lived in the 83 Beals St. house. He was often ill, hospitalized with scarlet fever – then a life-threatening illness – when he was three.
Before he was 11 years old he suffered from scarlet fever, chicken pox, mumps, whooping cough, German measles and chronic bronchitis. His family joked a mosquito took a risk by biting Jack — with his blood, the mosquito was sure to die.
Joe Kenned, stung by anti-Irish prejudice, had vowed he’d make a million dollars by the time he was 35. He did.
When Jack Kennedy was three, the Kennedys moved to a larger house in Brookline a few blocks away to accommodate the growing family. Eventually there would be nine Kennedy children, five girls and four boys.
The Kennedy family spent summers at Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. The children were encouraged to compete with each other swimming, sailing and playing touch football. Years later, Jack brought his girlfriend, Jacqueline Bouvier, to Hyannis Port to meet the family. She was horrified. So were his sisters who, unlike Jackie, raced around the compound in old tennis clothes and sneakers.
John F. Kennedy grew up to become president of the United States, but not before his family suffered one tragedy after another.
A botched lobotomy left his older sister Rosemary with the mental capacity of a toddler. His older brother Joe was killed in World War II. Sister Kathleen died in a plane crash.
John F. Kennedy would be killed by an assassin on Nov. 22, 1963, and his younger brother Robert murdered less than five years later.
The Kennedy family repurchased the John F. Kennedy birthplace in 1966 and donated it to the National Park Service. It is open during warm months for free tours, either self-guided or by a park ranger.
This story was updated in 2017.