The Kennedy Legacy in Massachusetts.
The name Kennedy is one of the most recognized family names in American history. This wealthy and powerful family has had a legacy in politics, social status and unfortunately tragedy for the last 150 years.
First Generation Kennedys
The legacy basically begins in the 1800s with John Francis Fitzgerald, otherwise known as “Honey Fitz.” He grew up in Boston, attended Harvard and became a Massachusetts State Senator and ultimately a US House Representative in 1895. He stood in early opposition to restrictive immigration legislation noting that the difference between everyone’s ancestors at that time was only that “of a few ships” (The Kennedys). He continued his political career despite allegations of cronyism in the mayor’s office and a rather public love affair with a girl named “Toodles.” In spite of all that, he won another seat in the US House of Representatives only to be removed by allegations of fraud. Apparently Honey Fitz had won by the votes of falsely registered and even dead voters. In addition, he employed the services of thugs to frighten those who were going to vote against him (The Kennedys). He was the first of many in his family to withstand scandal.
Fitz’s oldest daughter was Rose, and she married a young Irishman named Joseph P. Kennedy. Even though, Fitz died in 1950, Rose went on to take the role of matriarch in this politically ambitious family. She and Joe had nine children, including John Fitzgerald Kennedy who would later win the same seat his grandfather had held in the US House of Representatives and continue to become President of the United States (The Kennedys)
Joe’s father was Patrick Joseph Kennedy, P.J. for short. He was an Irishman who made his money from the sale of liquor and dabbled in local politics. Joe was educated at Harvard and became a bank president at a very young age. He was good with money, making money from the stock market, but luckily selling before the big crash in 1929. He continued to sell bootleg liquor during prohibition and then legally afterward (The Kennedys).
Politically, Joe endorsed first his father-in-law, and then FDR. He obtained the job of chairman of the SEC and eventually the ambassadorship to Great Britain, but his increasingly isolationist views kept him from being successful in politics (The Kennedys). He did endorse his son John for President, and many believe that he called in favors from his mafia connections that he made during Prohibition in order to help his son get elected (McAdams). He was not so dedicated as a husband. He had many publicized affairs, just like his father-in-law.
Rose overlooked the many affairs of Joe Kennedy, which may have become a theme in the scheme of the Kennedy marriages. Unfortunately, she became cold and distant to both Joe and her children, preferring to do everything by herself and leave the children to their father. Throughout her life, she remained true to her Roman Catholic faith. She was almost never seen expressing any emotion, even through the deaths of four of her children. Rose died in 1995 at the age of 104 years (The Kennedys).
The Second Generation Kennedys
Rose and Joe’s second son was John F. Kennedy, who, in the family, was known as Jack. His older brother Joe Jr. died in a Navy mission. Jack was physically attractive and extremely competitive even though he was plagued by back pain and Addison’s Disease, an ailment that caused fatigue and a sensitivity to illnesses. He was actually very close to death three separate times before he was elected President (McAdams).
Jack, too, attended Harvard and enlisted in the Navy where he received a commendation for bravery. His father urged him into politics, and Jack complied by earning his grandfathers seat in Congress. He served for three terms in the House and then become a senator in 1952 (The Kennedys). He married Jacqueline Bouvier, a socially connected journalist, but, like his father and grandfather, he had many affairs, including a well-publicized liaison with actress Marilyn Monroe. He published a Pulitzer Prize winning book and became nationally known, partially due to his connections. He and Jackie had one son, John Jr. and one daughter, Caroline.
Jack’s youth, looks and money won him the presidential election in 1960 on a platform of social benefits. At this point, his younger brother Robert was helping him in his political endeavors. Jack’s presidency was a tumultuous one. He was soon forced to deal with Fidel Castro of Cuba. He was trying to attack Cuba while also maneuvering the Cold War. He failed in his attempt to overthrow, and, according to some, to assassinate Castro (McAdams). Only the utmost in diplomacy rescued him and possible the US from a possible nuclear attack from Cuba.
In addition, Jack established the Peace Corps, the Apollo moon mission and civil rights legislation (The Kennedys). He was assassinated in 1963 in Dallas, Texas, the circumstances of which are still highly mysterious even today.
Robert Kennedy was Jack’s younger brother and political advisor. Known as Bobby, he also went to Harvard and then to law school. He married Ethel Shakel and began managing his brother’s political career after a brief stint on McCarthy’s Senate Committee on UnAmerican Activities. He was also legal representation for the Senate Rackets Committee where he investigated corruption and mafia activity. Some point to his involvement prosecuting mafia members as a possible reason for Jack’s assassination (McAdams). After Jack was elected President, he made Bobby the position of attorney general, which was at their father’s request and which also make a lot of people angry. He continued to collect enemies when he ordered US Marshals to protect James Meredith when he became the first black student at the University of Mississippi and when he became belligerent and confrontational with the Soviet Ambassador (The Kennedys)
After Jack’s assassination, Bobby left the attorney general’s office and became the New York state Senator. He supported welfare and social legislation as well as attempted to promote democracy in unstable nations. He ran for President in 1968, but was assassinated the day after he won the California primary in a Los Angeles hotel. His widow, Ethel, had bore him eleven children. She went on to found the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, “a non-profit charity dedicated to promoting Robert Kennedy’s vision of helping the disadvantaged through awards for human rights, community-based empowerment and compassion for the impoverished” (The Kennedys).
Edward “Ted” Kennedy was the youngest child of Joe and Rose. He attended Harvard and UVA Law school and worked in the DAs office in Boston. He was elected to the Senate in 1962 where he has remained to this day. As the last remaining adult male in the Kennedy household, he felt compelled to take over the leadership of the family and strive for the Presidency. He seemed sure to get this position, except for a tragic car accident in which a car that he was driving careened off a bridge and into water, drowning a young woman. Scandal ensued when Kennedy did not immediately report the accident which forced him to plead guilty for leaving the scene (The Kennedys). His chances for the Presidency were over even though he did attempt to run against Jimmy Carter in 1980.
However, as a senator, Ted was, and is, quite successful. He works hard for health reform and education bills. After the death of the woman at Chappaquiddick, Ted married Virginia Joan Bennett, divorced and then married Victoria Reggie. He has three children. Victoria volunteers with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and advocates gun control (The Kennedys).
Joe and Rose Kennedy’s daughter, while not so prominent politically, have become notable in their own rights. Jean Ann Kennedy Smith founded an arts program for disabled children called Very Special Arts. President Bill Clinton also appointed her as the ambassador to Ireland. Eunice Kennedy began a sports program for the mentally handicapped that has grown to become the Special Olympics. President Reagan gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for this. Patricia Kennedy became a socialite in both Hollywood and England and now works for literacy in the US and the UK (The Kennedys).
The Third Generation Kennedys
The accumulation of grandchildren are also active in politics and philanthropic pursuits. Caroline Bouvier Kennedy, daughter of Jack and Jackie also graduated from Harvard, attended law school and is the current President of the Kennedy Library Foundations. Her brother, John Jr., also got a law degree but worked only briefly in the Manhattan district attorney’s office before leaving law to enter publishing. He created and was editor of George, a political magazine. He died tragically in 1999 in an airplane crash with his wife and sister-in-law.
Maria Shriver is the daughter of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy. She is a news correspondent for the National Broadcasting Company. She married film star turned politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian bodybuilder and action film star. He recently was elected to political office in California. Her brother Timothy is currently the president and CEO of the Special Olympics that was founded by his mother (The Kennedys).
Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Austria and achieved international recognition as a bodybuilder in the 1960s and 1970s. A top Hollywood star for his roles in action films like Conan the Barbarian (1982) and the Terminator series (1984-2003), he has become involved in California politics as a moderate Republican (The Kennedys).
Kathleen Hartington Kennedy was the oldest daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy and was the first Kennedy woman to be elected into politics. She was Maryland’s lieutenant governor for eight years. Her brother Joseph Patrick Kennedy II founded the Citizens Energy Corporation. This non-profit organization helps supply heating oil and other necessary items to low income families. He was elected to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts and served from 1987 to 1999, but he left political life to return to Citizens. Their brother Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a noted attorney, professor and author. He is particularly interested in environmental issues. Brother Michael Kennedy worked with his brother Joe at Citizens and helped Ted Kennedy’s campaign effort in 1994. He died in a skiing accident in 1998. Their sister Mary Kennedy Cuomo is a long standing human rights activist. She established the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights and is the chairman of the Speak Truth to Power human rights group. Her husband Andrew was instrumental in developing the Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged and was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) until 2001. He attempted to become the governor of New York to follow in his father’s (Mario Cuomo’s) footsteps, but fell short. Rory Kennedy was born after her father’s assassination. She has earned fame as a filmmaker and producer while supporting social activist groups (The Kennedys).
William Kennedy Smith, son of Jean Kennedy Smith, earned notoriety when he stood trial for rape in Palm Beach in 1991. He was found to be innocent and has since become a medical doctor. Edward Kennedy Jr., son of Ted Kennedy, is prominent in business while his younger brother Patrick has become the youngest Kennedy ever to be elected in to public office at age 21. He was a Rhode Island House of Representatives member. In 2004 he was elected to his sixth term in the United States Congress (Congressman Kennedy Sails to Victory).
Of course, every family dynasty has its tragedies and black sheep. The legacy of the Kennedys includes money, fame and power, but it also includes darker moments. The well publicized assassinations of Jack and Bobby and the airplane accident of John Jr. and Caroline Bissett Kennedy are some of the most publicized. However, the family was beset by other tragedies as well. One of the first was the shy, mentally slow child Rosemary. Rosie was Jack Kennedy’s sister who was labeled retarded. Her shy, calm personality changed as she grew into adolescence and she became more aggressive and violent. A lobotomy which intended to regulate her mood left her incapacitated. She lived her life in an institution in Wisconsin until her death in 2005. She was, ironically, the only child of Joe and Rose to die an natural death (Rosemary Kennedy).
Rosemary’s sister Kathleen was a wild and boisterous girl full of personality. After visiting London with her father, she moved there and never left. She worked for the Red Cross during World War II, but then disgraced her family (except her father) by marrying a non-Catholic, Billy Cavendish, and then, after his death, by having an affair with Earl Peter Fitzwilliam before he was divorced. She died in a plane crash with Fitzwilliam as they were on their way to visit Joe. She was buried in England, but neither her mother nor her brothers or sisters attended her funeral, only her father (Kathleen “Kick” Agnes Kennedy). As previously stated, Jean’s son William Kennedy Smith was accused and tried on national television for rape but was acquitted. He was still basically relegated as a black sheep from that point on. His accuser, Patty Bowman, even went so far as to claim that Ted Kennedy was in the house during the alleged rape and should have heard the screams (Klein 191). His uncle Edward was the center of scandal when he drove his car and a female friend into a river. The woman drowned (The Kennedys).
Two of Bobby Kennedy’s children died tragic deaths as well. David A. Kennedy died of a drug overdose at the age of 28 in Florida. His brother Michael was killed when he hit a tree during a ski run when he was 39 years old. In addition, John F. Kennedy’s son Patrick died in infancy of respiratory distress syndrome (The Kennedys).
Congressman Kennedy Sails to Victory. October 26, 2004. Retrieved 11 August 2006 from http://www.patrickkennedy2004.com/
Kathleen “Kick” Agnes Kennedy. The Kennedy Dynasty. Retrieved 11 August 2006 from http://www.kennedydynasty.com/kick.html
The Kennedys. PBS/An American Experience. 2 October 2003. Retrieved 11 August 2006 from
Klein, E. The Kennedy Curse. New York: St. Martins, 2003
McAdams, J. The Kennedy Assassination. 2004. Retrieved 10 August 2006 from http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/home.htm
Rosemary Kennedy. The Kennedy Dynasty. Retrieved 11 August 2006 from http://www.kennedydynasty.com/rosemary.html