30 Incredible Facts You Never Knew About the Kennedy Family
If the United States had a royal family, it would undoubtedly be the Kennedys. Even before John F. Kennedy’s presidency, Americans were fascinated by the seemingly perfect family. As the quintessential American family, everything about them was alluring, from their attractive good looks and intelligence to their money, regal lifestyle and endless political popularity.
In 2019, you might think there couldn’t be anything left to discover about the popular Massachusetts clan, but you would be wrong. Check out these 30 incredible facts that could take your understanding of America’s favorite dynasty to a whole new level.
Joseph Kennedy Had His Own Political Ambitions
The Kennedy children were involved in politics mostly because their father, Joseph (Joe) P. Kennedy Sr. had his own political ambitions. The American businessman and investor hoped to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, but he had to convince his good friend, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, that he was right for the job.
He Continued to Dream Big
In 1937, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was appointed the first Chairman of the U.S. Maritime Commission. This position built on his wartime experience as an assistant general manager of a Bethlehem Steel shipyard in the Boston area. Despite this appointment, Kennedy continued to aspire to a more significant role in politics.
One Big Family
Sometimes, people forget just how large the Kennedy family was. Joseph and Rose Kennedy, who married in 1914, had nine children: Joseph "Joe" Patrick Jr., John "Jack" Fitzgerald, Rose Marie "Rosemary," Kathleen "Kick" Agnes, Eunice Mary, Patricia "Pat" Helen, Robert "Bobby" Francis, Jean Ann and Edward "Ted" Moore.
Rose Kennedy Was a Countess
The Kennedy family is known for practicing the Catholic faith, which stemmed from the family’s matriarch, Rose Kennedy. A devout Catholic, Rose was deeply embedded in the "lace curtain" Irish Catholic community in Boston, where her father (John F. Fitzgerald) was the mayor.
The Family's Strict Rules
In 2017, lost interviews with Rose Kennedy revealed she had extremely strict rules and regulations, including weighing her children once a week. They could not eat certain foods, like ice cream. She was also known to physically punish her nine children with a ruler or a coat hanger if they misbehaved at the dinner table. Lateness wasn’t tolerated, and they were instructed to present research reports at dinner.
The Family's Black Sheep
It seems every famous family has a black sheep. In the Kennedy family, it was the fourth child, Kathleen. Nicknamed "Kick" for her reported "irrepressible nature," Kathleen was very unlike her brothers and sisters. "She was the only rebel of the family," said biographer Lynne McTaggart. "She was the only one (in the Kennedy clan) who didn’t march down the prescribed road."
Rosemary Kennedy's Disabilities
Rosemary Kennedy was born with mental disabilities. When Rose Kennedy went into labor, the obstetrician was delayed due to a pneumonia epidemic in Boston. To delay the birth, the nurse closed Rose’s legs, hoping this would slow down the labor. When that was unsuccessful, the nurse held Rosemary’s head in the birth canal for two hours, basically depriving her of appropriate levels of oxygen. Not surprisingly, this nightmare delivery led to Rosemary’s brain damage and physical disabilities.
Rosemary's Failed Lobotomy
As devout Catholics, the Kennedys believed Rosemary’s mental illness was a sin. At the time, mental health was incredibly stigmatized and misunderstood. With this in mind, Joe Kennedy arranged for Rosemary to receive a lobotomy to hopefully improve her condition and counteract violent outbursts that had developed in her early 20s.
Rosemary Inspired the Special Olympics
Even though Rosemary lived the rest of her life in a mental institution, not everyone in the Kennedy family forgot about her. Her younger sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, is the founder of the Special Olympics, a sports competition for people with physical or intellectual disabilities. It’s believed that Shriver was at least partially inspired by Rosemary’s mental complications.
Patricia Kennedy Wanted to Be a Star
To be a valued member of the Kennedy family, you needed to have political aspirations. However, this wasn’t the case for Patricia "Pat" Kennedy. Instead of wanting to be a politician, she was an aspiring movie producer. Her father believed she could be successful, saying, "Pat is the one with a head for business. She could really run this town (Hollywood) if she puts her mind to it."
Joe Jr. Should Have Been President
Joe Kennedy Sr. wanted Joe Jr. — his firstborn son — to become President of the United States. He was a junior officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II, but he was unfortunately killed on August 12, 1944, while flying a secret mission. He was 29 years old at the time of his death, becoming the first of many Kennedys to suffer tragic and untimely deaths.
JFK Had Many Medical Issues
President John F. Kennedy suffered from many deadly illnesses and physical challenges throughout his life. Some occurred in childhood, including scarlet fever and whooping cough. He also had Addison’s disease, a rare disorder of the adrenal glands, and he dealt with ongoing pain from many chronic lower back ailments.
People Thought JFK Died in WWII
Despite his medical setbacks, President John F. Kennedy was extremely successful as a soldier serving in WWII. In 1943, he helped orchestrate and champion a key survival mission that involved sinking a Japanese gunboat and then saving his own crewmen when their boat was also struck.
How John Met Jackie
Jacqueline "Jackie" (Bouvier) Kennedy was a journalist by trade. She had editor roles at Vogue magazine and the Washington Times-Herald. As part of the same social circle, President John F. Kennedy was introduced to Jackie at a dinner party in 1952 by a mutual friend, journalist Charles L. Bartlett.
Jackie Kept John Waiting
Jackie Bouvier had the distinct honor of being assigned to cover the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London for the Washington Times-Herald. She completed this job assignment — a prestigious one, to be sure — while keeping John waiting. Would she accept his marriage proposal? That was the big question of the day.
But They Almost Broke Up
Like many married couples, John and Jackie Kennedy had relationship troubles. Jackie became unhappy in the marriage, mostly due to John’s infamous affairs with Hollywood actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich. John pleaded, "You must have known when you married me, I can never be faithful. I can’t help myself. It’s a compulsion."
They Had Four Children, Not Two
Most people know that John and Jackie Kennedy had two children: Caroline Bouvier Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr. These children carried on the Kennedy legacy, but the couple actually had two additional children, both of whom died very young.
Was the Family Cursed?
Many historians and individuals believe the Kennedy family is cursed. Joe and Rose Kennedy had nine children, and four of them died untimely deaths: Joe Jr., Kathleen, John and Bobby. In addition, Rosemary was institutionalized for the duration of her life, and Ted was nearly killed in a plane crash.
JFK Received Last Rites Three Times
In the Catholic church, the last rites are the final prayers and ministrations given to an individual of Catholic faith shortly before death. Later in life, Ted Kennedy wondered if his family was really cursed, pointing out that his brother, John F. Kennedy, received last rites three times before his eventual death.
JFK Bugged the White House
President Richard Nixon wasn’t the first president to record conversations in the Oval Office and Cabinet Room. In 1962, John F. Kennedy installed a secret taping system that was connected to a recording device in the White House basement. The device captured almost 300 hours of meetings and telephone conversations.
Jackie Started a School at the White House
Jackie Kennedy was concerned about her children being in the spotlight during her husband’s presidency. She wanted to keep Caroline and John Jr. away from the press. Any time she or her children left the White House, the press followed them, making it difficult to do simple things like take Caroline to school. Jackie decided to open a school on the third floor of the White House.
Jackie Was Fluent in Three Foreign Languages
Jackie Kennedy was a force to be reckoned with in many ways. During her educational training to become a journalist, she became fluent in Spanish, French and Italian because she wanted to travel the world as a journalist. Although her career was cut short due to her responsibilities as John F. Kennedy’s wife, her language skills proved to be useful.
JFK Was Going to Drop Lyndon B. Johnson
Before his assassination, John F. Kennedy was making plans for reelection. He evaluated his opponents — one of which was George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father. In a 1963 conference, Kennedy commented, "That guy (Romney) can be tough." Unfortunately, Kennedy never had the chance to launch his campaign for reelection.
Jackie Didn't Change Out of Her Stained Pink Suit
Following John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, Jackie Kennedy refused to change out of the pink suit she wore while sitting beside her husband in the motorcade. The suit was stained with John’s blood. When Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson asked if she would like to change before standing next to him as he was sworn in, she responded, "Oh, no, I want them to see what they’ve done to Jack."
Jackie Compared the JFK Administration to Camelot
Following her husband’s assassination, Jackie Kennedy began publicly speaking about the Kennedy administration. A week after John’s death, she sat down for an interview with Life magazine. In it, she talked about John’s favorite Broadway musical, Camelot, starring Julie Andrews.
JFK's Assassination Was a Turning Point in American History
John F. Kennedy’s assassination is regarded as the first major television news event of its kind. It was an event recorded live on television, which added to the impact of delivering the news of the assassination to Americans. News coverage, most famously by news anchor Walter Cronkite, united the country. All three major U.S. television networks suspended their regularly scheduled programming from November 22-26, making it the longest uninterrupted news event in the U.S. until the news coverage related to September 11, 2001.
Bobby Kennedy Predicted Barack Obama's Presidency
Robert F. "Bobby" Kennedy had his own political aspirations, hoping to carry on the legacy left behind by his older brother, John F. Kennedy. From 1961-64, he served as the 64th U.S. Attorney General. From 1965-68, he was a U.S. Senator for New York. In 1968, Bobby ran for president, but he was unbelievably assassinated before the election.
Jackie Became a Book Editor
After Bobby Kennedy’s assassination on June 5, 1968, Jackie Kennedy decided she had to get her children out of the country. She said at the time, "If they’re killing Kennedys, then my children are targets." On October 20, 1968, she married her long-time friend Aristotle Onassis, a wealthy Greek shipping magnate who provided her the security and privacy she desperately needed. She took his legal name, becoming Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
There Were Premonitions About John F. Kennedy Jr.'s Death
An aide to John F. Kennedy said he often worried about what would happen to his son, John F. Kennedy, Jr., who loved helicopters. Kennedy wondered what would happen when "He’s old enough and wants to learn to fly." No one was more frightened of John Jr. flying than Jackie, who insisted he not get a pilot’s license.
Where the Kennedys Are Now
The Kennedy family is quieter today than in the 1950s and 1960s, but they are still a prominent clan to the American public. Joe and Rose Kennedy’s youngest daughter, Jean Kennedy Smith, is still alive at age 91. Caroline Kennedy continues to work as an attorney, editor and author, and she serves on the board of directors for Boeing Company.