JFK’s birthplace

Photo courtesy of Sharon Inglis

One hundred years ago today, on 29 May 1917, Rose Kennedy gave birth to the future president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in a charming three-story Colonial on a lovely street in Brookline, Massachusetts. That same house was restored at the personal direction of Rose Kennedy, and today it evokes the happy memories of a busy young mother raising an ever-growing family. While unimaginable tragedies strike in the years to follow, life was good for the Kennedys of Beals Street in 1917.

Three days after the assassination of President Kennedy, on a national day of mourning, thousands of ordinary citizens spontaneously came to Beals Street to pay their respect to our fallen president in front of his birthplace. In light of this extraordinary demonstration of renewed interest in the house, Rose Kennedy decided it should be preserved. She repurchased the house from its then-current owner and set about returning it to the way she remembered it at the time of JFK’s birth. She donated the renovated house to the National Park Service to serve as a museum, preserving the memory and values of JFK and the Kennedy family.

A demonstration of renewed interest in the birthplace of JFK…

Rose Kennedy, together with Robert Luddington, an interior decorator from the Jordan Marsh department store, restored and furnished the house according to Rose’s memories from her years on Beals Street – 1914 to 1920. Some items are original to the house and many items on display belonged to the Kennedy family. Other pieces are reproductions of what Rose remembered was in the house or what would have been common in a house of this type in the early 1900s.

Joseph and Rose Kennedy purchased the house as young newly-weds. The house was close to shops, parks, schools, and St. Aidan’s Church. Within an easy walk, the couple could be on the trolley taking the short trip into Boston. It was the perfect place for this upwardly mobile couple to start their family.

The typical center entrance Colonial house sits on what is still today a residential street with well-maintained homes. There is a formal living room to the right and a dining room to the left. A hall leads to the back of the house and the kitchen. A stairway leads to three bedrooms upstairs, one bathroom and a study. One bedroom is furnished as a nursery, complete with the Kennedy family christening gown and bassinet. The master bedroom is furnished with two twin beds. Rose said that she slept next to the window so the doctor would have proper light to deliver the babies. A third bedroom is furnished as a guest room.

A small room off the master bedroom is furnished as Rose’s study. She was a very organized mother, keeping index cards to record information about each of her children. In the hallway, there are several interesting displays of memorabilia and news clippings relating to the Kennedy family. The third floor of the house was for the household staff – one maid for the children and one for the household.

Three of Rose and Joe Kennedy’s children – John, Rosemary, and Kathleen – were born in the upstairs master bedroom of this house. It was here that JFK took his first steps and learned to talk. One can almost imagine him sliding down the banister, perhaps imitating his older brother. This is where the legendary competition between Joe Jr. and JFK began. After the birth of Kathleen, the fourth Kennedy child, in 1920, the family moved to a larger house only a few blocks away, having outgrown their modest first house.

Remembering happy days, rather than family tragedies…

It is hard to imagine that each of the four Kennedy children who lived in this house met with tragedy:

The oldest child, Joe Jr., died while serving as a Navy pilot during World War II. Even though he was eligible to return home, he volunteered for a secret mission piloting a plane loaded with bombs. He was supposed to bail out of the plane which would then be remotely controlled continuing on with its mission. The bombs exploded prematurely, killing him and his fellow pilot.[1]

The next oldest child was John Fitzgerald Kennedy. While in his third year as President of the United States, he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on 22 November 1963 at the age of 46.[2]

The third Kennedy child to arrive was Rosemary. She was intellectually challenged and, at the age of 23, underwent a lobotomy that left her severely incapacitated. She was sent to St. Coletta’s School for Exceptional Children in Wisconsin where she lived until her death in 2005.[3]

The fourth and last Kennedy child born in the house on Beals Street was Kathleen, also known as “Kick.” In May of 1944, Kick married British aristocrat William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington. Four months later, he was killed in combat while serving in the British army. Kick, then Lady Hartington, remained in England after her husband died. Less than four years later, on 13 May 1948, Kick died in a plane crash in France.[4]

Rather than dwell on the later family history, a tour of this historic house ends with an audio recording of Rose Kennedy in her own unmistakable voice reminiscing about the happy days she spent in this house as a young mother with her little ones.

 

For more information on the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site, please visit https://www.nps.gov/jofi/index.htm

Notes

[1] “Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.,” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum; https://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/The-Kennedy-Family/Joseph-P-Kennedy-Jr.aspx.

[2] “John F. Kennedy,” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum; https://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/Life-of-John-F-Kennedy.aspx.

[3] “Rosemary Kennedy,” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum; https://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/The-Kennedy-Family/Rosemary-Kennedy.aspx.

[4] “Kathleen Kennedy,” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum; https://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/The-Kennedy-Family/Kathleen-Kennedy.aspx.

Marcia Young

About Marcia Young

Marcia Young grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and Boston College Law School. After practicing law for several years, she left her career behind to raise her son and daughter. When her children left for college, she rekindled her love of history by visiting house museums. She is currently working on a directory of Massachusetts house museums. For more information, visit her website at www.visithousemuseums.com.

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