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Timeline of the Kennedys

JFK portrait

1888: Joseph Patrick Kennedy, father of the future president, and the patriarch of the Kennedy family, is born in Boston. He is the son of saloon bar owner and politician Patrick Joseph Kennedy and his wife Mary Augusta Hickey. Patrick Kennedy helps to establish the Columbia Trust, Boston’s only Irish-owned bank. After graduating from Harvard, Joseph Kennedy follows his father into the banking business, and becomes president of the Columbia Trust Company at the age of 25.

1914: As World War I breaks out in Europe, Joseph Kennedy marries Rose Fitzgerald. The newlywed couple settle in Brookline, Massachusetts, where they plan to start their family. Joseph Patrick Kennedy Junior, known as Joe Jr., is born the following year.

1917: John Fitzgerald Kennedy (aka Jack or JFK), is born. His father, Joe Senior, is opposed to America’s involvement in the war in Europe, and succeeds in avoiding active military service. He becomes assistant manager of Bethlehem Shipbuilding’s Fore River Plant in Quincy, Massachusetts. The following year, Joe’s daughter, Rosemary is born; it soon becomes apparent that she has severe learning disabilities. At the age of three, JFK almost dies of scarlet fever.

1919 - 1929: Joe Sr. joins the Hayden, Stone and Co. stock broking firm, and founds his own stock trading company four years later. During this period, six more children are born to the Kennedys: Kathleen, known as Kick, is born in 1920, followed by Eunice (1921), Patricia (1924) and Robert, known as Bobby (1925), Jean Ann (1928). The Kennedys’ youngest child Edward, known as Ted, is born in 1932. Joe Sr. survives the Wall Street stock market crash by liquidating his long-term investments before the crash: rumours abound that he then made more money by “selling short” while the stock market was falling.

1934-35: President Roosevelt appoints Joe Sr. to be Chairman of the new Securities and Exchange Commission, in charge of regulating price levels on the stock market. After a year of studies in London, JFK enrols as a freshman at Harvard. He is dogged by ill health during a trip to Europe, and is forced to cancel a course of study at the London School of Economics. Joe Sr. becomes US Ambassador to London.

1939-1940: In 1939, the Kennedy family attend the coronation of Pope Pius XII. JFK travels through Germany, Poland and Russia, as World War II is looming. In 1940, JFK graduates from Harvard, where he has been studying international affairs. With the encouragement of his father, and the editorial assistance of Arthur Krock, he edits his student thesis (entitled ‘Appeasement at Munich’) into a book, which is then published under the title, ‘Why England Slept’. JFK’s book is well received by critics and public alike, and soon becomes a bestseller. Joe Sr. resigns as Ambassador to London.

1941-42: Joe Sr and JFK both enlist in the Navy for active military service. Joe Sr. trains as a pilot, whilst JFK is commissioned as an ensign, and joins the Office of Naval Intelligence. JFK has an affair with Inga Arvad, a married Danish woman who is suspected of being a spy for the Nazis. The relationship is monitored by the FBI. In 1942, JFK graduates from Officer Training, and Joe Sr. receives his wings.

1943: On 2 August, a Japanese Destroyer rams PT109, the boat that JFK is serving on as skipper, a short distance off the Solomon Islands. Two members of the crew are killed immediately, but despite finding himself stranded in the middle of the Pacific, JFK manages to rescue the rest of his crew. He is awarded the Navy and Marine Corps medals for his bravery. At the age of 17, Bobby Kennedy enlists in the Naval Reserve.

1944-45: In August 1944, Joe Junior is killed whilst on a secret mission flying across the English Channel. He is awarded the Naval Cross posthumously. Joe Sr. begins to develop political ambitions for his second son, JFK. Also in 1944, Kathleen Kennedy marries a British Lord, William Cavendish. He too is killed whilst on active military service, and Kathleen is widowed after only four months of marriage. In 1945, JFK begins working as a journalist, reporting on the charter for the United Nations, and also writes about the British Parliament.

1946: JFK begins his political career. He wins the seat in the House of Representatives for the 10th Congressional district in Massachusetts.

1947-48: Kathleen is killed in a plane crash over the South of France. JFK falls ill whilst in London. He is diagnosed as suffering from Addison Disease, a hormonal disorder that affects the immune system, and causes longstanding fatigue. In 1948, Bobby graduates from Harvard, and enters law school in Virginia; he marries Ethel Skakel in 1950.

1951-53: Edward is caught cheating in an examination, and is expelled from Harvard. He then enlists in the Army, where he serves for 16 months. In 1952, JFK wins a place in the United States Senate, by defeating Henry Cabot Lodge. Bobby acts as JFK’s election manager during the campaign. In 1953, JFK marries Jacqueline Bouvier.

1954-57: In 1954, JFK almost dies from a major operation on his spine. Whilst recuperating, he writes another book, ‘Profiles of Courage’, which is published in 1956. In the same year, Edward finally graduates from Harvard, and enrols at Virginia Law School. Jackie Kennedy gives birth prematurely to a stillborn daughter. In his capacity as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, JFK argues for the independence of Algeria from France. The Civil Rights movement begins to gather momentum in the United States, with the passing of new laws that forbid segregation in schools. In 1957, JFK voted for the final passage of the Civil Rights Act.
Jack and Jackie’s daughter Caroline is born in November.

1960: JFK announces his intention to run for the presidency, and begins his campaign to secure the Democratic nomination. Problems are caused by the fact that he is a Roman Catholic, and he encounters many challenges whilst contesting the primaries. He is finally nominated as Democratic candidate at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles.

In September, JFK debates with Richard Nixon in the course of four televised debates. On 8 November JFK is elected as the 35th President of the United States; he is the first ever Roman Catholic president. He is also the youngest president ever to be elected.

Just over two weeks after becoming president, JFK’s son, John Jr., is born.

1961: In January, JFK appoints his brother Bobby to be Attorney General. JFK makes a famous inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” In March, JFK passes legislation that authorises the creation of the Peace Corps. In April, he authorises the invasion of Cuba - but the so-called Bay of Pigs incident is an embarrassing failure. In May, JFK announces his intention to land a man on the moon and return him to earth by the end of the 1960s, hopefully beating the Soviets - who are the other contenders in the “space race.”

In December, Joe Sr. suffers a stroke that renders him paralysed and unable to speak.

1962: Ted Kennedy resigns as assistant District Attorney in Suffolk County, and announces that he will run for his brother John’s unexpired seat in the Senate. In May, at John F. Kennedy’s 45th birthday party, which takes place in Madison Square Garden, Marilyn Monroe sings ‘Happy Birthday’.

In September, 300 federal marshals are called in by Bobby Kennedy to enforce the new law of desegregation in the South, when James Meredith becomes the first black student to enrol at the University of Mississippi. In October, the discovery of Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba results in the Cuban Missile Crisis. JFK engineers a diplomatic solution and averts the threat of war. In November, Ted Kennedy is returned to the U.S. Senate.

1963: Beginnings of the crisis in Vietnam. JFK uses limited military action to fight the Communist Nationalist forces in Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh, and sends 18,000 troops to the area. He also agrees to the use of napalm, defoliants and free-fire zones. The situation escalates; by July 1963, Kennedy faces a crisis situation in Vietnam.

1963: In June, JFK calls for an end to the testing of nuclear weapons. On 11 June, he intervenes when George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama tries to stop two black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama. That same evening, he makes his famous speech on civil rights on national television. In August, Jackie Kennedy gives birth to a son, Patrick, who only survives for two days.

On 22 November, President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Vice President Lyndon Johnson is sworn in whilst on board Air Force One. On 29 November, the Warren Commission is set up to investigate JFK’s death.

1964: The Warren Commission finds that JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone, and was not part of a conspiracy to kill the President. Ted Kennedy breaks his back in a plane crash; his pilot and his aide are both killed in the accident. In November, Bobby Kennedy is elected to the Senate. The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier ‘USS John F. Kennedy’ is named in honour of the dead president.

1965: The tax reforms and other reforming legislation proposed by President Kennedy are voted through Congress under his successor, Lyndon Johnson. The reforms are collectively known as Kennedy’s ‘New Frontier’, and include federal funding for education, medical care for the elderly and government intervention to support the economy in the eventuality of recession.

1966: Bobby Kennedy announces the creation of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, a programme designed to address poverty in Brooklyn, New York. A memorial to JFK is opened in Jerusalem, surrounded by 51 columns, with an eternal flame burning in the centre.

1967: Kennedy’s body is moved to its final resting-place at Arlington National Cemetery, in a site that also has a permanent memorial, lit with an eternal flame. The only other U.S. President to be buried at Arlington is William Howard Taft.

1968: Bobby Kennedy announces his candidacy for the Presidency, and wins primaries in Washington D.C., Nebraska, Indiana and South Dakota. In June, he wins the important Californian primary, but is assassinated the following day in Los Angeles. The L.A. Police Department determine that Bobby Kennedy’s assassin, a Palestinian named Sirhan Sirhan, acted alone, and was not part of a conspiracy.

1969: America wins the space race. Kennedy’s dream of sending men to the moon is realised when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first men to land on the lunar surface. JFK had hoped to negotiate a joint venture to explore space with the Soviet astronauts, but was killed before the agreement could be finalised. Also in 1969, Joe Kennedy Sr. dies.