The Kennedys: Makings of a Dynasty

The men who started it all. John "Honey Fitz" Fitgerald, father of Rose Fitzgerald and Patrick "PJ" Kennedy, father of Joseph Kennedy. Pictured in 1895 together. Both were very ambitious politicians who were successful at their endeavors in Boston. However, little did these two men know they were to be the beginnings of an American dynasty.

"They used to say that Joe was trying to get up in the world--he was trying to promote himself and his family"
---Dot Keegan, Brookline Neighbor

In the Beginning......

When Joseph Kennedy, son of Democrat Ward boss PJ Kennedy, wed Rose Fitzgerald daughter of the mayor of Boston, "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald. It was the biggest event for all of Irish Catholic Boston and for the Boston papers. Joseph, fresh out of Harvard was ready to take the knowlege of his Harvard and Boston Latin years and make something of himself as was his socially ambitious wife Rose.

For good measure Joseph and Rose moved into Brookline, Massachusettes where many Protestant elite resided and where there nine children were to be born.It was here Joe and Rose were to imitate what they thought upper crust life to be. No vulgar Irish excesses and a self-conscious civility.

In 1915, the first child Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. was welcomed into the world with plenty of fanfare as Honey Fitz screamed from the rafters for all of Boston to hear "the President of the United States has been born". 1917 brought in the birth of John "Jack"F.Kennedy, he was a sickly tyke that worried his mother and at times bothered his father. Both were afraid his illnesses would eventually kill him. The rest of there children Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, Edward, Jean, and Robert were born and from the beginning the Kennedy Children were cultivated as champions and as Irish descendants who could prove to the world and the Brahmins that they were wrong about them.

Joseph took over the lives of his sons as he felt a father should. His daughters, loved them as he did, he believed belonged with their mother, the nuns, and their church. However he did encourage their competitiveness and excellence. As he had been raised, Joseph sent the boys to the finest Protestant elite schools in New England. He insisted that his boys win. And if they did not, he would supply supportive critiques. Having attended Harvard, he knew the finer things of which prominent young men of American society were made. And he insisted that Jack and Joe compete in athletics fiercely. As said by a biographer Joe believed "money, private school education, and athletic competition were the makings of a true man". It was this motto, the motto of the Brahmins, that Joseph wanted inculcated into his fine young boys.

Rose reigned supreme in the household. Like most Irish Catholic mothers, it was her duty to her children and to raise them well. So that they may be great successes in society. In later years, Rose would lend her voice to those times: "a mother knows that hers is the influence which can make that little precious being to be a leader of men, an inspiration, a shining light in the world". The only way they would be great was if her children learned the lessons of being self-reliant, stoical, and living full of faith.

Rose Kennedy's "blueprint" to produce perfect American children was disclipined. If the children were too fat, Rose cut down on sweets, when the children were too thin, there would always be something extra in their meals. Jack was a youngster who always had something extra on his plate. Rose was obssessed with the childrens' weight as well as her own. It was an obssession obtained from Joseph who destested the weight gain of his parents in their older age. To him, it made them look like portly Irish peasants. Therefore his kids and his wife had better not gain weight.

Rose trained the children in the art of intelligent conversation. They were all expected to read the books Rose had picked out from the PTA and the Boston Women's Exchange catalog. At the dinner table, she asked them questions in history, geography, patriotism, manners and religion, and the children better have intelligent responses and show that they have been doing their reading.

Rose inspected their children as they brushed their teeth and their clothes. After they were dressed, she lined them up, before school. And carefully reviewed the children'schoice of clothing and the appearance of their clothing, including how well they had cleaned themselves up. No dirt, smears or wrinkles, were to mar the image of the Kennedy family.

The Kennedy Children were not to resemble the stereotypes Americans had placed on their Irish ancestors. Their children were to be clean, not dirty and scraggly. They were not to drink--so as to prevent alcoholism or even the idea of alcoholism. They were to be well read, not illiterate. They were to be intelligent and well spoken. Not blustery, bumbling, loud with horrible brogues. They were to wear fine things and carry themselves well. Not appear like "simian wretches". They were be as proper as other Americans--or Brahmin Americans.All of these were the teachings the Kennedy children would bend their ears to and use well as they became young adults. Particularly when it came time to support their brother Jack in politics, particularly when he made his run for the Presidency. "After all," remarked Joseph Sr. once, "it's not what you are, but what they think you are".

As the family grew, Joe Kennedy was making a veritable fortune, that rivaled the wealth of most of the Brahmins. He had become one of the youngest Presidents of a bank in America,Columbia Trust, which was started by his father. Joseph was a shrewd stockbroker who saved his family from the Depression by having foresight in market activity. He also had investments in RKO pictures, a popular Hollywood studio at the time, which hosted the likes of 20's Hollywood stars like Gloria Swanson and Clark Gable and he bootlegged liquor to the same Brahmins who looked down on his society and connections. Joseph P. Kennedy was becoming a millionaire ten times over. But still Joseph P. Kennedy Sr's wealth wasn't enough to get them into Brahmin high society and acceptance. As the Brahmins rejoiced in snubbing the daughter of Honey Fitz and the son of PJ the saloonkeeper. All that was subject to change in 1937.

In 1937, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. became the first Irish Catholic man to be ambassador to Great Britain. It was then the Kennedys not only were "in" but got one of the first of the final laughs. It was now Joseph whose family made the headlines across the country. For Joseph's family was going along with him to Britain. A national newspapers even noted the Kennedys comeuppance, as one read: "Boston bluebloods, social registerites from New York, Philadelphia and Washington will be presented next June to Queen Elizabeth by a Boston woman who was never invited to join the exclusive Junior League or Vincent Club". It was now Rose, who once snubbed at the society gatherings, had the final say over all the bluebloods daughters of the East Coast who desperately sought to present themselves to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

However Rose did not get this honor. Joseph P. Kennedy decided to end the tradition of the most privilege young American ladies in America traveling overseas to present themselves to the Queen and King. The honor would be only for those Americans abroad in London. Therefore keeping his daughters, Rosemary and Kathleen available for presentation, but the presentation would be uncluttered with other vying American debutantes. This infuriated every single elite American family who had participated in this tradition and unnerving that a third generation American would snub them in that way. Journalist Frank Kent wrote a letter to Joseph after the gesture made the papers. "That neat little scheme you cooked up, beore you left....to kick our eager, fair, and panting young American debutants in their tender, silk covered little fannies, certainly rang the bell. A more subtle and delightful piece of democratic demagoguery was never devised."

The Kennedys had finally made it. And that little stab for Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was judgement day.


Other Links:

Introduction
The Irish in America: 1840's-1930's|Joseph P. Kennedy|The Kennedys:Making of a Dynasty
John F. Kennedy |Camelot:The Kennedy White House|The Post Camelot Years