10 Things to Know About John F. Kennedy

Interesting and Important Facts About the 35th President

Kennedy Addressing
Central Press / Getty Images

John F. Kennedy, also known as JFK, was born on May 29, 1917, to a wealthy, politically connected family. He was the first U.S. president to be born in the 20th century. He was elected the 35th president in 1960 and took office on January 20, 1961. John F. Kennedy's life and legacy were cut short when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963. 

01
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Famous Family

Family Portrait of the Kennedys
Joseph and Rose Kennedy pose with their children. A young JFK is L, top row. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

John F. Kennedy was born to Rose and Joseph Kennedy. His father, Joseph Kennedy, was extremely wealthy and powerful. Franklin D. Roosevelt named Joseph Kennedy the head of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and appointed him ambassador to Great Britain in 1938.

One of nine children, JFK had several siblings who were also involved in politics. During Kennedy's presidency, he appointed his 35-year-old brother, Robert Francis Kennedy, as attorney general of the United States. After John F. Kennedy's death, Robert ran for president in 1968. During his campaign, he was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. Another brother, Edward "Ted" Kennedy was a Massachusetts Senator from 1962 until he died in 2009. John F. Kennedy's sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics.

02
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Poor Health From Childhood

Rose Kennedy With Her Five Young Children
Bachrach / Getty Images

Kennedy suffered from a variety of physical ailments throughout his life. He contracted scarlet fever as a toddler and was hospitalized. As he grew older, he had chronic back problems and underwent back surgery several times. In 1947 he was diagnosed with Addison's disease, thought to be the result of corticosteroids that were used to combat his ongoing gastrointestinal disease.

03
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First Lady: Jacqueline Lee Bouvier

John and Jackie Kennedy in Washington Parade
National Archives / Getty Images

Jacqueline "Jackie" Lee Bouvier, John F. Kennedy's wife, was also born into wealth as a daughter of John Bouvier III and Janet Lee. Jackie attended Vassar and George Washington University before graduating with a degree in French literature. After graduation, she worked as a photographer for the "Washington Times-Herald" before marrying John F. Kennedy. As first lady, Jackie helped restore the White House and preserved many items of historical significance. She showed the public the completed renovations during a televised tour.

04
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World War II War Hero

Lieutenant Kennedy
The future president and Naval Lieutenant on board the torpedo boat he commanded in the Southwest Pacific. MPI / Getty Images

After graduating from Harvard University in 1940, Kennedy joined the Navy during World War II. He was given command of a patrol torpedo boat called the PT-109 in the South Pacific. During his time as a lieutenant, his boat was split in two by a Japanese destroyer, and he and his crew were thrown into the water. John F. Kennedy led his surviving crew members to a small island where, due to his efforts, they were eventually rescued. Kennedy, who was awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroic efforts, is the only president to have received these honors.

05
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Representative and Senator

Kennedy Addressing Democrat Natl Conv
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

JFK began his first term in public office—a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1947—when he was 29 years old. He served three terms in the House and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1952.

06
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Pulitzer Prize Winning Author

Senator John Kennedy Signing Copies of Profiles in Courage
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

John F. Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize in Biography for his book "." He is the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize. The book is composed of short biographies of eight U.S. Senators who risked negative public opinion and their careers in politics to do what they believed to be right.

07
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First Catholic President

President and Mrs. Kennedy Attending Mass
The President and First Lady attending mass. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

When John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency in 1960, one of the campaign issues was his . He openly discussed his religion and explained in a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, "I am not the Catholic candidate for president, I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic."

08
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Ambitious Presidential Goals

Civil Rights Leaders Meet With John F. Kennedy
Prominent civil rights leaders meeting with JFK. Three Lions / Getty Images

John F. Kennedy had ambitious presidential goals. His combined domestic and foreign policies were known by the term "New Frontier." He wanted to fund social programs in education and housing as well as medical care for the elderly. During his term, Kennedy was able to achieve some of his goals, including raising the minimum wage and providing Social Security benefits for surviving family members. President Kennedy also established the Peace Corps and set the plan in motion for Americans to land on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

In terms of civil rights, John F. Kennedy used executive orders and personal appeals to aid the civil rights movement. He also proposed legislative programs to help with the movement, but these did not pass until after his death.

09
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Cuban Missile Crisis

3rd January 1963: Cuban prime minister Fidel Castro talking with parents of some of the American prisoners held hostage for food and supplies by the Cuban government after the abortive emigre invasion at the Bay of Pigs.
3rd January 1963: Cuban prime minister Fidel Castro talking with parents of some of the American prisoners held hostage for food and supplies by the Cuban government after the abortive emigre invasion at the Bay of Pigs. Keystone/Getty Images

In 1959, Fidel Castro used military force to overthrow Fulgencio Batista and rule Cuba. Castro had close ties to the Soviet Union. John F. Kennedy approved a small group of Cuban exiles to go to Cuba to lead a revolt in what was called the Bay of Pigs Invasion. However, their capture harmed the reputation of the United States.

Soon after this failed mission, the Soviet Union began building nuclear missile bases in Cuba to protect it from future attacks. In response, Kennedy quarantined Cuba, warning that an attack on the U.S. from Cuba would be seen as an act of war by the Soviet Union. The resulting standoff was known as the Cuban missile crisis.

10
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Assassination in November 1963

Lyndon B. Johnson Taking Presidential Oath
Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as president hours after the assassination. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas. His alleged killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, originally hid in the Texas School Book Depository building and later fled the scene. A few hours later, he was apprehended in a movie theater and taken to jail.

Two days later, Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby before he could stand trial. The Warren Commission investigated the assassination and determined that Oswald acted alone. However, this determination remains controversial as many believe that there may have been more people involved in John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Sources

  • "Founding Moment, The.” The Founding Moment, www.peacecorps.gov/about/history/founding-moment/.
  • “Life of John F. Kennedy.” JFK Library, www.jfklibrary.org/learn/about-jfk/life-of-john-f-kennedy.
  • Pait, T. Glenn, and Justin T. Dowdy. John F. Kennedy's Back: Chronic Pain, Failed Surgeries, and the Story of Its Effects on His Life and Death. “Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine,” Volume 27, Issue 3 (2017), American Association of Neurological Surgeons, 29 Oct. 2018, thejns.org/spine/view/journals/j-neurosurg-spine/27/3/article-p247.xml.
  • “Social Security.” Social Security History, www.ssa.gov/history/1960.html.