John F. Kennedy - Early Life and Education

Early Life and Education

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born at 83 Beals Street in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 29, 1917, the second son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., and Rose Fitzgerald; Rose was the eldest child of John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, a prominent Boston political figure who was the city's mayor and a three-term member of Congress. Kennedy lived in Brookline for ten years and attended Edward Devotion School, Noble and Greenough Lower School, and the Dexter School, through 4th grade. In 1927, the family moved to 5040 Independence Avenue in Riverdale, Bronx, New York City; two years later, they moved to 294 Pondfield Road in Bronxville, New York, where Kennedy was a member of Scout Troop 2. Kennedy spent summers with his family at their home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts, and Christmas and Easter holidays with his family at their winter home in Palm Beach, Florida. For the 5th through 7th grade, Kennedy attended Riverdale Country School, a private school for boys. For 8th grade in September 1930, the 13-year old Kennedy attended Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut. In late April 1931, he required an appendectomy, after which he withdrew from Canterbury and recuperated at home.

In September 1931, Kennedy was sent to The Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, for his 9th through 12th grade years. His older brother, Joe Jr., had already been at Choate for two years, a football star and leading student. Jack spent his first years at Choate in his brother's shadow, and compensated for this with rebellious behavior that attracted a coterie. Their most notorious stunt was to explode a toilet seat with a powerful firecracker. In the ensuing chapel assembly, the strict headmaster, George St. John, brandished the toilet seat and spoke of certain "muckers" who would "spit in our sea". The defiant Jack Kennedy took the cue and named his group "The Muckers Club", which included roommate and friend Kirk LeMoyne "Lem" Billings. While at Choate, Kennedy was beset by health problems that culminated in 1934 with his emergency hospitalization at Yale – New Haven Hospital. In June 1934 he was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and diagnosed with colitis. Kennedy graduated from Choate in June 1935. For the school yearbook, of which he had been business manager, Kennedy was voted the "most likely to succeed".

In September 1935, he made his first trip abroad, with his parents and sister Kathleen, to London, with the intent of studying under Harold Laski at the London School of Economics (LSE), as his older brother Joe had done. Ill health forced his return to America in October 1935, when he enrolled late and spent six weeks at Princeton University. He was then hospitalized for observation at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. He convalesced further at the Kennedy winter home in Palm Beach, then spent the spring of 1936 (along with his older brother Joe) working as a ranch hand on the 40,000 acres (160 km2) "Jay Six" cattle ranch outside Benson, Arizona. It is reported that ranchman Jack Speiden worked both brothers "very hard".

In September 1936, Kennedy enrolled at Harvard College, where he produced that year's annual "Freshman Smoker", called by a reviewer "an elaborate entertainment, which included in its cast outstanding personalities of the radio, screen and sports world". He tried out for the football, golf, and swim teams and earned a spot on the varsity swim team. In July 1937 Kennedy sailed to France—bringing his convertible—and spent ten weeks driving through Europe with Billings. In June 1938 Kennedy sailed overseas with his father and brother Joe to work with his father, who was then Franklin D. Roosevelt's U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, at the American embassy in London. In 1939 Kennedy toured Europe, the Soviet Union, the Balkans, and the Middle East in preparation for his Harvard senior honors thesis. He then went to Czechoslovakia and Germany before returning to London on September 1, 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland. On September 3, 1939, the family was in the House of Commons for speeches endorsing the United Kingdom's declaration of war on Germany. Kennedy was sent as his father's representative to help with arrangements for American survivors of the SS Athenia, before flying back to the U.S. from Foynes, Ireland, to Port Washington, New York on his first transatlantic flight.

As an upperclassman at Harvard, Kennedy became a more serious student and developed an interest in political philosophy. In his junior year he made the Dean's List. In 1940 Kennedy completed his thesis, "Appeasement in Munich", about British participation in the Munich Agreement. The thesis became a bestseller under the title Why England Slept. He graduated from Harvard College with a Bachelors of Science cum laude in international affairs in 1940. Kennedy enrolled and audited classes at the Stanford Graduate School of Business that fall. In early 1941, he helped his father write a memoir of his three years as an American ambassador and then traveled throughout South America.

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