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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: Daily Life at 83 Beals Street

The Daily Life excerpts are from a transcript of a house tour with Rose Kennedy, John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site, 1969.

Living Room
We spent a lot of time in this room in the evening. Mr. Kennedy was president of a bank and this was his one opportunity to read the newspaper or his favorite detective stories. He would sit in that red chair by the gateleg table. We all read the Boston Transcript in the evening in those days. Usually I would sit in the wing chair by the table opposite him. I can't see that chair without remembering the holes in the children's stockings. They wore knickers then and the boys' knee stockings always had holes in them. They had to be darned once or twice a week.

When the children were ready for bed and had said their prayers they would come to the living room and play for a little while before we put them to bed....I spent a good deal of time reading to the children...I would make no engagements outside in the evening so that I could be with the children to help them with their school work, to doctor their colds, or to find out what activities they had been interested in during the day.

The piano was a wedding gift and at Christmas, with the tree over there by the south window, I would play and we would all sing Christmas carols. The children did not do too well with their piano lessons. Radio was a new thing then and they said that people wouldn't want to listen to them play when they could hear the same songs on the radio.

The pictures are copies of famous paintings I had studied in the European galleries. It gave me great pleasure to have these copies in my home and I thought it an inspiration for the children to grow up with them.

Master Bedroom
The president was born in the twin bed, near the window, on May 29th, 1917, at three o'clock in the afternoon....When you hold your baby in your arms the first time and you think of all the things you can say and do to influence him, it's a tremendous responsibility. What you do with him and for him can influence not only him, but everyone he meets and not for a day or a month or a year but for time and for eternity....When Jack was elected president, I thought how fortunate I was out of all the millions of mothers in the United States to be the one to have her son inaugurated president on that cold, cold day.

The pictures over the beds are copies of Italian paintings of the Madonna and Child I had seen and liked. My mother and father gave us Irish linen bedspreads, which were hand-embroidered with shamrocks, thistles and other Irish symbols and were great treasures. The photograph on Mr. Kennedy's dresser is of his mother and father. On the far wall are the traditional six month pictures of Joe Jr., Jack, Rosemary and Kathleen. Some people say that all babies look alike but I can tell the difference even at that age.

Photo of the Kennedy nursery with link to higher quality photo. (National Park Service)

Nursery
This bassinet has been used by Kennedy children and grandchildren in the years since Joe Jr. and Jack first slept in it here in the nursery. The books were a favorite pastime. Probably Jack's favorite book was King Arthur and His Knights. I was very careful to select books which were recommended at school or by a children's bookshop. My children, however, were indifferent to these edifying selections for one of Jack's book treasures was Billy Whiskers, a story about a goat, which my mother bought in a department store. The illustrations seemed to me to be crude and the colors harsh but the boys adored the stories and delighted in the whole series, pictures and all.

The christening dress in the corner was given to me by my mother-in-law, who had it made by the Franciscan nuns in East Boston where the family lived. All the children and John Jr., the presidentís son, have worn this dress. The little Irish bonnet, a gift, is profusely covered with shamrocks. The president was baptized at Saint Aidanís, the neighborhood church. Mothers were confined for three weeks then, and so the celebration was always a small, informal family gathering. I wanted the children christened as soon as possible so I was never present at the ceremony.

There were more toys in here then of course. The president liked steam engines, teddy bears and the usual boys' toys, but especially books of adventure. You couldn't give a sick child a radio or a television set then, to keep him occupied, because there were none in 1917. We spent a lot of time reading and entertaining the children here in this room, particularly when Jack had scarlet fever in 1920.

Guest Room and Boudoir
In a house this size, with the number of children we had, this room alternated between being a guest room and later a children's bedroom. In those days it had a good clear view down the street and was a very pleasant room. It is furnished very much like our own bedroom with the Irish linen bedspread and the silver toilet set.

I used this smaller room as a study. On the desk is one of my wedding invitations and some early photographs of my family. Here I did my correspondence and kept a card file on the children's health. That was a most helpful system. I purchased a card file from the stationers near here and recorded all the important information about each of the children. It helped so much to be able to check back on symptoms of illness, weight, diet and all the important information, such as vaccinations, schick tests, confirmation dates, et cetera. I would recommend this idea to any mother.

Photo of the Kennedy Dining Room with link to higher quality drawing. (National Park Service)

Dining Room
This dining room might well have been the most important room in the house for much of our family life. While they were small, the children had their meals at the table by the window. The silver napkin rings and the porringers were used by the president and his older brother and carry their monograms. The silver tea set and coffee server were wedding presents. The china was also a gift from my sister-in-law, Margaret Kennedy Burke, who painted the gold border at Notre Dame Convent when she was a student. The children never knew which one would be called upon to say grace before meals, so they were all on their toes. On holidays I remember we would discuss the events which were being commemorated, such as the battle in Lexington and Concord on April 19th. On Sundays we would talk about the gospel at Mass. If they didn't pay attention one Sunday they would the next as they knew they would be questioned.

We didn't do much formal entertaining here. We preferred to have informal dinners with a few friends. Cocktail parties were not customary in those days. A little wine or champagne was served at weddings and christenings.

Kitchen
There on the stove you see the bean pot. We always ate Boston baked beans on Saturday nights. Warmed over for Sunday morning breakfast they were perfectly delicious with brown bread....With all the baby bottles to be sterilized, formulas to prepare and meals to cook this kitchen was a very busy place. During those hectic hours I would put the baby in the stroller, take two children by the hand, and with the dog following close behind, set out for the corner grocery store. On the way back we would usually stop for a visit at Saint Aidan's church. I wanted my children to realize that church was for every day in the week and not just for Sunday....

We were very happy here and although we did not know about the days ahead, we were enthusiastic and optimistic about the future.

Questions for Reading 2

1. What impressions did you form about what life was like for the Kennedys between 1917 and 1921?

2. What kind of atmosphere or family environment did the Kennedys provide for their children?

3. What items displayed in the house reflected the Kennedy's values and beliefs?

4. What kinds of information did Rose Kennedy record in her card file? Why would keeping a file on each child have been important?

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