Biography of Caroline Kennedy

Heiress to a Political Dynasty

Caroline Kennedy standing at podium.
Ambassador Caroline Kennedy speaks at the American Visionary: John F. Kennedy's Life and Times debut gala at Smithsonian American Art Museum on May 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. Getty Images/Paul Morigi/Stringer

Caroline Bouvier Kennedy (born November 27, 1957) is an American author, lawyer, and diplomat. She is the child of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier. Caroline Kennedy served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan from 2013-2017.

Early Years

Caroline Kennedy was just three years old when her father took the Oath of Office and the family moved from their Georgetown home into the White House. She and her younger brother, John Jr., spent their afternoons in the outdoor play area, complete with a treehouse, that Jackie had designed for them. The children loved animals, and the Kennedy White House was home to puppies, ponies, and Caroline's cat, Tom Kitten.

Caroline's happy childhood was interrupted by a series of tragedies that would change the course of her life. On August 7, 1963, her brother Patrick was born prematurely and died the next day. Just months later, on November 22nd, her father was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Jackie and her two young children moved back to their Georgetown home two weeks later. Caroline's uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, became a surrogate father to her in the years following her father's death, and her world was rocked again when he, too, was assassinated in 1968.


Caroline's first classroom was in the White House. Jackie Kennedy organized the exclusive kindergarten herself, hiring two teachers to instruct Caroline and sixteen other children whose parents worked in the White House. The children wore red, white, and blue uniforms, and studied American history, mathematics, and French.

In the summer of 1964, Jackie moved her family to Manhattan, where they would be out of the political spotlight. Caroline enrolled at the Convent of the Sacred Heart School on 91st St., the same school that Rose Kennedy, her grandmother, had attended as a girl. Caroline transferred to the Brearley School, an exclusive private girls' school on the Upper East Side in the fall of 1969.

In 1972, Caroline left New York to enroll at the elite Concord Academy, a progressive boarding school outside of Boston. These years away from home proved formative for Caroline, as could explore her own interests without interference from her mother or stepfather, Aristotle Onassis. She graduated in June 1975.

Caroline Kennedy earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Radcliffe College in 1980. During her summer breaks, she interned for her uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy. She also spent a summer working as a messenger and assistant for the New York Daily News. She once dreamed of becoming a photojournalist, but soon realized that being so publicly recognizable would make it impossible for her to surreptitiously photograph others.

In 1988, Caroline earned a law degree from Columbia Law School. She passed the New York state bar examination the following year.

Professional Life

After earning her B.A., Caroline went to work in the Film and Television Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She left the Met in 1985, when she enrolled in law school.

In the 1980's, Caroline Kennedy became more involved in continuing her father's legacy. She joined the board of directors for the John F. Kennedy Library, and is currently the president of the Kennedy Library Foundation. In 1989, she created the Profile in Courage Award, with the goal of honoring those who demonstrate political courage in a manner similar to the leaders profiled in her father's book, "Profiles in Courage." Caroline also serves as an adviser to the Harvard Institute of Politics, which was conceived as a living memorial to JFK.

From 2002 to 2004, Kennedy served as CEO of the Office of Strategic Partnerships for the New York City Board of Education. She accepted a salary of just $1 for her work, which netted over $65 million in private funding for the school district.

When Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination to become Secretary of State in 2009, Caroline Kennedy initially expressed interest in being appointed to represent New York in her place. The Senate seat was previously held by her late uncle Robert F. Kennedy. But a month later, Caroline Kennedy withdrew her name from consideration for personal reasons.

In 2013, President Barack Obama nominated Caroline Kennedy to be U.S. Ambassador to Japan. Though some noted her lack of foreign policy experience, her appointment was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate. In a 2015 interview for 60 Minutes, Kennedy noted that she was welcomed by the Japanese in part because of their memory of her father.

"People in Japan very much admire him. It's one of the ways that many people learned English. Almost every day somebody comes up to me and wants to quote the inaugural address."


Caroline Kennedy has co-authored two books on the law, and has also edited and published several other best-selling collections.

  • "In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action" (with Ellen Alderman, 1991)
  • "The Right to Privacy" (with Ellen Alderman, 1995)
  • "The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis" (2001)
  • "Profiles in Courage for Our Time" (2002)
  • "A Patriot's Handbook" (2003)
  • "A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children" (2005)
  • "A Family Christmas" (2007)
  • "She Walks in Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems" (2011)

Personal Life

In 1978, while Caroline was still at Radcliffe, her mother, Jackie, invited a co-worker to dinner to meet Caroline. Tom Carney was a Yale graduate from a wealthy Irish Catholic family. He and Caroline were immediately drawn to one another and soon seemed destined for marriage, but after two years of living in the Kennedy spotlight, Carney ended the relationship.

While working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Caroline met exhibit designer Edwin Schlossberg, and the two soon began dating. They married on July 19, 1986, at the Church of Our Lady of Victory on Cape Cod. Caroline's brother John served as best man, and her cousin Maria Shriver, herself newly married to Arnold Schwarzenegger, was her matron of honor. Ted Kennedy walked Caroline down the aisle.

Caroline and her husband Edwin have three children: Rose Kennedy Schlossberg, born June 25, 1988; Tatiana Celia Kennedy Schlossberg, born May 5, 1990; and John Bouvier Kennedy Schlossberg, born January 19, 1993.

More Kennedy Tragedies

Caroline Kennedy suffered more devastating losses as an adult. David Anthony Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy's son and Caroline's first cousin, died of a drug overdose in a Palm Beach hotel room in 1984. In 1997, Michael Kennedy, another of Bobby's sons, died in a skiing accident in Colorado.

The losses hit closer to home, too. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis died of cancer on May 19, 1994. The loss of their mother brought Caroline and her brother John Jr. even closer together than before. Just eight months later, they lost their grandmother Rose, the matriarch of the Kennedy clan, to pneumonia at the age of 104.

On July 16, 1999, John Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and his sister-in-law Lauren Bessette all boarded John's small plane to fly to a family wedding on Martha's Vineyard. All three were killed when the plane crashed into the sea en route. Carolyn became the lone survivor of JFK's family. 

Ten years later, on August 25, 2009, Carolyn's uncle Ted succumbed to brain cancer.

Famous Quotes

"Growing up in politics I know that women decide all elections because we do all the work."

"People don't always realize that my parents shared a sense of intellectual curiosity and a love of reading and of history."

"Poetry is really a way of sharing feelings and ideas."

"To the extent that we are all educated and informed, we will be more equipped to deal with the gut issues that tend to divide us."

"I feel that my father's greatest legacy was the people he inspired to get involved in public service and their communities, to join the Peace Corps, to go into space. And really that generation transformed this country in civil rights, social justice, the economy and everything."


Andersen, Christopher P. Sweet Caroline: Last Child of Camelot. Wheeler Pub., 2004.

Heymann, C. David. American Legacy: the Story of John and Caroline Kennedy. Simon & Schuster, 2008.

“Kennedy, Caroline B.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State,

O'Donnell, Norah. “Kennedy name still resonates in Japan.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 13 Apr. 2015,

Zengerle;, Patricia. “U.S. Senate confirms Kennedy as ambassador to Japan.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 16 Oct. 2013,

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Hadley, Debbie. "Biography of Caroline Kennedy." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Hadley, Debbie. (2020, August 27). Biography of Caroline Kennedy. Retrieved from Hadley, Debbie. "Biography of Caroline Kennedy." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).