Ten 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 popularly known as JFK, was born on May 29, 1917, to a wealthy, politically connected family. He was the first president to be born in the 20th century. He was elected the thirty-fifth president in 1960 and took office on January 20, 1961, but sadly his life and legacy were cut short when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Following are ten key facts that are important to know when studying the life and presidency of John F. Kennedy.

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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 on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Maine to Rose and Joseph Kennedy. His father was extremely wealthy and powerful. Franklin D. Roosevelt named him the head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). He was made the ambassador to Great Britain in 1938.

JFK was one of nine children. He named his brother, Robert, as his attorney general. When Robert was running for president in 1968, he was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. His brother, Edward "Ted" Kennedy was the Senator from Massachusetts from 1962 until he died in 2009. His sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics.

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Poor Health From Childhood

Rose Kennedy With Her Five Young Children
Bachrach / Getty Images

John F. Kennedy was in poor health as a child. As he grew older, he was diagnosed with Addison's Disease meaning his body did not produce enough cortisol leading to muscle weakness, depression, tanned skin, and more. He also had osteoporosis and had a bad back throughout his life.

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First Lady: The Fashionable Jacqueline Lee Bouvier

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

Jacqueline "Jackie" Lee Bouvier was born into wealth. She attended Vassar and George Washington University before graduating with a degree in French Literature. She worked as a journalist before marrying Kennedy. She was looked up to as having a great sense of fashion and poise. She helped restore the White House with many original items of historical significance. She showed the public renovations through a television tour.

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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

Kennedy joined the Navy in World War II. He was given command of a boat called PT-109 in the Pacific. During this time, his boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and he and his crew were thrown into the water. Due to his efforts, he swam back four hours to shore saving a crewman at the same time. For this, he received the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.

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Independent-Minded Representative and Senator

Kennedy Addressing Democrat Natl Conv
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Kennedy won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1947 where he served for three terms. He was elected to the US Senate in 1953. He was seen as someone who did not necessarily follow the Democratic Party line. Critics were upset with him for not standing up to Senator Joe McCarthy.

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Pulitzer Prize Winning Author

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

Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for his book "Profiles in Courage". The book looked into the decisions of eight profiles who were willing to go against public opinion to do what is right.

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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 Kennedy ran for the presidency in 1960, one of the campaign issues was his Catholicism. He openly discussed his religion and explained. As he said, "I am not the Catholic candidate for President, I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic."

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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

Kennedy had quite ambitious presidential goals. His combined domestic and foreign policies were known by the term "New Frontier." He wanted to fund education, housing, medical care for the elderly, and more. In terms of what he was able to get through Congress, they passed an increase in the minimum wage law, Social Security benefits, and urban renewal programs. In addition, the Peace Corps was created. Finally, he set the goal that America would land on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

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

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Foreign Affairs: Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam

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. He had close ties to the Soviet Union. Kennedy approved a small group of Cuban exiles to go to Cuba and try and lead a revolt in what was called the Bay of Pigs Invasion. However, they were captured which harmed the  United States reputation. 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 US from Cuba would be seen as an act of war by the Soviet Union. The resulting standoff was known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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Assassinated 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 Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald was located in a Texas Book Depository building and fled the scene. He was later caught in a movie theater and taken to jail. Two days later, he 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 still causes controversy to this day as many people think that there were more people involved in the killing.