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An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 - 1963
by Robert Dallek
Warner Books, 2003

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Why another Kennedy book? I was asked repeatedly during the five years I worked on this biography. The availability of new materials — written contemporary documents, telephone and Oval Office tapes, and entire oral histories or parts thereof — seemed ample reason to revisit Kennedy's personal and public lives. I also took guidance from science writer Jacob Bronowski: "Ask an impertinent question and you are on your way to a pertinent answer." As I worked my way through the records, I was startled by how many fresh things could be said based on the combination of old and new files about the man, his family, and his political career. To cite just a few examples, new documents reveal more clearly the cause of the accident that killed Joseph Kennedy Jr. in World War II, how Bobby Kennedy became attorney general in 1960, and what JFK thought of U.S. military chiefs, their plans for an invasion of Cuba, the American press corps in Saigon, and the wisdom of an expanded war in Vietnam.

As with all our most interesting public figures, Kennedy is an elusive character, a man who, like all politicians, worked hard to emphasize his favorable attributes and hide his limitations. He and those closest to him were extraordinarily skillful at creating positive images that continue to shape public impressions. My objective has not been to write another debunking book (these have been in ample supply in recent years) but to penetrate the veneer of glamour and charm to reconstruct the real man or as close to it as possible. The result is not a sharply negative portrait but a description of someone with virtues and defects that make him seem both exceptional and ordinary — a man of uncommon intelligence, drive, discipline, and good judgment on the one hand, and of lifelong physical suffering and emotional problems on the other. I have not emphasized one aspect over the other but have tried to bring them into balance. Learning, for example, a great deal more than any biographer has previously known about Kennedy's medical history allowed me to see not only the extent to which he hid his infirmities from public view but also the man's exceptional strength of character. In addition, I have tried to understand his indisputable womanizing, including previously unknown instances of his compulsive philandering. More significant, I have ventured answers to questions about whether his health problems and behavior in any way undermined his performance of presidential duties.

I have also tried to judiciously assess the negative and positive family influences on his character, the record of his navy service, his House and Senate careers, and, most important, his presidential policies on the economy, civil rights, federal aid to education, health insurance for seniors, and poverty, and, even more consequentially, on dealings with Russia, nuclear weapons, space, Cuba, and Vietnam. I have not hesitated to say what I believe Kennedy might have done about the many ongoing problems certain to have faced him in a second term, however open to question these conclusions may be. "It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it," said Joseph Joubert, a French philosopher of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

I believe this biography provides the most authoritative discussion to date on Kennedy the man and his political career. Nonetheless, however much it may be a significant advance in understanding, I have no illusion that I am recording the last word on John F. Kennedy. The economist Thorstein Veblen was surely right when he cautioned that "the outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where one question grew before." Add to this the man's almost mythical importance to Americans and hundreds of millions of people around the globe and you can be certain that future generations will be eager for renewed attention to him in the context of their own times.

February 2003



    George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: . . . "I dream things that never were—and I say: Why not?"
    — John F. Kennedy before the Irish Parliament, June 28, 1963

IN AUGUST 1947, John F. Kennedy traveled to Ireland. The trip was notable for several reasons. Kennedy was first and foremost a "good New Englander," an American—so said the Irish ambassador to the United States—who had all but lost his connection to the old country. Indeed, recalling how often Jack Kennedy had visited England in the 1930s and early 1940s without going to Ireland, the ambassador archly described Kennedy as "an English American." "Many people made much of his Irish ancestry," one of Kennedy's English friends said. But he was "a European . . . more English than Irish." Now, at long last, he was going home. That was not, however, how his father saw it. For Joseph Patrick Kennedy, whose drive for social acceptance shadowed most of what he did, being described as an "Irishman" was cause for private rage. "Goddamn it!" he once sputtered after a Boston newspaper identified him that way. "I was born in this country! My children were born in this country! What the hell does someone have to do to become an American?"

But his son had if not formed a deep emotional attachment, at least taken his cue from his mother's father, John F. Fitzgerald. "There seems to be some disagreement as to whether my grandfather Fitzgerald came from Wexford, Limerick or Tipperary," Kennedy would later recall. "And it is even more confusing as to where my great[-]grandmother came from—because her son—who was the Mayor of Boston—used to claim his mother came from whichever Irish county had the most votes in the audience he was addressing at that particular time." And indeed, when the twenty-nine-year-old had first run for Congress the year before, Irish Americans in his district had been hesitant to support Kennedy because of his lack of ethnic identification, let alone pride.

Officially, Kennedy was on a fact-finding mission to study the potential workings of the Marshall Plan in a Europe still reeling from the devastation wrought by the Second World War. Unofficially, it was a chance to relax with Kathleen Kennedy Hartington, Jack's favorite younger sister, who was even more "English American" than he was. Though her husband, William Cavendish Hartington, who was in line to become the next duke of Devonshire, had died in the war, Kathleen had stayed in England, where the Devonshires treated her with fond regard. They gave her free run of their several great estates, including Lismore Castle in southern Ireland's County Waterford, a twelfth-century mansion once owned by Sir Walter Raleigh. Kathleen called it the "most perfect place" in the world.

Kathleen asked Jack to join her for a vacation at Lismore, where she promised to bring him together with former Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden; Pamela Churchill, the divorced wife of Winston's son, Randolph; and other prominent English social and political lions. "Anthony Eden arrives today," Kathleen wrote an American friend, "so by the end of the week he and Jack will have fixed up the state of the world."

Like Kathleen, Jack Kennedy had been schooled to move comfortably in privileged circles. Jack and Kathleen did not think of themselves as anything but American aristocrats. Wit, charm, and intelligence added to the cachet he carried as a congressman and the son of one of America's wealthiest entrepreneurs who himself was a former ambassador to Britain.

Yet those who met John Kennedy for the first time in 1947 found little assurance in his appearance. Though having passed his thirtieth birthday in the spring, he looked like "a college boy," or at best a Harvard Ph.D. candidate in political science. He contributed to the impression with his casual attire, appearing sometimes on the House floor in khaki pants and a rumpled seersucker jacket with a shirttail dangling below his coat or in the House cafeteria line in sweater and sneakers. At six feet and only 140 pounds, his slender body, gaunt and freckled face, and full head of tousled brown hair made him seem younger than his thirty years. Even when he dressed in formal suits, which was not often, it did not make him look older or like a congressman. "He wore the most godawful suits," Mary Davis, his secretary, said. "Horrible looking, hanging from his frame." Unlike so many members of the House who self-consciously dressed the part, Kennedy reflected his sense of entitlement in his informal dress. But it did not encourage an impression of maturity, and it was difficult for most colleagues to take him seriously. He initially struck veteran congressmen as the son of a famous family who had inherited his office rather than earned it. Sometimes he didn't impress them at all. "Well, how do you like that?" he asked his congressional office staff one morning. "Some people got into the elevator and asked me for the fourth floor." During his first week in the House, a veteran congressman who mistook him for a page demanded a copy of a bill until Jack informed the astonished member that they were colleagues.

Nevertheless, he offended almost no one. Although he conveyed a certain coolness or self-control, his radiant smile and genuine openness made him immediately likable. "The effect he has on women voters was almost naughty," New York Times columnist James Reston later wrote. "Every woman either wants to mother him or marry him." Another columnist saw something in his appearance that suggested "to the suggestible that he is lost, stolen or strayed—a prince in exile, perhaps, or a very wealthy orphan."

A visit to New Ross, a market town on the banks of the Barrow River fifty miles east of Lismore, filled some of Jack's time in Ireland. Kathleen, who spent the day playing golf with her guests, did not join him. Instead, Pamela Churchill, whom Jack asked "rather quietly, rather apologetically," went along. They drove for five hours in Kathleen's huge American station wagon over rutted roads along Ireland's scenic southeastern coast before reaching the outskirts of the town.

New Ross was not casually chosen. As they approached, with only a letter from his aunt Loretta, his father's sister, to guide him, Jack stopped to ask directions to the Kennedy house. ("Which Kennedys will it be that you'll be wanting?" the man replied.) Jack tried a little white farmhouse on the edge of the village with a front yard full of chickens and geese. A lady surrounded by six kids, "looking just like all the Kennedys," greeted him with suspicion. After sending for her husband, who was in the fields, the family invited Jack and Pamela for tea in their thatched-roof cottage with a dirt floor. Though Pamela was impressed with the family's s imple dignity, she compared the visit to a scene from Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road.

Jack believed that he had discovered his third cousins and seemed to enjoy himself thoroughly. Asking if he could do anything for them, the cousins proposed that he "drive the children around the village in the station wagon," which he did to their pleasure and his. For her part, Pamela clearly did not understand "the magic of the afternoon." Neither did Kathleen, who was angry when Jack returned late for dinner. "Did they have a bathroom?" she asked snidely.

The successful striving of her great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents—the unceasing ambition of the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys—had catapulted the family into another realm, an ocean and a century apart from the relatives left behind in Ireland. In America anything was possible—the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys were living proof. For most of the family, these Kennedys of New Ross were something foreign, something best ignored or forgotten. But not for Jack.

JACK HAD ONLY RUDIMENTARY KNOWLEDGE about his distant ancestors. He knew that his great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy had come to East Boston during the great potato famines of the late 1840s, worked as a cooper making wagon staves and whiskey barrels, married Bridget Murphy, and fathered three daughters and a son before he died of cholera in 1858 when only thirty-five.

Jack also knew that his great-grandfather on his mother's side, Thomas Fitzgerald, had clung to his farm in Ireland until 1854, when the famine drove him to America as well. Initially settling in Acton, twenty-five miles west of Boston, his impoverishment as a farmer forced him to take up life in Boston's North End Irish ghetto, a crowded slum of wooden tenements. One contemporary described it as a "dreary, dismal" desolate world in which all was "mean, nasty, inefficient [and] forbidding," except for the Catholic Church, which provided spiritual comfort and physical beauty.

In 1857 Thomas married Rosanna Cox, with whom he had twelve children—nine of whom reached maturity, an amazing survival rate in a time when infant mortality was a common event. Thomas, who lived until 1885, surviving Rosanna by six years, prospered first as a street peddler of household wares and then in a grocery business, which doubled as a North End tavern in the evenings. Income from tenements he bought and rented to Irish laborers made his family comfortable and opened the way to greater success for his offspring.

The limits of Jack's knowledge about his Irish relatives was partly the result of his parents' upward mobility and their eagerness to replace their "Irishness" with an American identity. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jack's mother, took pains to instill American values in the children, ignoring their Irish roots and taking them to the storied landmarks of the country's Revolutionary past around Boston. This attitude differed little from that of other ethnic groups, who tried to meet the demands of being an American by forgetting about their Old World past, but in stratified Boston it took on special meaning. Rose and Joe were understandably eager to insulate the family from the continual snubs that Irish Americans suffered at the hands of local Brahmins, well-off Protestant Americans whose roots went back to the earliest years of the Republic. Although Rose and Joe enjoyed privileged lives, their tangible sense of being outsiders in their native land remained a social reality they struggled to overcome.

The Boston in which Joe and Rose grew up was self-consciously "American." It was the breeding ground for the values and spirit that had given birth to the nation and the center of America's most famous university where so many of the country's most influential leaders had been educated. Snobbery or class consciousness was as much a part of the city's landscape as Boston Common. Coming from the wrong side of the tracks in most American cities was no fixed impediment to individual success. But in Boston, where "the Lowells speak only to the Cabots and the Cabots speak only to God," rising above one's station was an enterprise for only the most ambitious.

What vivid sense of family history there was began with Jack's two grandfathers—Patrick Joseph Kennedy and John F. Fitzgerald, both impressively successful men who achieved local fame and gave their children the wherewithal to enjoy comfortable lives. Patrick Joseph Kennedy was born in 1858, the year his father died. In an era when no public support program came to the aid of a widow with four children, Bridget Murphy Kennedy, Patrick's mother, supported the family as a saleswoman and shopkeeper. At age fourteen, P.J., as he was called, left school to work on the Boston docks as a stevedore to help support his mother and three older sisters. In the 1880s, with money he had saved from his modest earnings, he launched a business career by buying a saloon in Haymarket Square. In time, he bought a second establishment by the docks. To capitalize on the social drinking of upper-class Boston, P.J. purchased a third bar in an upscale hotel, the Maverick House.

With his handlebar mustache, white apron, and red sleeve garters, the stocky, blue-eyed, red-haired P.J. cut a handsome figure behind the bar of his taverns. By all accounts, he was a good listener who gained the regard and even affection of his patrons. Before he was thirty, his growing prosperity allowed him to buy a whiskey-importing business, P. J. Kennedy and Company, that made him a leading figure in Boston's liquor trade.

Likable, always ready to help less fortunate fellow Irishmen with a little cash and some sensible advice, P.J. enjoyed the approval and respect of most folks in East Boston, a mixed Boston neighborhood of upscale Irish and Protestant elite. Beginning in 1884, he converted his popularity into five consecutive one-year terms in the Massachusetts Lower House, followed by three two-year terms in the state senate. Establishing himself as one of Boston's principal Democratic leaders, he was invited to give one of the seconding speeches for Grover Cleveland at the party's 1888 national convention in St. Louis.

But campaigning, speech making, and legislative maneuvering were less appealing to him than the behind-the-scenes machinations that characterized so much of Boston politics in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. After leaving the senate in 1895, P.J. spent his political career in various appointive offices—elections commissioner and fire commissioner—as the backroom boss of Boston's Ward Two, and as a member of his party's unofficial Board of Strategy. At board meetings over sumptuous lunches in room eight of the Quincy House hotel near Scollay Square, P.J. and three other power brokers from Charlestown and the South and North Ends chose candidates for local and statewide offices and distributed patronage.

There was time for family, too. In 1887 P.J. married Mary Augusta Hickey, a member of an affluent "lace curtain" Irish family from the upscale suburb of Brockton. The daughter of a successful businessman and the sister of a police lieutenant, a physician with a Harvard medical degree, and a funeral home director, Hickey had solidified Kennedy's move into the newly emerging Irish middle class, or as legendary Boston mayor James Michael Curley mockingly called them, "cut glass" Irish or FIFs ("First Irish Families"). By the time he died in 1929, P.J. had indeed joined the ranks of the cut-glass set, holding an interest in a coal company and a substantial amount of stock in a bank, the Columbia Trust Company. His wealth afforded his family of one son, Joseph Patrick, and two daughters an attractive home on Jeffries Point in East Boston.

John F. Fitzgerald was better known in Boston than P.J. and had a greater influence on Jack's life. Born in 1863, John F. was the fourth of twelve children. As a boy and a young man, his father's standing as a successful businessman and his innate talents gained him admission to Boston's storied Latin School (training ground for the offspring of the city's most important families, including the Adamses, John, John Quincy, and Henry), where he excelled at athletics and compiled a distinguished academic record, graduating with honors. Earning a degree at Boston College, the city's Jesuit university, John F.—or Johnnie Fitz or Fitzie, as friends called him—entered Harvard Medical School in 1884. When his father died in the spring of 1885, he abandoned his medical education, which had been more his father's idea than his own, to care for his six younger brothers. Taking a job in the city's Customs House as a clerk, he simultaneously converted an affinity for people and politics into a job as a secretary to Matthew Keany, one of the Democratic party's North End ward bosses.

In 1891 Fitzie won election to a seat on Boston's Common Council, where he overcame resistance from representatives of more affluent districts to spend $350,000 on a public park for his poor North End constituents. The following year, when Keany died, Fitzgerald's seven-year apprenticeship in providing behind-the-scenes services to constituents and manipulating local power made him Keany's logical successor.

He was a natural politician—a charming, impish, affable lover of people who perfected the "Irish switch": chatting amiably with one person while pumping another's hand and gazing fondly at a third. His warmth of character earned him yet another nickname, "Honey Fitz," and he gained a reputation as the only politician who could sing "Sweet Adeline" sober and get away with it. A pixielike character with florid face, bright eyes, and sandy hair, he was a showman who could have had a career in vaudeville.

But politics, with all the brokering that went into arranging alliances and the hoopla that went into campaigning, was his calling. A verse of the day ran: "Honey Fitz can talk you blind / on any subject you can find / Fish and fishing, motor boats / Railroads, streetcars, getting votes." His gift of gab became known as Fitzblarney, and his followers as "dearos," a shortened version of his description of his district as "the dear old North End."

Fitzgerald's amiability translated into electoral successes. In 1892 he overcame internal bickering among the ward bosses to win election to the state senate. Compiling a progressive voting record and a reputation as an astute legislator eager to meet the needs of every constituent, Fitzgerald put himself forward in 1894 for the only sure Democratic congressional seat in Massachusetts, Boston's Ninth District. His candidacy pitted him against his fellow bosses on the Strategy Board, who backed incumbent congressman Joseph O'Neil. Running a brilliant campaign that effectively played on suffering caused by the panic of 1893 and the subsequent depression, Fitzgerald's torchlight parades and promises of public programs produced an unprecedented turnout. Also helped by a division among the bosses, who responded to his candidacy by failing to unite against him, the thirty-one-year-old Fitzgerald won a decisive primary victory.

During three terms in Congress, Fitzgerald voted consistently for measures serving local and statewide needs, for laws favoring progressive income taxes over higher protective tariffs, and for a continuation of unrestricted immigration. Massachusetts' senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a tall slender Brahmin who, with his Vandyke beard and courtly manner, could not have been more of a contrast to Fitzgerald, once lectured the Irishman on the virtues of barring inferior peoples—indigestible aliens—from corrupting the United States. "You are an impudent young man," Lodge began. "Do you think the Jews or the Italians have any right in this country?" Fitzgerald replied: "As much right as your father or mine. It was only a difference of a few ships."

At the end of three terms as one of only three Catholics in the House, Fitzgerald announced his decision not to run again. It was a prelude to gaining the post he wished above all, mayor of Boston. During the next five years, while he waited for a favorable moment to run, he prospered as the publisher of a local newspaper, The Republic. Demonstrating a keen business sense, Fitzgerald substantially increased department-store advertising in his pages by running stories of special interest to women.

One of the city's leading political power brokers as the boss of the North End's Ward Six, despite having moved to Concord and then Dorchester, Fitzgerald was in a strong position to become mayor when the incumbent died in 1905. But another round of opposition from his fellow bosses, including P.J., put his election in doubt. In response, he devised a shrewd anti-boss campaign that appealed to current progressive antagonism to undemocratic machine politics. Despite a bruising primary fight and another closely contested race against a formidable Republican, Fitzgerald gained the prize, chanting, "The people not the bosses must rule! Bigger, better, busier Boston." Within hours of winning the election, he showed up at P. J. Kennedy's East Boston office to say that there were no hard feelings about P.J.'s opposition to him. It was, two family biographers later said, "a first hurrah for the dynasty to come."

HONEY FITZ HAD COMPLEMENTED his political and business successes with marriage to his second cousin, Mary Josephine Hannon, or Josie, as intimates called her. They had met first in Acton at the Hannons' farm in September 1878, when Fitzgerald was fifteen and Josie thirteen. As he remembered it, he immediately fell in love with the beautiful girl to whom he would be married for sixty-two years, but Fitzgerald had to wait eleven years before Josie's family put aside their concerns about the consequences of having Josie marry a blood relative, however distant. The union produced six children, three sons and three daughters.

The eldest of the Fitzgerald children, Rose Elizabeth, was Fitz's favorite. Praying for a daughter who might fulfill his dreams of winning acceptance into polite society, Honey Fitz envisioned Rose's life as a storybook tale of proper upbringing and social acclaim. As Rose later viewed it, her father succeeded: "There have been times when I felt I was one of the more fortunate people in the world, almost as if Providence, or Fate, or Destiny, as you like, had chosen me for special favors."

From her birth in the summer of 1890, she led a privileged life. When Rose was seven, Fitz and Josie moved the family to the Boston suburb of West Concord, where Rose remembers "a big, old rambling . . . wonderfully comfortable house" and the traditional pleasures and satisfactions of life in a small New England town: "serenity, order, family affection, horse-and-buggy rides to my grandparents' nearby home, climbing apple trees, picking wild flowers." There was the excitement of a father coming home on weekends from Washington, where, in Rose's limited understanding, he was something called a "congressman" doing important things. Whatever her sadness at his frequent absences, she remembered "the absolute thrill" of driving to the Concord train station to meet him and his affectionate greeting, with "a wonderful present" always pulled from his bags. She also recalled a trip to the White House at age seven with her father, where President William McKinley warmly greeted them and gave her a carnation. "There was no one in the world like my father," she said. "Wherever he was, there was magic in the air." There were also the memories of the matched pair of beautiful black horses that pulled the family carriage and of her own rig that at twelve she began driving to the Concord library to borrow books.

There were also the summers in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, where Boston's prominent Irish families would seek the pleasure of one another's company and relief from the heat. A beachfront crowded with hotels, cottages, and gregarious folks strolling, sunning themselves, swimming, fishing, shopping, playing cards, and eating together in the Brunswick Hotel's huge dining room, Old Orchard was described as "the typical watering place for those who detest the name of solitude." Rose remembered the joy of playing with other children and being surrounded by relatives and family friends who "visited back and forth constantly."

In 1904, having grown affluent on the returns from The Republic, the Fitzgeralds moved to suburban Dorchester, where their growing family of three girls and two boys lived in a sprawling fifteen-room house with a "scrollwork porch, mansard turret, and stained-glass insert in the front door portraying what Fitzie insisted was the family's coat of arms." Rose attended the Dorchester High School for Girls and, like her proper Bostonian Beacon Hill counterparts, rounded out her education with private lessons in French, dancing, piano, and voice.

Dorchester's remove from the center of Boston allowed Fitz to insulate Rose and the family from the rough-and-tumble politics of his 1905 mayoral campaign. Though now fifteen, Rose had only "a hazy idea of what was happening." This was a good thing, for it was a contest with much name-calling and ugly innuendoes about her father's private life and public dealings that would have offended any loving daughter, especially one as starry-eyed as Rose.

Rose's sheltered life extended into her twenties. At seventeen, as the mayor's vivacious, intelligent daughter, Rose had become something of a Boston celebrity, in attendance at "allmanner of political and social events." Wellesley was an ideal college choice for so talented and prominent a young woman: It represented the chance to enter an exciting universe of intellectual and political discourse in the country's finest women's college. But believing her too young and impressionable, Fitz enrolled her in an elite Catholic school, Boston's Convent of the Sacred Heart, where she received instruction in deportment and feminine virtues promising to make her a model wife and mother.

At the close of Rose's year in Sacred Heart, the Fitzgeralds took their two eldest daughters on a grand European tour. Ostensibly, it was to broaden the girls' education. But Fitz, who had lost a reelection bid as mayor in 1907 and was under suspicion of lining his pockets during his two-year term, saw the summer trip as a chance to shield Rose and her sister Agnes from press coverage of his wrongdoing. To keep them away from the unpleasant public gossip and discourage a budding romance with Joseph Patrick Kennedy, P.J.'s son, the child of a family with less social standing, Fitz also decided to enroll Rose and Agnes for the 1908-09 academic year in a Sacred Heart convent school in Holland. Attended mainly by the daughters of French and German aristocrats and well-off merchant families, it was a more cosmopolitan version of its Boston counterpart.

After coming home in the summer of 1909, Rose took refuge from the political wars with another year of schooling at the Sacred Heart Convent in Manhattanville, New York. At the close of that year, she returned to Boston ready to assume a large role in her father's second term, which ran from 1910 to 1912. With two small children to care for and little patience for the duties of a political first lady, Josie left the part to Rose, who filled it with a style and grace reflecting her advantaged upbringing and education. She became Honey Fitz's constant "hostess-companion-helper," traveling with him to Chicago and Kansas on city business, to the Panama Canal to consider its effect on Boston's future as an international trade center, to western Europe to advance Boston's commerce with its principal cities, to meet President William Howard Taft at the White House, and to attend the 1912 Democratic National Convention in Baltimore that nominated New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson for president. As one biographer records: "Fitzgerald delighted in the good looks of his daughter, in her intelligence, her presence of mind and superb social skills. . . . She proved to be her father's equal in conversation, curiosity, dancing, athletic ability and powers of endurance and even in the capacity for fascinating reporters," who gave her front-page coverage in Boston's newspapers.

Nothing more clearly marked Rose as a local leading light than her coming-out party in January 1911. The state's most prominent figures were counted among the 450 guests in attendance. Even the normal social barriers between Protestants and Catholics fell away for the occasion: Massachusetts' governor-elect, two congressmen, Boston's district attorney and city councilmen—who declared the day a holiday—rubbed shoulders with wealthy and fashionable bankers, businessmen, attorneys, physicians, and clergymen.

By the conventions of the time, Rose's debut at age twenty was a prelude to courtship and marriage. She certainly did not lack for suitors, but by accepted standards, they did not include Protestants. The "mistrust" and "resentment" between Boston's Brahmins and its Irish Catholics caused them to have "as little as possible to do with each other." And even though her father had fostered better relations by joining with Brahmin James Jackson Storrow to establish the Boston City Club, a place where both sides could meet in "a neutral and socially relaxed atmosphere," Rose saw the divide as "one of those elementary facts of life not worth puzzling about." Besides, there were enough eligible Catholic men who could measure up to her status, including, she believed, P.J.'s son, Joe, whom she had known almost her entire life and who impressed her—if not her own father—as a most desirable mate.

Excerpted from An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 - 1963 by Robert Dallek. Copyright © 2003 by Robert Dallek. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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