Kennedy family
Ó Cinnéide
Political family
Patrick Joseph Kennedy
Joseph Patrick Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
Parent familyO'Kennedy
Place of originDunganstown, New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland[1]
  • Arrival in the United States
    1849, Boston
  • 175 years ago
FounderPatrick Kennedy (1823–1858)

The Kennedy family (Irish: Ó Cinnéide) is an American political family that has long been prominent in American politics, public service, entertainment, and business. In 1884, 35 years after the family's arrival from County Wexford, Ireland, Patrick Joseph "P. J." Kennedy became the first Kennedy elected to public office, serving in the Massachusetts state legislature until 1895. At least one Kennedy family member served in federal elective office from 1947, when P. J. Kennedy's grandson John F. Kennedy became a member of Congress from Massachusetts, until 2011, when Patrick J. Kennedy II (John's nephew) retired as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Rhode Island.[2]

P. J.'s son Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and his wife, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, had nine children, including John F. Kennedy, who served in both houses of the United States Congress and as U.S. President; Robert F. Kennedy, who served as U.S. Attorney General and as a U.S. Senator; and Ted Kennedy, who served more than 46 years in the U.S. Senate. Other descendants include members of the U.S. House of Representatives, two U.S. ambassadors, one U.S. envoy, a lieutenant governor, three state legislators (one of whom also served in the U.S. House of Representatives), and one mayor.

Joseph and Rose's daughter Eunice played a vital role in establishing the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (part of the National Institutes of Health) and the Special Olympics. Other descendants of Joseph and Rose Kennedy have been lawyers, authors, and activists on behalf of those with physical and intellectual disabilities.


Patrick Joseph (P.J.) Kennedy, the founder of the Kennedy political dynasty.

According to genealogist Brian Kennedy in his work JFK's Irish O'Kennedy Ancestors, the Kennedys—who would go on to play a significant role in the United States of America—originated from an Irish clan called Ó Cinnéide Fionn (which, along with the Ó Cinnéide Donn and Ó Cinnéide Ruadh, were the three Irish Gaelic Ó Cinnéide clans who ruled the Kingdom of Ormond). In 1546, their progenitor Diarmaid Ó Cinnéide Fionn became the owner of Knigh Castle, located close to what is today Puckane, County Tipperary. In 1740, having lost out to the New English order in the Kingdom of Ireland, they moved to Dunganstown, New Ross, County Wexford. Patrick Kennedy was born there.

Patrick Kennedy (1823–1858) and Bridget Murphy (1824–1888) sailed from Ireland to East Boston in 1849. Patrick worked in East Boston as a barrel maker, or cooper,[3] and had five children with Bridget. Their youngest, Patrick Joseph "P. J." Kennedy, went into business and served in the Massachusetts state legislature from 1884 to 1895.

P. J. and his wife, Mary Augusta Hickey, had four children. Their oldest was Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy Sr.,[4] a businessman who amassed a private fortune in banking and securities trading, which he further expanded by investing in filmmaking and real estate. He also founded Somerset Importers and owned Chicago's Merchandise Mart.

In 1914, Joseph Sr. married Rose Fitzgerald,[5] the eldest daughter of John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, who served six years as mayor of Boston and six years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.[6] The couple had nine children: Joseph Jr. (1915–1944), John (called Jack) (1917–1963), Rose Marie (called Rosemary) (1918–2005), Kathleen (called Kick) (1920–1948), Eunice (1921–2009), Patricia (1924–2006), Robert (called Bobby) (1925–1968), Jean (1928–2020) and Edward (called Ted) (1932–2009).

Joseph Sr. was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), chairman of the Maritime Commission, and U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1940. He served from 1947 to 1949 on The Hoover Commission (the "Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government"), which was appointed by President Harry Truman to recommend administrative changes in the federal government. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy was named Papal Countess of the Holy Roman Church by Pope Pius XII in 1951 in recognition of her "exemplary motherhood and many charitable works."[7]

Continued public service

Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Rose Kennedy with their children at the Kennedy Compound in 1931.

Every Kennedy elected to public office has served as a Democrat, while other members of the family have worked for the party or held Cabinet posts in Democratic administrations. Many have attended Harvard University, and the family has contributed greatly to that university's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Joseph Sr. expected his eldest son, Joseph Jr., to go into politics and to ultimately be elected president. Joseph Jr. was elected as a Massachusetts delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention and enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the United States entered World War II. He was killed in 1944 when the bomber he was piloting exploded in flight. Joseph Sr.'s desire to see the family involved in politics and government then focused on John, who had considered a career as a journalist, having authored a book (Why England Slept) and done some reporting for Hearst Newspapers. After returning from Navy service, John served in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Massachusetts's 11th congressional district from 1947 to 1953, and then as U.S. Senator from Massachusetts from 1953 to 1960. In the 1960 presidential election, John narrowly defeated Republican opponent Richard Nixon.

During John's administration, Robert served as attorney general; his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver served as director of the new Peace Corps, and Ted was elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts, occupying his brother's former Senate seat until Ted's death in 2009. The Kennedy administration's accomplishments include the Alliance for Progress with Latin America, the establishment of the Peace Corps, a peaceful resolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the 24th Amendment ending the poll tax, the continuation of the Apollo spaceflight program with the goal of landing a man on the Moon, and the introduction of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to Congress (signed into law by Kennedy's successor Lyndon B. Johnson).[8] The family was the subject of intense media coverage during and after Kennedy's presidency.

Ted served in the Senate with his brother Robert (1965–1968), and was serving in the Senate when his nephew, Joseph P. II, and his son, Patrick J., served in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Massachusetts's 8th congressional district (1987–1999) and Rhode Island's 1st congressional district (1995–2011), respectively. In November 2012, Joseph P. Kennedy III, son of former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II and grandson of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts's 4th congressional district. In 2020, Joseph P. III lost the U.S. Senate primary election in Massachusetts to incumbent Ed Markey, the first Kennedy to ever lose an election in the state.[9][10]

In the 2020s, three Kennedy family members were serving as U.S. ambassadors or envoys. Victoria Reggie Kennedy, second wife of Ted Kennedy, was named in 2021 by President Biden as U.S. ambassador to Austria.[11] Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President Kennedy, was named in 2022 by President Biden as U.S. ambassador to Australia; she previously served as U.S. ambassador to Japan under President Barack Obama. In the same year, Joseph P. Kennedy III was named by President Biden as U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland. In April 2023, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine activist, filed as a Democratic candidate for the 2024 nomination for President of the United States,[12] and changed to an independent candidate in October 2023.[13]


Philanthropy and policy institutes

Government offices held

In addition, some Kennedy spouses have served in government:

There was a member of the Kennedy family in public office nearly continuously from 1946, when John F. Kennedy was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, until early 2011, when Patrick J. Kennedy left the House. The only exception was the period between John F. Kennedy's resignation from the Senate on December 22, 1960, and his assumption of the office of President on January 20, 1961. In 2013, two years after Patrick Kennedy left the House, Joseph P. Kennedy III was elected U.S. Representative from Massachusetts and served until 2021. Below is a timeline of the Kennedys' tenure in the U.S. Congress.



In 1961, John F. Kennedy was presented with a grant of arms for all the descendants of Patrick Kennedy (1823–1858) from the Chief Herald of Ireland. The design of the arms (three gold closed helmets on a black field)[23] strongly alludes to symbols in the coats of arms of the O'Kennedys of Ormonde and the FitzGeralds of Desmond, from whom the family is descended. The crest is an armored hand holding four arrows between two olive branches, elements taken from the coat of arms of the United States of America and also symbolic of Kennedy and his brothers.[24]

Coat of arms of the Kennedy family
December 7, 2014
All the descendants of Patrick Kennedy (1823–1858)
Between two olive branches a cubit sinister arm in armor erect, the hand holding a sheaf of four arrows, points upward, all proper
Sable three helmets in profile Or within a bordure per saltire Gules and Ermine.

See also



  1. ^ "1963: Warm welcome for JFK in Ireland". BBC. June 27, 1963. Archived from the original on August 3, 2016. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  2. ^ Levenson, Michael (February 13, 2010). "Pondering a Congress without Kennedys". The Boston Globe.
  3. ^ Maier, Thomas (2003). The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings. Basic Books. p. [page needed]. ISBN 978-0-465-04317-0.
  4. ^ The Kennedy Family The JFK Library, accessed February 10, 2016
  5. ^ Graham, James (October 7, 2014). "The Wedding That Changed American History". Time.
  6. ^ DeCosta-Klipa, Nik (May 17, 2017). "Meet Honey Fitz: The 'pixie like' mayor of Boston (and JFK's grandfather)".
  7. ^ "Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy | JFK Library".
  8. ^ "".
  9. ^ Martin, Jonathan (September 1, 2020). "Markey Holds Off Joseph Kennedy in Massachusetts Senate Race". The New York Times. The result was the first loss by a Kennedy in a Massachusetts election…
  10. ^ "Fast Facts about Robert F. Kennedy". John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved September 4, 2020. Robert F. Kennedy was not on the ballot in Massachusetts in the 1968 Democratic Party presidential primaries and finished second to Eugene McCarthy as a write-in candidate.
  11. ^ Thanikachalam, Neya. "Senate confirms Victoria Kennedy to be ambassador to Austria". The Boston Globe. Retrieved January 1, 2023.
  12. ^ Anderson, Sophia (May 3, 2023). "Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Announces 2024 Presidential Candidacy Against Bid". the Gavel. Retrieved June 17, 2023.
  13. ^ Keene, Houston (October 5, 2023). "RFK Jr announces independent run for president against Biden". Fox News. Archived from the original on October 14, 2023. Retrieved October 14, 2023.
  14. ^ "Non-Profit Energy Company | Citizens Energy". Citizens Energy Corporation. January 30, 2023.
  15. ^ Nasaw, David (2012). The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy. New York City, New York: Penguin Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-59420-376-3.
  16. ^ Brean, Henry (May 9, 2023). "U of A teams with Bridgestone to give desert rubber source a bounce". Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved June 22, 2023.
  17. ^ a b Jensen, Michael C. (June 12, 1977). "Managing the Kennedy Millions". The New York Times. Retrieved June 22, 2023.
  18. ^ "Kennedy's former firm investigated by SEC". New Haven Register. October 30, 2014. Retrieved June 22, 2023.
  19. ^ Samuels, Regina (August 2, 2021). "How Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. Became a Billionaire And Founded a Political Dynasty That Defined The 20th Century!". Politic-Ed. Retrieved June 22, 2023.
  20. ^ Kessler, Ronald (1996). The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty he Founded. Warner Books, Inc. p. 10. ISBN 0-446-60384-8.
  21. ^ "Community of Caring Names University of Utah Its New National Headquarters". UNews Archive. Salt Lake City, UT. March 25, 2011. Retrieved June 23, 2023.
  22. ^ Murray, Kelly (September 6, 2018). "Christopher Lawford, actor, author and nephew of John F. Kennedy, dies at 63". Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  23. ^ The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, Bernard Burke, Harrison & Sons, 1884, pp. 558-9
  24. ^ "John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States". American Heraldry Society. Archived from the original on August 3, 2016. Retrieved October 27, 2009.

Book sources