Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

A Life in Brief

John F. Kennedy was born into a rich, politically connected Boston family of Irish-Catholics. He and his eight siblings enjoyed a privileged childhood of elite private schools, sailboats, servants, and summer homes. During his childhood and youth, "Jack" Kennedy suffered frequent serious illnesses. Nevertheless, he strove to make his own way, writing a best-selling book while still in college at Harvard and volunteering for hazardous combat duty in the Pacific during World War II. Kennedy's wartime service made him a hero. After a short stint as a journalist, Kennedy entered politics, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953 and the U.S. Senate from 1953 to 1961.

Kennedy was the youngest person elected U.S. President and the first Roman Catholic to serve in that office. For many observers, his presidency came to represent the ascendance of youthful idealism in the aftermath of World War II. The promise of this energetic and telegenic leader was not to be fulfilled, as he was assassinated near the end of his third year in office. For many Americans, the public murder of President Kennedy remains one of the most traumatic events in memory—countless Americans can remember exactly where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot. His shocking death stood at the forefront of a period of political and social instability in the country and the world.