Intense public scrutiny follows every Kennedy son and daughter. Revelations of an affair made front-page news forty years after John Kennedy’s death, and biographies have been written on Kennedys who never lived to the age of 30.
Learning to Live Public Lives
The younger members of the family were taught to persevere in the public eye, applying the Kennedy work ethic to public service and the competitive Kennedy spirit to their social lives. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend described summers at Hyannis Port with her 28 cousins as a disciplined summer camp with tennis, sailing, swimming and softball games in the schedule. “Each night at dinner,” she recalled, “every child had to discuss one current event (pity the last in line).” Thanks to the fortune family patriarch Joe Kennedy amassed, members of the family have been able to pursue their interests without financial constraints.
The Lure of Politics
The political legacy of the Kennedy name hangs heavily on each family member. When a foray into politics is successful, the effort is discounted because Kennedys are expected to win. When a Kennedy loses, a round of editorials announcing the end of an era inevitably follows. Robert and Ethel’s children have been the most politically successful Kennedys of their generation. Their daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was Maryland’s lieutenant governor from 1995 to 2003. Before that, she ran her Uncle Ted’s 1982 re-election campaign, and worked as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department. Her brother, Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, served as a congressman from Massachusetts from 1987 to 1999 before returning to run the Citizens Energy Corporation, a non-profit organization he founded in 1979. Patrick Joseph Kennedy, Ted’s son, is a U.S. Congressman from Rhode Island. Mark Kennedy Shriver served as a Maryland state legislator.
Kennedys in Print
A number of Kennedys work in print and electronic media. John and Jacqueline’s daughter Caroline is the author or editor of a number of books, including In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action and The Right to Privacy. Her Profiles in Courage for our Time takes inspiration from her father’s book, and also reflects Caroline’s commitment to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, which administers an annual Profiles in Courage award. Before his death in 1999, her brother John F. Kennedy Jr. founded the political magazine George and invested much of his time in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Kennedys in Television and Film
Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger is the most well-known television journalist in her family; her cousin Douglas Harriman Kennedy has appeared on Fox News. Robert Sargent Shriver III and Christopher Kennedy Lawford have both produced films. Rory Kennedy is a documentary filmmaker whose film American Hollow serves as a modern analogue to her father Robert’s fact-finding visits to impoverished communities in Appalachia.
Kennedys in Law
Numerous Kennedys have served as attorneys. Robert Kennedy Jr. began a law career in the district attorney’s office of New York City before focusing on environmental causes. He is the chief prosecuting attorney of Riverkeeper, an environmental group based in New York, and has written articles and books on environmental causes. Stephen Smith Jr. works in the field of conflict resolution and negotiation.
Virtually all of the cousins are involved in some degree with non-profit organizations connected to the family, especially the John F. Kennedy Library, the RFK Memorial, and the Special Olympics.
Kennedys to Come
Many of this generation of Kennedys are young enough that the peaks of their careers are still ahead of them. When Kerry Kennedy married Andrew Cuomo, some believed it was the beginning of a new political dynasty along the lines of Joe Kennedy’s marriage to Rose Fitzgerald. However, the couple split very publicly in summer 2003. Meanwhile, the Kennedy family continues to grow; the next generation of Kennedys already numbers some five dozen.
My American Experience
We invite you to tell us your own stories - whether you lived through a tumultuous time period or learned about it from a relative, a book or a movie.