Chances are if you are visiting Boston, you are a fan of history. The city is full of history dating back centuries, most notably along the Freedom Trail. If you are looking to experience some world history from the early 1960s, then you must add a visit to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum to your Boston itinerary.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is located in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. I’ve lived less than two miles from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for over 14 years now. As a runner, my runs have taken me right by it a few times a month or more and I’ve said to myself on each of those runs, I really need to visit the museum someday.
When wondering what to do on my day off this past President’s Day, I decided to finally visit this museum I had been wanting to visit for so long and I’m so glad I finally made it there.
US Presidential Libraries
Run by the National Archives and Records Administration, there are 15 presidential libraries across the United States, one for every president from the 31st President Herbert Hoover to the 45th President Donald Trump. Each library is located in the home state of the president that it’s for.
These libraries were established to preserve the historical collections of documents and records from each presidency and the museums help to share these collections and the history of the presidency with the public.
The presidential documents were always the private property of the president until in 1939 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt donated his papers to the federal government of the United States and the first Presidential library was built in his name. In 1950, Herbert Hoover, who served as President prior to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, decided to have a library built to preserve his presidential documents.
The Presidential Libraries Act of 1955, established the federally run Presidential Library system and encouraged other presidents to donate their presidential documents. The Presidential Records Act of 1978 established that the presidential documents are the property of the United States and after the President leaves office, these documents are released to the custody of the Archivist of the United States to be included in a Presidential Library.
History of the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Less than a year into Kennedy’s presidency, he contacted the Archivist of the United States stating that he would like to establish a Presidential Library after he left office. Just a month before his death, he decided on the location to be in Cambridge, Massachusetts close to his alma mater, Harvard University.
Just a month after his death, his family met and decided that the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum would be the only official national memorial to President Kennedy. The library would include a museum, archive and educational institute.
In 1975, after delays in starting construction at the site, they abandoned the Cambridge site and chose the current site on the water next to University of Massachusetts Boston campus in Dorchester. Groundbreaking occurred in June 1977 and on October 20, 1979, the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was opened.
Exhibits at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
The visit to the museum starts with a short film that takes you thru John F Kennedy’s early life right up until his 1960 presidential campaign. Once you leave the film, you will go thru the exhibits, below are some of the exhibits you can experience at the museum:
- 1960 Presidential Election – This exhibit features recreations of the Kennedy Presidential Campaign, including signs and handouts. It also included newspaper vending machines from around the country with the newspapers printed the morning after Kennedy was elected.
- John F Kennedy Inauguration – At this exhibit, you can read and listen to Kennedy’s Inaugural Address from January 20, 1961. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address may have one of the most well-known lines from an Inaugural Address, “Ask not what your country will do for you, ask what you can do for your country”
On Inauguration Day, Kennedy took the oath with his hands on his family bible. The Fitzgerald Family Bible was brought over to the US from Kennedy’s Irish ancestors and includes a family chronicle dating back to 1857. It was really interesting to see such an old bible, reminded me of the old books in the Long Room at Trinity College in Dublin.
- JFK and the Press – The first live televised press conference by a president was from John F Kennedy just days after his inauguration on January 25, 1961. The early 1960s was a very difficult time for the world and definitely kept the President busy. Through his three short years in office, John F Kennedy was dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis, a divided Berlin, The Cold War, Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Due to all of this, it was very common for Kennedy to hold somewhat regular live televised press conferences, on average one every 16 days.
- White House Corridor Gifts from Heads of State – In the hallway between the exhibits, on display were many of the gifts that the Kennedy’s received from 106 Heads of State from across the world. It has become a tradition for Heads of State and the President to exchange gifts when they meet. Over time these gifts started to become more extravagant and in 1966 a limit was put on the value of the gift the President could accept. The gifts consisted of things like porcelain vases to Michelangelo replicas. But it wasn’t just Heads of State that presented gifts to the Kennedys. I was really amazed with this replica inkstand that was used in signing the Declaration of Independence that the Kennedys received from the White House News Correspondents and Photographers.
- The US Space Program – While there was a lot of conflict going on in the world, there were also amazing things happening at the time of Kennedy’s Presidency. In 1961, the US Space Program really started to gain some steam when Kennedy made it a priority for the United States to get a man to walk on the moon prior to Russia. In July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin accomplished this goal by being the first humans to walk on the moon.
- The Peace Corps – One of the really great programs that started during Kennedy’s Presidency was the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps sends volunteers to developing countries to work alongside local citizens to help with projects in agriculture, environment, economic development, health education and youth development.
- Special Olympics – There is also a small exhibit about the Special Olympics which were founded by John F Kennedy’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The Special Olympics are a place for people with intellectual disabilities to compete in athletic events. This was a very personal organization for Eunice Kennedy Shriver to found as their sister Rosemary suffered from intellectual disabilities due to complications during her birth. It’s such a wonderful organization and it’s heartwarming reading about the Kennedy family’s involvement in it.
After going thru the exhibits, the last thing I passed was a piece of the Berlin Wall. It looked like a typical piece of the wall that I have seen in other museums with the graffiti on it. But then there was a mirror showing you the East Berlin side, which was completely blank, no graffiti at all. This was because people were not allowed to get close to the wall in East Berlin. I had not known this fact before and found it very interesting and it was an eye-opening sign of the differences between East and West Germany.
Outside of the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
The John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is located along the Boston Harborwalk, a series of walkways along the waterfront neighborhoods of Boston. I may be biased as I run and walk along this portion of the Boston Harborwalk, but I must say it has some really gorgeous views of the city of Boston.
If you walk out of the library and make a left, you will see a staircase that will lead you down to the Boston Harborwalk. After spending a couple of hours indoors, if it’s a nice day, it would be great to take a short walk and enjoy the fresh air and the views.
If you love history, this museum is definitely a must! It won’t take you long to go thru the museum, I think that two to three hours on average.
Looking for the perfect Boston itinerary that includes the John F Kennedy Presidential Library, contact Beyond The Miles Travel today.
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10 thoughts on “Visiting the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston”
I love all things history and Boston. I hear ya about taking years to visit places so close to home. I would love to visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and museum.
I have to add this to my travel plans, it looks so interesting. I love seeing the rich history that the US have and the amazing respect it shows to its history.
They definitely looks interesting.. will add to my bucket list when planning a trip to Boston ..thanks for sharing 😊
This is awesome! We’ve learnt so much and we definitely need to get this added to our Bucket List!
Planning a trip to Boston and I definitely need to add this to my itinerary!
Thanks for sharing and being so detailed.
Definitely on my itinerary when I get to visit Boston. I didn’t know there was such a thing as presidential libraries in the US.
When I lived in Boston this was one of my favorite places to go. What a gem! So much history.
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I can’t believe it took me so many years before I visited this museum.
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Just a wonderful place and wonderful gift shop.