John F. Kennedy, the legendary U.S. President, has been the subject of countless biographies, among them the recent book by Chris Matthews, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero. Matthews writes in his early chapters about JFK’s formative years, including his education at several private schools in Boston, New York, and Connecticut. JFK’s early school years are notable because he was at times an indifferent student, but teachers recognized his ultimate potential. While he did not always shine in the classroom, he triumphed over illnesses that even his doctors did not totally comprehend, to become a dynamic student who attracted a following and who emerged from the shadow cast by his older brother, Joe. Here’s what JFK’s early years in school were like:
JFK’s Elementary School Years
Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on May 29, 1917, JFK attended the local public school, the Edward Devotion School, from his kindergarten year in 1922 until the beginning of third grade (though some historical records state he left earlier, school records show that he studied there until third grade). He was also suffering from occasional poor health, partly as a result of having had scarlet fever, which was potentially fatal in those days. Even after recovering, he suffered from mysterious and poorly understood illnesses for a lot of his childhood and adult life.
After apparently starting third grade at the Edward Devotion School, Jack and his older brother, Joe, Jr., were transferred to the private Noble and Greenough School, in Dedham, Massachusetts, in part because his mother, Rose, had given birth to several more children, including a daughter named Rosemary who was later recognized to be developmentally disabled. Rose felt that Jack and his older brother, Joe, were running wild and that they needed more discipline, which Noble and Greenough could provide. At the time, the Kennedys were one of the few Irish families to attend the school. Most of the students were Protestant, and there were no or few Jews. After the lower school at Noble and Greenough was bought by developers, Joe Kennedy, Jack’s father, helped start a new school, the Dexter School, a boys’ school in Brookline, Massachusetts, that now educates children from pre-school through 12th grade. While at Dexter, Jack became the pet of legendary headmistress Miss Fiske, who took him on a tour of the historical sites in Lexington and Concord. After a polio epidemic broke out, Rose, ever fearful for her children’s health, decided they needed a change, and the family moved to the financial capital of the country, New York.
JFK’s New York Education
After moving to New York, the Kennedys set up their house in Riverdale, an upscale section of the Bronx, where Kennedy attended Riverdale Country School from 5th through 7th grade. In 8th grade in 1930, he was sent to Canterbury School, a Catholic boarding school founded in 1915 in New Milford, Connecticut. There, JFK assembled a mixed academic record, earning good marks in mathematics, English, and history (which was always his main academic interest) while failing Latin with a dismal 55. Throughout his academic history, well into his years at Harvard College, JFK would excel in some academic areas, showing his academic potential, while failing or doing poorly in other areas that did not interest him. During the spring of his 8th grade year, Jack had an appendectomy and had to withdraw from Canterbury to recover.
JFK at Choate
For high school, Jack followed his older brother, Joe, to Choate, a prestigious boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut, now known as Choate Rosemary Hall. Much has been written in Chris Matthew’s book and in other sources about JFK's years at Choate, when Jack sought to emerge from behind his older brother’s shadow, in part by becoming a prankster. He notoriously blew up a toilet seat, thereby earning himself and his many friends the nickname “Muckers” from legendary headmaster George St. John. JFK also played football and other sports, despite his thin build, and earned the designation “most likely to succeed” by his senior year. Though he again earned an uneven academic record, JFK would go on, after spending time in London and at Princeton, to attend Harvard. The rest is history.