Early life and education
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, at
83 Beals Street in
Brookline, Massachusetts, to businessman/politician
Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy and philanthropist/socialite
Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennedy. His grandfathers
P. J. Kennedy and Boston Mayor
John F. Fitzgerald were both Massachusetts politicians. All four of his grandparents were children of Irish immigrants.
 Kennedy had an elder brother,
Joseph Jr., and seven younger siblings;
Kennedy's birthplace in Brookline, Massachusetts
Kennedy lived in Brookline for the first ten years of his life and attended the
Edward Devotion School, the
Noble and Greenough Lower School, and the
Dexter School through 4th grade. Joe Kennedy's business had kept him away from the family for long stretches of time, and his ventures were concentrated on
Wall Street and Hollywood. In September 1927, the family moved from Boston to
Riverdale, Bronx, New York.
 Young John attended the lower campus of
Riverdale Country School, a private school for boys, from 5th to 7th grade. Two years later, the family moved to suburban
Bronxville, New York, where Kennedy was a member of
Boy Scout Troop 2.
 The Kennedy family spent summers and early autumns
their home (rented in 1926, then purchased in 1929)
Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and Christmas and Easter holidays at their winter home in
Palm Beach, Florida, later purchased in 1933. In September 1930, Kennedy—then 13 years old—attended the
Canterbury School in
New Milford, Connecticut, for 8th grade. In April 1931, he had an
appendectomy, after which he withdrew from Canterbury and recuperated at home.
The Kennedy family at
, Massachusetts, in 1931 with Jack at top left in white shirt. Ted was born the following year.
In September 1931, Kennedy attended
Choate, a boarding school in
Wallingford, Connecticut, for 9th through 12th grade. His older brother Joe Jr. had already been at Choate for two years and was a football player and leading student. He spent his first years at Choate in his older brother's shadow, and compensated for this with rebellious behavior that attracted a coterie. They carried out their most notorious stunt by exploding a toilet seat with a powerful firecracker. In the ensuing chapel assembly, the strict headmaster, George St. John, brandished the toilet seat and spoke of certain "muckers" who would "spit in our sea". The defiant Kennedy took the cue and named his group "The Muckers Club", which included roommate and friend
Kirk LeMoyne "Lem" Billings.
During his Choate years, Kennedy was beset by health problems that culminated with his emergency hospitalization at
New Haven Hospital in 1934, where doctors thought he might have had leukemia.
 In June 1934, he was admitted to the
Mayo Clinic in
Rochester, Minnesota; the ultimate diagnosis there was
 Kennedy graduated from Choate in June of the following year, finishing 64th in a class of 112 students.
 He had been the business manager of the school yearbook and was voted the "most likely to succeed".
In September 1935, Kennedy made his first trip abroad when he traveled to London with his parents and his sister Kathleen. He intended to study under
Harold Laski at the
London School of Economics (LSE), as his older brother had done. Ill-health forced his return to America in October of that year, when he enrolled late and spent six weeks at
 He was then hospitalized for observation at
Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. He
convalesced further at the Kennedy winter home in Palm Beach, then spent the spring of 1936 working as a ranch hand on the 40,000-acre (160 km2) Jay Six cattle ranch outside
Benson, Arizona. It is reported that ranchman
Jack Speiden worked both brothers "very hard".
In 1935, Kennedy briefly attended
Princeton University, but had to leave after two months due to a gastrointestinal illness. Later, in September 1936, Kennedy enrolled at
Harvard College and his application essay stated: "The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I feel that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university. I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but is a university with something definite to offer. Then too, I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a 'Harvard man' is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain."
 He produced that year's annual "Freshman Smoker", called by a reviewer "an elaborate entertainment, which included in its cast outstanding personalities of the radio, screen and sports world."
 He tried out for the football, golf, and swimming teams and earned a spot on the varsity swimming team. Kennedy also sailed in the
Star class and won the 1936 Nantucket Sound Star Championship.
 In July 1937, Kennedy sailed to France—taking his convertible—and spent ten weeks driving through Europe with Billings. In June 1938, Kennedy sailed overseas with his father and older brother to work at the
American embassy in London, where his father was President
Franklin D. Roosevelt's U.S. Ambassador to the
Court of St. James's.
In 1939, Kennedy toured Europe, the
Soviet Union, the
Balkans, and the Middle East in preparation for his Harvard senior honors thesis. He then went to
Czechoslovakia and Germany before returning to London on September 1, 1939, the day that
Germany invaded Poland to mark the beginning of
World War II. Two days later, the family was in the
House of Commons for speeches endorsing the United Kingdom's declaration of war on Germany. Kennedy was sent as his father's representative to help with arrangements for American survivors of the
SS Athenia before flying back to the U.S. from
Foynes, Ireland, to
Port Washington, New York, on his first transatlantic flight.
As an upperclassman at Harvard, Kennedy became a more serious student and developed an interest in political philosophy. In his junior year, he made the
 In 1940, Kennedy completed his thesis, "Appeasement in Munich", about British participation in the
Munich Agreement. The thesis became a bestseller under the title
Why England Slept. In addition to addressing Britain's failure to strengthen its military in the lead-up to World War II, the book also called for an
Anglo-American alliance against the rising totalitarian powers. While Kennedy became increasingly supportive of U.S. intervention in World War II, his father's isolationist beliefs resulted in the latter's dismissal as ambassador to the United Kingdom, creating a split between the Kennedy and Roosevelt families.
In 1940, Kennedy graduated
cum laude from Harvard College with a
Bachelor of Arts in government, concentrating on
international affairs. That fall, he enrolled at the
Stanford Graduate School of Business and audited classes there. In early 1941, Kennedy left and helped his father write a memoir of his three years as an American ambassador. He then traveled throughout South America; his itinerary included Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.