JFK Library Opens Records from Edward M. Kennedy’s Early Senate Career

October 22, 2018
Press contact: Matt Porter (617) 514-1574

JFK Library Opens Records from Edward M. Kennedy’s Early Senate Career
-The opening also includes more than 1,900 audio recordings from a radio debate program featuring Senator Kennedy -

BOSTON, MA: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum today announced that it has made available for research 879 boxes of archival material from the Edward M. Kennedy Senate Files. This initial release documents Senator Kennedy’s early years in office and shows him focused on learning about the inner workings of Congress and how best to assist constituents in Massachusetts. While the majority of the records pertain to the lives of private citizens, the release also includes some correspondence with public figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and James Cagney.

The textual files were created by Senator Kennedy’s office in Washington, D.C., from 1962 to 1976, but also contain some material dating back to 1960. Types of documents include letters, telegrams, memoranda, notes, news clippings, reports, and photographs. In addition, over 1,900 audio recordings of the "Face Off" radio program, which feature Senator Kennedy debating political topics with Republican Senators Robert Dole and Alan K. Simpson, have been digitized and are now available on the Library’s website. The documents and recordings were donated, along with other historical materials, to the Kennedy Library in 2011 by the Edward M. Kennedy 2006 Trust. The first release contains 385 cubic feet, which represents approximately 5% of the total 6,000 cubic feet in the collection. Additional records from the same time period will be released in the future as they are processed. The “Face Off” digitization effort was funded through a generous grant by the Fund II Foundation and was part of the Library’s Centennial Celebration of President Kennedy’s birth.

“I am delighted that this first wave of documents has been processed by archivists at the JFK Library and is being released to the public,” said Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Co-Founder and President of the Board of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. “My husband served the people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate for nearly 47 years. During that time, he served with 10 different presidents, one of whom was his brother, and had the great privilege both to have witnessed and played a significant part in modern American history. Being aware of the historical significance of the documents and materials produced during his time in the Senate, Ted donated his papers to the Kennedy Library with the hope that they would be made publicly available as quickly as feasible. Today marks an important first step in achieving that goal.”

“We are thrilled to be providing access to this first segment of the Edward M. Kennedy Senate Files,” said Karen Adler Abramson, Chief Archivist of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. “Given the length of Senator Kennedy’s political career, it is no surprise that his complete Senate Files represent the largest single archival collection in the Library’s holdings.”

Download Press Kit | Read Processing Archivist’s Blog Post

The vast majority of the materials in this first release are individual case files generated by the constituent services that Senator Kennedy’s office provided to the people of Massachusetts. The volume of constituent work handled by Senator Kennedy and his staff grew dramatically during his first decade in office. In 1969, Senator Kennedy received 1,000 letters per day and by 1972, it had doubled to 2,000 letters.

“Contacting Senator Kennedy was often the last resort of citizens who needed information or action from the bureaucracy in Washington,” said Christina Fitzpatrick, processing archivist for the collection, in her blog post on the materials. “His office was effective in obtaining a definitive response, even if it was not the answer for which a constituent was hoping. The increasing volume of correspondence seems to indicate that people believed Senator Kennedy would ‘go to bat’ for them when it truly mattered.”

Note: Due to the personal and private nature of the constituent case files, most are subject to review by archives staff before use in order to protect the privacy of living individuals.

The materials in this release are also a significant source of information about the history of Massachusetts, and the opportunities and challenges facing the state in the 1960s and early 1970s. Included are records about specific cities and towns in Massachusetts, as well as citizen responses to a wide variety of state and regional issues. For instance, a planned expansion of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport in 1969 raised the ire of local residents, including actor James Cagney, who lamented to Senator Kennedy that larger planes would threaten the “natural wonder and peaceful haven” of the island: “Is there to be no end to the destruction of all that is natural and worthwhile?”

As Senator Kennedy gained experience in the Senate, he became more involved in national issues such as civil rights and the Vietnam War. One example of this development is a letter written to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., following Senator Kennedy’s visit to Mississippi in 1966. Kennedy complimented Dr. King on his method of non-violent resistance, and wrote, “I think you are performing a valuable service by your recent remarks pointing out that the goals of freedom and equality are done a disservice by violence and other forms of irresponsible behavior.”

In addition to the documents, more than 1,900 audio recordings of Senator Kennedy have been made available online. The recordings are from a radio program titled “Face Off” and aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System from 1986 to 1993. The show was structured as a point-counterpoint in which Senator Kennedy debated political topics with two Republican Senators, Robert Dole of Kansas and Alan Simpson of Wyoming. The two-minute episodes address familiar issues such as healthcare, gun control, judicial nominees, the environment, and immigration. The show also includes more light-hearted segments that cover Boston sports teams (including the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series), holiday celebrations and greetings, and a surprising proposal to use geese to secure military bases.

“Given the known fragility of magnetic-based sound media, we are pleased to be able to migrate these recordings to digital format and to allow anyone, anywhere, to learn about key political issues that preoccupied the U.S. Senate thirty years ago,” said Adler Abramson.

The newly made available section of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s files can be accessed through the Research Room of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. To download the finding aid, click here. The remaining portions of the collection will be opened as they are processed by Kennedy Library archivists.

Members of the media may request material for press coverage by contacting Matt Porter, Communications Officer, at (617) 514-1574. For further information, contact the Kennedy Library reference desk at (617) 514-1629.

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The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is one of 14 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and is supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential Library’s archives currently include more than 5.9 million pages of the personal, congressional and presidential papers of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and more than 18.5 million pages of over 400 other individuals who were associated with the Kennedy Administration or mid-20th Century American history. In addition, the archives hold more than 500,000 still photographs; 15,000 audio recordings; 4,800 motion picture films; and 9,500 video recordings.