The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy

January 20, 1961

In the 1960 campaign, John F. Kennedy pledged "to get this country moving again," and offered voters a new generation of leadership.  He challenged his fellow citizens to join him in the struggle for freedom in the perilous years of the Cold War. On Inauguration Day, January 20, 1961, nearly one million people in the nation's capitol braved the subfreezing temperatures to catch a glimpse of the new President they had elected. The hard issues of the day---the Communist threat, a nuclear arms race, racial unrest, and economic distress---awaited the President and the nation. Assuming office in the midst of the Cold War, JFK understood that his inaugural address would have to instill confidence at home and respect abroad. He believed that democracy thrives only when citizens contribute their talents to the common good, and that it is up to leaders to inspire citizens to acts of sacrifice. And when he exhorted people to "ask not what your country can do for you," he appealed to the noblest instincts, voicing a message that Americans were eager to hear.

Kennedy’s inaugural address reflected his core beliefs and life experience. He was a war veteran—a combat hero. He had read the great speeches of the ages, and believed in the power of words. He thought that a democracy thrives only when citizens contribute their talents to the common good, and that it is up to leaders to inspire citizens to acts of sacrifice. And when he exhorted Americans to “Ask not, what your country can do for you,” he appealed to their noblest instincts, voicing a message that Americans were eager to hear. He lifted the spirits of his listeners, even as he confronted the grim reality of the nuclear age. The speech was a sensation.

Exhibit Highlights

This exhibit gallery includes a working draft of JFK's inaugural address, the Fitzgerald family bible he used to take the oath of office, and the full video footage of JFK delivering his famous inaugural address.

Invitation to the Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson on January 20, 1961

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA.



President-Elect and Mrs. Kennedy leave their Georgetown home on Inauguration morning, January 20, 1961. Photograph by Jacques Lowe.


Top Hat

This top hat was worn by President Kennedy to his inaugural ceremonies in Washington D.C. on January 20, 1961.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 2009.3.177


The Fitzgerald Family Bible (MO 78.224)

The Holy Bible with Old Testament first published at Douay 1609, and the New Testament first published at Rheims 1582, with notes by the late Reverend George Leo Haydock, and revision by the Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D. D. Vicar General in the Eastern District of England. The bible is leather bound with a gold leaf cross on the cover. It contains 5 handwritten pages of the Fitzgerald family record, starting with Thomas A. Fitzgerald in 1857. There are notes for the engagement of Rose E. Fitzgerald and Joseph P. Kennedy, their marriage in October 1914, and a list of births for their nine children.

This Bible was used during the swearing in ceremony of President John F. Kennedy.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA, Gift of Thomas A. Fitzgerald Jr. Accession number MO 78.224


Beige Wool Coat

This coat was worn as part of an ensemble by Jacqueline Kennedy during John F. Kennedy's Inaugural ceremonies in Washington, DC on January 20, 1961.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Accession number MO 63.1295

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Overblouse Dress

This dress was worn as part of an ensemble by Jacqueline Kennedy to President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural ceremonies in Washington, DC on January 20, 1961.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 63.1290

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Beige Felt Pillbox Hat

Pillbox hat worn by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to the Inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C., January 20, 1961.

With his fall-winter 1959 collection Givenchy had shown distinctively domed pillbox hats, in various incarnations, a millinery staple since the 1930s-and it was a variant on this seamless, molded shape, reinterpreted by Halston (then Bergdorf's custom hat designer) that Jacqueline Kennedy chose to complete her inauguration day outfit.  In their recent collections Givenchy, Saint Laurent at Dior, and Balenciaga had shown similar hats worn straight and high on the head. Jacqueline Kennedy, however, was inspired to tip-tilt her hats to the back of her head.  Ironically, this attempt to downplay the hat's scale and significance made an instant fashion history and created an iconic element of style.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 63.2263


Muff (MO 63.1253)

Sable muff designed by Oleg Cassini, carried by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy during the Inaugural ceremonies of President Kennedy on January 20, 1961.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 63.1253


Berry Sprig Brooch (MO 2009.3.87)

This brooch was a gift from the President-elect to Jacqueline Kennedy to celebrate the birth of their son, John F. Kennedy Jr. The pin was purchased by John F. Kennedy in a private showroom of Tiffany's New York offices on January 11, 1961.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy wore the pin on Inauguration day and on several other occasions while first lady, including June 2, 1961 during her state visit to Paris while touring with Andre Malraux, in Vienna that same year, and during the presentation of the Egyptian statue at the National Gallery of Art on November 3, 1961.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 2009.3.87


PX65-108-CC18209 JFK Inaugural Address

Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States. Washington, D.C. January 20, 1961.

Created by the US Army Signal Corps, Accession Number PX65-108-CC18209


Ivory Evening Gown

This majestic dress was a masterstroke of image making that established Jacqueline Kennedy in the national consciousness as a woman of commanding personal style who had an unerring sense of history and of her place in it. The cockade at the waist pointed to Jacqueline Kennedy's pride in her French Bouvier ancestry and her profound love of history. The cockade had its roots on the field of battle. During the American Revolution, Washington's soldiers wore black cockades. When Lafayette joined them, he adopted a black-and-white cockade to indicate his loyalties to both America and Louis XVI as a gesture of respect to Lafayette, the Continental army followed suit. This dress was worn by Jacqueline Kennedy to the Inaugural Gala, National Guard Armory, Washington, D.C., January 19, 1961 the evening before President Kennedy's inauguration.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA. Accession number MO 63.1539

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