One of the most beloved (and occasionally contentious) American leaders of the last century, John F. Kennedy is a figure of fascination for many. Visit the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston to learn more about his life and legacy. To help you plan your visit, we’ve put together a complete guide to the museum, with information on what to see, what to do, and why it’s worth your time.
What to Do at the JFK Presidential Library and MuseumDesignated as a center for preserving the legacy of the 35th President of the United States, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is comprised of multiple areas and components. Explore galleries and exhibits dedicated to his life and his thousand days in office, featuring everything from a focus on his family to the political events that defined his career to his tragic assassination on November 22, 1963. The archival collections comprise the “library” part of the attraction name and are usually arranged by appointment. The archives are open to interested researchers and encompass documents, audio, film, and photographs. There are also several temporary exhibitions on display that we won’t cover here. For the most up-to-date information on rotating exhibits, consult the special exhibits website. Permanent exhibits and attractions at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum include the following:
- Young Jack
- 1960 Presidential Election
- The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy.
- JFK Meets the Press
- The Oval Office
- and more!
Young JackThis exhibit focuses on Jack Kennedy’s youth, high school years, and beyond, tracing his life as a student, a war hero, and an ambitious young man. Highlights include photographs and even Kennedy’s dog tags from WWII.
1960 Presidential ElectionHighlighting Kennedy’s early political aspirations and his fight against sitting VP Richard Nixon, this exhibit focuses on the 1960 Democratic National Convention and the campaign Kennedy and his team designed to narrowly defeat Nixon. You’ll find a bunch of campaign paraphernalia here from buttons to pamphlets.
The Inauguration of John F. KennedyFocusing on January 20, 1961, this exhibition highlights the excitement and hopefulness surrounding President Kennedy’s inauguration. The exhibit gallery includes a draft of Kennedy’s inaugural address, the Fitzgerald family bible upon which he took his oath of office, and a full film of his inauguration.
JFK Meets the PressAs the first president to conduct live televised press conferences, JFK set the precedent for all American leaders to follow. This exhibit focuses on his press conferences as well as their role in his management of Cold War anxieties. Objects include several artifacts, mementos, and even a Radio and Television Executive Society Medal, awarded to Kennedy for his contribution to media in America.
White House Corridor: Gifts from Heads of StateThis exhibit showcases some of the most significant treasures gifted to the Kennedys during JFK’s administration. It highlights the important role that gift-giving plays in international diplomacy, You’ll find a gold purse from Morocco, a vase from Austria, and bone china from England, among many other objects.
Ceremonial RoomFocusing on the special events that President and Mrs. Kennedy hosted during their time in office, this exhibit demonstrates how such events showcased American culture to visiting dignitaries. The exhibit aims to echo the glitz and glam of a state event, so you’ll see items like an evening gown worn by Jackie, more state gifts, and even a painting.
Lift Off! The US Space ProgramThe escalation of the United States space program in 1961 may be attributed to President Kennedy’s urging and enthusiasm. This exhibit illuminates this momentous time in history with documents, photographs, video footage, and even the Mercury Freedom 7 Space Capsule (on loan from the National Air & Space Museum until December 2019).
The Oval OfficeThis exhibit focuses on how the President used the power of his office to influence American politics for good. It features a deep dive into the civil rights movement as it stirred American society during Kennedy’s administration. You’ll see film footage on this subject, as well as a number of artifacts from Kennedy’s time in the Oval Office itself.
First Lady Jacqueline KennedyTelling the story of the most famous First Lady, this exhibit recounts the life and legacy of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy from her childhood to her accomplishments in office. Her role in JFK’s administration was important, and the artifacts and objects reflect her crucial contributions. You’ll also see a selection of artwork inspired by or painted for the First Lady.
Tips for Visiting the JFK Presidential Library and Museum
- The JFK Presidential Library and Museum hosts many special guided tours throughout the week. Enjoy these free tours with your admission.
- The museum is immensely popular with school groups. It is dedicated to educating the public about Kennedy’s role in American history during the momentous years in the mid-century. Consider planning a school trip here if you’re local.
- There’s a well-curated selection of souvenirs, books, and memorabilia on sale at the museum for visitors to peruse. If you regret not buying something during your visit, there’s an online storefront, too.
- If you’re intrigued and want to learn more about JFK, pay a visit to the JFK Hyannis Museum on Cape Cod.
- Thinking about JFK long after your visit? Check out the JFK35 podcast for more information about the President for inspiration and information.
- Your best bet for dining around the museum is going to be at the JFK Café, located inside the attraction. They serve breakfast, lunch, and all-day coffee service. Enjoy the views of the Boston skyline while you dine!
- Hoping to continue your Kennedy vibe? You’re also right near to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, which showcases Teddy Kennedy’s time in office.
- Fun Fact: the archives at the Library are also the primary repository for the Ernest Hemingway papers—lest you think this is only about Kennedy!