10 Facts About Ted Kennedy | History Hit

10 Facts About Ted Kennedy

Harry Sherrin

19 Nov 2021
Ted Kennedy being interviewed by reporters at the US Capitol. February 1999.
Image Credit: Library of Congress

Edward Moore Kennedy, better known as Ted Kennedy, was a Democratic politician and the youngest brother of President John F. Kennedy (JFK). He served as a US senator for some 47 years between 1962-2009, making him one of the longest-serving senators in American history and earning him the nickname the ‘liberal lion of the Senate’.

Though Ted carved out a name for himself as an influential legislator on Capitol Hill, he has also courted controversy over the years. In 1969, he drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. While Ted escaped, his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. He fled the scene, only reporting the incident roughly 9 hours later.

The Chappaquiddick Incident, as it became known, would ultimately dash Ted’s hopes of becoming president: he launched a presidential bid in 1980 but lost to Jimmy Carter. Instead settling for the senate, Ted enacted countless liberal bills and reforms over his long career.

Here are 10 facts about Ted Kennedy.

1. He was JFK’s youngest brother

Ted was born on 22 February 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts, to mother Rose Fitzgerald and father Joseph P. Kennedy, the wealthy patriarch of the famed Kennedy dynasty.

Ted was the youngest of Rose and Joseph’s 9 children. From a young age, he and his brothers were drilled to strive for success and to reach the most senior political office in the country: the presidency. Ted’s older brother, John F. Kennedy, would go on to do exactly that.

Robert, Ted and John Kennedy. All 3 brothers had successful political careers.

Image Credit: National Archives / Public Domain

2. He had changed school 10 times by the age of 11

Ted’s father, Joseph Sr., was an influential businessman and politician. His career often took him to different posts across the country, meaning the family moved regularly.

As a result of this, Ted is thought to have changed school some 10 times before his 11th birthday.

3. His early life was marred by tragedy

The Kennedy family was no stranger to tragedy and scandal. Throughout Ted’s early life, the Kennedys suffered various devastating incidents.

In 1941, for example, Ted’s sister Rosemary suffered a botched lobotomy. She was institutionalised for the rest of her life. Later, in 1944, Ted’s brother Joe Jr. was killed in action during World War Two. Just 4 years later still, Ted’s sister Kathleen was killed in a plane crash.

It’s said that Ted fell into the role of the family clown during this period, striving to add some light to that dark period of Kennedy ill fortune.

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4. He was expelled from Harvard University

Like his brothers before him, Ted attended Harvard University. There, he showed great promise as a footballer, but struggled with Spanish. Rather than fail the class, Ted had a classmate sit his Spanish exam for him. The scheme was discovered and Ted was expelled.

Following the expulsion, Ted spent 2 years in the military before ultimately being allowed to return to Harvard. He graduated in 1956, before studying at the Internation Law School at The Hague, Holland, and then the Virginia Law School, which he graduated from in 1959.

5. He took JFK’s seat in the US Senate

After college, Ted campaigned for brother JFK’s successful 1960 presidential campaign. When JFK vacated his seat in the US Senate to take up the presidency, Ted tried for his former seat and won: he became a Massachusetts representative at the age of 30. JFK was killed by assassination 3 years later, in 1963.

6. He survived a plane crash in 1964

Ted had a brush with death in June 1964 while aboard a small plane over Massachusetts. The craft encountered bad weather and crashed, killing 2 people on board.

While Ted luckily escaped with his life, he suffered a broken back and internal bleeding. He spent 6 months in hospital recovering and would endure chronic pain for years to follow.

7. The Chappaquiddick Incident damaged Ted’s public image

On 18 July 1969, Ted was driving himself and campaign worker, Mary Jo Kopechne, across Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. He accidentally steered the car off an unmarked bridge.

While Ted managed to escape the vehicle, Kopechne drowned. Ted then left the scene of the incident, only reporting it to the authorities some 9 hours later, apparently because of a concussion and from being exhausted from trying to rescue Kopechne. He was later found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident, receiving a 2-month suspended sentence.

Bridge to Chappaquiddick Island that Ted Kennedy drove off, killing Mary Jo Kopechne. 19 July 1969.

Image Credit: Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock Photo

While Ted escaped with his life from the crash at Chappaquiddick, his dream to become president did not. The incident caused a national scandal, badly damaging Ted’s public image. He made a presidential bid in 1980 against incumbent Jimmy Carter, but his campaign was damaged by both poor organisation and by scrutiny into the Chappaquiddick Incident. His try for the presidency was unsuccessful.

8. Ted courted controversy later in life

Ted also attracted scrutiny and scandal later in life. In the 1980s, rumours of Ted’s adultery and alcohol abuse swirled amongst the American press and public, and in 1982 he and his wife Joan Bennett Kennedy divorced after 24 years of marriage.

Decades later, in 2016, Ted’s son Patrick Kennedy published a book, A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction. In it, he described Ted’s alleged struggles with alcohol and mental illness:

“My father suffered from PTSD, and because he denied himself treatment — and had chronic pain from the back injury he received in a small plane crash in 1964 when he was a very young senator — he sometimes self-medicated in other ways.”

9. He remained a prominent liberal politician throughout his later years

But despite scrutiny into his private life, Ted remained a prominent politician for decades. He was consistently reelected to the US senate, serving for some 47 years between 1962 and 2009, making him one of the longest-serving senators in US history.

Over his career, Ted forged a name for himself as an incredibly effective liberal legislator. He passed numerous bills, encompassing reforms on immigration, education, access to health care, fair housing and social welfare.

10. He died on 25 August 2009

Ted was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the summer of 2008. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on 15 August 2009 and was made an honorary Knight of the British Empire in March 2009 for services to Northern Ireland and to British-American relations.

Ted Kennedy died on 25 August 2009 at his home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Tags: John F. Kennedy

Harry Sherrin