A January 27, 1953 Western Union Telegram invited the newly elected, Senator John F. Kennedy (D. Massachusetts), to respond to the traditional toast to the United States at the 216th anniversary dinner for the Charitable Irish Society of America. Senator Kennedy responded to Robert H. Montgomery, then President of the Charitable Irish Society, asking for additional information about this tradition.
While the Burns Library collections contain no affirmative response to the invitation, we do know that the future President did participate in the ceremony. How? The archival records of the Society contain a program for every annual St. Patrick’s Dinner (excluding the year 1847 when in acknowledgment of the Great Famine of that year, no dinner took place).
The Charitable Irish Society, started in Boston in 1737 , was formed to assist newly arrived Irish immigrants in adapting to a new city and new country. As the oldest Irish society in the Americas, the Society has a rich history, an interesting and diverse membership, and an ongoing commitment to its charitable goals today, to assist new immigrants from any country.
Each year the format of the annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner of the Charitable Irish Society was the same, and remains so to this day. There is a toast to the United States of America, and a response. Then a toast to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and a response. Finally, there is a toast to the City Of Boston, and a response.
On the night of March 17, 1953, in the Sheraton Plaza Hotel, three key figures of government appeared and spoke:
For the United States: Senator John F. Kennedy
For the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Governor Christian Herter
For the City of Boston: Mayor John B. Hynes
The remarks of this powerful political trio offer an insight into the ideology, culture, society, and politics of the day in the City of Boston, the state of Massachusetts, the United States and beyond.
While Charitable Irish Society records in the Burns Library do not contain the response to the Toast to the United States,it was not difficult to locate a copy with a bit of thought, and realizing where we sit geographically. The John. F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is just about 9 miles away from the Burns Library, in the Dorchester section of Boston. A search of the Library’s collections resulted in a copy of Senator Kennedy’s response available in digital format on the website.
The greater Boston area, rich in history, monuments to that history, and records of historical value, offers valuable opportunities to anyone who might want to research and write. As one might glean from this brief article, information abounds in libraries and archives in the area, and what might not be held in one institution might very well be held in another. Knowing what is available and where is key to piecing together the puzzle that history can be. Consult this very helpful Harvard Library Research Guide for Finding Manuscripts and Archival Collections, Boston- Area Repositories.
- Kathleen Williams, Senior Reference Librarian, Bibliographer for Irish Studies, John J. Burns Library
- Western Union Telegram to Honorable John. F. Kennedy, Response to the Western Union Telegram from Senator John F. Kennedy. Box 17, Folder 19, Charitable Irish Society records, MS.1993.012, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.
- Response to the toast to the United States, Charitable Irish Society Dinner, March 17, 1953.
- Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Speeches and the Press. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Saint Patrick’s Day speeches by various speakers. JFKSEN-0894-012. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Works Related to the Charitable Irish Society Records: