January 23, 2022

JFK Library Opens Records from Edward M. Kennedy’s Early Senate Career, Includes Collection of Audio Recordings Available Online

From The JFK Library in Boston:

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.


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.


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?”


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.

Read the Complete Announcement

Note: The audio files can be accessed via the Finding Aid or via a search limited to sound recordings. All audio files can be downloaded.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.