The United States changed on November 22. The president’s promise was lost and the coverage of the event by television affected all who watched with immediacy and intimacy. The American people experienced the tragedy together.
Below is a collection of reactions to the events of that long weekend expressed through the diary entries of five women. Some modifications and silent corrections have been made to formatting, spelling and punctuation where necessary for reading ease.
Mary Haldane Begg Coleman, a longtime resident of Williamsburg, was about eighty-five years old when she wrote this entry, and thus would have been alive for three presidential assassinations (Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy) and three attempts (Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and Truman). Ex-President Teddy Roosevelt was wounded while campaigning for President in 1912.
Friday 22nd Nov.
Very mild but cloudy. The assassination of President Kennedy in Washington, D. C. Dallas, Texas stuns us all. It took place in Texas this noon. The news is all confused.
Saturday 23d Nov.
The news from Washington and Dallas and, in fact, from all round the globe is connected chiefly with President Kennedy’s death of course but there is comfort in the evident fact that it was the work of a half wit, not of any of the excited, bewildered citizens, negro and white who are striving to be heard, at present. This tragedy may even make them stop and think! (It is mild and cloudy, we even had a little rain. Janet writes happily and will be home tomorrow.
Sunday 24 Nov.
Much colder, but a lovely day. Things continue violent in Dallas. The man suspected of killing the President, has now been killed by someone! Our day was active. Mrs. Bolton came to lunch. Then the Barlowes were here in the afternoon, and Isobel Jun. and Sonny with Pamela, it was pretty strenuous. Janet seems to have had a wonderfully successful trip and now she is helping Susie plan a visit to Rochester to visit the Beggs.
Monday 25 Nov.
This day was kept as a day of mourning for the death of poor young President Kennedy who may perhaps leave a greater impression on the people than if he had lived. Alice A. was with us at tea and Janet returned from her visit to Atlanta. Otherwise the day was very quiet.
Another Virginia resident, Eleanor Wormley Perrin of “Goshen,” Gloucester County, wrote:
Friday 22 November
Clear & mild. To C. H. in A.M. Eliz telephoned they were at Gloucester Point. While at lunch we heard over TV that President Kennedy had been shot. A little later heard he had died, awful. Texas governor also shot, but not as severely wounded. An awful thing. Listened rest of day to TV.
Saturday 23 November
Cloudy, rain in afternoon & hard at night. Eliz & I went to Church fair then to C. H. I went in afternoon to C. H. for Eleanor’s meat juice.
Sunday 24 November
Cold, clear & nice. Eliz. & I went to church. Eleanor & Miss Teague watching television & just as we came in [she left blank space] [Oswald] was shot. Pandemonium. TV all rest of day.
Monday 25 November
Cold but clear & lovely. I went to have hair washed. Mrs. Winters had TV on & we watched Kennedy funeral arrangements & trip to Washington Cathedral. I drove home & watched rest of funeral. Later took Sallie’s coat to her.
Hester Barrows of Fulton, N.Y. systematically, for much of her life, wrote in five-year diaries which allotted only a few lines per day. Her comments were sparse, and after the day of the assassination it was back to business as usual for her. She may not have had radio or television although at that time, most families would have had access at least to the former:
Cloudy 52 – going up to 60. E. had dentist app’t at 9 with Miller – I’m riding to city with him in morning. Came home tired out. Later over to Vic. Got ham etc. Ruth wouldn’t cash coupons. Supper here. Later down to Lou [?] for pinochle. We picked up Helkes. Home 12:30. Lois Bacon called to tell us Levi died last nite. Pres. Kennedy was shot & died today – 1 o’clock.
Septic tank man came & pumped out tank. He says need new dry wells. charged us $25.00 E. picked up Mable Hiillman & brought her over for supper. John Pence came to supper. We had slides here. They left 9:30. E & I took Mabel home.
Snowing a little. E worked on septic tank. No luck.
E. went to lab & back 10:30. We left for Ithaca to go to Levi’s funeral. Also left ck for 6.00 at Florists. Home 5. Supper here. In all eve[ning].
Eva Webb worked in a department store near Erie, Pa. and she wrote the most reflective of the entries:
President Kennedy ass[ass]inated.
November 22 Friday
This is a day we won’t forget for a long, long time. Went to work at 9 o’clock. We were real busy all day. Early in the afternoon news came over radio & TV that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. He was on a campaign tour. Jackie was with him. Had top down & man shot from top of 5 story bldg. About an hour later word came that Pres. Kennedy was dead. What a horrible thing. It made everybody feel terrible.
November 23 Saturday
Went to work at 9:30. Every one feels so depressed, there is no explaining it. Of course there are no regular programs on radio & TV, only coverage on the president’s death. We weren’t busy at all in the store. Think folks are not in shopping mood. Just doesn’t seem possible it has happened, not in this country! Floyd came after me at 5:30. Watched TV a great deal.
November 24 Sunday
We went to church today; The church was filled. Had to get a lot of chairs out to seat people. Everyone was at church it seems, perhaps as a result of the president’s death. Rev. Maurice Stevens preached a wonderful sermon. Went down home in late P.M. They are about as usual. They are watching TV too.
November 25 Monday
John F. Kennedy’s funeral today at noon.
A day of extreme gloom for the whole nation. I watched and watched TV. The store closed from 12 to 2 o’clock. I didn’t go in until 2 o’clock. Watched TV. The cortege was on the way to Arlington Cemetery and I had to go to work. Not very busy, think everyone home watching TV and in no mood for shopping. Floyd came after me at 5:30. Had supper & watched TV. Regular programs will be on again tomorrow.
Violet L. Barnett from West Chester, Pa. wrote long, detailed entries in her diaries – resembling streams of consciousness:
Fri November 22
President J. F. Kennedy shot & killed by assassin in Texas. foggy warm. Humidity high. children to S. After his breakfast, Dad shaved. At 10 we went up to Bartram’s for a few things |over to gas station for case of 7 up, also gas in tank. home by 11, after lunch at 12:45 both took a nap. I got up at 2:30. Thought I would listen to Art Linkletter but Chet H. was on telling us Prest. Kennedy was dead. Had been shot in motor-cade & died. So hard to believe that could be so quickly. A high rifle from a building along the way. Dreadful thing. I do hope they get the maniac. Gov of Texas also wounded but will get better, he is out of danger now. Nothing else on TV. all programs canceled as it should be. Vice Prest. Johnson was sworn in as President on plane back to Washington by Judge Sara[h] Hughes. Mrs. Johnson & Mrs. Kennedy each side of him. Poor man. what a dreadful burden on his shoulders.
Sat. November 23
Vice-Pres. Johnson now our President, was sworn in yesterday by Judge Sara[h] Hughes. Cloudy & a few drops of rain in early morn. I was up at 6:30. After cup of coffee I turned TV on & watched a while, different reporters telling how things were planned for funeral & pictures of flag draped casket being brought into White House with Honor Guard of Navy Men. Mrs. Kennedy took little children Caroline & John into see where their father was. Awfully hard on her I’m sure, little ones can’t understand. Ethel called, she is still husky with cold, don’t clear very fast, raining hard & she knew I wouldn’t expect to see her to-day. She will pick up Lou’s digitalis at H. Darlington’s I ordered on Fri. They didn’t go to see Kay’s brother last night at Jone’s. It was called off, nobody felt like any fun, better for Ethel & Bob to get more rest. Earl away til very late. Bed at 11.
Sun. November 24
As they brought the man who shot Kennedy down to take him to prison, some man shot him. He died shortly.
Beautiful morn. After our breakfast Dad back to bed till 8:30, then he got shaved. I just filled stocking in bag & tangerines also for baskets they are filling at Grange & had TV on awhile, some beautiful singing at different churches for Kennedy. Dad & I to church in our car. The church was filled & Bob D. surely did have a good sermon. Lee Tarry was there & looks good. He is going out to California to live after 1st of the new year. Lee will be back from Army then. We watched the funeral procession from W. House to Capitol to lay in state. Jackie & 2 little ones looked so sad but I didn’t see any tears. She & Caroline walked to casket, knelt and kissed the flag then walked back. Ethel & family down little in P.M. both had a big pizza they cut up & gave Ken a couple of pieces. He was here but not good for us. Gave Susan doll we had fixed.
Mon. November 25 A day of mourning for President Kennedy. Earl Lamy to Holy Trinity Church. Church was filled. Sad day for every-body. but such a hard one for her. Prest Kennedy’s Brother Robert went with her, they went to the Capitol, she walked up a long flight of steps, said Good-bye again, walked down & followed cassion with white horses & 1 black riderless one to W. House. Then she led the high officials & foreign dignitaries waking to St. Matthews Cathedral Church service (beautiful) then on to Arlington Cemetery (riding now). Thousands of people along the way. When she returned, she met & thanked all the people from foreign co[untrie]s that had come to the funeral. Prest Kennedy was loved by all but that terrible assassin who shot him. Her composure broke when they played TAPS but she soon regained it and left taking Flag that Honor Guard had folded & gave to her.