John Francis "Honey-Fitz" Fitzgerald was born on February 11, 1863 on Ferry Street in the North End, a then-Irish enclave of Boston. He was the fourth of eleven children born to storekeeper, Thomas Fitzgerald and his wife, Rosanna Cox (some sources list her name as having been Rosemary Murray). According to legend, John acquired the name "Honey-Fitz" because as a boy he loved to dip into the sugar barrel in his father's grocery and liquor store. As a child he worked for his father before becoming a newsboy and later, a tour guide. During these years, John Fitzgerald received his primary education at the Eliot Grammar School.
In 1879, shortly after the death of his mother, he was accepted into the prestigious Boston Latin Academy, and from there, went on to spend a year at Harvard Medical School, before the death of his father forced him to quit so that he could support his younger siblings.
In 1886, "Honey-Fitz" took a Civil Service Exam and landed a job as a clerk in the Boston Customs House. He was such an efficient worker that his boss, Collector of the Port, Leverett Saltonstall, made him a customs inspector. By 1889, "Honey-Fitz" had earned enough money to start his own insurance company and to marry his second-cousin, Mary Josephine "Josie" Hannon. They would have six children: Rose Elizabeth (1890-1995), Agnes (1892-1936), Thomas Acton (1895-1968), John Francis Jr. (1897-1979), Eunice (1900-1923), and Frederick Hannon (1904-1935).
Due to his flamboyant, outgoing personality and his successful business ventures, "Honey-Fitz" soon became the most popular man in the North End, and by 1892 had become the political boss of the entire ward. Unlike other bosses in Boston, "Honey-Fitz" had a desire to run for public offices, and in 1891 he sought election to the Boston Common Council (now City Council). He won and served one term before going on to serve in the Massachusetts State Senate (1893-1895) and the U.S. House of Representatives (1895-1901).
As a Congressman, "Honey-Fitz" quickly proved to be a mover and a shaker, filing legislation that resulted in the construction of the Cape Cod Canal and the Boston Subway System (the first in the nation). "Honey-Fitz" also became known as a champion of Italian, Jewish, and African-American peoples, and his most celebrated moment as a Congressman came when he opposed an anti-immigration bill supported by Republican Senator, Henry Cabot Lodge. When Congress approved the bill, "Honey-Fitz" visited President Grover Cleveland and persuaded him to veto the bill, keeping immigration unrestricted for the next twenty-five years. All this made John F. Fitzgerald a national figure and many people predicted that after running for a fourth Congressional term in 1900, he would seek the mayoralty of Boston in 1901. This frightened other Boston political bosses like Patrick J. "P.J." Kennedy and Martin "the Mahatma" Lomasney, who feared that Fitzgerald was gaining too much power. They blocked his Congressional nomination in 1900, and in 1901, "Honey-Fitz" was out of a job.
Undeterred, Fitzgerald bought a failing Boston newspaper called "The Republic" and turned it into a thriving enterprise. During this period, he engineered the election of his brother, Henry S. Fitzgerald to the Massachusetts State Senate and Bostonians began referring to the Fitzgeralds as an "Imperial Dynasty" or "Boston's Royal Family". "Honey-Fitz" reinforced this impression by buying a palatial Victorian mansion at 39 Welles Avenue in Dorchester in 1903, where he would entertain friends, celebrities, and common folk alike in a lavish fashion. He was able to use "The Republic" as a political mouthpiece over the next four years, and in 1905, "Honey-Fitz" finally achieved his greatest goal of being elected Mayor of Boston (only the third Irishman to do so.
His eight year old son, Johnny, proudly predicted that his Daddy would go on to be Governor of Massachusetts and then President of the United States. Whereas previous Irish mayors had sought to placate the Yankee ruling class of Boston, "Honey-Fitz" clung proudly to his Irish heritage and stood up for the working man. Once, on a visit to a Boston bank, "Honey-Fitz" noticed that there were no Irish people in the higher echelons of the bank. He confronted the bank President who told him that many of the tellers were Irish. "Yes, and I suppose the charwomen are too!", Fitzgerald angrily responded. He made it a primary mission to advance the Irish in Boston society, finding them good jobs and founding the City Club, where wealthy Yankees and Irish could mingle.
His daughter, Rose founded the Ace of Clubs, a club for wealthy young Irish girls, as a counterpart to such Yankee ladies establishments as the Junior League and the Vincent Club. In the end, "Honey-Fitz" won the love and respect of many Yankees. Unfortunately, "Honey-Fitz's" first term as mayor quickly became equally well known for its corruption and graft. The Boston Financial Commission decided to investigate allegations of pay offs and deals with building contractors as well as embezzlement from city funds. Fitzgerald welcomed the investigation. He had friends on the Commission and was confident that he would be given a clean bill of health. Instead, the Commission reccomended a trial of the Fitzgerald administration, which became one of the most sensational courtroom cases of its day. In the end, the Prosector was unable to directly link Fitzgerald with any illegal activity, but a close friend of the Fitzgerald family went to prison and the judge openly stated that he believed that "Honey-Fitz" was not exactly an innocent.
As a result of all this turmoil, "Honey-Fitz" was voted out of office in 1907. In 1909, he ran again and won a narrow victory over Yankee candidate, James Jackson Storrow. During the campaign the Yankee-dominated Massachusetts State Legislature was so sure that Storrow would defeat Fitzgerald, that they voted to reduce the size of the Boston City Council, increase the mayor's powers, and allow four year terms for the mayor. "Honey-Fitz" was deeply grateful for their unwitting expansion of his mayoral powers. The Storrow-Fitzgerald campaign was a bitter one, during which "Honey-Fitz" fought hard for vindication, accused his opponent of being a tool of wealthy interests, and employed campaign posters with pictures of City Hall and the slogan: "NOT FOR SALE, MR. $TORROW!" It was also during this election that he sang for the first time, "Sweet Adeline", a song that would become his trademark (when he left office he said: "Mayors may come and Mayors may go, but the Municipal Anthem remains!" and sang his song).
During his second term as Mayor (the first four year term a Boston mayor ever had), "Honey-Fitz" reached the zenith of his popularity, both locally and nationally, and achieved a great deal, becoming the first Boston mayor to fly in an airplane, giving Boston a zoo, an aquarium, and the legendary basebal stadium, Fenway Park. He also established the tradition of "Banned in Boston", by banning such popular dances as the "Turkey Trot" and the "Tango" and banning plays like Oscar Wilde's "Salome." Once, after attending a concert at symphony hall, Fitzgerald could not see over the large feathers on the hats of women in the aisle in front of him. He issued a city ordinance prohibiting women from wearing hats in any public place! During his time as mayor, "Honey-Fitz" earned praise from the likes of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany (for whom he sang "Sweet Adeline" in Berlin), and in 1912 he decided to seek the Democratic nomination for vice-president. It looked like a sure thing, but curiously, he withdrew from the race at the last moment.
In 1913, Fitzgerald ran for re-election as Mayor, but withdrew from the race after his opponent, James Michael Curley (who would become an even more popular Mayor than "Honey-Fitz" and the basis of the best-selling novel, "The Last Hurrah"), sent Mrs. Fitzgerald a letter informing her that her husband was seeing a 23 year old showgirl named "Toodles". Curley threatened to expose the affair if Fitzgerald did not drop out of the race. "Honey-Fitz" told his wife that it was a lie and that he must challenge it, but "Josie" Fitzgerald was afraid of a scandal and insisted upon her husband's immediate withdrawal. Many people felt that Fitzgerald had backed down against Curley's threats and both the voting public and Fitzgerald himself, lost confidence in his ability to win an election.
In succeeding years, "Honey-Fitz" would run for Mayor (1917,1925), Senator (1916,1942,1944), Congressman (1918), and Governor (1922,1930), but with one exception, he always lost. His only win was the 1918 race for the U.S. House of Representatives. He defeated "Weeping" Peter Tague, but it proved a bitter-sweet victory: he was expelled from Congress the following year when it was proved that he had won the election through voter fraud and illegal campaign funds (allegedly raised through liquor and prostitution ventures). It was even claimed that Fitzgerald had hired street thugs to compel voters to vote for "Honey-Fitz" or else. All this is sheer conjecture, and it should be pointed out that while Peter Tague, finally got his Congressional seat, he had hardly run a clean campaign himself. Had "Honey-Fitz" been a lesser man, he could've tried to exploit this. Ironically, the man who helped Tague contest the election results and unseat "Honey-Fitz" was Joe Kane, a legendary Boston political operative who was Joe Kennedy's cousin and would later run campaigns for Fitzgerald and John F. Kennedy.
Not long after leaving the Mayor's office, Fitzgerald's daughter, Rose married Joseph P. Kennedy, the son of "Honey-Fitz's" rival, "P.J." Kennedy. Some say that "Honey-Fitz" did not approve of the marriage (he considered the Kennedys as being beneath the Fitzgeralds and had hoped that Rose would marry a wealthy Irishman or even a wealthy Yankee!). Despite his misgivings about the union, "Honey" loved his grandchildren dearly. His namesake, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a particular favorite of his. "Honey-Fitz" spent his last years as the Commissioner of the Boston Port Authority, where he tried to turn Boston's seaport into one that would rival New York City's. The public largely forgot about his supposed mistakes and he was viewed as a lovable, old, living legend. His fame was still so widespread around the world that when President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Argentina in the '30's, a band played "Sweet Adeline", remembering a Fitzgerald visit to their country and thinking that it was the U.S. national anthem. From then on, Roosevelt referred to "Honey-Fitz" as "La Dulce Adelina".
On Fitzgerald's eighty-fifth birthday, Mayor Curley declared an all day city celebration in honor of his old nemesis, "Honey-Fitz". Two of "Honey's" sons tried, unsuccessfully to follow in his political footsteps. Thomas would only become Boston's Street Commissioner, while John F. Jr. was only an elected Town Meeting Member in Milton, Ma. Agnes Fitzgerald, had once predicted that her brother, Fred would someday be President, but these hopes were dashed when Fred became an alcoholic and died of liver problems at the age of 31.
"Honey-Fitz" would find his true political heir in his grandson. In 1946, at the age of eighty-three, "Honey-Fitz" campaigned vigorously for the election of his granson, John F. Kennedy, to "Honey's" old Congressional seat. When JFK won, his grandfather (and Bobby Kennedy) climbed upon a table, danced an Irish jig, and sang his old anthem, "Sweet Adeline". Four years later, on October 2, 1950, John F. "Honey-Fitz" Fitzgerald died in Boston at the age of eighty-seven. His funeral was one of the largest in the city's history. President Harry S. Truman sent his sympathies and "Honey-Fitz's" pallbearers included U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (who would be defeated in a re-election bid by JFK two years later), U.S. Senator Leverett Saltonstall (the grandson of the man who had given "Honey-Fitz" his first job), U.S. Speaker of the House John McCormick, Massachusetts Speaker of the House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, and former Boston Mayor and Massachusetts Governor James Michael Curley. As "Honey-Fitz" was carried to his final rest from Holy Cross Cathedral to St. Joseph's Cemetery in West Roxbury, MA, a crowd of thousands who had gathered along the streets sand "Sweet Adeline".
In 1952, when John F. Kennedy achieved the goal that his grandfather never could, and was elected to the U.S. Senate, a group of old men claimed that they could hear the ghost of "Honey-Fitz" happily belting out "Sweet Adeline". In 1946, John F. Fitzgerald had proudly predicted that his grandson, John F. Kennedy would one day become the first Irish-Catholic President of the United States. Time proved him correct and as President, JFK returned the compliment by naming his presidential yacht, the "HONEY-FITZ". Today, Fitzgerald resides in the pantheon of lovably, rogueish mayors like Curley, Chicago's Richard Daley, and New York's Fiorello LaGuardia and Jimmy Walker, but his greatest legacy is that he paved the way for later generations of Irish-Catholic politicians, and was the founder of a dynast that has rivalled the Adams and the Roosevelts, giving us statesmen like JFK, RFK, and Edward M. Kennedy. The best places to learn more about this remarkable man are in books on his daughter, Rose (and her own memoir "Times To Remember". "Rose" by Gail Cameron is a good source of info and Doris Kearns Goodwin's "The Fitzgeralds & the Kennedys" is unsurpassed. Another good book is "Honey-Fitz: Three Steps To The White House - The Colorful Life & Times of John F. "Honey-Fitz" Fitzgerald" by John Henry Cutler, which remains the only full-length biography on Fitzgerald and will hopefully be someday supplanted by a more definitive work. I hope so, "Honey-Fitz's" story is an epic tale worth telling.-