Joseph Kennedy was born July 14, 1858, in Oshawa, Nicollet County, Minnesota, to Patrick and Elizabeth (Meaney) Kennedy. Patrick Kennedy had emigrated from Waterford in County Kilkenny, Ireland in 1849 and made his home in an agricultural region twenty miles north of Baltimore, Maryland, laboring as a farmer for eight years. It was in that part of the country that he married his wife, Elizabeth, also from Kilkenny County, and in 1857 the two went to Nicollet County, Minnesota, to claim 80 acres of government land.
The couple’s move to a rural community did not prevent their young son, Joseph, from developing intellectually. He attended rural schools and eventually found himself in a position as one of its teachers, beginning as early as 1876, preceding his enrollment to the University of Minnesota in the spring of 1878. He did not graduate from the University until 1886 with a Bachelor of Arts degree as he took absences during his matriculation to teach several terms in these rural schools. In 1901, he received a Master of Arts degree.
In September 1886, Kennedy came to North Dakota and became a principal of two city schools in Hillsboro, North Dakota, and remained in this position for two years. In the winter of 1886 he visited the campus of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and met with four pioneer educators, serving as the institution’s faculty, who so impressed Kennedy that he dubbed them “the four horsemen of the university apocalypse.” These four horsemen with saddle and lance were Dr. Henry Montgomery, Dr. Webster Merrifield, Dr. John Macnie, and Dr. H.B. Woodworth. After this visit, he returned to Hillsboro. A year later, Kennedy was elected the superintendent of schools in Traill County, North Dakota.
Serving four years in the capacity as superintendent, it was not until October 1, 1892 that his profession changed direction when he came to the young University of North Dakota to serve as Assistant Professor of Pedagogy and Principal of the Normal Department. But in this post he did not stay long, for only one year after his appointment, he became Head of the Department of Education. Following the retirement of Dr. Woodworth, he became a professor of philosophy and education. In 1901, he was made Dean of the Normal College, which later became the School of Education. He served as Dean until 1928 when he retired and became dean emeritus, the first in the university’s history.
Throughout his stay in North Dakota, Kennedy spent his summers either lecturing on education or conducting teachers’ institutes. His contribution to the educational system of North Dakota is illustrative in the appointments and committees he sat on. He was president of the North Dakota Education Association in 1895 and was a lifelong member. He was appointed by North Dakota Governor John Burke to both the State Law Codification Commission from 1909 to 1911, and the State Board of Examiners for the Certification of Teachers. In 1918, Dean Kennedy received an honorary degree of LL.D from the University of North Dakota. Inasmuch as Kennedy was committed to education in North Dakota, he devoted time to local affairs as a member of the Board of Park Commissioners in Grand Forks from 1907, when it was first organized, until 1928.
Kennedy authored the books Rural Life and the Rural School (1915) and Fundamentals in Methods in Elementary School (1915). Apart from his role as a writer, he was also the editor of the School of Education Record from 1915 to 1928.
He was married to Elizabeth Davis of Hillsboro on June 20, 1889, in Grand Forks. The couple had two sons, James and Laurence. Dr. Joseph Kennedy died April 1, 1937, in Grand Forks, and is buried in Calvary Cemetery.
The Joseph Kennedy Papers, 1879-1936, consist primarily of Kennedy’s academic writings. Included are several book-length manuscripts, “Points of View in Education and Life,” “Introductory Ethics,” “Modern Logic,” and “Principles and Problems of Education.” Numerous manuscripts for journal articles, as well as the text for speeches are also included.
The collection also includes biographical material, correspondence, materials related to both the University of North Dakota and the North Dakota Education Association, and miscellaneous certificates and diplomas.