From Private to Public: John F. Kennedy's Letter to the Members of the Committee on Civil Defense of the Governors' Conference. October 6, 1961

John F. Kennedy, Letter to the Members of the Committee on Civil Defense of the Governors' Conference. October 6, 1961

John F. Kennedy's Letter to the Members of the Committee in Civil Defense advocating for the construction of family shelters. Click on the image to see item description containing a full transcript of the letter.

JFK Meeting with Governors on Civil Defense, 9:30AM

A White House photograph of John F, Kennedy meeting with the Governors on Civi Defense, May 1961.

 The Kennedy administration was the first presidential administration to officially mobilize a civil defense initiative centered on the fallout shelter. While he continued to advocate for family shelters as a “short-term solution," Kennedy undertook a mass plan to build community shelters in public buildings on a national scale (Monteyne 36). In this 1961 letter, Kennedy claims that “each level of government, each private organization and each citizen” must participate in the shift to public civil defense. Kennedy prioritized protecting civilians from fallout- by this point, the dangers of radiation were understood by government. Kennedy mentions that the Federal Government is involved in a “massive dissemination of technical information” in order to ensure that citizens were scientifically literate in relation to protecting themselves for fallout. Additionally, he discusses the role of the State Government in constructing public buildings that may serve as rudimentary shelters, providing "fallout shelter space for large groups of people under very austere conditions." This document marks an important turning point in presidential approaches to civil defense and fallout shelters. The rush to build public shelters reflects the tension of the Kennedy years when it came to public fear of nuclear war.

From Private to Public: John F. Kennedy's Letter to the Members of the Committee on Civil Defense of the Governors' Conference. October 6, 1961