Remembering Rosemary Kennedy

RosemaryWith the past week filled with news of Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s funeral and her legacy of championing the Special Olympics, I decided to do some more research into the Kennedy family and their history. Rosemary Kennedy is a particular character I would like to shed some light on. In the past, Alanna had written briefly about the Kennedy family, Rosemary and President John F. Kennedy’s involvement in providing care for people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities in our Fall 2008 edition of the Star Newsletter.

Rosemary Kennedy, the older sister to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was the third child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, and was born in 1918. She was slower to reach her developmental milestones than her overachieving brothers and had difficulties learning. It was believed by some that she was a regular girl suffering from depression, while others believed that she had some mental illness that caused her to become easily agitated. Other sources cite that she had some degree of mental retardation, but diaries written by Rosemary Kennedy reveal that she was a very sociable young woman with many interests.

In 1940, at the age of 22, Rosemary’s behavior became increasingly difficult. She snuck out at night from the convent where she was being educated and often had violent mood swings and tantrums. When she was 23, her father authorized a secret lobotomy on her that was meant to treat Rosemary’s mental health. The result of the experimental lobotomy were catastrophic and left Rosemary much worse than before, permanently incapacitated and unable to care for herself. She was then exiled to a convent in Jefferson, Wisconsin where no one in the family was allowed to contact her.

Through the years that followed, Rosemary was slowly reincorporated into the family. Eunice Kennedy Shriver often visited Rosemary, and in 1968, founded the Special Olympics in Rosemary’s honor. In 1950, Joseph Kennedy made mental retardation the special charitable interest of the Kennedy family foundation that he established in 1950. He and his wife, along with their children, used their considerable wealth and status towards making a difference in the area of special needs. And in January 7, 2005, Rosemary Kennedy passed away due to natural causes at Fort Memorial Hospital in Fort Atkinson,Wisconsin at the age of 86.

I suppose the fact that I had seen my sister swim like a deer in swimming races and do very, very well just always made me think that they could do everything.

– Eunice Kennedy Shriver


6 Responses to Remembering Rosemary Kennedy

  1. julia breveleri says:

    In 1940 Rosemary attended a camp owned by my family. Its name was Fernwood; it was in the Berkshires. Rosemary “attended” to act as a counselor. She was not only unable to perform any of the duties normally expected of a camp counselor, but was a decidedly upsetting presence; there is no doubt in my mind that she was seriously mentally retarded. She was an adult but acted like a child. As for any “diaries” she ever wrote, well, she also wrote my cousins who helped to run the camp, a nice little good-bye note. You can scarcely understand it. Her handwriting, spelling, sentence structure, and even the sentiments she expressed, were those of a 6 or 7 year old. I doubt that anyone could make out what she was saying in those diary entries refenced here; they must have been transcribed, cleaned up as to the style, then typed, for anyone to think she actually could communicate clearly in written words. Rosemary WAS lovely looking. She was also willful, strong in body and a serious management problem for any responsible, sensible adult who had to deal with her. I have always pitied her father for having made the decision to lobotomize her, but hindsight is everything. Many reputable people thought lobotomies were the way to handle situations like Rosemary’s. As for thinking Joe Kennedy was every “sold a bill of goods” about anything – well, that’s just ridiculous. He was highly intelligent, well informed, well read, well connected and certainly well intentioned. He loved all his children, including the beautiful but retarded Rosemary.

  2. Lynn K. says:

    Julia, Julia? So if you were there at that camp that you also claim is or was your parent’s, that would make you like 70 years old or 70 something or 80 something … that is if you were say at least 10 years old or older at the time.

    And if you have the letter, you should share it or try to sell it. Somehow, though, I doubt you have anything because I doubt your story. No biography that I’ve read about the Kennedy family ever said Rosemary was seriously retarded. And here you are on this site saying she was seriously retarded.

    I’m very sorry, but you seem to be a liar. Why is that? Need attention in some way? In any case, I hope people don’t ever read your post and believe it. It would be a shame.

  3. Lynn K. says:

    My last comment didn’t show the post address. So here is what you said, “I don’t know where people get the idea that she was not retarded. I know she was. She was 22 yars old in 1940 when her mother palmed her off on my unsuspecting family. She was to work as a counselor at a girls’ camp in the Berkshire region of Mass. We owned the camp. It was such a disaster she had to leave well before the summer ended. She wrote a note you can barely decipher, saying goodbye. She was 22 years old and in the note she expressed herself like a kindergardener. She “acted out”, was inapproprite, had no boundaries, almost no social skills and was physically clumsy. There was a lot wrong with her. Mental illness, or mild depression may have been one of her afflictions, but she was surely retarded as well. I think she was retarded from birth. Now, in hindsight, and with all the research that’s been done into retardation and mental illness, people are second guessing the diagnosis of that day. Believe me, the Kennedys were bright, well read, well connected and certainly had the “pull” to get and follow the best possible advice. Rosemary was a very attractive person; but if you look closely at her photos, you will see that she was not an adult mentally. Her open smile, bright eyes, so charming in pictures, were off-putting in person because they were inappropriate to her situation. As for her being able to do multiplication problems like the ones that keep getting cited in these posts about her, I doubt the truth of these stories. She could barely count, and needed to use manipulatives to keep her numbers straight. I went on to have a career teaching mentally retarded children and adults. It is a complicated and heart-breaking affliction. Just because someone’s retarded does not mean they do not have other mendical/mental problems as well, and I think Rosemary did have a lot wrong with her. Her retardation, however, was obvious. It is a sad sad story.”

  4. Lynn K. says:

    My apology … it was on this site you called Rosemary seriously retarded. Anyway, it’s good that anyone that might believe you sees what you wrote on another post.

  5. Lynn K. says:

    The Kennedy family changed their story so many times about Rosemary, and that is what makes me angry. Not the lobotomy persay but the way they conducted their lives before the lobotomy and afterwards as far as mention of Rosemary. The story always changes. Rosemary was a human being. And I realize the times were different, that lobotmy was an accepted treatment, but that doesn’t explain the lies. So, you, Julia, really piss me off because you say you shed light on something without proof, and in the worse way — without giving any. The real story about Rosemary Kennedy is that in that family she was never going to be allowed … Rpsemary Kennedy would not be allowed! And she wasn’t.

  6. Kristi says:

    I am guessing Julia is in her 80’s or 90’s. Julia must be up there in age if she personally knows Rosemary. The summer of 1940, was 70 years ago. Another thought, is that Julia could of been a small child or she wasn’t born yet. Her family must of told Julia about Rosemary. But I see 80 and 90 year old people on the internet. Look at John McCain’s mom actively campaigning for her son at age 95.

    I also read a few biographies about the Kennedy Family. Rose and Ted Kennedy books claim that Rosemary was diagnosed with mental retardation. Rosemary was not mentioned in Chris Lawford’s (Patricia son’s)book “Symptoms of Withdrawal”. Laurence Leamer’s books also said that Rosemary suffered from mild mental retardation. Barbara Gibson and Ron Kessler are stating that Rosemary did not suffer from mental retardation at all. Rosemary Kennedy kept diaries, which Gibson found as secretary to Rose Kennedy. Rose Kennedy wanted them disposed, to hide the evidence that she did not suffer from mental retardation. Ron Kessler looked at Dr. Brown records. Dr. Brown worked for the President’s Research Panel for Mental Retardation, founded under President Kennedy. Dr. Brown knew about Rosemary’s medical situation, and stated that she suffered from some type of mental illness, not mental retardation. I also read Edward Shorter’s book, “The Kennedy Family and the Story of Mental Retardation.”

    With that said, I don’t think Rosemary had an IQ below 65. I saw several pictures of Rosemary before the lobotomy she always smiled and appeared happy and comfortable. She also looked well groomed and beautiful. I read from Gibson’s book that Eunice and her made a solo trip to Switzerland in 1936; I also read in Shorter’s book that Rosemary onetime supervised youngsters alone at the beach, played tennis, and was an excellent swimmer.

    It was really sad what happened to Rosemary in the fall of 1941. Her father Joe, was an unfaithful husband, imported illegal liquor, stayed in a far of village in the English Countryside while London was being attacked by Germany in 1940, and him and Rose were friends of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor shook hands of Adolf Hitler. Joe Kennedy has done bad things as well as good things. The good things he has done was establish the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation in Mental Retardation research in 1946 and built a private home for Rosemary at St. Coletta’s in 1949. By far in the my opinion, the worst of the bad things he has done was to lobotomize Rosemary. He did not tell Rosemary about the operation; she assumed that she was going in for a routine exam. He kept her operation top secret. I feel he had the intention of hurting his daughter, so one of his son’s can become president. How selfish was that? He believed her rebellious behavior, sneaking out of the covenant at night, would destroy the family’s reputation.

    I believe Rosemary’s brain should of been left alone. She could have succeeded in life in her own way. Selfish Joe Kennedy ended up making this not possible for Rosemary after the surgery. She was immediately whisked away to an institution in New York and then to Wisconsin in 1949. There was a St. Coletta’s in Massachusetts, why wasn’t Rosemary put there? Joe Kennedy did not see her since 1941, neither did some of her siblings. The Kennedy Family re-established contact with Rosemary in the 1970’s. In the mid 1970’s, Rosemary was making visits to Hyannisport, Palm Beach, and to Washington D.C. to see family.

    Rosemary was not alone. There are thousands, even millions of people with mental retardation who have been neglected by their families. Many families immediately put their infant son and daughter into an institution and disown them. Joe Kennedy disowned Rosemary after her lobotomy. With that said, I hope he is with Satan right now.

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