With 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