A few years ago Cracked wrote an article titled “Five Real Life Horror Movies Deleted From You History Books” that brought Rosemary Kennedy to my attention. Rosemary was intentionally hidden away from the public by her family after the lobotomy secured for her by her father failed spectacularly. The Kennedy family benefited from this tragedy happening before the Internet.
Rose Fitzgerald, a staunch Catholic, married Joe Kennedy, an American business man with political aspirations, in 1914. The couple welcomed two sons, Joe Jr and John, before Rose Marie was born in 1918. While Rose was in labor at home her nurse was having trouble getting the doctor over in time for the baby’s arrival; since nurses “couldn’t” deliver children and doctors wouldn’t get paid if the baby was born when they weren’t there the nurse opted to hold the baby inside of Rose for two hours…
As Rosemary grew up Rose began to notice that her daughter wasn’t developing at the same pace as her other children, she chalked it up to the difference between boys and girls but the differences kept growing. Rosemary ended up repeating both Kindergarten and First grade before her mother took her out of school for private tutoring. After the Kennedy family grew to a total of 9 children and Joe’s business & political careers were expanding it became “easier” for Rose to send Rosemary away to boarding school. It has become clear to historians that Rosemary probably had some sort of mental handicap, including dyslexia, but mostly she was a temperamental young woman who did not fit in with ambitious nature of the Kennedys .
“Women were most frequently institutionalized by the order of husbands and fathers, whose will and opinion superseded the women’s.”
When it became difficult to find schools to take her, especially since the Kennedys didn’t share the severity of Rosemary’s limitations to prospective schools, Joe took matters into his own hands by having an experimental lobotomy performed on her. The description of what likely took place for Rosemary is horrifying and the following twenty years- in which her family sent her to an institution and ignored her- are equally devastating. In the mid-seventies, Rose confessed to a biographer that she didn’t understand how God could take her three able-bodied, politically minded sons from her but leave her with Rosemary… what a gem! She also repeatedly told her biographer that Rosemary simply suffered from an “accident” as a young woman because she didn’t want to discourage other parents with handicapped children.
I seriously could just regurgitate the entire book because it was all so fascinating.
At times I felt Larson focused too heavily on Rose and sometimes the detail of all the various educational programs Rosemary was enrolled would get repetitive and tedious; however, Larson delivers a well researched, engaging biography of a woman who has largely escaped public knowledge despite being the catalyst for several social programs still around today. Her brother, President John F Kennedy, created the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act, her sister, Eunice, developed the Special Olympics and her brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, was instrumental in the Americans with Disabilities Act.