Ethel Kennedy

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Ethel Kennedy
Ethel Kennedy, c. mid 1960s
Born Ethel Skakel
(1928-04-11) April 11, 1928 (age 86)
Chicago, Illinois
Education Greenwich Academy
Convent of the Sacred Heart
Alma mater Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart
Political party
Spouse(s) Robert Francis Kennedy
(m. 1950–1968; his death)
Parent(s) George Skakel
Ann Brannack

Ethel Skakel Kennedy (born April 11, 1928) is an American human-rights campaigner and widow of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated while running for nomination as Democratic presidential candidate in 1968.

As Ethel Skakel, she was classmates with Kennedy’s sister Jean at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. She and Kennedy married in 1950 and had seven sons and four daughters. Their house, Hickory Hill at McLean, Virginia, became the scene of notably elegant and exclusive parties.

Soon after her husband’s death, she founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, a nonprofit charity working to realize RFK’s dream of a just and peaceful world. In 2009, Ethel Kennedy was among the chief mourners at the funeral of her brother-in-law Ted Kennedy. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom.[1]

Early life[edit]

Ethel Skakel was born in Chicago to businessman George Skakel (1892–1955) and secretary Ann Brannack (1892–1955),[2] who were killed when the private plane they were traveling in crashed near Union City, Oklahoma. She was the Skakels' third daughter and sixth child, having five older siblings, Georgeann, James, George Jr., Rushton, and Patricia, and one younger sister, Ann.[3] George was a Protestant of Dutch descent[citation needed] while Ann was a Catholic of Irish ancestry. Ethel and her siblings were raised Catholic in Greenwich, Connecticut. George Skakel was the founder of Great Lakes Carbon Corporation, now a division of SGLCarbon.[4] She attended the all-girls Greenwich Academy[5][6] in Greenwich, as well as the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan.

In September 1945, she began her college education at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart (then located in Manhattan), where she was classmates with Jean Ann Kennedy. Ethel first met Jean's brother, Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy, during a ski trip to Mont Tremblant Resort in Quebec in December 1945. During this trip, he began dating Ethel's elder sister, Patricia. After Kennedy and Patricia's relationship ended, he began dating Ethel. She campaigned for his elder brother John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy (1917–1963) in his 1946 campaign for United States Congress, and wrote her college thesis on his book Why England Slept.

Marriage and children[edit]

Robert and Ethel became engaged in February 1950, and were married on June 17, 1950, at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenwich. Her wedding dress and bridal party gowns were created by noted New York City fashion designer Mamie Conti. As newlyweds, the couple moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where they lived while Robert Kennedy finished his last year at the University of Virginia Law School. The couple eventually had eleven children, the last of whom was born after Senator Kennedy was assassinated.

Name Birth Death Age Cause of death Occupation Spouse
Kathleen Hartington Kennedy July 4, 1951 Living 63 Lieutenant Governor of Maryland (1995–2003) David Lee Townsend
Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy II September 24, 1952 Living 62 U.S. Representative (1987–1999) Sheila Brewster Rauch (divorced); Anne Elizabeth "Beth" Kelly
Robert Francis Kennedy, Jr. January 17, 1954 Living 61 Environmental Attorney Emily Ruth Black (divorced); Mary Kathleen Richardson (separated, remained married until her death on May 16, 2012); Cheryl Hines
David Anthony Kennedy June 15, 1955 April 25, 1984 28 Drug Overdose Ambition towards journalism
Mary Courtney Kennedy September 9, 1956 Living 58 Former Representative of the United Nations AIDS Foundation Jeffrey Robert Ruhe (divorced); Paul Michael Hill (legally separated)
Michael LeMoyne Kennedy February 27, 1958 December 31, 1997 39 Skiing accident Attorney Victoria Denise Gifford
Mary Kerry Kennedy September 8, 1959 Living 55 Attorney Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York and former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (divorced)
Christopher George Kennedy July 4, 1963 Living 51 President of Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. Sheila Sinclair Berner
Matthew Maxwell Taylor "Max" Kennedy January 11, 1965 Living 50 Attorney Victoria Anne Strauss
Douglas Harriman Kennedy March 24, 1967 Living 48 Journalist Molly Elizabeth Stark
Rory Elizabeth Katherine Kennedy December 12, 1968 Living 46 Film director and producer Mark Bailey

After Robert F. Kennedy graduated with his law degree, the family settled in the Washington, D.C., area and Bobby went to work for the Department of Justice. That path did not last long, as Kennedy was asked by his family to manage his brother John Kennedy's successful 1952 Senate campaign in Massachusetts.

Throughout the 1950s, he worked for the federal government in investigatory roles for the United States Senate.[7] In 1956, the Kennedys purchased Hickory Hill from Bobby's brother Jack and his wife, Jackie. They needed a larger house, since Ethel was pregnant with their fifth child, Courtney. This enormous 13-bedroom, 13-bath home was situated on 6 acres (24,000 m2) in McLean, Virginia.

Robert and Ethel Kennedy held many gatherings at their home. Whether it was a pool party or a formal dinner party, the guest list was impressive and eclectic. Journalist Roger Mudd recalled meeting John Lennon at one such party. Other notable invitees included the Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, entertainer Judy Garland, dancer Rudolf Nureyev and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who found himself thrown into the pool fully clothed where Ethel Kennedy was also already swimming fully clothed.[8]

Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy[edit]

Shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was fatally shot by Sirhan Sirhan; Kennedy died in early hours of June 6. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national day of mourning. In 1969, Sirhan was convicted of Robert F. Kennedy's murder and sentenced to death. In 1972, the sentence was transmuted to life imprisonment after the California Supreme Court invalidated that state's death penalty as it existed at that time.

Following her husband's assassination in 1968, Ethel Kennedy stated publicly she would never marry again. For a time, she was escorted to dinners, parties and the theater by singer and family friend Andy Williams. She continued to live at the family home, Hickory Hill, in McLean, Virginia, until December 2009, when it was sold for $8.25 million.

Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights[edit]

In 1968, Ethel Kennedy founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, dedicated to advancing human rights through litigation, advocacy, and education. The Center is a nonprofit charity that issues annual awards to journalists, authors and individuals around the world who have made a significant contribution to human rights in their country.

Political involvement[edit]

During the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries, Ethel Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama.[9] Kennedy has publicly supported and held fundraisers at Hickory Hill for numerous politicians, including Virginia gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran.[10] For Obama, Kennedy hosted a $6-million fundraising dinner at Hickory Hill in June 2008. The $28,500-a-plate dinner was headlined by former Democratic presidential candidate and DNC chairman Howard Dean.[11]

Family involvement[edit]

Ethel Kennedy was among the chief mourners at the public funeral for her brother-in-law Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy on August 29, 2009. At the funeral Mass, Kennedy placed the pall on her brother-in-law's casket along with sister-in-law Jean.

Media involvement[edit]

Ethel Kennedy agreed to be in a documentary about her life that her daughter Rory directed. The film, titled Ethel, is a personal portrait of Ethel Kennedy’s political awakening, the life she shared with Robert F. Kennedy, and the years following his death when she raised their eleven children on her own; it features candid interviews with Ethel and seven of her children intercut with historical footage and personal videos.

In August 2014, Kennedy nominated President Barack Obama to do the Ice Bucket Challenge as part of an effort to raise awareness about ALS. The nomination video was first posted on her son, Maxwell Kennedy's, Facebook page.[12]

Legacy and awards[edit]

In 2014, a bridge over the Anacostia River was renamed the Ethel Kennedy Bridge in her honor, in recognition of her advocacy for environmentalism and social causes in the District of Columbia. [13]

Also in 2014, she was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama for her dedication to "advancing the cause of social justice, human rights, environmental protection, and poverty reduction by creating countless ripples of hope to effect change around the world." [14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Obama awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to 18". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  2. ^ Schlesinger (2002), p. 87
  3. ^ "A Dynasty Strained". The New York Times. November 19, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Home : SGL Group – The Carbon Company". Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  5. ^ Welcome to Greenwich Academy
  6. ^
  7. ^ ""Chapter 18. Records of Senate Select Committees, 1789–1988." In Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789–1989: Bicentennial Edition. (Doct. No. 100-42) Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South, eds. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.". 25 October 2010. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  8. ^ Leonard, Mary (October 21, 2003). "'Shock' over plan to sell RFK home". The Boston Globe. 
  9. ^ "Ethel Kennedy Endorses Barack Obama". 2008-02-02. Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  10. ^ "Kennedy Matriarch to Host Moran Event". The Washington Post. 
  11. ^ "$6 million dollar fundraising dinner for Barack Obama". NY Daily News. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  12. ^ Itkowitz, Colby. "Obama nominated by Ethel Kennedy to do ice bucket challenge". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  13. ^ "Ethel Kennedy Bridge is dedicated, at long last". Washington Post. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  14. ^ "President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom". The White House. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
Further reading
  • Schlesinger, Arthur Meier, Jr., Robert Kennedy and His Times, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002, ISBN 0-618-21928-5
  • Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot. Warner Books: 2000. ISBN 0-446-52426-3

External links[edit]