|Born||Rose Marie Kennedy
September 13, 1918
Brookline, Massachusetts, United States
|Died||January 7, 2005
Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, United States
|Parents||Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr.
Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald
|Relatives||Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. (brother)
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (brother)
Kathleen Agnes Kennedy (sister)
Eunice Mary Kennedy (sister)
Patricia Kennedy (sister)
Robert Francis Kennedy (brother)
Jean Ann Kennedy (sister)
Edward Moore Kennedy (brother)
Rose Marie "Rosemary" Kennedy (September 13, 1918 – January 7, 2005) was the third child and first daughter of Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the first sister of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Considered psychologically unstable, she underwent a prefrontal lobotomy at age 23, which left her permanently incapacitated.
Family and early life
She was born into an Irish American family at her parents' home in Brookline, Massachusetts, and named Rose Marie Kennedy after her mother, but was commonly called Rosemary. To her family, she was known as Rosie.
Rose sent Rosemary to the Sacred Heart Convent in Elmhurst, Providence, Rhode Island, at age 15, where she was educated separately from the other students. Two nuns and a special teacher, Miss Newton, worked with her all day in a separate classroom. The Kennedys gave the school a new tennis court for their efforts. Rosemary "read, wrote, spelled and counted" like a fourth-grader. She studied hard but felt she disappointed her parents, whom she wanted to please. During this period, her mother arranged for her brother Jack to accompany her to a tea-dance where, thanks to him, she appeared "not different at all".
By Massachusetts state law, the Binet intelligence test was given to her before first grade, as she twice failed to advance from kindergarten on schedule. According to Henry H. Goddard, she had personally suffered intellectual disabilities. Rosemary was deemed to have an IQ between 60 and 70 (in an adult, equivalent to a mental age between eight and twelve). Her sister Eunice thought that Rosemary's problems arose because a nurse had delayed her birth awaiting the doctor who arrived late, depriving her of oxygen. Her mother's cousin thought the marriage of second cousins by her parents Josie and John F. Fitzgerald caused it. At the time, a low IQ was interpreted as a moral deficiency. A biographer wrote that Rose did not confide in her friends and that she pretended Rosie was normal, with relatives beyond the immediate family knowing nothing of Rosemary's condition. Younger sister Eunice surmised from various doctors' visits to their home that Rosemary was both "mentally ill" and epileptic.
Diaries written by her in the late 1930s, and published in the 1980s, reveal a young woman whose life was filled with outings to the opera, tea dances, dress fittings, and other social interests:
- "Went to luncheon in the ballroom in the White House. James Roosevelt took us in to see his father, President Roosevelt. He said, 'It's about time you came. How can I put my arm around all of you? Which is the oldest? You are all so big."
- "Have a fitting at 10:15 Elizabeth Arden. Appointment dress fitting again. Home for lunch. Royal tournament in the afternoon."
- "Up too late for breakfast. Had it on deck. Played Ping-Pong with Ralph's sister, also with another man. Had lunch at 1:15. Walked with Peggy. also went to horse races with her, and bet and won a dollar and a half. Went to the English Movie at five. Had dinner at 8:45. Went to the lounge with Miss Cahill and Eunice and retired early."
Appearance at court
Rosemary was presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during her father's service as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Her father presented his daughters instead of, more customarily, choosing about thirty young American debutantes, a decision which earned him favor in the press. Rosemary's "slowness" was also unconventional and daring for a debut (two of the queen's nieces remained in a mental hospital because they were mentally ill). Young women would practice the rather complicated royal curtsey, sometimes learning the performance at the Vacani School of Dancing near Harrods. Rosemary practiced for hours and hours. She wore a gown made of white tulle with a net train and carried a bouquet of lilies of the valley. Her sister Kathleen "was stunning, but she was only a shadow of Rosemary's beauty". Just as Rosemary was about to "glide off" by stepping to the right, she tripped and nearly fell. Rose never discussed the incident and treated the debut as a triumph. The crowd made no sign, the King and the Queen smiled as if nothing had happened, and nobody knows if Rosemary was aware of her stumble.
One Kennedy family biographer called her "absolutely beautiful" with "a gorgeous smile". At twenty, she was "a picturesque young woman, a snow princess with flush cheeks, gleaming smile, plump figure, and a sweetly ingratiating manner to almost everyone she met". She enjoyed dancing such as at her sister Kathleen's coming-out party.
Her parents told Woman's Day that Rosemary was "studying to be a kindergarten teacher", and Parents was told that while she had "an interest in social welfare work, she is said to harbor a secret longing to go on the stage". The Boston Globe wrote requesting an interview which was declined, but her father's assistant Eddie Moore prepared a response, which Rosemary copied out laboriously, letter by letter:
"I have always had serious tastes and understand life is not given us just for enjoyment. For some time past, I have been studying the well known psychological method of Dr. Maria Montessori and I got my degree in teaching last year."
Placid and easygoing as a child and teenager, the maturing Kennedy became increasingly assertive in her personality. She was reportedly subject to violent mood swings. Some observers have since attributed this behavior to her difficulties in keeping up with siblings who were expected to perform to high standards, as well as the hormonal surges associated with puberty. In any case, the family had difficulty dealing with the often-stormy Rosemary, who had begun to sneak out at night from the convent where she was educated and cared for.
In 1941, when Rosemary was 23, doctors told her father that a new neurosurgical procedure, a lobotomy, would help calm her mood swings and sometimes-violent outbursts. Joseph P. Kennedy decided that Rosemary should have the lobotomy performed, but did not inform Rose until afterwards. At the time, relatively few lobotomies had been performed; James W. Watts, who carried out the procedure with Walter Freeman, described what happened:
"We went through the top of the head, I think she was awake. She had a mild tranquilizer. I made a surgical incision in the brain through the skull. It was near the front. It was on both sides. We just made a small incision, no more than an inch." The instrument Dr. Watts used looked like a butter knife. He swung it up and down to cut brain tissue. "We put an instrument inside," he said. As Dr. Watts cut, Dr. Freeman put questions to Rosemary. For example, he asked her to recite the Lord's Prayer or sing "God Bless America" or count backwards. ... "We made an estimate on how far to cut based on how she responded." ... When she began to become incoherent, they stopped.
Rosemary lived for several years at Craig House, a private psychiatric hospital an hour north of New York City. In 1949, she moved to a house in Jefferson, Wisconsin, where she lived for the rest of her life on the grounds of the St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children (formerly known as "St. Coletta Institute for Backward Youth").
Archbishop Cushing had told her father about St. Coletta's, an institution for more than three hundred people with disabilities, and her father traveled to and built a private house for her about a mile outside St. Coletta's main campus near Alverno House which was designed for adults who needed lifelong care. The nuns called the house "the Kennedy cottage". Two Catholic nuns, Sister Margaret Ann and Sister Leona, provided her care along with a student and a woman who worked on ceramics with Rosemary three nights a week. Alan Borsari supervised the team and was able to call in specialists. Rosemary had a dog and a car that could be used to take her for rides.
Because of her condition, Rosemary became largely detached from her family, but was visited regularly by her mother and by her sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., did not visit Rosemary at the institution. Occasionally, following the death of her father, Rosemary was taken to visit relatives in Florida and Washington, D.C., and to her childhood home on Cape Cod.
Publicly, Rosemary was declared to be mentally handicapped.  Perhaps because of the episode, Eunice later founded the Special Olympics, and Joe founded and endowed philanthropies for people with developmental disabilities. In 1983, the Kennedy family gave $1 million to renovate Alverno House. The gift added a therapeutic pool and enlarged the chapel.
Rosemary died from natural causes on January 7, 2005, at the Fort Atkinson Memorial Hospital in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, at the age of 86, with her sisters Jean, Eunice, and Patricia, and her brother, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, by her side. She was buried beside her parents in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts.
- Leamer, p. 137.
- Leamer, pp. 203-204.
- Leamer, p. 166.
- Leamer, pp. 138, 163-66, 227, 825
- Gibson, Rose Kennedy and Her Family, includes Rosemary's diaries from 1936–1938.
- Leamer, p. 304.
- Leamer, pp. 251-56.
- Leamer, pp. 254, 270, 680.
- Leamer, p. 271.
- Laurence Leamer, The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family, referenced in Associated Press article, Retarded Kennedy Sister Dies at 86, (Saturday, January 8, 2005
- Jennie Weiss Block (2002). Copious hosting: a theology of access for people with disabilities. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 56.
- Kessler, The Sins of the Father, p. 226
- Leamer, p. 322.
- Leamer, p. 412, and caption to photo of the house facing p. 650.
- Leamer, p. 412.
- Leamer, pp. 412, 680.
- Leamer, p. 760.
- Collier, Peter; Horowitz, David (1984). The Kennedys. Summit Books. p. 116. ISBN 0-671-44793-9.
- Kessler, p. 233
- "Sister of President John F Kennedy dies". The Daily Telegraph. 8 January 2005. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
- Weil, Martin (8 January 2005). "Rosemary Kennedy, 86; President's Disabled Sister (washingtonpost.com)". The Washington Post. p. B06. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
- Cornwell, Rupert (10 January 2005). "Obituaries: Rosemary Kennedy". The Independent. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
- Burns, James MacGregor. John Kennedy: A Political Profile. Harcourt Brace, 1960.
- Collier, Peter and Horowitz, David. The Kennedys. Summit Books, New York, 1984. ISBN 0-671-44793-9.
- El-Hai, Jack. The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness. Wiley, 2004. ISBN 0-471-23292-0.
- Gibson, Barbara. Rose Kennedy and Her Family: The Best and Worst of Their Lives and Times. Birch Lane Press. ISBN 1-55972-299-1.
- Kennedy, Rose, Times to Remember. Doubleday, 1974. ISBN 0-385-47657-4.
- Kessler, Ronald. The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded. Warner Books, 1996. ISBN 0-446-60384-8.
- Leamer, Laurence, The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family. Villard Books, 1994. ISBN 0-679-42860-7.
- McCarthy, Joe. The Remarkable Kennedys
- McTaggart, Lynne. Kathleen Kennedy. Doubleday, 1983.
- Valenstein, Elliot S. Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery and Other Radical Treatments for Mental Illness. Basic Books, 1986).
- Rosemary Kennedy at the Internet Movie Database
- "Rosemary Kennedy, JFK's sister, dies at 86 – Born Mentally Disabled, She Was Inspiration for Special Olympics" obituary by The Associated Press at MSNBC, January 8, 2005