Ethel Kennedy

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Ethel Kennedy
Ethel Kennedy 2018.jpg
Kennedy in 2018
Ethel Skakel

(1928-04-11) April 11, 1928 (age 94)
EducationManhattanville College (BA)
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1950; died 1968)
RelativesKennedy family

Ethel Kennedy (née Skakel; born April 11, 1928) is an American human rights advocate. She is the widow of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a sister-in-law of President John F. Kennedy, and the sixth child of George Skakel and Ann Brannack. Shortly after her husband's 1968 assassination, Kennedy founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. The organization is a non-profit charity working to fulfill his dream of a just and peaceful world. In 2014, Ethel Kennedy was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Early life and education[edit]

Ethel Skakel was born in Chicago, Illinois to businessman George Skakel and his former secretary Ann Brannack. Her parents were killed in a 1955 plane crash.[1] She is the Skakels' third of four daughters and sixth child of seven, having five older siblings, Georgeann, James, George Jr., Rushton, and Patricia, and one younger sister, Ann.[2] George was a Protestant of Dutch descent[3][4][5] 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.[6] Ethel attended the all-girls Greenwich Academy[7] in Greenwich, and she graduated from the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan in 1945.[8]

In September 1945, Skakel began her college education at Manhattanville College, where she was a classmate of future sister-in-law Jean Kennedy.[9] Ethel first met Jean's brother, Robert F. Kennedy, during a ski trip to Mont Tremblant Resort in Quebec in December 1945. During this trip, Robert Kennedy began dating Ethel's elder sister, Patricia. After that relationship ended, he began dating Ethel. She campaigned for Robert's elder brother, John F. Kennedy, in his 1946 campaign for the United States Congress; she also wrote her college thesis on his book Why England Slept.[7] Skakel received a bachelor's degree from Manhattanville in 1949.[8][10]

Marriage and family[edit]

Kennedy in 1968

Robert Kennedy and Ethel Skakel became engaged in February 1950 and were married on June 17, 1950, at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenwich, Connecticut.[11]

During the 1950s, Robert F. Kennedy worked for the federal government in investigatory roles for the United States Senate as a counsel.[12] The Kennedys purchased Hickory Hill, an estate in McLean, Virginia, from Robert's brother John and his wife, Jackie.[13] Robert and Ethel Kennedy held many gatherings at their home and were known for their impressive and eclectic guest lists.[14]

In 1962, President Kennedy assigned Ethel and Robert to tour fourteen countries within a 28-day goodwill trip. Though the trip was said to be informal, the host countries viewed her and Robert as stand-ins for the President and First Lady.[15]

On November 22, 1963, Ethel learned of President Kennedy's assassination from her husband. She had answered the phone, identified the caller as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and handed the phone over to Robert, who then informed her of the shooting. The FBI Director had never called the Attorney General's home before. Ethel was reportedly devastated by the assassination and worried for her niece and nephew.[16]

Ethel urged her husband to enter the Democratic primary for the 1968 presidential election. Biographer Evan Thomas portrayed her as RFK's "most consistent advocate of a race for the White House."[17]

Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy[edit]

Shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was mortally wounded by Sirhan Sirhan and died early the next day at the age of 42. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national day of mourning. Ethel sent Johnson a handwritten note on June 19, thanking him and his wife, First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, for the help they had given her and the Kennedy family.[18] Following her husband's assassination, Ethel Kennedy publicly stated that she would never marry again.[19] For a time, she was escorted to dinners, parties, and the theater by singer and family friend Andy Williams.[20]


Robert and Ethel Kennedy had eleven children over 18 years of marriage: Kathleen, Joseph, Robert Jr., David, Courtney, Michael, Kerry, Christopher, Max, Douglas, and Rory.[19] Rory was born after Senator Kennedy was assassinated.[21] Kathleen served as Lieutenant Governor of Maryland from 1995 to 2003,[22] and Joseph was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 8th congressional district of Massachusetts from 1987 to 1999.[23]

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

Ethel Kennedy founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (now known as Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights[24] in 1968.[25]

In February 2001, Kennedy visited Rodolfo Montiel and another peasant activist at their jail in Iguala, presenting Rodolfo with the Chico Mendes Award on behalf of American environmental group, the Sierra Club.[26]

In March 2016, Kennedy was among hundreds who marched near the home of Wendy's chairman Nelson Peltz in Palm Beach, Florida, as part of an effort by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farm workers' group, to convince the company to pay an additional one cent per pound of tomatoes to increase the wages of field workers.[27]

As of September 2018, Kennedy's daughter Kerry Kennedy was president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.[28]

Later life[edit]

Kennedy sold Hickory Hill for $8.25 million in December 2009.[29][30]

Ethel Kennedy in 2000

During the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries, Ethel Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama.[31] She publicly supported and held fundraisers at Hickory Hill for numerous politicians that included Virginia gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran.[32] Kennedy hosted a $6-million fundraising dinner for Obama at Hickory Hill in June 2008. The $28,500-a-plate dinner was headlined by former Democratic presidential candidate and DNC chairman Howard Dean.[33]

In 2012, Kennedy appeared in a documentary about her life; the documentary was directed by her youngest child, daughter Rory. The documentary, entitled Ethel, covers Kennedy's early political involvement, her life with Robert F. Kennedy, and the years following his death when she raised eleven children on her own. It features interviews with Ethel and her children interspersed with family videos and archival photos.[34]

In August 2014, Kennedy nominated President Barack Obama to do the Ice Bucket Challenge as part of an effort to raise funds and awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease). Obama declined to perform the fundraising stunt, but expressed appreciation to Kennedy and made a monetary donation to the cause.[35][36]

As of 2019, Kennedy resides at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.[37]

Legacy and awards[edit]

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan honored Kennedy with the Robert F. Kennedy medal in the White House Rose Garden.[38]

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.[39]

Also in 2014, Kennedy was awarded the 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."[40][41]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur Meier Jr. (2002). Robert Kennedy and His Times. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, p. 87
  2. ^ "A Dynasty Strained". The New York Times. November 19, 2013.
  3. ^ David, Lester (1971). Ethel: The Story of Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy. World Publishing Company. p. 4.
  4. ^ Sheenan, Susan (November 3, 1969). "Heaven Still Has Pearly Gates, Angels, For Ethel". The Palm Beach Post. p. C-4.
  5. ^ Hilty, James (2000). Robert Kennedy: Brother Protector. Temple University Press. p. 54. ISBN 1-439-90519-3.
  6. ^ "Home : SGL Group – The Carbon Company". Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Ethel Skakel Kennedy - JFK Library".
  8. ^ a b "Kennedy, Ethel (1928—) -".
  9. ^ McMullen, Troy (August 26, 2009). "The Last Kennedy: Jean Kennedy Smith". ABC News.
  10. ^ "Ethel Kennedy". Biography.
  11. ^ "On This Day: Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel marry in 1950". June 17, 2019.
  12. ^ ""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". October 25, 2010. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  13. ^ Rasmussen, Frederick N. "Ethel Kennedy selling Hickory Hill".
  14. ^ Leonard, Mary (October 21, 2003). "'Shock' over plan to sell RFK home". The Boston Globe.
  15. ^ Oppenheimer, Jerry (1994). The Other Mrs. Kennedy : An Intimate and Revealing Look at the Hidden Life of Ethel Skakel Kennedy. St. Martin's Paperbacks. p. 287. ISBN 9780312110406.
  16. ^ Oppenheimer, p. 352.
  17. ^ Evan Thomas (2002). Robert Kennedy: His Life. Simon & Schuster. p. 23. ISBN 978-0743203296.
  18. ^ Califano, Joseph A. (2015). The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years. Touchstone. p. 304. ISBN 978-1476798790.
  19. ^ a b "Who is Ethel Kennedy? Facts you need to know". June 28, 2018.
  20. ^ Brownstein, Bill. "A fascinating portrait of Ethel Kennedy".
  21. ^ Anderson, Lisa. "A CHILD OF TRAGEDY POSTPONES HER WEDDING". Chicago Tribune.
  22. ^ "Former President George H.W. Bush to vote for Hillary Clinton: Politico". CNBC. September 20, 2016.
  23. ^ "'Kennedy' Name Returns To Congress As Joe Kennedy III Wins 4th District". CBS Local. November 6, 2012.
  24. ^ Library, C. N. N. (January 28, 2013). "Ethel Kennedy Fast Facts". CNN.
  25. ^ James Santel (December 16, 2014). "Introducing Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights". (Press release). Archived from the original on February 18, 2015. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  26. ^ "Ethel Kennedy visits activists". The Irish Times. February 9, 2001.
  27. ^ "Ethel Kennedy leads farmworkers' protest near home of Wendy's billionaire chairman". Associated Press. March 13, 2016.
  28. ^ Mays, Jeffery C. (September 19, 2018). "500 Women and Teenagers to Be Bailed Out From Rikers by Human Rights Group". The New York Times.
  29. ^ Clymer, Adam; Natta, Don Van Jr. (July 11, 2011). "Family of Robert F. Kennedy Rethinks His Place at Library". The New York Times.
  30. ^ Gowen, Annie (December 1, 2013). "Tech entrepreneur's renovation of Hickory Hill signals new business guard remaking D.C." Washington Post. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  31. ^ "Ethel Kennedy Endorses Barack Obama". February 2, 2008. Archived from the original on February 6, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2008.
  32. ^ "Kennedy Matriarch to Host Moran Event". The Washington Post.
  33. ^ "$6 million dollar fundraising dinner for Barack Obama". NY Daily News. Archived from the original on December 30, 2011. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  34. ^ "A Mother with Moxie:A New Documentary Explores the Life of Ethel Kennedy by Her Filmmaker Daughter". Vogue.
  35. ^ Itkowitz, Colby (August 11, 2014). "UPDATED: Obama nominated by Ethel Kennedy to do ice bucket challenge". Washington Post.
  36. ^ Laura Stampler, Obama Declines Ice Bucket Challenge, Time (August 12, 2014).
  37. ^ Seelye, Katharine Q.; Martin, Jonathan (August 1, 2019). "Granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy Dies After Overdose at Family's Compound". The New York Times.
  38. ^ Weisman, Jonathan (July 24, 1999). "JFK Jr. visited White House at invitation of Nixon, Reagan". The Baltimore Sun.
  39. ^ "Ethel Kennedy Bridge is dedicated, at long last". Washington Post. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  40. ^ "President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom". November 10, 2014. Retrieved November 24, 2014 – via National Archives.
  41. ^ "Obama awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to 18". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 24, 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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]