Ethel Kennedy

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Ethel Kennedy
Ethel Kennedy in 1968
Ethel Skakel

(1928-04-11) April 11, 1928 (age 91)
EducationGreenwich Academy
Convent of the Sacred Heart
Alma materManhattanville College of the Sacred Heart
Political partyDemocratic
Robert Francis Kennedy
(m. 1950; died 1968)
Parent(s)George Skakel
Ann Brannack

Ethel Skakel Kennedy (born April 11, 1928) is an American human rights advocate. Kennedy is the widow of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy as well as the sixth child of George Skakel and Ann Brannack. She married Robert F. Kennedy in 1950, and the couple had eleven children together.

Shortly after her husband's June 5, 1968 assassination, Kennedy founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. The organization is a nonprofit charity working to realize Robert F. Kennedy's 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, to businessman George Skakel and secretary Ann Brannack. Her parents were killed in a 1955 plane crash.[1] She was the Skakels' third of four daughters and sixth child of seven, having five older siblings, Georgeann (1918–1983), James (1921–1998), George Jr. (1922–1966), Rushton (1923–2003), and Patricia (1925–2000), and one younger sister, Ann (b. 1933).[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] She attended the all-girls Greenwich Academy[7] in Greenwich and 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 his 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]

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.[citation needed] Her wedding dress and bridal party gowns were created by noted New York City fashion designer Mamie Conti.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

After Robert F. Kennedy graduated with a 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 F. Kennedy's successful 1952 Senate campaign in Massachusetts.[citation needed] Throughout the 1950s, he worked for the federal government in investigatory roles for the United States Senate.[11] In 1956, the Kennedys purchased Hickory Hill from Bobby's brother John 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.[citation needed]

Robert and Ethel Kennedy held many gatherings at their home and were known for their impressive and eclectic guest lists. Journalist Roger Mudd recalled meeting Beatle John Lennon at one such party. Other 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.[12]

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.[13]

On November 22, 1963, Ethel learned of President Kennedy's assassination from her husband. She had answered the phone, identified the caller as 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 President Kennedy's children.[14]

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."[15]

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. 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 their helping of her and the Kennedy family.[16] Following her husband's assassination, Ethel Kennedy publicly stated that she would never marry again.[17] For a time, she was escorted to dinners, parties, and the theater by singer and family friend Andy Williams.[18]

Children and grandchildren[edit]

Robert and Ethel Kennedy had eleven children; Kathleen, Joseph, Robert Jr., David, Courtney, Michael, Kerry, Christopher, Max, Douglas, and Rory.[17] Rory was born after Senator Kennedy was assassinated.[19] Kathleen served as Lieutenant Governor of Maryland from 1995 to 2003,[20] and Joseph was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 8th congressional district of Massachusetts from 1987 to 1999.[21]

In the media, Ethel Kennedy's parenting has been alternately described as "quaint", "questionable",[22] "tough love",[23] "inattentive",[24] and "angry".[25]

In a 1997 piece on the Kennedys' children, Vanity Fair noted "one son's death by drug overdose, another's arrest for heroin possession, and the involvement of Joe himself in reckless driving that left a girl paralyzed for life, along with a general trend of overindulgence among the sons that has sent several of them into rehab".[24] These remarks respectively referred to her sons David,[26] Robert Jr.,[27] and Joseph.[28][29]

As of October 2012, Ethel Kennedy had 35 grandchildren.[22]

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[30] in 1968.[dubious ] The Center is dedicated to advancing human rights through litigation, advocacy, and education. A nonprofit charity, the Center issues annual awards to journalists, authors, and individuals around the world who have made a significant contribution to human rights in their country.[citation needed]

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.[31]

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.[32]

As of September 2018, Kennedy's daughter Kerry Kennedy was president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.[33]

Later life[edit]

Kennedy continued to live at the family home, Hickory Hill, in McLean, Virginia, until December 2009,[citation needed] when it was sold for $8.25 million.[34]

Ethel Kennedy in 1999

During the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries, Ethel Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama.[35] She publicly supported and held fundraisers at Hickory Hill for numerous politicians that included Virginia gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran.[36] 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.[37]

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 their eleven children on her own. It features interviews with Ethel and her children interspersed with family videos and archival photos.[22]

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.[38][39]

As of 2014, Kennedy reportedly wintered in Florida and summered on Cape Cod.[40]

Legacy and awards[edit]

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan honored Kennedy with the Robert F. Kennedy medal in the White House Rose Garden.[41]

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.[42]

Also in 2014, she 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."[43][44]

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 24 November 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Ethel Skakel Kennedy - JFK Library".
  8. ^ a b "Kennedy, Ethel (1928—) -".
  9. ^ News, A. B. C. "The Last Kennedy: A Closer Look at Jean Kennedy Smith". ABC News.
  10. ^ "Ethel Kennedy". Biography.
  11. ^ ""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.
  12. ^ Leonard, Mary (October 21, 2003). "'Shock' over plan to sell RFK home". The Boston Globe.
  13. ^ Oppenheimer, Jerry. The Other Mrs. Kennedy : An Intimate and Revealing Look at the Hidden Life of Ethel Skakel Kennedy. St. Martin's Paperbacks. p. 287.
  14. ^ Oppenheimer, p. 352.
  15. ^ Evan Thomas (2002). Robert Kennedy: His Life. Simon & Schuster. p. 23. ISBN 978-0743203296.
  16. ^ Califano, Joseph A. (2015). The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years. Touchstone. p. 304. ISBN 978-1476798790.
  17. ^ a b "Who is Ethel Kennedy? Facts you need to know". 28 June 2018.
  18. ^ Brownstein, Bill. "A fascinating portrait of Ethel Kennedy".
  19. ^ Writer, Lisa Anderson, Tribune Staff. "A CHILD OF TRAGEDY POSTPONES HER WEDDING". Chicago Tribune.
  20. ^ staff, CNBC com (20 September 2016). "Former President George H.W. Bush to vote for Hillary Clinton: Politico". CNBC.
  21. ^ "'Kennedy' Name Returns To Congress As Joe Kennedy III Wins 4th District". CBS Local. 6 November 2012.
  22. ^ a b c "A Mother with Moxie:A New Documentary Explores the Life of Ethel Kennedy by Her Filmmaker Daughter". Vogue.
  23. ^ "RFK Jr. Paints Surprising Portrait Of Mom, Ethel: 'Her Love Didn't Always Feel Unconditional'". People.
  24. ^ a b Shnayerson, Michael. "Bobby's Kids". Vanity Fair.
  25. ^ "Ethel Kennedy, Behind a Brave Front, Fought to Maintain a Dynasty and a Home". People.
  26. ^ Stuart, Reginald; Times, Special to The New York (17 May 1984). "3 Drugs Are Blamed in David Kennedy Case". The New York Times.
  27. ^ Upi (17 September 1983). "Robert Kennedy Jr. Faces Charge of Heroin Possession in S. Dakota". The New York Times.
  29. ^ "Joseph Kennedy Is Found Guilty Of Negligence in Road Mishap". The New York Times. 21 August 1973.
  30. ^ Library, C. N. N. "Ethel Kennedy Fast Facts". CNN.
  31. ^ "Ethel Kennedy visits activists". The Irish Times. February 9, 2001.
  32. ^ "Ethel Kennedy leads farmworkers' protest near home of Wendy's billionaire chairman". Associated Press. March 13, 2016.
  33. ^ Mays, Jeffery C. (19 September 2018). "500 Women and Teenagers to Be Bailed Out From Rikers by Human Rights Group" – via
  34. ^ Clymer, Adam; Jr, Don Van Natta (11 July 2011). "Family of Robert F. Kennedy Rethinks His Place at Library" – via
  35. ^ "Ethel Kennedy Endorses Barack Obama". 2008-02-02. Retrieved 2008-02-02.
  36. ^ "Kennedy Matriarch to Host Moran Event". The Washington Post.
  37. ^ "$6 million dollar fundraising dinner for Barack Obama". NY Daily News. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  38. ^ Itkowitz, Colby (August 11, 2014). "UPDATED: Obama nominated by Ethel Kennedy to do ice bucket challenge". Washington Post.
  39. ^ Laura Stampler, Obama Declines Ice Bucket Challenge, Time (August 12, 2014).
  40. ^ "Ethel Kennedy still the pillar of strength for her family".
  41. ^ Weisman, Jonathan (July 24, 1999). "JFK Jr. visited White House at invitation of Nixon, Reagan". The Baltimore Sun.
  42. ^ "Ethel Kennedy Bridge is dedicated, at long last". Washington Post. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  43. ^ "President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom". The White House. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  44. ^ "Obama awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to 18". San Francisco Chronicle. 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]