Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter By Kate Clifford Larson (Oct 2015)
They were the most prominent American family of the twentieth century. The daughter they secreted away made all the difference.
Joe and Rose Kennedy’s strikingly beautiful daughter Rosemary attended exclusive schools, was presented as a debutante to the Queen of England, and traveled the world with her high-spirited sisters. And yet, Rosemary was intellectually disabled — a secret fiercely guarded by her powerful and glamorous family.
Major new sources — Rose Kennedy’s diaries and correspondence, school and doctors’ letters, and exclusive family interviews — bring Rosemary alive as a girl adored but left far behind by her competitive siblings. Kate Larson reveals both the sensitive care Rose and Joe gave to Rosemary and then — as the family’s standing reached an apex — the often desperate and duplicitous arrangements the Kennedys made to keep her away from home as she became increasingly intractable in her early twenties. Finally, Larson illuminates Joe’s decision to have Rosemary lobotomized* at age twenty-three, and the family’s complicity in keeping the secret.
Rosemary delivers a profoundly moving coda: JFK visited Rosemary for the first time while campaigning in the Midwest; she had been living isolated in a Wisconsin institution for nearly twenty years. Only then did the siblings understand what had happened to Rosemary and bring her home for loving family visits. It was a reckoning that inspired them to direct attention to the plight of the disabled, transforming the lives of millions.
* To lobotomize is to perform a lobotomy on someone, which is defined as to make an incision in the front lobe of the brain to deprive the person of independent thought. – www.yourdictionary.com
A Review by Now York Times (nytimes.com) on 6 Oct 2015
What makes this story especially haunting are the might-have-beens. Rosemary’s problems began at her birth, on Sept. 13, 1918. Her mother’s first two children, Joe Jr. and Jack, had been safely delivered at home by the same obstetrician. But when Rose went into labor with Rosemary, the doctor was not immediately available. Although the nurse was trained to deliver babies, she nonetheless tried to halt the birth to await the doctor’s arrival. By ordering Rose to keep her legs closed and forcing the baby’s head to stay in the birth canal for two hours, the nurse took actions that resulted in a harmful loss of oxygen.
As a child, Rosemary suffered development delays, yet had enough mental acuity to be frustrated when she was unable to keep up with her bright and athletic siblings. Even with private tutors, she had difficulty mastering the basics of reading and writing. At age 11, she was sent to a Pennsylvania boarding school for intellectually challenged students. From then on, Rosemary changed schools every few years, either because the educators were unable to deal with her disabilities and mood swings or because her parents hoped a change of scene might prove beneficial.