Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

Over the years, so much has been written about the Kennedy family but little information has been available about Rosemary, the intellectually disabled daughter of Rose Fitzgerald and Joseph P. Kennedy. Author Kate Clifford Larson used Rose Kennedy's diaries and correspondence, letters from Rosemary's teachers and doctors, and exclusive family interviews to bring Rosemary's story to life in Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, a profoundly revealing family story.

I don't usually read biographies, but after a high recommendation from a library customer I decided to read the book. What a sad story. Rosemary Kennedy's intellectual disability was actually attributed to a difficult home birth. As a result, she never matured mentally beyond the mind of an eight year old. Rosemary was kept out of the spotlight throughout most of her life, and spent a great deal of time in England as a child. She was exceptionally close to her father, but her mother seemed at times as if she did not know what to do with her "not perfect" daughter. She matured physically into a strikingly beautiful woman, and though her siblings tried to include her in their activities, Rosemary became increasingly frustrated and started lashing out. It got so bad that some of her siblings were embarrassed by her behavior. At age 23, her father had Rosemary undergo a prefrontal lobotomy, which left her permanently incapacitated instead of achieving the results of a more docile and less moody young woman. It is said that Joe Kennedy ordered this procedure because he was afraid that Rosemary would embarrass the Kennedy clan by becoming pregnant, or that she would get kidnapped. Though it sounds cruel and barbaric in this day and age, one must remember this was in days when so little was known about mental disabilities. Most of the book contains information about the entire Kennedy family and their political aspirations and gives some insight into why the entire family is so politically driven. From little on each child is trained on how to behave in the public eye. I cringed a little when reading how their mother had strict rules and regulations for each child, from how much they could weigh, to how much sleep they were allowed. She actually had an index card file for each child.

After the failed lobotomy, and on the recommendation of Archbishop Cushing, Rosemary was sent to St. Coletta's School for Exceptional Children in Jefferson, Wisconsin, where she would live for the rest of her life. The chapter called "Rosemary Made a Difference" was most enlightening. Many of our laws relating to people with special needs came about because of Rosemary and her family's influence.

 

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