Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

by Kate Clifford Larson

Hardcover, 2015

Status

Available

Publication

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2015), Edition: First Edition, 302 pages

Description

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 to life 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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lindapanzo
My first 5-star book of 2016 and we're only one-week into the new year. Yay!!

This is a bio of the Kennedy daughter (sister) with the intellectual disabilities. I think she was at a 4th grade level. Anyway, there was a litany of schools/caregiving settings but, when she got into her 20s, things got worse. Finally, they found a place in England that did wonders for her but then WW2 broke out and they needed to bring her back to the U.S.

The portions dealing with the lobotomy demanded by her father, in late 1941, were heartbreaking. They don't have detailed medical records but have an idea about how it went. It went badly. So much so that the nurse on duty quit afterwards. After the lobotomy, Rosemary was never the same and was cared for by nuns in central Wisconsin.

Beyond the family portions, how she did and didn't interact with her competitive, high-achieving siblings, there was quite a bit of interesting history, such as how she and her sister were presented to the king and queen of England. Or how Teddy was the first American to receive his First Communion from the pope.

Neither Joe Sr, her father, nor her mother, Rose, came out looking very well in this book, but some of her siblings, particularly her sister, Eunice, really tended to her care.

One interesting fact I never knew: the person who revealed that Rosemary had had a lobotomy, which had previously been known only by family, close family friends and caretakers, is Doris Kearns Goodwin.

The chapter that got me all teary at lunch was a later chapter called "Rosemary Made the Difference." Despite the horrendous treatment, her life really made a difference. Eunice and later, JFK, pushed for better treatment and opportunities for the intellectually challenged. Eunice and their foundation helped start the Special Olympics. They gave tremendous sums for better care opportunities. Later on, Ted Kennedy took up the cause and played a key role in the Americans with Disabilities Act. So many good things came out of this.

A fascinating, informative book. Highly, highly recommended. But be prepared to cry, often.
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LibraryThing member hobbitprincess
As a special education teacher, I was horrified at the treatment that Rosemary received. I tried to remind myself of the time period in which this happened, but the callous treatment of Rosemary by her family was hard to stomach. The goal seemed to be to make her presentable for the press and to have her become someone who would not embarrass the family. The needs of the family surpassed the needs of Rosemary. I know that today, medication could help with the behaviors, and she had so much potential that went untapped. Today I see students like her in the work force, enjoying school and social activities, and brightening the lives of their families. It's a shame that Rosemary could not experience those things. It's also a very good thing that we have come so far in the education and treatment of intellectually delayed individuals.… (more)
LibraryThing member briandrewz
This is the fascinating and tragic story of the eldest daughter of Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy. Sister of JFK, RFK, and Ted Kennedy, Rosemary lived her life in the shadow of her famous family. In this book, Rosemary's difficulties are chronicled from birth to her death. Truly shocking is her father's unilateral decision to have a lobotomy performed on his daughter.

This biography will be of interest to anyone with an interest in the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill. Rosemary's life brought mental health to the forefront in the United States through the influence of her family. Excellent read!
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
Rosemary was the Kennedy's first daughter, third child, suffered from a home birth gone wrong and basically disappeared from public view after her early twenties. This is the story of what her life was like and the story of why she had to disappear.

I know it was a different world back then, they did not have the resources for those developmentally disabled, even retarded was not a word thrown around back then, many would just drop these type of individuals off at asylums or sanitarium to be forgotten. So in this way Rosemary was fortunate to be born into a family of wealth, a family that could seek out and pay for what was available. Lucky in this way, yet it was a double edged sword which you will understand if you read her story. Eugenics was promoted heavily then, ignorance the mainstay of the medical profession and others who just did not understand and tended to classify all individuals with defects, whether mental or physical, the same.

It is hard to read this well researched and well told true life story and not be affected. It hot personally on that I was raised with a cousin, only five days younger than myself, who suffered a terrible accident at the age of five, the end result being a traumatic brain injury. He would never be right, developmentally only with the age of a ten or eleven year old, pretty much the same as Rosemary. I don't think Rose or Joe Kennedy came off looking to good after reading this, although I believe they loved their daughter, she was not their prime consideration. Not Rosemary as a person anyway, was the feeling I received.

Rosemary was the Kennedy's first daughter, third child, suffered from a home birth gone wrong and basically disappeared from public view after her early twenties. This is the story of what her life was like and the story of why she had to disappear.

I know it was a different world back then, they did not have the resources for those developmentally disabled, even retarded was not a word thrown around back then, many would just drop these type of individuals off at asylums or sanitarium to be forgotten. So in this way Rosemary was fortunate to be born into a family of wealth, a family that could seek out and pay for what was available. Lucky in this way, yet it was a double edged sword which you will understand if you read her story. Eugenics was promoted heavily then, ignorance the mainstay of the medical profession and others who just did not understand and tended to classify all individuals with defects, whether mental or physical, the same.

It is hard to read this well researched and well told true life story and not be affected. It hot personally on that I was raised with a cousin, only five days younger than myself, who suffered a terrible accident at the age of five, the end result being a traumatic brain injury. He would never be right, developmentally only with the age of a ten or eleven year old, pretty much the same as Rosemary. I don't think Rose or Joe Kennedy came off looking to good after reading this, although I believe they loved their daughter, she was not their prime consideration. Not Rosemary as a person anyway, was the feeling I received.

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LibraryThing member etxgardener
For years the sad story of Rosemary Kennedy was hidden from the world by her parents and family. It was not until the 1960's that, primarily through the efforts of her sister Eunice, that the sad story became public.

According to author Kate Clifford Larson, Rosemary's mental problem could have been the result of a botched home delivery. Whatever the reason, the third child of Joe and Rose Kennedy was clearly, in the parlance of the day, slow. As frequently happened in the early twentieth century,Rosemary's parents were largely in denial of her developmental problems and tried to integrate her into a normal school and social life. This became harder and harder to do as she got older and the vast difference between her and her brighter and more competitive siblings became glaringly apparent.

When it looked like Rosemary would become a liability to her father's political ambitions for his eldest sons, he put his faith in a dubious brain surgeon and subjected Rosemary to a pre-frontal lobotomy in the 1940's. When the operation went horribly wrong the family had enough money to institutionalize her in a Catholic home in Wisconsin that was far away from the prying eyes of the press and/or political enemies. There she remained, financially provided for, but largely un-visited by members of her family until the late 1950's.

It was largely her sister, Eunice, who took up her cause and the cause of other disabled persons starting the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, the Special Olympics, and lobbying her brother, Jack, once he became President to pas Public Law No. 87-838 establishing the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to address human development from conception to old age.

Rosemary lived to be 86 and died in a hospital near the Wisconsin institution where she had lived for 40 years in 2005, a sad ending to, perhaps the saddest member of the tragically doomed Kennedy family.
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LibraryThing member ddonahue
Rather clumsy description of the neurology (and neuroanatomy) of the problem. Freeman and Watts are mentioned as the perpetrators of the bifrontal lobotomy. Perhaps if Larson had enlisted a medical (or neurosurgical) consultant, this part of the story would have been clearer. Admittedly, neurodiagnosis was relatively primitive in those days. The operation probably occurred in late November, 1941.… (more)
LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
I'd heard that Joe Kennedy was a less than spectacular human being, but wow, he put the pig in patriarchy. And mama Rose, I don't think I would have survived. So for Rosemary to have been born defective in this overachieving, super competitive family was tragic for her, but beneficial for the rest of the country. Without the eventual guilt over her treatment , we may never have got the Americans With Disability Act. Good for us, but so sad for her.… (more)
LibraryThing member homeschoolmimzi
Very compelling book about Rosemary Kennedy, the daughter who was kept secret from the public eye for decades. I can't remember when I first learned of Rosemary's existence, but I know what I heard was sketchy and mostly rumors.
Larson conducted many interviews for this book, went to visit the places where Rosemary stayed, spoke with old friends, caretakers and nuns. Her research seemed reliable and her writing was superb. This was a very quick read, and yet troubling at the same time.
At the end, I was left with a very negative impression of Rose Kennedy, the matriarch, and a sad realization, though not new, of how affluence and influence cannot fix some problems, no matter how much one tries. Celebrities and millionaires may have special access to resources, but often these resources fail to be the panacea. And this is the tragic truth of Rosemary Kennedy: she had all the money at her disposal and yet was left deeply traumatized and disabled for the majority of her life.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
All of us who came of age during the 60's were fascinated by the Kennedy family. Kate Clifford Larson has given us a well-researched, easy to read, (but hard to stomach) story of the sister who was tucked away, and the parents who couldn't cope with, acknowledge, or otherwise engage in imperfection. A sad sad story.… (more)
LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
This is a story of a poor little rich girl, Rosemary Kennedy, the hidden Kennedy. Being rich isn't going to solve all your problems, and could just contribute to making them worse.

Starting with a horrific birth practice, Rosemary's life was never easy. Especially in a family that honors competition and winning above all else.

This is also a story of a girl, and then a woman, whose life should never have been as it was. Even after her traumatic birth, it could have been so much better for her. But we certainly don't want to be embarrassed by a child who is “dull” when her eight siblings shine. My gosh, it was hard to live up to the Kennedy name.

The story is straightforward in its telling. Rosemary's story is anything but straightforward. The poor child was bounced around so often that even a normal child without mental disabilities would have trouble coping. And then there was the traumatic and ill-advised surgery, barbaric.

Some of the children were very good with Rosemary, especially Eunice. It seems Joe, Sr. threw money instead of love at the problem. Rosemary adored her father, and would do anything to please him. And Rose, Rosemary's mother, was not honest about her daughter when she sent her very places, and was not honest in her memoirs. When things got tough, it seems her first action of choice was to take a vacation.

Some of the people who took care of Rosemary sound wonderful, and I'm glad Rosemary had those people in her life..

This book caused me some anger, and much sadness. I lost some respect for some people. Fortunately, things have become better when working with people with mental disabilities, but we're far from winning a gold star.

I was given an advance reader's copy of this book for review. Even the advance copy contained some lovely photographs, which I am sure will be even better in the finished, published edition.
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LibraryThing member flourgirl49
This is the story of Rosemary Kennedy, eldest daughter of Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy, who was intellectually disabled. Her parents wanted to keep her at home, but when she became too much for them to handle - and a liability and embarrassment when Joe, Sr. was setting his sons up for political careers - she was instead placed in many different establishments that cared for disabled people. In a last-ditch attempt to try to improve Rosemary's condition, Joe, Sr. made the decision to have a lobotomy performed on her, which at the time was a new and unproved procedure. It is horrifying to read now about how mentally disabled people were treated then - by their families and the public and by the medical establishment. Rosemary finally ended up in a facility in Wisconsin, cared for by nuns and aides for decades before she died. She received very few visits from her family over those years - and this seems particularly unconscionable with respect to her mother Rose - except for her sister Eunice and her family, who have done a great deal to advance the cause of better treatment for mentally disadvantaged people. It's a very tragic story, and I found myself sympathizing with everybody involved, even as I felt disgust towards her family members who could have done so much more to make Rosemary's life better.… (more)
LibraryThing member MaggieFlo
Rosemary Kennedy, born in 1918, was the third child and first daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. Her birth was difficult for her mother who realized after other daughters were born, that Rosemary was mentally delayed in comparison to her siblings. As the family acquired more wealth and prestige and eventually grew to a family of 9 children, it became ever more evident that Rosemary required greater care. Rose investigated several options over the years and usually was able to find tutors, nuns and nurses for Rosemary. At this time, there were very few programs for "retarded" children and often they were housed in institutions. Rosemary was able to function at about a grade 4 level.
This book does not pull any punches in exploring the private lives of this famous family. Joe's ambitions, business dealings, public service as ambassador to England and many affairs are exposed. Rose's interest in physical activity, diets, fashion, travel and Catholicism are explored.
It is easy to be appalled at how Rosemary was treated as an adult who became increasingly moody, violent, unhappy and hard to manage. As JFK was running for politics, Joe Sr. worried that having a,"retarded" sister would reflect badly on the family and JFK's future. His solution of a lobotomy was and is appalling. The surgery caused serious damage and Rosemary spent the rest of her life in an institution. I had to remind myself that at the time, knowledge of how the brain functioned and the availability of pharmaceuticals was very limited.
There were several positive outcomes of Rosemary's condition. Eunice Kennedy established the Special Olympics for children and youth. Eunice also influenced JFK to pass legislation protecting disabled children and providing funding for programs. Ted as a Senator became a strong supporter for similar programs.
Very interesting story. I listened to this as an audiobook.
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LibraryThing member kaulsu
I suppose Larson could do no better than to write this story in the conditional, but unless it is a "fictional biography," it is best to stick with "just the facts, ma'am."

May have's and might have's are very well if used sparingly, but this book was replete with them.

The amount of detail about the nine children was probably just about right for Eunice and Jack since they both played a role in Eunice's early life, and Eunice took on the oversight of Rosemary's care once her father was felled by a stroke. Except for their early deaths I could not understand why Kit and Joe, Jr. got so many inches compared to Pat, Jean, Bobby and Teddy.

Although the author tried to make it clear that Joseph was the one responsible for Rosemary's impairment by a totally unreputable procedure, Rose cannot escape from censure completely. Except for Eunice the other siblings rarely visited Rosemary, either. Shame.

But the low marks (3.5*) were not to reflect on the family. They, like most of us, were a product of their times. Rosemary's impairments were not due to s "naturally" difficult birth, but to a nurse deliberately and willful pushing the infant's head back into the birth canal FOR TWO HOURS to delay her birth until the doctor could arrive. Malpractice? On so many levels.

The low mark's were for the very wooden performance of the narrator, combined with the moribund prose she had to read. Did the author really need to thrill the reader with the truly gruesome details of the lobotomy?
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LibraryThing member caslater83
This book reveals the story of Rosemary Kennedy. She's a beautiful daughter but has intellectual disabilities that make life difficult for herself as well as her politically ambitious family. There is no room for mental health illness when your affluential family is in the limelight. She has been shuffled from school to school with no true sense of stability. No one has been able to figure out what is truly wrong with her.

Mental health procedures and practices were not widely known to the public. The limited information that we know about in Rosie's time sound rather barbaric and inhumane, and dare I say it, unethical. Performing lobotomies on unsuspecting patients without their consent violates the well-known rule: Do No Harm. Joe Kennedy and the medical team involved did more harm than good to Rosie.

My heart broke for her when I read the story. Rosemary sounds like a wonderful soul who never got her chance to shine in the manner in which she deserved. Yes, she needed help, but she didn't need to be treated like an unwanted problem that needed to be fixed. Today, we are now beginning to realize that people like Rosemary deserve to be treated with respect and care. We should not give up on them, but we should continue to advocate for them.
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LibraryThing member wellreadcatlady
3.5/4. Rosemary Kennedy isn't a much discussed Kennedy, but is considered the first Kennedy tragedy. As a baby it took her longer to learn motor skills, as a child she had a hard time learning, she was moved around from school to school, as a teenage and beyond she wrote like she was still in elementary, and then after the lobotomy she lost all the progress she had gained. The book focuses on Rosemary's struggles and how the family tried to keep her disability hidden. I would of liked more of the focus to be on Rosemary, because too much is spent on the rest of the family explaining why they did what they did. Certain parts there are not a lot of information available, especially about the lobotomy, but the author does a good job filling that in based on others experiences. I'm glad Rosemary had an affect on the Kennedy's policy and philanthropy causes and her influence was included in her story.… (more)
LibraryThing member velopunk
Rose Kennedy does not come off well in the book at all. Numerous times she was too busy to visit her daughter because of trips to Europe. This is the story of a sad life
LibraryThing member MontzaleeW
Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson is a book that was hard to read due to the content and not due to due to the author in any way. Let's face it, Rosemary's father was a big jerk! This book didn't say this but just read it and common sense sees it. I have read plenty of respectable articles on this family. Let's go through this shall we.
Joe Sr., Rosemary's father, main focus in life was political power, financial power, social power, and being a powerful Catholic. He bullied others to back him in politics, he did insider trading that left many poor but him rich -he was doing this during a birth of one of his children, he didn't believe women should enjoy sex but only should have sex to have children yet he had affairs, he kept his wife pregnant and he was away frequently and she was lonely, when she got so lonely she wanted to leave he berated her and said she was unfit mother and Catholic, he sent Rosemary to school after school to FIX her even though she functioned at a fourth grade level he wanted perfection because that is what he believed in for his family, he was the one that took Rosemary to the quack and had the lobotomy done on her and lied to the family, his 9 yr old son was afraid enough of him that he thought he would make him disappear too if he didn't please his father, and I could go on.... This is the kind of father Rosemary had. Rosemary was a blight on his social standing, his political ambitions, his social climb, and she couldn't take sacraments due to her retardation. All the things that mattered most to him.
The author didn't seem bias in her writing, she just stated the facts and let you dig out the conclusions. I have read a lot on this family, kind of weird fascination I guess.
Being a nurse too I have read a lot on Freeman and his lobotomy procedures. It got to be a theater act for him. He would sometimes line up the patients and do one right after another to see how many he could do in an hour. He would, on occasion, have an ice pick in each hand and do a procedure at the same time to show the press how same and easy it was! Horrible!
When the discussion of Hitler and his views of sterilizing the mentally handicap, along with the Jews and any others that Hitler felt unfit, in Germany, to me this sounds no different then the start of what I am hearing here in America. If Trump said, "Muslims not only should be banned but sterilized." Many of his supporters would jump all over that! I am not saying America would but you bet some of his supporters would. I know for a fact that some mentally handicap people are being sterilized today by their families or getting an implant to prevent pregnancy. It is just a matter of getting some to agree for whatever reason, or good lawyers.
I did enjoy the information I gleaned from this book and the many pictures that were in there. The author also shared some personal info on the last page. The "good" that came from this? JFK did enact bills for the mentally handicap, Teddy the HIPPA, and a sister donated millions and worked for the handicap. Joe Sr, Karma is a bitch and she gave back to him in the end...stuck in a wheel chair unable to speak or move more than one an arm or leg much for 8 yrs. due to a stroke. I love you Karma...
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LibraryThing member fastforward
I'm glad I finally got around to reading this book because for the most part it did a good job separating fact from rumors and misconception. Due to family secrecy and lost or redacted papers, we might not ever know the full story. However, this book is about as thorough and well-researched look we will ever probably get into Rosemary's life. Her story in my opinion is the saddest among a family who has experienced their fair share of tragedy.

Rosemary was the third child of Joe Kennedy Sr. and Rose Kennedy and the eldest daughter. Literally, from birth her life is filled with things that didn't need to happen and negatively affected her quality of life. At the age of 23 a lobotomy was performed on Rosemary and she spent the rest of her life until her death at age 86, institutionalized. Decades passed before the lobotomy became public knowledge and even among Kennedy family siblings some years passed before most of them had a clearer picture of what happened to their sister.

I'll admit I have not been a big fan of most of the Kennedy family, particularly the men, and this book did nothing to alter my opinion. It is apparent that while some family members were researching lobotomies as a possible option and come to the conclusion it was too risky, Joe Sr. in secrecy scheduled the operation, not even telling his wife. While Rosemary intellectually might have been only on a third or fourth grade level, and was having increasingly difficult behavioral problems before the operation, it was obvious right away the procedure was a disaster. Not only was she barely able to communicate, she was now crippled. Extremely sad and frustrating to know this didn't have to happen.

In Rose and Joe Sr.'s defense I will say in terms of Rosemary's education they did seem to do everything they could and didn't give up in trying to find schooling options that would be a good fit for her. Now personally I don't know why Latin needed to be part of the curriculum for a teenager who was writing at a third grade level and couldn't write in a straight line, but whatever. I also don't understand their intense scrutiny of her weight either.

In my opinion the behavioral problems that started to become an issue as Rosemary got older were what led to Joe's decision to force the lobotomy. Had there only been intellectual issues I don't think he would have opted to do the operation, I think the official story would be she was "working" at a school and therefore would not be in the limelight as the Kennedy family became more and more involved in politics. While we now know Rosemary before the procedure was sneaking out in the middle of the night at her school, we don't know if something tragic happened during one of these escapes. There have been rumors that there were sexual encounters but because of family secrecy we don't know if this was a fear or if something horrible did occur. Regardless it is absolutely tragic that instead of providing her with around the clock supervision which they obviously could afford, Joe Sr. chose the lobotomy.

If there is anything good that came out of this tragedy, it is it had a tremendous impact on advancing special needs and disability causes in this country. Eunice Shriver, Rosemary's sister, went on to create the Special Olympics and both JFK jr. and Teddy Kennedy were involved with different legislation which has led to positive changes in the treatment of those who are not always able to advocate for themselves.

I definitely recommend this book as Rosemary's story is not one that should be forgotten.
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LibraryThing member Jinjer
I'm only giving this 3 stars because there is SO MUCH speculation by the author. I do a good enough job making up horrible stories in my own mind, I don't need an author adding their own. Just give me the facts.
LibraryThing member debs4jc
What stands out the most to me from this book are:

What I learned about Rosemary's birth and how childbirth was handled by the medical profession at the time. Which made me angry as Rosemary's problems could have been avoided.

What I learned about the Kennedy family, especially Rosemary's mother. She had some extraordinary ways about her and some good and some not so good (IMO) methods for raising her large family.

That emphasis on education and high achievement worked well for most of the Kennedy children, but not Rosemary. It was heartbreaking to read (hear) in her own words her longing to do well and be accepted by her father. But of course she could never measure up.

Rosemary was sheltered but also included in the upper class life of a well connected family. Some of their decisions about her were to avoid family embarrassment or scandal. At times this was a sad read, but a fascinating as as it touched on many historical events and figures and brought out of the shadows a story that needs to be told so that it won't be repeated in the future.

Highly recommended, especially for those that like to read about history.
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Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

2015-10-06

Physical description

302 p.; 6 inches

ISBN

0547250258 / 9780547250250

UPC

000547250258
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