The Life of JFK’s Forgotten Sister

In the annals of American history, the Kennedy family is legendary, known for their charisma, charm, and political prowess. But behind the shining facade of this iconic American dynasty lies a deeply tragic story—the life of Rosemary Kennedy. She was the forgotten Kennedy, a sister who would face unimaginable challenges and endure a medical procedure that would forever alter her destiny. This is the detailed and extended account of Rosemary Kennedy’s life—a story that deserves to be told.

On September 13, 1918, in the bustling city of Boston, Massachusetts, Rose Marie “Rosemary” Kennedy was born into the Kennedy family. She was the first girl and the eldest of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy’s nine children. The Kennedy family would go on to make history, but little did they know that Rosemary’s life would follow a profoundly different path.

In Rosemary’s early years, everything seemed normal, as she embarked on her journey through childhood like any other child. But there were subtle signs that something was amiss. She was slower to reach developmental milestones compared to her two bright brothers, displaying delays in crawling, walking, and speaking. Even as a young child, it became apparent that Rosemary faced challenges that others did not.

A Life of Privilege

Despite her developmental struggles, Rosemary was raised in an environment of privilege and opportunity. The Kennedys were a wealthy and influential family, and Rosemary had access to the finest education and care available. She attended prestigious schools like the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Boston and the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Her family, especially her father Joseph Kennedy, had high hopes for her future.

Rosemary’s Diverse Interests

As Rosemary grew, she displayed an array of interests and talents. She was an accomplished equestrian and enjoyed spending time riding horses. Dancing was another of her passions, and she was known to attend dances and social events with great enthusiasm. Despite her challenges, she remained an active member of the family, sharing in their traditions and making her presence felt.

According to Laurence Leamer’s book, “The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family,” Rosemary was described as a “snow princess” with rosy cheeks, a warm smile, a plump figure, and a charming personality. She was known for her eloquence and loquaciousness, making her a delightful companion at gatherings and social events. In many ways, Rosemary embodied the qualities of a vibrant and engaging young woman.

The Hidden Diary

One of the most intriguing aspects of Rosemary’s life was her diary, which remained undiscovered until 1995. This diary, covering the years 1936 to 1938, provides a unique window into her experiences during that period. It is a chronicle of her travels, adventures, and encounters with royalty, offering a glimpse into a life filled with promise and excitement.

In 1938, the Kennedy family embarked on a trip to England, where they had the rare opportunity to meet King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Rosemary’s diary recounts this memorable encounter, shedding light on the Kennedy family’s interactions with British royalty. The diary also captures the essence of Joe Kennedy’s wit, as he quipped, “Rose, this is a hell of a long way from East Boston,” upon meeting the royal couple.

Rosemary’s diary is written in a straightforward and youthful style, much like that of a teenage girl. It chronicles her experiences, such as attending a White House luncheon and engaging with the Roosevelts. These entries provide a unique perspective on Rosemary’s life and interests during this period.

The Changing Tide

While Rosemary’s early years were marked by moments of joy and fulfillment, a significant shift occurred in her life in 1941. Rose Kennedy, in her memoirs, noted a noticeable regression in Rosemary’s mental skills and behavior. The once-gentle Rosemary began to display signs of tension and irritability. She would often become agitated and, at times, even resort to violence, which was a stark departure from her previous demeanor.

This transformation in Rosemary’s behavior was deeply concerning to her family, who had cherished her warm and engaging personality. Her deteriorating mental health became a source of great distress, and her family was determined to find a way to help her.

The Controversial Lobotomy

As Rosemary’s condition continued to worsen, Joseph P. Kennedy sought medical advice to address her deteriorating mental state. In 1941, a groundbreaking medical procedure known as a lobotomy emerged as a potential solution. This procedure, developed by Portuguese physician Antonio Moniz, involved severing nerve connections to and from the brain’s prefrontal lobe.

Lobotomies were considered a last resort for patients with severe psychiatric issues, as they offered a glimmer of hope for improved mental well-being. The idea was that by disconnecting certain neural pathways, the patient’s emotional distress and mental disturbances could be alleviated. However, this procedure was not without its risks, and the potential consequences were profound.

In the case of Rosemary Kennedy, her father, Joseph Kennedy, made the decision to proceed with the lobotomy without the consent or agreement of Rose Kennedy, her mother. Dr. Walter Freeman, a prominent advocate of the procedure in the United States, performed the lobotomy at George Washington Hospital in November 1941.

A Life Forever Altered

The lobotomy, intended to alleviate Rosemary’s mental distress, had a devastating outcome. While it achieved its goal of making her more submissive, it also rendered her completely incapable of moving, speaking, or communicating effectively. Rosemary lost many of the cognitive abilities she had possessed before the surgery, and her condition left her incontinent.

The tragedy of Rosemary’s lobotomy was compounded by the fact that she could no longer engage in activities she had once enjoyed, nor could she participate in family events. The procedure, meant to improve her quality of life, had instead robbed her of her independence and abilities.

A Life in Seclusion

Following the lobotomy, Rosemary’s condition necessitated a change in her living arrangements. It was decided that she would be better off in an institution where she could receive care and support tailored to her needs. She spent seven years in a New York hospital before being transferred to the St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children in Jefferson, Wisconsin.

Her time at St. Coletta marked a period of seclusion and separation from her family. Rosemary’s world had shrunk, and the vibrant young woman who had once graced high-society gatherings was now confined to a very different existence.

The tragic story of Rosemary Kennedy serves as a poignant reminder of the complexities surrounding mental health treatments in the past. Her life took an unexpected and devastating turn due to a controversial medical procedure, leaving her forever altered. Rosemary’s untold tragedy deserves to be remembered as part of the Kennedy family’s legacy, highlighting the importance of compassionate and evidence-based care for individuals facing mental health challenges.

Rosemary Kennedy’s journey, once filled with promise and joy, serves as a powerful testament to the need for understanding and support for those living with mental health conditions. Her story, though marked by tragedy, sheds light on the resilience of the human spirit and the enduring hope for a brighter future.