Rose Marie "Rosemary" Kennedy was born on September 13, 1918 at her parents' home in Brookline, Massachusetts. She was the third child and first daughter of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald. She was named after her mother, and commonly called "Rosemary" or "Rosie".
Early Life and EducationEdit
Rosemary was slower to crawl, slower to walk and to speak than her brothers, and she experienced learning difficulties when she reached school age. She read few books but could read Winnie-the-Pooh. Despite her apparent intellectual disabilities, Rosemary participated in most family activities.
By Massachusetts state law, the Binet intelligence test was given to her before first grade, as she twice failed to advance from kindergarten on schedule. According to Henry H. Goddard, Rosemary had personally suffered intellectual disabilities. She was deemed to have an IQ between 60 and 70 (in an adult, equivalent to a mental age between eight and twelve). Her sister Eunice thought that Rosemary's problems arose because a nurse had delayed her birth awaiting the doctor who arrived late, depriving her of oxygen. Her mother's cousin thought the marriage of second cousins by Rose's parents John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald and Mary Josephine "Josie" Hannon caused the condition. A biographer wrote that Rose Kennedy did not confide in her friends and that she pretended her daughter was normal, with relatives beyond the immediate family knowing nothing of Rosemary's reported low IQ. Younger sister Eunice suspected from various doctors' visits to their home that Rosemary was both "mentally ill" and epileptic.
Rosemary's mother sent her to the Sacred Heart Convent in Elmhurst, Providence, Rhode Island, at age 15, where she was educated separately from the other students. Two nuns and a special teacher, Miss Newton, worked with her all day in a separate classroom. The Kennedys gave the school a new tennis court for their efforts. Her reading, writing, spelling, and counting skills were reported to be at a fourth-grade level. She studied hard but felt she disappointed her parents, whom she wanted to please. During this period, her mother arranged for her older brother Jack to accompany her to a tea-dance. Thanks to him, she appeared "not different at all" during the tea-dance.
Diaries written by Rosemary in the late 1930s, and published in the 1980s, reveal a young woman whose life was filled with outings to the opera, tea dances, dress fittings, and other social interests:
"Went to luncheon in the ballroom in the White House. James Roosevelt took us in to see his father, President Roosevelt. He said, 'It's about time you came. How can I put my arm around all of you? Which is the oldest? You are all so big.'"
"Have a fitting at 10:15 Elizabeth Arden. Appointment dress fitting again. Home for lunch. Royal tournament in the afternoon."
"Up too late for breakfast. Had it on deck. Played Ping-Pong with Ralph's sister, also with another man. Had lunch at 1:15. Walked with Peggy. also went to horse races with her, and bet and won a dollar and a half. Went to the English Movie at five. Had dinner at 8:45. Went to the lounge with Miss Cahill and Eunice and retired early."
Court Appearance in LondonEdit
When her father was appointed US Ambassador to Britain in 1938, Rosemary went to live in London and was presented at court, along with her mother and sister Kathleen, to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Her father presented his daughters instead of choosing about thirty young American debutantes, a decision which earned him favor in the press. Rosemary's "slowness" was also unconventional and daring for a debut (two of the queen's nieces remained in a mental hospital because they were mentally ill). Young women would practice the rather complicated royal curtsey and Rosemary practiced for hours and hours. She wore a gown made of white tulle with a net train and carried a bouquet of lilies of the valley. Her sister Kathleen was described as "stunning, but she was only a shadow of Rosemary's beauty". Just as Rosemary was about to "glide off" by stepping to the right, she tripped and nearly fell. Rose Kennedy never discussed the incident and treated the debut as a triumph. The crowd made no sign, the King and the Queen smiled as if nothing had happened, and nobody knows if Rosemary was aware of her stumble.
One Kennedy family biographer called her "absolutely beautiful" with "a gorgeous smile". At twenty, she was "a picturesque young woman, a snow princess with flush cheeks, gleaming smile, plump figure, and a sweetly ingratiating manner to almost everyone she met". She enjoyed dancing such as at her sister Kathleen's coming-out party. Rosemary's parents told Woman's Day that she was "studying to be a kindergarten teacher", and that while she had "an interest in social welfare work, she is said to harbor a secret longing to go on the stage". The Boston Globe wrote requesting an interview which was declined, but her father's assistant Eddie Moore prepared a response, which Rosemary copied out laboriously, letter by letter:
"I have always had serious tastes and understand life is not given us just for enjoyment. For some time past, I have been studying the well known psychological method of Dr. Maria Montessori and I got my degree in teaching last year."
Lobotomy, Aftermath and LegacyEdit
When the family returned to the United States in 1940, “Rosemary was not making progress but seemed instead to be going backward,” as her sister Eunice later wrote. “At 22, she was becoming increasingly irritable and difficult.” The following year, after being persuaded that a lobotomy would help to calm his daughter and prevent her sometimes violent mood swings, Joe Kennedy authorized the operation. The relatively new procedure, which at the time seemed to hold great promise, left Rosemary permanently incapacitated and unable to care for herself. 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.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver had a particularly close relationship with her older sister, and great empathy for Rosemary and others who faced similar challenges. In 1962 Eunice started a summer day camp in her own back yard for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, a camp which evolved into Special Olympics, now a global competition that involves 1.4 million athletes from 150 countries.
Rosemary Kennedy died on January 7, 2005 at age 86. Eunice Shriver said in her eulogy that Rosemary had left a legacy that was long and deep. Along with inspiring Eunice's own work with Special Olympics, Rosemary had inspired her brother, President John F. Kennedy, to initiate sweeping legislation designed to improve the quality of life for Americans with disabilities. She had inspired her sister Jean Kennedy Smith to start Very Special Arts and her nephew, Anthony Shriver, to start Best Buddies. Hospitals, schools and other such facilities around the world have been named in honor of Rosemary Kennedy.