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Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

by Kate Clifford Larson

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5783232,044 (3.72)41
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)
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This was the very sad story of Rosemary Kennedy, child number 3 and first girl in a family of 9. She was brain damaged at birth and for 20+ years the entire family tried to make her "normal." They provided the best care money could buy. However, in 1941, during the war, when the family was scattered, her father, Joe Kennedy, decided she should have a lobotomy and proceeded with it against the wishes of several members of the family. She was unable to walk, speak, etc. following that surgery. Very very sad. ( )
  Tess_W | Aug 18, 2021 |
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. ( )
  Jinjer | Jul 19, 2021 |
If you want a biography that is almost strictly facts, this is it. There really is not much of a story - more a chronology of her life. It got boring reading about Rosemary going from one school to another especially for the wrong reasons. In the beginning it was about trying to help her but later it was an image issue for the parents who were social climbers. Her mother Rose is depicted as a caring but strict mother though later on the father took over charge of Rosemary while Rose spent lots of time at spas. Unfortunately that is when trouble happened with the lobotomy. Rosemary's sibling were her happiness as a youngster as well as a family friend. The results spurred the siblings to improve mental health issues. A lot of cheering for the Kennedy family by the end. ( )
  kshydog | Dec 13, 2020 |
Rosemary Kennedy, the third child of Joe & Rose Kennedy, was born in 1918. The doctor was late in coming to the home birth, and a nurse instructed Rose to hold her legs together and not push, to delay the baby's arrival til the doctor could get there. This delay deprived Rosemary of oxygen, leaving her learning disabled and mentally challenged. The Kennedy family was wealthy and powerful. In that day and age, having a retarded or mentally ill family member was a stigma, an embarrassment that the Kennedy family did not want. Rosemary's mental challenges were kept a secret. She was moved from school to school for decades as her parents searched for a way to make her seem "normal.'' When it finally was realized that Rosemary would never reach the intelligence and poise of her siblings, her father made a chilling decision. He had Rosemary lobotomized. She lived the rest of her life tucked away in an institution in Wisconsin. Her personality and character almost completely erased. Rose Kennedy publicly stated that an "accident'' had rendered her daughter mentally incapacitated. The truth would not be revealed for decades.

I listened to the audiobook version of this biography by Kate Clifford Larson. Larson gives background on the parents, the family, and the competitive, demanding lifestyle of the Kennedy clan. Rosemary just didn't fit into the family, causing frustration for her parents and siblings. Decades were spent trying to "fix'' her, rather than help her live within her capabilities.

As a mother, this book was hard for me to take. I am so glad that I didn't grow up in an age where families hid children who weren't perfect and where there were no services or assistance to help them grow into functioning adults. And I was shocked that Joe Kennedy would choose to have his daughter lobotomized to keep her from embarrassing the family. What a horrific and terrible choice! Then he hid her away in an institution in the midwest and never saw her again. Wow -- how cold and callous. The political aspirations of his sons were more important than the life of his mentally challenged daughter....so he had her lobotomized. For 20 years nobody in the family asked where Rosemary was or attempted to visit her because Joe had complete control over his family. When he died, Rose and the family visited Rosemary and even brought her home for visits. Rose tried to say that she didn't realize what was done to Rosemary, but documents have since proven that was not the case.

Some good did come from the events though. The Kennedy family, especially Eunice Shriver, backed many important programs for special education, including the Special Olympics. In later years, the Kennedy siblings did admit that they had a retarded sister and that the care and quality of life for those with mental challenges should be a priority.

Rose Marie "Rosemary'' Kennedy died in the Wisconsin institution in 2005 at the age of 85.

This book does a great job of presenting facts about Rosemary's life, before and after her surgery. It details what the family did to educate and try to accommodate Rosemary's limitations and mood swings. Larson doesn't pull punches about how mental illness, retardation and physical deformities were considered a stigma, something to be hidden away. The concept of Eugenics was big at the time, and declared that any abnormalities were due to genetic inferiority. The Kennedy Clan kept Rosemary a secret to prevent any damage to the family's social standing. They weren't the only wealthy, powerful family to do so -- the practice was common. So sad. But later efforts by the Kennedy family paved the way for education programs, social services and much better care for mentally and physically challenged children and adults. I'm glad that some good came from the situation in the end. And, Rosemary was very well treated and loved by the nuns at the Wisconsin institution where she lived out the rest of her life.

The audiobook is narrated by Bernadette Dunne. She reads at a nice pace. Her voice is pleasant and easily understood. I have partial hearing loss, but was able to easily understand Dunne's reading. The audiobook is almost 8 hours in length.

Kate Clifford Larson presents a well-rounded history of Rosemary, and the Kennedy Family's attempts to help her. She gives details both from Rosemary's point of view and the family's. She also includes historical facts and the era's attitudes towards the mentally challenged to explain why certain decisions were made, not to excuse those choices. The book is very well researched and written, but disturbing.

( )
  JuliW | Nov 22, 2020 |
Rosemary Kennedy was a very beautiful Kennedy daughter, but through circumstances of her birth, was intellectually challenged. Even though she was presented to the Queen of England as a debutante and traveled widely, she was unable to keep up with her siblings. In her twenties she became incorrigible and Joe Kennedy decided to lobotomize her which put her in a home for life. Most of this was kept from her brothers and sisters. When they eventually discovered her situation, this caused them to be a champion for those who were disabled. ( )
  baughga | Apr 19, 2020 |
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To those struggling with disabilities and mental illness, and the families who love them
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Rose Kennedy, pregnant with her third child, felt her contractions beginning on Friday, September 13th.
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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.

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