A victim of her father’s boundless ambition
ROSEMARY: THE HIDDEN KENNEDY DAUGHTER By Kate Clifford Larsen
Rosemary Kennedy was more than the secret of the nation’s most glamorous political family. She was a tragedy and in many respects the shame of those who should have cared for her most.
Rosemary became the victim of the boundless ambition and remarkable capacity for cruelty of her parents. What this book reveals is a chilling glimpse of what lay beyond the much flaunted parental devotion of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. All her life, which began with a botched birth that apparently was her mother’s decision, Rosemary struggled to be what she was not and could never be. Her parents would not recognize or accept that Rosemary was not like her eight rambunctious siblings who fulfilled the roaring ambition of their father who became an ambassador with leanings toward Nazism, amassed a fortune and made his name as a philanderer.
His children followed in his footsteps toward global prominence. One son became president of the United States and was assassinated. Another became a U.S senator and was murdered. A third died in the war that his father despised. Those who survived were tough enough to succeed on the competitive path their parents approved. Their mother Rose bore nine children and never admitted that despite her deeply religious life, she tolerated a husband who was a serial adulterer. Poor Rosemary was the child who didn’t and couldn’t live up to the Kennedy demand for perfection of performance. At the request of her father, at the age of 23, she suffered a frontal lobotomy without anesthetics that crippled her for life and also left her bereft of either paternal or maternal affection. Instead, they provided financial support and the protection of an institution and a well-paid nursing staff.
It was Rosemary’s brothers and sisters who showed compassion and understanding for their intellectually disabled sister. Rose Kennedy emerges as a virtual maternal monster capable of inflicting pain to enforce discipline on her brood, and she ignored the life that Rosemary was condemned to live. There was no room for failure in the Kennedy family. Kathleen, the daughter who defied her mother’s religious ferocity, was rejected even as a widow of an English nobleman. It is difficult to understand the hypocrisy of Rose Kennedy let alone her capacity for brutality that makes it remarkable that any of her children grew up normal let alone successful.
Surely the most bitter irony of the saga of Rosemary was that her problem began with damage inflicted at birth because of the late arrival of the doctor decreed by her parents. It was not enough that Rosemary became a beautiful child and lively young girl. She could not keep up with her family, and she was sent from school to school in the hope that her intellectual slowness would improve. Her brother Jack was constantly sick, but the Kennedys could tolerate being ill, not being different. Her siblings showed the only consideration Rosemary received and during her surprisingly long life, it was they, especially her sister Eunice, who set in motion programs and legislation to ease the problems of the mentally challenged. Meantime, the grisly lobotomies continued for two decades despite continuing warnings that they were of no help to the patients.
Kate Clifford Larsen, herself the mother of a disabled child, has written a disturbing and poignant account of suffering that should not have happened, especially in such circumstances. It was discovered almost at once that Rosenary’s surgery was a disaster that left her unable to walk or talk. The lovely young woman who was presented to the queen in London emerged “almost completely disabled.”
The grim epitaph to the story of Rosemary, the author reports, was that “there is no record of Rose visiting her eldest daughter for more than twenty years.” The family was told little about what had been done to Rosemary. The young Teddy Kennedy at nine worried “that he had better do what Dad wanted or the same thing could happen to me.” His father had warned him, “There will be no crying in this house.” It would appear there was little for Rosemary. Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.