Rosemary Kennedy, who was 23 years old when she underwent lobotomy surgery, spent the rest of her life in a facility and apart from her family.
The Kennedy family was well-known before John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States, however he and his wife Jackie Kennedy may be the two most well-known members.
Joe Kennedy Sr., John’s father, was a well-known businessman in Boston, and Rose Kennedy, his wife, was a well-known philanthropist and socialite. Three of their nine children, who they had together, became politicians. Most of the time, they led public lives, almost like America’s equivalent of a royal family.
But they had secrets, just like any other family. The fact that they had lobotomized their eldest daughter, Rosemary Kennedy, and kept her in an institution for decades was possibly one of their darkest secrets.
The Life of Rosemary Kennedy Before
Rosemary Kennedy was the first girl in the family and the third child of Joe and Rose Kennedy. She was born on September 13, 1918, in Brookline, Massachusetts.
The obstetrician who was scheduled to deliver her was running late during her birth. The nurse inserted her hand into Rose’s delivery canal to hold the baby in place since she didn’t want to deliver the child without a doctor there.
Rosemary Kennedy would suffer significant repercussions as a result of the nurse’s actions. Her brain had permanent damage from the lack of oxygen after delivery, leading to a mental deficit.
Despite having dark hair and brilliant eyes like the rest of the Kennedys, her parents immediately noticed something was off about her.
When she was younger, Rosemary Kennedy struggled to keep up with her brothers as they ran around the neighborhood or played ball in the yard. She frequently had “fits” due to being excluded, which were later determined to be seizures or episodes related to her mental disorder.
However, mental illness was severely stigmatized in the 1920s. Rose withdrew Rosemary out of school and instead hired a tutor to teach the girl from home out of fear that she would face consequences if she couldn’t keep up. Instead of placing her in an institution, she eventually sent her to a boarding school.
Joe was then appointed an ambassador to the Court of St. James in England in 1928. The entire family relocated across the Atlantic. Rosemary went to London with the family despite her intellectual limitations.
On the surface, Rosemary appeared to be a promising debutante who made an effort to please her parents. Rose once referred to her as “an attentive, warmly responsive, and loving girl,” according to the National Park Service. She was so eager to put forth her best effort, so appreciative of praise, and so convinced that she deserved it.
Of course, because the Kennedys had made a concerted effort to keep everything secret, most people were unaware of the full nature of Rosemary’s personal struggles.
Reasons Behind Rosemary Kennedy’s Lobotomy
Rosemary felt more at home in England since she was assigned to a Catholic school operated by nuns. They were preparing Rosemary to be a teacher’s aide and she was thriving under their leadership since they had the time and patience to teach her. Sadly, things would not stay like this for long.
When the Nazis invaded Paris in 1940, the Kennedy family was compelled to return to the United States, and Rosemary’s education was all brought to an end. Rose put Rosemary in a convent once she returned to the United States, but it is said that it did not have the same great impact as the school in England.
Rosemary’s sister Eunice would later note, according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, “Rosemary was not making improvement but looked to be going backward.” “At 22, she was getting angrier and more difficult,” Eunice added.
She was reportedly also generating problems for the American convent’s nuns. They claim that Rosemary was discovered slipping into clubs at night, where she met odd men and left with them.
Joe was preparing his two oldest boys for careers in politics at the same time. Because of this, Rose and Joe were concerned that Rosemary’s actions would inadvertently harm the family as a whole and were anxious to find anything that could assist her.
They thought Dr. Walter Freeman had the answer to their problem.
Freeman had been investigating a neurological treatment that was supposed to heal patients with physical and mental disabilities, together with his colleague Dr. James Watts. The contentious lobotomy was that procedure.
The lobotomy was enthusiastically endorsed by doctors when it was first presented and was heralded as a panacea. Despite the excitement, there were numerous indications that the lobotomy, while occasionally successful, was also harmful. One mother said her daughter, who had received the treatment, was still the same person on the surface but had become like a new person on the inside.
Despite the terrifying rumors surrounding the lobotomy, Joe didn’t require much persuasion to agree to have Rosemary undergo the treatment because it appeared to be the Kennedy family’s last chance for her to be “cured.” Rose would later say that she was unaware of the surgery until it was finished. No one thought to inquire as to Rosemary’s thoughts.
The Failed Operation And Its Tragic Repercussions
Rosemary Kennedy, then 23 years old, underwent a lobotomy in 1941.
Two holes were made in her skull during the treatment, and tiny metal spatulas were placed through them. The pre-frontal cortex’s connection to the remainder of the brain was severed using the spatulas. Dr. Freeman frequently severed the bond and the spatula by inserting an icepick into the patient’s eye, though it is unknown if he did so on Rosemary.
Rosemary was conscious the entire time, engaged in conversation with her surgeons, and even read poems to her nurses. When she stopped talking to them, the entire medical staff realized that the treatment was finished.
The Kennedys noticed a problem with their daughter right away following the treatment. Her intellectual disabilities were not only not resolved by the surgery, but she was also severely crippled as a result.
Rosemary Kennedy lost her ability to walk and speak normally. Before she regained full movement in one arm, it took months of physical therapy. She was also transferred to an institution.
While she was locked away in the institution for 20 years, her family did not pay her a visit. Rose didn’t visit her daughter once more until after Joe had a severe stroke. When they were reunited, Rosemary, unable to express her frantic wrath in any other way, attacked her mother.
The Kennedy family finally understood what they had done to Rosemary at that time. They quickly started promoting disabled Americans’ rights in America.
John F. Kennedy would later utilize his presidency to ratify the Social Security Act’s Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendment. It served as a model for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which Ted, his brother, worked to get passed when he was a senator.
The Special Olympics were started in 1962 by John and Rosemary Kennedy’s younger sister Eunice, who also wanted to promote the successes of those with disabilities.
According to the History Channel, Eunice refuted the claim that Rosemary served as the Special Olympics’ primary source of inspiration. Nevertheless, it is said that Eunice’s drive to enhance the lives of persons with disabilities was influenced by seeing Rosemary struggle.
After being reunited with her family, Rosemary Kennedy spent the remainder of her days in Jefferson, Wisconsin’s Saint Coletta’s residential care facility, where she passed away in 2005. When she passed away, she was 86 years old.
- Leamer, Laurence (1994). The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family. Villard Books. p. 137. ISBN0-679-42860-7.
- Gordon, Meryl (October 6, 2015). “‘Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter,’ by Kate Clifford Larson”. The New York Times. Retrieved October 13,
- McNeil, Liz (September 6, 2018). “The Untold Story of JFK’s Sister, Rosemary Kennedy, and Her Disastrous Lobotomy”. People.
- Nicholas, Elizabeth (October 5, 2015). “Rosemary Kennedy and the Legacy of Mental Illness”. Vice.