LIFE

JFK’s Nephew Opens Up About Rosemary Kennedy’s Secretive Life After Her Lobotomy

by Gwendolyn Plummer
Gwen is a writer, reader, hockey fan, concert goer, and lunchtime enthusiast.

The Kennedy family is, without a doubt, one of America’s most well-known and well-documented families — but one member of the family has been shrouded in mystery for years.

Rosemary Kennedy was born in 1918. She was President John F. Kennedy‘s older sister.

According to The New York Times, “Rosemary’s problems began at birth.”

Kate Clifford Larson details Rosemary’s life in her book, Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter. She reports that when Rosemary’s mother, Rose, went into labor, the doctor was not available. The nurse tried to stall Rosemary’s birth until the doctor arrived by telling Rose to keep her legs closed for two hours, which likely resulted in a harmful loss of oxygen to Rosemary.

At age 11, Rosemary was sent away to a boarding school for “intellectually challenged students.” She apparently struggled with reading and writing, and couldn’t keep up with her athletic siblings, who were surprised when she vanished from their lives without explanation.

When Rosemary eventually returned to her family home, she struggled even more, and began to experience “seizures and violent tantrums,” The New York Times reports.

Kate’s book says that Rosemary’s father, Joseph, decided he needed to take action. At age 23, Rosemary underwent a risky prefrontal lobotomy. During the surgery, the doctor drilled holes into her head and cut nerve endings in her brain. By the end, Rosemary was permanently disabled and could no longer care for herself. She even initially lost her ability to speak more than just a few words.

While her siblings made history as politicians, Rosemary was both sheltered and hidden from the rest of the world. For years, her life was a total mystery.

Eventually, Rosemary’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, would go on to found the Special Olympics, in part because she was “horrified by what had been done to her sister.” She also became Rosemary’s caretaker.

Now, Eunice’s son, Timothy Shriver, is Chairman of Special Olympics. He knew his Aunt Rosemary until her death in 2005, and has been willing to talk about how he remembers her.

In an interview with Oprah, Timothy says Rosemary was “unlike everybody else” to him. Growing up in what he calls a “competitive” family, Timothy looked up to his Aunt Rosemary because she never tried to prove her worth to anyone the way the rest of his family did. Instead, he admired the way she would happily spend time with her family without competing.

Check out the video below to learn more about Rosemary and her nephew, Timothy, and please SHARE her story on Facebook.

Photos: OWN — SuperSoul Sunday; Getty Images / New York Times Co.

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