The story of Rosemary, the Kennedy family’s first born daughter, is heartbreaking. Born with intellectual challenges after a traumatic birth, she experienced multiple difficult transitions and a tragic lobotomy that negatively impacted the rest of her life. Her story is one of a powerful family, trying to make their daughter into something she was not instead of accepting her and loving her for her gifts. It is a story of a family focused on appearances, power and politics.
Rosemary’s birth was delayed with tragic consequences. The nurse not only held her mother’s legs closed to slow the delivery but forced the baby back into the birth canal to await for the doctor’s arrival. The first daughter developed milestones more slowly than the other children and the family began to realize that she needed special assistance.
Appearances, intellect and competition were important values of the Kennedy family. Rosemary had difficult keeping up with her siblings. The father had political interests and was reported to have made his fortune insider trading before he worked with government to make it illegal. Rosemary did not fit the family expectations related to school performance and was transitioned through many boarding schools trying to force her to learn traditional school work rather than working with her strengths.
Rosemary was beautiful and interested in her appearance. The family grew worried about her being kidnapped or taken advantage of. She was reported to experience responsive behaviours after yet another transition and her father investigated the questionable work of a psychiatrist performing lobotomies. He was not even a surgeon but was a pioneer in this treatment which caused devastating effects to many. Without discussing with his wife or the rest of the family, Kennedy arranged the surgery for Rosemary. The surgery had devastating effects, destroying the gains that she had made, limiting her mobility and necessitating lifelong total care.
For thirty years, Rosemary had limited contact with her family until her father was incapacitated by a stroke. Her sister Eunice took over her care and after her father’s death, her mother became involved. After three decades she spent time with her family and visited them on holidays. Eunice became very involved in special olympics and the rights and care of individuals with intellectual challenges. Her brother, the President, also championed the cause prior to his assassination.
This was a very sad story and very difficult to understand why a domineering father could be so destructive to his beautiful daughter. Society has advanced in the care of individuals with intellectual challenges including in the care, treatment, education, housing and the language we use. Through a terrible situation, there have been positive outcomes as the family did, eventually, highlight the plight of this group of individuals.