Friday, July 22, 2016


"Rosemary, The Hidden Kennedy Daughter" by Kate Clifford Larson   Houghton Mifflin Harcourt   302 pages   $27

As a Kennedy (and Brit Royal family) junkie, when I spied this on the non-fiction shelves at the library, I leaped upon it (much to the surprise of other library patrons who quietly scooted their chairs farther from me.)

Undaunted, I sped to Check Out and went home to read it.

The story is well-known to all - Joe took Rosemary, who suffered the effects of a difficult birth that left her mentally and physically impaired in for a secret lobotomy surgery.   He didn't want to bother Rose or the children's nurse with this news and did it behind their backs.

But this was news to your reporter.  The midwife did not want to deliver the baby herself; Rose wanted to wait for her beloved ob/gyn and the end result was that after the new baby crowned (head appeared) the midwife stuffed the baby back inside and kept her there for two hours until the doctor finally arrived.

The baby appeared to be quite normal and was the first daughter after two sons (Joe, Jr. and Jack.)

Rosemary's lack of development was finally noticed and through the ensuing years, every effort by Joe and Rose was made to "cure" her.  Such was their fear of public exposure that they guided her every public move including her presentation to the Queen as a debutante. 

As time went along, Rosemary resented more and more deeply the forced competitions with her siblings (which she could not win) and was frustrated at her inability to learn and as a result began acting out - hitting and screaming at family and help.  Joe's misguided belief in the efficacy of a lobotomy resulted in the complete breakdown of her personality and intelligence (ranked as that of a 12 year old.)   

Inarticulate, largely unable to express herself verbally, she retreated into a solitary world. 

She was institutionalized in 1949 and Joe never went back to see her.  He suffered a debilitating stroke in 1961 that left him incoherent, unable to speak or express his wishes, he, too, lapsed into frustration and lashings out at the help.  He died in 1969 after eight years of suffering (and causing suffering, you may be sure.  He was a forceful old bastard.)

Rose didn't bother to go see her after her 1949 placement until 1962.  Rosemary didn't want to have anything to do with her during this visit.  Mamma Rose didn't bother to maintain contact until December, 1970, when she instructed the staff to buy her little presents and tag them as if from a sibling.    It wasn't until 1974 that Rosemary was invited to visit the summer home in Hyannis, a mere 30 years since she'd been secluded in her cottage that Joe had built for her at the institution.

Rose did live to be 104, but from the time she was 94, she was senile and markedly so.  Her world dimmed around her. No more twice-yearly forays on the French designer shows or other destinations.    She died in 1995.

Meanwhile, Rosemary soldiered on with three nuns in shifts caring for her every need.  She died in 2005, aged 86.

As William Cowper wrote in his 1773 hymn, "God works His ways in a mysterious manner." 

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