Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter – Kate Clifford Larson

Schlow Library Selection: Based on obsessive research of first-hand accounts, Kate Clifford Larson tells the story of Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter in the context of her famous family and the history swirling around them.

Albeit not moving as quickly as her eight siblings, Rosemary participated in the upper echelons of society as much as she could until her early 20s. It appears as though a combination of escalating psychological issues and “Rosie’s” realization that she was not allowed and/or able to live life as her age cohort led to uncontrollable “rages” and seizures.

Their desperation over how to keep her from embarrassing the family led her parents to move Rosie from facility to school to house until finally Joe, Sr. fatefully arranged for the widely disparaged frontal lobotomy that robbed his eldest daughter of almost all of the physical and mental skills she had.

Rosie became a rarely-mentioned ghost in her family, making this book even more impressive in the author’s gathering and collating of letters, journals, and other historical sources into a well-written, disturbing, and ultimately intriguing story of one of the most well-known families in American history.

They were the most prominent American family of the twentieth century. The daughter they secreted away made all the difference.

Joe and Rose Kennedy’s strikingly beautiful daughter Rosemary attended exclusive schools, was presented as a debutante to the Queen of England, and traveled the world with her high-spirited sisters. And yet, Rosemary was intellectually disabled — a secret fiercely guarded by her powerful and glamorous family.

Major new sources — Rose Kennedy’s diaries and correspondence, school and doctors’ letters, and exclusive family interviews — bring Rosemary alive as a girl adored but left far behind by her competitive siblings. Kate Larson reveals both the sensitive care Rose and Joe gave to Rosemary and then — as the family’s standing reached an apex — the often desperate and duplicitous arrangements the Kennedys made to keep her away from home as she became increasingly intractable in her early twenties. Finally, Larson illuminates Joe’s decision to have Rosemary lobotomized at age twenty-three, and the family’s complicity in keeping the secret.

Rosemary delivers a profoundly moving coda: JFK visited Rosemary for the first time while campaigning in the Midwest; she had been living isolated in a Wisconsin institution for nearly twenty years. Only then did the siblings understand what had happened to Rosemary and bring her home for loving family visits. It was a reckoning that inspired them to direct attention to the plight of the disabled, transforming the lives of millions.