Facts about Rosemary Kennedy
Rosemary Kennedy Biography
Rosemary Kennedy was the lesser-known sister of President John F. Kennedy whose mental problems helped inspire the creation of the Special Olympics.
Rosemary Kennedy was the oldest daughter of Rose and Joseph Kennedy, and the third of the nine Kennedy children. As a child she was “slower to crawl, slower to walk and to speak than her brothers, and she experienced learning difficulties when she reached school age,” according to a profile in the JFK Library and Museum.
Her precise disabilities have never been defined; her obituary in The Washington Post said that Rosemary Kennedy “was characterized as slow and shy-seeming from early childhood, possibly dyslexic and apparently retarded.”
In 1941, she was given a lobotomy, a then-new surgery that some regarded as a miracle cure for mood swings and depression. The surgery was a disaster, leaving Rosemary mentally weakened and nearly unable to speak. Her father later sent Rosemary Kennedy to St. Coletta’s School for Exceptional Children in Jefferson, Wisconsin, where she lived for most of the rest of her life, although she did make occasional trips to Cape Cod and other destinations.
Her sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968 began the Special Olympics, inspired in part by the family’s experiences with Rosemary.
John Kennedy was 16 months older than Rosemary Kennedy; the eldest Kennedy sibling, Joe Jr., was a little more than three years older than Rosemary.