The Who2 Blog

New Profile: Rosemary Kennedy

We’ve noticed a lot of user searches for Rosemary Kennedy this past week, so we’ve created a new biography of her.

Rosemary was the “forgotten” Kennedy, who spent years in seclusion at a home for the disabled in Wisconsin after she was the victim of a botched lobotomy in 1941. She died in 2005, and for most of those years inbetween she could apparently speak very little and was more or less incapacitated.

We notice, in researching her story, that people who dislike the Kennedy family see Rosemary’s story as just one more sign that Joe Kennedy, Sr. (who ordered the lobotomy) was not a very nice guy. Some others are more inclined to give Joe the benefit of the doubt; the surgery was new at the time, and was supposed to work wonders in calming down distressed mental patients without side effects.

Much of the controversy has to due with just how “distressed” Rosemary really was before the surgery. Nobody seems to know exactly what her original disability might have been, although speculation ranges from autism or retardation, to dyslexia, to simply being a little slow among a pack of very competitive siblings. In those early days of the 20th century, diagnosis and openness weren’t what they are today.

In family photos from her childhood, she appears to be a regular part of the clan. Those who suspect Joe Kennedy of nefarious motives suggest he was worred that at age 23, a headstrong Rosemary might become pregnant outside of marriage and “disgrace” the family name.

That might be a stretch, but at this point we can’t guess the intentions of the family or the doctors. At least there seems to be no disagreement from anyone that the lobotomy was a catastrophe for Rosemary.

If you want a silver lining, it’s that the experience led to the Kennedy family’s interest in issues of mental health, which in turn led to Eunice Kennedy Shriver‘s creation of the Special Olympics in 1968.

Here’s the full profile.

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