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Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review...Rosemary Kennedy: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

Recently, I read Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson, who also wrote Bound for the Promised Land, a biography of Harriet Tubman, and The Assassin's Accomplice, an account of Mary Surratt's part in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

This 2015 book details Rosemary Kennedy's academic struggles and the family's struggles with trying to find academic and social solutions for a family member who couldn't — or wouldn't — live up to the standards expected by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.  One primary motive for having his daughter, age 23, undergo a lobotomy at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., in November 1941, seems to have been the concern that she would bring disgrace upon the family and, thereby, interfere with his plans for establishing a Kennedy political dynasty.

The lobotomy was a disaster and left Rosemary Kennedy requiring 24/7 institutional care for the rest of her life (over 60 years); she died at the age of 86.  According to Ms. Larson, Rosemary Kennedy's post-lobotomy plight inspired Eunice Kennedy Shriver's pioneering work as an advocate for children's health and disability issues.

In defense of lobotomy: until the arrival of drugs for psychotherapy, doctors had very few options for taming the symptoms of the mentally.  Once certain psychiatric drugs were developed in the mid 20th Century, lobotomies were no longer performed.

Most revealing: Joe Kennedy never visited his daughter after the lobotomy, and twenty years passed before Rose Kennedy visited her daughter, who died in 2005 at age 86 in a Wisconsin Catholic institution, where she was cared for by nuns.  Rosemary Kennedy's siblings deduced that defying their father would result in his causing them "to disappear."

For further understanding of what happened to Rosemary Kennedy, I also read selected chapters of Ronald Kessler's The Sins of the Father, in which Kessler cites evidence indicating that Rosemary Kennedy was actually not mentally retarded and that, according to lobotomist Dr. James W. Watts, the onset of "agitated depression" (the DSM diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder) led to Joe Kennedy's decision to have his rebellious daughter lobotomized.

I highly recommend Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter.  The book is available at Amazon and at many public libraries.

Rather lurid book trailer, but I post it here because it includes photos from the book:


  1. Unfortunately lobotomies and sending off troublesome wives to "Insane Asylums" was more common than known. Franklin created the first Hospital in Philadelphia for the "insane." I look forward to reading the book mentioned. I had thought that the daughter was retarded, but apparently doubt has been cast on that. How convenient. The treatment of women via the mental health system is a worthy topic.

    1. Bunkerville,
      From what I managed to assess of samples of Rosemary Kennedy's writings, she was probably not retarded. Learning issues? Yes. Rebellious? Yes. Promiscuous? Probably.

      The book reviewed here comes down on the side of Rosemary Kennedy's being retarded. But my research really didn't establish that she was indeed retarded.

      Rightly, this book lauds Eunice Kennedy's efforts with special Olympics and the like.

    2. "Promiscuous? Probably."

      That's the heart of it. Can't have that embarrassment...

      We really have come a long way, baby. Thanks to societal progress, such misogynistic troglodytes have been driven underground, but they are still lurking.

  2. What a horrible family. The sooner that "dynasty" dies out, the better. Of course, the newer Democrat dynasties are far worse...

  3. what a cursed family indeed...wish we had true leaders to aspire to AOW! Have a beautiful Monday my friend! xoxox

  4. Thus is the crude fumbling of the pseudoscience of psychiatry. They might as well have executed the poor girl.

    1. More the evil machinations of a ruthless, tyrannical, egomaniacal, totally unprincipled, sex-obsessed father driven by the acquisition of vast wealth, and dreams of unlimited power and glory using his own children as tools to fulfill his vainglorious ambitions.

    2. Not bad whiskey for a boatload of Tommy guns to Irish nationalists.

      Rosemary Kennedy may be more famous for what "doctors" did to her, be she is only one of thousands victimized by psycho-the-rapists.

    3. Beamish,
      thousands victimized by psycho-the-rapists


      How many helped, though?

      We'll never get accurate stats, of course.

    4. FT,
      Clearly, Joseph Kennedy used his own children as tools to fulfill his vainglorious ambitions. No doubt about that -- although the book reviewed here glosses over that aspect of what was done to Rosemary.

      In my view, the Joseph Kennedy family was so dysfunctional as to beggar description. I also believe that "the sudden disappearance" of Rosemary from the family circle had great impact on her siblings. They saw just how much power their father had!

      As we're all seen, the dynasty imploded. Even John John is gone now.

    5. Some speculate that John Jr (one of the rare good Kennedys) was going to run for Senator from New York to replace the retiring Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

      We all know who ended up inhabiting that seat, don't we?

    6. Didn't know you're a Scientologist, Beamish.

    7. I'm a retro-phrenologist. Some people won't think right until you dent their head with a hammer ;)

  5. __ The Deviltry That Lead To __
    _____ November 22, 1963 _____

    Joseph P. once had a Master Plan.
    Oh, what dreams of Glory he possessed!
    His lust for Conquest never let him rest.
    Naught but vain Ambition drove the clan
    Kennedy had sired to fulfill
    Ego-driven fantasies of ruling
    Nations. Wealth, ill-gotten, had us drooling.
    Nothing seemed to thwart Old Joseph’s will.
    Enter World War Two: It killed young Joe,
    Destined to be President one day.
    Even so, despite this transient woe,
    Ambition took the lead again, so Jack
    Took his brother’s place. That was Joe’s way.
    His will was thwarted by a rifle’s crack.

    ~ FreeThinke

    1. Imonda Rampage said

      Brilliant analysis, very cleverly presented. I always enjoy your unique gifts. Thank you for sharing them.


    ___________ A January Man __________

    Ghandi set the pattern for your feet ––
    Needing methods that could overthrow
    Ingrained –– entrenched –– Injustice you faced heat
    Ku-Klux-Klansmen lit to bring you low.
    Looking Terror squarely in the face
    Many would have flinched, but you stood firm.
    Relentlessly you gave courage to your race ––
    Oppressed –– assessed as lower than a worm!
    Truth and Courage were your sword and shield.
    Cleansing us from same you spoke aloud
    Of mindless meanness –– our disgrace revealed.
    Despite denials, our heads are bowed.
    O, martyred man of God, you had one flaw
    They say, but we look back on you with awe.

    ~ FreeThinke - The Sandpiper, Winter 1996-97

  7. I'm not convinced that Joseph Kennedy wanted to do such harm to his daughter. What he did want was for her to "settle down" so as not to embarrass him or interfere with his plans for a political dynasty.

    I do give Rosemary's father credit for providing his daughter with the best medical care possible for the rest of her life.

    I'm also not convinced that Joseph Kennedy bought off the lobotomists so as to get the procedure done. There is zero evidence to support that either Freeman or Watts were ever, ever bought off.

    Although we today find lobotomy reprehensible, we should remember that 1/3 of lobotomies were indeed successful in treating mental illness: patients no longer locked away and many of them returning to their families and to work.

    I do wonder if, 50 years from now, we will find psychiatric drugs to be abhorrent and primitive.

    I am convinced that the lobotomist would not have done the procedure if he'd been told that Rosemary was mentally retarded. If I recall correctly, the doctor interviewed Rosemary, and there is no evidence that the doctor ever concluded that she was mentally retarded.

  8. "Although we today find lobotomy reprehensible, we should remember that 1/3 of lobotomies were indeed successful in treating mental illness: patients no longer locked away and many of them returning to their families and to work." The purpose to treat mental illness was to turn them more into vegetables with worse problems.
    Not with you on this one AOW. I had known three individuals who had them in the 1950's and they were a shadow of themselves. Function as what? Appreciate a source for this.

    1. Bunkerville,
      The source = The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness (2005). I got a copy at my local public library. I highly recommend the book. It's a warts-and-all narrative and worth reading if one is interested in the topic.

      Also, a friend of mine who worked the psych wards told me that I was judging the lobotomists too harshly. Yes, there were post-lobotomy zombies, and she talked about those. But she made the point that lobotomy was abandoned once the psychiatric medications came along.

  9. The brain within its groove
    Runs evenly and true
    But let a splinter swerve
    'Twere easier for you
    To put the water back
    When floods have slit the hills
    And scooped a turnpike for themselves
    And blotted out the mills.

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

    1. Imonda Rampage said

      I understand why you posted that particular poem. I wonder if anyone else would draw the same inference I do?

      At any rate, thanks agin for your special insights. You have a great fist.

    2. Thank you, –– I think ––, but what did you mean by saying I have a great fist?

      I have to admit I'm perplexed, but I do appreciate having my presence acknowledged without being mocked, chastised, or castigated. It's a rare treat, believe me.

    3. They say no harm talking to self. Danger lurks when you answer yourself.


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