Eunice and the ‘Other Sister’

eunice youngI could look at pictures of Eunice all day, hero that she was for trying to do for others what she couldn’t do at home. She was just 19 when sister Rosemary was lobotomized according to their father’s wishes. He didn’t even tell Rose he had ordered it done ’til the surgery was over and they realized to their horror that she would never again stand erect, never again write the kind of letter that appears below here. My mother and aunt owned and ran a girls’ camp called Fernwood and in the spring of 1940, Rose Kennedy asked to meet them in New York to talk about her 22-year-old ‘working’ there as a Junior Counselor. Mom used to say she should have known the minute Mrs. Kennedy arrived without her daughter that the girl was not as ‘able’ as Rose was leading them to believe and sure enough, her care proved to be too much for everyone and her time at Camp Fernwood ended early, something the vacationing Mrs. Kennedy was most unhappy about.

Rosemary was unhappy too as  you can tell reading this letter she sent to my mom and aunt. See the wistfulness in it, the brave good cheer. Now imagine that within a few short months all this liveliness would be erased. Unlucky for Rose and Joe’s handsome oldest girl! Lucky for us to have had her little sister to raise our consciousness around all issues of the differently abled!

it's not my fault p.1

It's not my fault p. 2

15 thoughts on “Eunice and the ‘Other Sister’

  1. That is a very sad story. I worked for 7 years in a group home for developmentally disabled people , and they have so much potential if only given a chance. Poor Rosemary never got that chance.

  2. What a legacy your family left you. It is no wonder you are so special. Sometimes I sit here with tears running down my cheeks with appreciation for having the opportunity to meet so many fine people like yourself.

  3. Hi Terry,
    Thanks for sharing. It is a day to think of the strides we have made and how much energy by folks like Eunice Kennedy Shriver have mettered to so many.

  4. How sad for poor Rosemary. God bless Eunice for all she did for the “differently abled” because of her sister. In TV interviews, these folk give Eunice all the credit for giving them the confidence they now have. God bless you, Terry, for this beautiful piece.

  5. Very sad story, thank you for sharing. It’s unbelievable that lobotomy was such common practice back in the day for the mentally disabled. Can you imagine making those kinds of choices for your children today? I certainly can’t…I would never forgive myself.

  6. Lobotomy was a terrible thing that was a hit and miss procedure. Unfortunately, it was not fully understood at the time.

    Most of us take our daily lives for granted. We do not realize how lucky and blessed we are to have the one gift that is so precious and so often taken for granted. LIFE!

    I think Mrs. Shriver did and was a very special gift to us, as a wonderful giving human being…

    Thanks for the post, Terry!

  7. such a sad story. it would have a different outcome today – maybe because of Eunice’s intervention…. I always feel sad when a Kennedy leaves us. They were so much a part of my history..

  8. I wonder what Joe Kennedy thought would be accomplished by the lobotomy. I know he was concerned for her vulnerabilty, the fear that a man might take advantage of her when she was out in society. How ironic that the massive stroke suffered by Joe Kennedy put him in the same boat with Rosemary. The whole story is so sad. I think Rose was not informed before the operation because she would have tried to put a stop to it. They were such a close family, and Eunice was surely profoundly affected by Rosemary’s condition.

  9. My brother Bruce was a Downs Syndrome child; tonight I was looking at old pictures of him and me together. I was 6 1/2 when he was born with four more young’uns to follow. The principal of the elementary school took my brother and me (from my mother’s first marriage) around to each classroom and told the class to congratulate us on a new brother or sister. That principal stayed in touch until my first child was born; my nursery school teacher was still writing to my mother up to about two years ago.

    Bruce lived at home with us and taught us things about humans we couldn’t learn any other way. One picture I have of him is in his iron crib standing up, rocking back and forth with a huge grin of delight on his face. Another one shows him with ice cream all over his face. Children like that knew more about finding joy in simple things’ at church he was allowed to sit on the floor of the altar because he believed he was closer to God there. He has been missed since his death at 22. While my parents founded a retarded children’s foundation (it was titled that way in the 40’s) Bruce did not go to any of the recommended schools. And I found at Christmas when I played my violin (badly) at the party for these children at a huge VA hospital auditorium, I couldn’t have had a better non-critical audience. Eunice knew what she was doing all right. God bless her!

  10. Oh my dear Terry,

    Been catching up here on several weeks worth of writing and continue to be moved and delighted. Thank you for sharing this piece of Kennedy history with all of us and your graceful approach to her story. We have so much to be both thankful and hopeful for…. Many blessings…

  11. I am impressed how well Rosemary could spell and write basic sentences. She was a person who had gifts. I wish her family could have seen her in that way, not her weaknesses. I think she needed to be her own person. If I had eight siblings and all the time had competitions, if I was always not doing well as my other siblings, I would be upset as well and have outbursts. I understood why Rosemary had the outbursts prior to her lobotomy.

    Rosemary could of discovered more gifts she had. The lobotomy limited her ability to find her own gifts. In honest truth, the Kennedy curse really began with Rosemary’s lobotomy. I think putting Rosemary away in an institution far away, ignoring her, and never seeing her again was the biggest sin that the Kennedy Family did. In my opinion, this was worse than their extra marital affairs and even Chappaquiddick. Because of their treatment of Rosemary, the Kennedy Family deserved their curse.

    I have read over and over that Eunice had the closest relationship with Rosemary before and after the lobotomy. Eunice lived 88 years. She was survived by her husband and all of her children; none of them died before she did and they always appeared healthy. She never divorced her husband and was alert and active until the very end. Her father spent his last eight years incapacitated and her mother eleven. Four of her and Rosemary’s siblings died before the age of 50. Ted died at age 77, younger than Eunice and Rosemary, he had divorced and two of his kids had cancer. Pat spent the last five or six years suffering from cancer; she divorced and died at the age of 82. Eunice was the one who made the effort to have contact with Rosemary in her later years. She helped other people in similar situations to Rosemary, by starting the Special Olympics and making regular trips speaking to Congressmen in passing legislation that would improve the lives of people living with disabilities. I think Eunice deserved to live long and have all of her children with her at the end.

  12. Thankfully the true story about Rosemary Kennedy is now emerging on what would have been her 100th birthday. My aunt Dorothy Smyth also had letters from Rosemary arising from their visit to Dorothy’s family home in Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan Ireland in 1938. Thank you Terry for adding more pieces in the jigsaw. In 1998 my mother handed back to Jean Kennedy Smith the three letters written by Rosemary that had been in possession of our family.

  13. How lovely that your Aunt Dorothy had the opportunity to meet Jean Kennedy and hand back the letters. I tried to contact both Ted Kennedy’s office and the JFK Museum which balances at the lip of Boston Harbor. Can and did in fact but never heard anything back. Thank you too for reminding me that that poor girl was born 100 years ago now in that time of sorrow at the end of World War I’s carnage and at the height of that terrible influenza epidemic.

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