Rosemary

Wednesday’s are for Wisconsin on this page, and today I wanted to talk about Rosemary. She lived in Wisconsin from 1949 until her death in 2005 at the age of 86. Almost everyone knows about her parents and siblings, but little is known of her. Who is Rosemary? She’s the eldest daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy.

Rose Marie usually referred to as Rosemary or Rosie, was the eldest daughter and third child of Joseph Sr and Rose Kennedy. She was born in 1918 in Brookline, Massachusetts.

When her mother was in labor with her, the doctor was delayed and Rose was told to keep her legs closed until he arrived, the baby was in the birth canal for two hours and it is believed deprived of oxygen during part of this time.

During her early years Rosemary’s parents felt she wasn’t developing as she should as she was still trying to sit up, crawl, and walk at two years old. She was then labeled as intellectually disabled.

Rosemary was sent to boarding schools specializing in intellectually disabled children, she had specialists, private tutors and she would still struggle with learning to read and write.

Her elder brother, John, escorted her to a tea dance and helped give the impression that she wasn’t different at all.

Rosemary travelled with her family to the coronation of Pope Pius XII. And was presented as a debutante to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in 1938.

In 1940, after returning from England, Rosemary became irritable and difficult. She would often fly into rages and become violent. Joe Sr attempted to distance her from the rest of the family so she wouldn’t impede their political careers.

Eventually she was sent to a convent school in Washington DC and the nuns reported that she would sneak out regularly. They feared she had sexual partners and would contract a sexually transmitted disease or become pregnant. This type of behavior would shame and embarrass the family and Joe Sr found a solution to help solve the problem.

In 1941, 23-year-old Rosemary Kennedy had a new psychosurgery performed called a frontal lobotomy.

The doctors who performed this mildly sedated her and made small incisions into the front of her brain. As they stated no more than an inch each. Brain tissue was cut and as they cut they would ask Rosemary to recite prayers, songs, or count backwards. When she became incoherent they stopped. Joe Sr never told his wife that this procedure was performed until after.

As a result of the lobotomy Rosemary regressed to that of a two year old. The procedure was not successful.

In 1949 Joe Sr learned of St Coletta’s in Jefferson Wisconsin. It was an institution that cared for people with disabilities. Joe had a cottage built for Rosemary near the Alverno House which was designed for those who needed lifelong care.

Rosemary was cared for by two nuns, a student and a woman who worked with her three days a week in ceramics. Eventually Rosemary relearned to walk, she had a dog that kept her company. She would not speak clearly again and her one hand was palsied.

For 20 years her siblings did not know her whereabouts and her father never visited her again. Her mother visited her after the death of Joe Sr in 1969.

At that time her siblings learned about her failed lobotomy, but claimed her absence was due to mental retardation.

Rosemary died from natural causes in 2005 with her remaining siblings, Jean, Eunice, Pat, and Ted by her side. She is buried near her parents at Holyrood Cemetery in Brookline, MA.

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