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Two new books on Rosemary Kennedy, the missing sister


Douglas Caddy
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Rosemary's tragic story is often cited as an example of Joe Kennedy's poor parenting. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the time, lobotomy was considered a new, potentially "miracle" cure. He had nothing but her best interests at heart, and certainly must have been devastated when it backfired. If anything, Joe Kennedy was an exceptional parent who experienced more tragedy than anyone should ever have to endure.

Rosemary inspired Eunice Kennedy Shriver to start the Special Olympics, and lobby on behalf of all those who had been (and continue to be by all too many insensitive people) disparaged as "retards." Her crusading really opened the doors for inclusion, and is something she isn't regularly credited for.

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Rosemary's tragic story is often cited as an example of Joe Kennedy's poor parenting. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the time, lobotomy was considered a new, potentially "miracle" cure. He had nothing but her best interests at heart, and certainly must have been devastated when it backfired. If anything, Joe Kennedy was an exceptional parent who experienced more tragedy than anyone should ever have to endure.

Rosemary inspired Eunice Kennedy Shriver to start the Special Olympics, and lobby on behalf of all those who had been (and continue to be by all too many insensitive people) disparaged as "retards." Her crusading really opened the doors for inclusion, and is something she isn't regularly credited for.

Rosemary's tragic story is often cited as an example of Joe Kennedy's poor parenting. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the time, lobotomy was considered a new, potentially "miracle" cure. He had nothing but her best interests at heart, and certainly must have been devastated when it backfired. If anything, Joe Kennedy was an exceptional parent who experienced more tragedy than anyone should ever have to endure.

Every word of that is about 180 from everything I've ever heard on that subject.

Where did you get that info Don? strange. Joe didn't like Rosemary's relations with boys, he was afraid she wasn't smart enough to stay out of trouble so he decided to take a chance on a completely unproven, brain scrambling technique to make it so that she couldn't or wouldn't be taken advantage of. I don't believe that a parent with 'best interests at heart' would allow someone to stick a knife into her brain and scramble it. Then he shipped her away and never saw her again. He had a stroke in 61 and was incapacitated. Then he died in 69, never having seen Rosemary since the surgery. That doesn't speak of 'love' for his child.

Edited by Kenneth Drew
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You have to consider how differently society looked at those with developmental difficulties back then. While we understand frontal lobotomies now as something hideous, at the time it was a new procedure, and something which the doctors told Joe Kennedy could potentially dramatically improve Rose's "slow" condition. Especially in a wealthy, competitive family like the Kennedys, it was crucial for the children to be "normal" in every way.

I'm not sure what your sources are regarding Rosemary's relations with boys. However, that was certainly a valid concern; Rosemary was a beautiful girl, and it was a different era. I am skeptical of all sources regarding negative information about the Kennedys, as I detail in my book. There has been a clear agenda for some time now, to smear and demean the reputations of the entire Kennedy family, starting with Papa Joe.

It's sheer speculation either way about what Joe Kennedy's motivations were, but while there are anecdotal accounts portraying Rose as a cold and distant mother, no one denies that Joe cared deeply about his children. I prefer to believe that he honestly wanted to "improve" his beautiful, "slow" daughter, and must have been mortified when it backfired so tragically. I can't accept that his rationale was to destroy her critical faculties in an effort to stop her from sleeping around.

These books are like all books about the Kennedys published since the 1970s or so; more vicious attempts to manipulate the public's image of the family in a negative manner, with the ultimate goal probably to erase them down the memory hole. Can we imagine such attacks on the Rockefeller family? The Roosevelts? Joe Kennedy lost four children to separate, premature, unnatural deaths. If you include Rosemary as "lost," which she certainly was, that's over half of his family. No man should have to endure such heartbreak. As a hands-on parent, I suspect that Joe thought he could "fix" his daughter with this new, unproven procedure.

I have a niece who was born with Downs Syndrome in the late 1960s. Even at that time, the advice was to put them away, lock them up where the world couldn't see them. We were Catholics, like the Kennedys, and there was still a thought that such things were curses, and the affected individuals were unfit to interact with the "normal" world. Thank goodness my sister didn't take listen to them, and today we're a more enlightened society in this regard. I think the Kennedys, through Eunice Kennedy Shriver, should receive much of the credit for this. Although far too many comedians and alleged mature adults still use the word "retard" and make fun of the "short bus," overall those who have developmental disorders aren't quite shunned as they used to be.

We know from Kennedy family friend Lem Billings and others that the family had a great deal of trouble with Rosemary, who would sometimes become violent, and was known to wander the streets and engage in verbal arguments with people. Rose Kennedy expressed the valid fear that her daughter might be easily duped into something, or become a victim of kidnapping. There was an uncharacteristically fair article in the May 24, 1987 Palm Beach Post, titled "Decision to Lobotomize Rosemary Haunted Joseph Kennedy to Grave," in which the lobotomy was more accurately described as a "pioneering operation," which is the way it was viewed at the time. The article goes on to state, "In the early 1940s, the operation was considered a miracle treatment..." The article points out that Joe's secrecy was motivated by a desire to "protect Rose from the heartbreak, to see her daughter that way..."

Certainly, the Kennedys had their flaws, but Rosemary's sad story is just one aspect of their lives that I believe has been reported on dishonestly, as part of the ongoing effort to diminish their reputation. No other celebrated family engenders the kind of hatred the Kennedys do. They weren't perfect, but they stand out in stark contrast to their greedy, self-serving, corrupt fellow one-percenters.

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I can't accept that his rationale was to destroy her critical faculties in an effort to stop her from sleeping around.

I wouldn't accept that either and it doesn't come close to what I said. I don't think that he ever said to himself that he was going to scramble her brains to keep her from being interested in boys. My comment is that he was concerned about her active interest in boys and him knowing that it was her brain condition, he was willing to try something to help the situation. But, my other comment was that I don't think that he used good sense to allow someone to stick a knife in her brain and randomly scramble her brain cells and hope that it would help.

I am skeptical of all sources regarding negative information about the Kennedys, as I detail in my book. That's a good statement and applies in most cases anytime you are dealing with powerful people. But you should always remember that you don't have to believe that they only do good things either. I have no agenda toward the Kennedy's. They've all done fairly well in light of the publicity and tragedies the family has had.

The thing that speaks very loudly to me is that once he moved her to Wisconsin for the final 25 years of his life, he never saw his daughter again. How do you interpret that, Don?

Edit: I have heard many negative comments on the Rockefellers and the Roosevelts. I have no agenda to either bash or to honor the Kennedy's. They are what they are.

Edited by Kenneth Drew
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I shouldn't have implied that you believe Joe Kennedy butchered his daughter purposefully, Kenneth. But I think that's the prevailing view within the establishment, and now within a large portion of the public. They have vilified Joe Kennedy as a corrupt "bootlegger" associated with the mob, and regardless of the tainted sources for this, if it's repeated enough it becomes "fact."

I don't believe any mainstream, "respectable" historian would write anything nearly as negative about the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, the Churchills, or any other celebrated "liberal" family. Of course, they have been criticized a great deal, but almost all of this criticism has come from those outside the mainstream, who can conveniently be labeled as "extremists."

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I shouldn't have implied that you believe Joe Kennedy butchered his daughter purposefully, Kenneth. But I think that's the prevailing view within the establishment, and now within a large portion of the public. They have vilified Joe Kennedy as a corrupt "bootlegger" associated with the mob, and regardless of the tainted sources for this, if it's repeated enough it becomes "fact."

I don't believe any mainstream, "respectable" historian would write anything nearly as negative about the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, the Churchills, or any other celebrated "liberal" family. Of course, they have been criticized a great deal, but almost all of this criticism has come from those outside the mainstream, who can conveniently be labeled as "extremists."

Dear Mr. Jeffries,

Like you, I believe Joseph Kennedy, Sr. was a true saint.

I don't believe there's any truth to the ugly rumor that he was having "carnal knowledge" of his own lobotomized daughter.

He was much too nice of a man for that.

--Tommy :sun

Edited by Thomas Graves
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I shouldn't have implied that you believe Joe Kennedy butchered his daughter purposefully, Kenneth. But I think that's the prevailing view within the establishment, and now within a large portion of the public. They have vilified Joe Kennedy as a corrupt "bootlegger" associated with the mob, and regardless of the tainted sources for this, if it's repeated enough it becomes "fact."

I don't believe any mainstream, "respectable" historian would write anything nearly as negative about the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, the Churchills, or any other celebrated "liberal" family. Of course, they have been criticized a great deal, but almost all of this criticism has come from those outside the mainstream, who can conveniently be labeled as "extremists."

Don, I downloaded the Kindle sample for your book today. looking forward to trying it.

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