Over the years, I have read numerous memoirs and biographies that feature the Kennedys. But none have focused on their first daughter…until this book, Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter.
The author skillfully incorporated the stories of the Kennedy family, their position in society, their various homes and political experiences, and then spotlighted Rosemary as the centerpiece in the way that she affected all of their choices.
Not that she was viewed as more important, but in trying to meet her mental and emotional challenges, the parents were forced to study up and increase their knowledge of what was available, and in later life, her needs and what her experiences had shown them would impact donations, foundations, and laws introduced by the political members of the family.
The experience of Rosemary’s birth, as the first daughter and third child for Joe and Rose, would, of course, set her life on an irreversible journey, facing challenges none of the other siblings would have to face.
The era of her birth and early childhood years (1917-1920s) were absent the knowledge and expertise that would come later. Special education and resources to meet those needs, as well as knowing what to do to overcome brain injuries suffered in birth, would be many years away.
The Kennedy wealth did help to smooth the way to schools, the resources that were available, and experiences of living abroad when Joe, Sr., was an ambassador to England.
The frustrations of Rosemary as a young adult would lead to one of the most chilling experiences ever, in my opinion. The lobotomy.
Still in the experimental stages, (and hopefully, a thing of the past now), the procedure was somehow offered as a potential cure for Rosemary, but I’m not sure her father even believed that there would be a cure. He seemed keenly aware of the dangers of having her out there in the world, behaving badly, jeopardizing herself, and giving the family a bad name, and he could not take that risk.
When in this state of mind, a parent can be persuaded of any number of things. But after the lobotomy, Rosemary’s condition lost considerable ground, physically and mentally, and institutions were her future. Cut off from the world, her family, and life as she’d known it…possibly the only blessing for her was that she might have lost many memories of how things had been before.
It is easy to lay blame on decisions and choices made in stressful situations, especially for a family consumed with wealth, power, and their reputation…but, in the end, we can also blame the lack of knowledge in the medical profession at the time, coupled with the desire of the experimenters to push their own theories forward.
A book that kept me fascinated throughout, it also added more layers to the family picture. I especially enjoyed seeing the photos, showing Rosemary as part of the family. 4.5 stars.