Reading Matters

Larson sheds new light on Rosemary, the hidden Kennedy daughter

An October release, “Rosemary: The Hidden Daughter,” by Kate Clifford Larson, will break your heart.

Here’s the Rosemary I’ve long wondered about. The mentally challenged sister of Jack Kennedy; daughter of the wealthy Joe and Rose Kennedy. The stunningly beautiful daughter Rose couldn’t admit wouldn’t eventually live up to her exacting standards. Her home birth did not give her an auspicious start in life. According to Larson, once the baby began to crown, Rose was made to “hold her legs together tightly” in hopes of delaying the birth until the delinquent doctor arrived. It seems if the doctor was not on hand at the birth, he could not charge “his extremely high fee of $125 for prenatal care and delivery.”

Larson, the mother of a disabled child, also reveals that Rose was not as unaware of the lobotomy performed on 23-year-old Rosemary in 1941 as previously believed. Larson says the surgery, performed with Rosemary awake, went “horribly awry” and she emerged almost completely disabled. She never recovered the full use of her limbs and could speak only a handful of words. The surgery “erased years of emotional, physical, and intellectual development, leaving her completely incapable of taking care of herself.”

In 1958, JFK visited Rosemary in a Wisconsin institution for the first time. Only then, writes Larson, did the siblings start to understand what had happened to their sister and to bring her home for family visits. This reckoning motivated the Kennedys to direct attention and resources to the plight of people with special needs, tranforming the world for millions.