The Insider! Lost Royals!
The Missing Sister!
The term American royalty may be an oxymoron, but the description fits the Kennedy family, a dynasty of Irish immigrants who worked their way to the top of the financial and political world through hard work and smart deals. From birth, Rose and Joseph Kennedy pushed their children to perform in all areas of life. With nine overachieving girls and boys competing for praise and success, any child who couldn't keep up would be left behind. Rosemary Kennedy became that forgotten sister.
On September 13, 1918, Rose, like most women of her era, delivered her second child at home. At the time, Boston was gripped by a deadly flu epidemic that delayed the doctor's arrival. This seemingly small delay would cause irreparable damage, however, depriving the first Kennedy daughter, Rosemary, of oxygen long enough to cause brain damage. "If the doctor had arrived on time," said Eunice Kennedy Shriver, "Rosemary would be like the rest of us." Unfortunately, Rosemary wasn't like the rest of the Kennedys.
As a child she managed to keep up in all physical activities, swimming and sailing with her sisters and brothers and playing tennis with her mother. She even kept the pace on a family tour of Europe, appearing shy but otherwise ordinary to outsiders. Over time her condition worsened. In 1940, when Rosemary was 21, she began acting out. Her parents made the rounds to the country's best doctors, who agreed that her condition would not improve and that she would be happier in an institution. Her father, Joseph Kennedy, opposed this decision at first. "What can they do in an institution that we can't do better for her at home, here with her family?" he asked. He believed, above all, in the power of family.
But Rosemary's erratic behavior soon convinced him otherwise. In a last ditch effort to get his daughter the best treatment available, he had her admitted to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC, where a neurosurgeon performed a lobotomy. Many have criticized Kennedy for his decision, primarily because he did not tell Rosemary what was going to happen and did not tell Rose of the operation until 1961. Whatever his motivations, the operation was a failure. Rosemary awoke worse than before, leading her family to admit her to a psychiatric institution, first in New York and then in Wisconsin.
For an accomplished family like the Kennedys, Rosemary's illness was difficult to take. They explained her absence from the public eye first with the claim that she was in fact teaching at the Wisconsin institution, then with the explanation that she suffered from cerebral palsy. In a 1962 article in the Saturday Evening Post, Eunice Kennedy Shriver detailed the true nature of her sister's condition for the first time. Since then Eunice and the whole Kennedy family have become visible, tireless advocates for the mentally retarded and handicapped, founding the Special Olympics, championing legislation, and helping to decrease the stigma of mental illness.
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