Picture this. You are the daughter of the the most prestigious and wealthiest man in the country at the time, the center of the public eye. Your father and mother appear in all of the newspapers, and their faces are plastered on the television screens everywhere you turn. Your siblings are athletic, intelligent and each have faces made for the cameras. But you, you are different. You just do not quite fit in to the mold of the reputation your family possesses. Time goes by and your differences stick out more and more, not just physical differences, but one's going on inside your brain as well. Instead of seeking the right kinds of help, your parents decide to hide you from the public eye that they hold so much power over. They mask your identity from all, as if you never existed at all.
Rosemary Kennedy, sister of JFK, and eldest daughter of Joseph Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, has been through the most tragic and unforgettable experiences, starting the first day she was brought on to this earth. The Spanish influenza was running rampid in the Boston area during the time Rosemary was born, and doctors were rarely available as a result. On September 13, 1918, Rose Kennedy was set to deliver her daughter Rosemary at their home in Brookline, Massachusetts. In result of the doctors aiding with the medical crisis happening at the time, her delivery took a turn for the worse. The nurse assisting with the birth, forced Rose to hold off on proceeding with the delivery in hopes that a doctor would soon be available. Rosemary was pushed back into the birth canal for two hours, cutting off her oxygen supply, and unfortunately a doctor never came to aid. Those two hours impacted who she was to become, damaging the entirety of her functioning for the rest of her life.
Rosemary’s development was delayed both cognitively as well as academically, leaving her behind in school, consequently, deterring her from moving on to the next grade. Despite all of her efforts to make her parents proud, as time progressed, it seemed she did just the opposite. By the time she turned 23 years old, her father made a decision that he thought was the best for Rosemary: a lobotomy. It was a newly found procedure that he thought would “fix” his daughter. The surgery was unsuccessful, and Rosemary’s capacity was diminished. After this surgery, Rosemary was separated from her family, and was sent to be institutionalized in a Catholic Convent near Wisconsin. Once she was institutionalized, she was given the care she needed and it was no longer a chore to keep her around. She did not have to be hidden, and she could live her life, just as she was, despite the tragic life she lived.
Everything I have told you so far, seems to be the tragic story of who has become known as the “hidden sister” of the Kennedy family. She is much more than all of these horrible things I have shared with you. Rosemary attended a two year community college in her home state of Massachusetts, with the hopes of someday becoming a kindergarten teacher. She has influenced the lives of many, especially those in the field of special education and the advocacy for those with disabilities. In cause of the impact that Rosemary has left on others, her younger sister Eunice reached out to families with children diagnosed with disabilities, providing them with the same opportunities that their neurotypical peers have access to. This evolved to the founding of the Special Olympics, which allowed children to have the experiences that her sister never had as a child.
Rosemary’s story has inspired the advocacy of others against the negative stigmas and issues that surround both intellectual and physical disabilities, and the terrible practices that still go on today, like the one she survived. Rosemary Kennedy’s story of determination and bravery is one that deserves to be heard, one to be used as a tool to further the impacts she has made, to honor her and all she has survived.