They Gave Her A Lobotomy So Her Brother Could Be President
The tragic story of President John F. Kennedy’s little sister
Laying on the table, she was lightly tranquilized, but awake and conscious.
The doctor asked her to recite poetry and sing songs while he performed the procedure. She started with her favorite poem.
As she was reciting a poem, the doctor drilled two holes at the top of her head. Small holes, less than an inch. Right through her skull. Then he inserted small metal spatulas that looked like miniature butter knives.
She finished reciting her favorite poem, smiled at the nurses and then started singing “God Bless America” in a rich, clear voice.
As she sang, the doctor moved the tiny knives up and down in a sawing motion. He was severing the link between her pre-frontal cortex and the rest of her brain.
When she stopped singing and became completely incoherent, he stopped.
She hadn’t even finished the song and he’d completely ruined her life.
He wasn’t even a surgeon.
What’s wrong with Rosie?
Rosemary Kennedy was born in the middle of the Spanish Flu pandemic that was sweeping America in the fall of 1918. She was the third child and first daughter of Joseph P. Kennedy, Senior and his wife Rose.
They’d already had two children. Joe Junior and John, who they affectionally called Jack. But this time, they were in a pandemic. It changed everything.
When Rose went into labor, the obstetrician who was supposed to deliver her child was running late. He was treating pandemic patients. Not wanting to deliver the baby without a doctor present, the nurse held Rose’s knees together and told her not to push. For over an hour.
Finally, Doctor Good arrived. He delivered the baby and proclaimed her healthy, thank heavens. They named her Rosemary, after her mother.
Rosie was a beautiful dark-haired, bright-eyed baby who seldom cried.
The Kennedys are ashamed…
As Rosie grew, she couldn’t keep up with the other kids. She struggled to make letters and words. Struggled with reading. Worse, she started to have “fits” that would later be diagnosed as epileptic seizures.
Rosie went to public school for the first two years of kindergarten, but at age 7, they pulled her out. It was clear that Rosie had cognitive problems.
Her dad called the head of Psychology at Harvard, his alma mater and they agreed to conduct mental tests on Rosie. They diagnosed her as “mentally retarded” so she was schooled by private tutors, at home, until age 13.
At 13, being good Catholics, the Kennedys decided the nuns should educate her, so they sent Rosie to the Sacred Heart Convent in Rhode Island.
They were ashamed that she was slow. Ashamed of her “fits.” So they asked that she be educated alone, in a separate class from other students.
In return, the Kennedys gave the school a new tennis court.
Rosie goes to England and meets the Queen
When Rosie was 19, President Roosevelt appointed her dad as the United States ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. Off to England they went.
Rosie and John Kennedy were barely a year apart and were close, often inseparable. She adored her big brother and he adored her right back.
It was a high point in her young life when she and her younger sister, Kathleen, and their Mom were presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. (mother of the current Queen)
The New York Times reported:
“Miss Rosemary Kennedy had a picture dress of white tulle embroidered with silver paillettes and worn over white satin with a train similar to her mother’s. She carried a bouquet of lilies of the valley.”
She thrived in England. She’d been placed in another Catholic school, but the nuns took her under their wing. They were training her to be a teacher’s aide, and she was flourishing and happy.
Then Germany marched on Paris, and the Kennedys were forced to go back to America.
Back in America, Joe Sr and Rose were worried about Rosie’s developing body and sexuality so they put her in a convent. It didn’t last. The nuns discovered Rosie had been sneaking out at night, going to taverns and meeting men.
She saw her siblings having a social life, going out with friends, and she just wanted to do the same. But her father would not permit it.
They brought her home and assigned staff to watch her around the clock. Rosie was angry. She just wanted the same freedom her siblings had. She wanted a social life. Stressed, her seizures became more frequent.
At the same time, Joe was grooming his oldest sons for a political career.
He didn’t know what to do with Rosie. He was conflicted and embarrassed. Afraid his daughter would cause trouble or get in trouble and affect the political ambitions he had for himself and his sons.
So he went hunting for help.
He found Dr. Walter Freeman, a neurologist and psychiatrist.
Freeman and his associate were researching a procedure that was said to be a cure-all for physical or mental disability. It was called — a lobotomy.
Unbeknownst to his family, Joe took Rosemary to be examined by Freeman. He didn’t bother to tell his wife and he didn’t bother to ask Rosie. He just took her. Because it was his right to do so.
Freeman diagnosed Rosie with ‘agitated depression’ and promised Joe that a lobotomy would ‘render her happy and content.’
Joe didn’t need any convincing. It seemed like their last hope.
Immediately after the procedure, they knew something was wrong.
Rosie could no longer walk or talk. She was incontinent. The left side of her body had been partially paralyzed. Her head tilted toward her left shoulder and she couldn’t straighten it. The fingers of her left hand were gnarled and useless. All she could do was grunt, scream, and cry.
Her father panicked. He didn’t tell anyone about the procedure he’d agreed to. Not even his wife.
Rosie was packed off and sent to Craig House in Beacon, New York. It was 1941, and still legal for a husband or father to sign a woman into a mental health institution. Rosie was 23 years old.
He lied to Rose and told her Rosie had gotten much worse and doctors said she needed institutionalization, with no visitors to agitate her.
Eight years later, Joe Sr. learned that Rosie was being sexually abused at Craig House so he moved her to Saint Coletta, a home for the “mentally retarded” in Jefferson, Wisconsin.
It was the best thing that happened to her since the lobotomy. She formed a bond with one of the nuns and slowly learned to function again.
Despite that she’d had a lobotomy, she learned to make her bed and brush her teeth. She learned to dress herself and communicate with her eyes and by gesturing with her good hand. She even learned to walk again.
Her mother still didn’t know where she was.
And she didn’t know that.
20 years alone and in isolation
For twenty years, the Kennedy family had no idea what happened to Rosie. They simply took the word of the patriarch. Joe said she wasn’t allowed visitors where she lived, so they believed him and accepted that.
No one knew where she was, and no one knew she was being kept in isolation, not even permitted outings.
Her father didn’t want anyone seeing her. Twenty years in utter isolation with only the nuns for companionship. No family.
In 1960, JFK became the youngest president of America. His sister was not there to celebrate. As he stood there in that moment of pride, he had no idea where she was.
Rose finally finds her daughter
A year after JFK became president, Joe Kennedy Sr. had a stroke. Mute and bedridden, he was no longer capable of paying the bills. That’s how Rose finally found her daughter. The bill from the institution arrived.
She opened the bill and flew to Wisconsin immediately.
When Rose Kennedy got off the plane in Wisconsin, Rosie and two nuns were waiting. Rose opened her arms and Rosie ran to her. Then Rosie raised her arms and beat her mother on the chest, shrieking.
Rose stood and took it.
Finally, after venting her anger and pain, mother and daughter embraced, both crying.
Rosie gets a social life
Rose gave the nuns permission to take Rosie out, something she’d never been permitted. They took her shopping and to restaurants. She loved dining out and discovering new restaurants.
She learned to swim and dance. She learned to prepare food in the kitchen and loved to stand and stir soup while it cooked on the stove.
She learned to play miniature golf and discovered the joy of walking. She began going for daily walks.
Finally, her family started to visit.
JFK and Bobby never came. Not even once.
She never saw her father again since the day he’d taken her for the lobotomy. But the rest of the family came, and brought their children.
Once the family descended, Rosie’s younger siblings asked the nuns what was really wrong with their sister. Had she really been mentally “retarded?”
The nun responded, “I believe she was like me.
She had problems reading in school. Like I did.”
What a horrible tragedy to think she was given a lobotomy because as a child, she had epileptic seizures and learning difficulties.
Rose Kennedy never forgot the preventable tragedy that her husband Joe brought on their eldest daughter. When she published her memoir in 1974, she dedicated it to her daughter, Rosemary.
Rosemary Kennedy died January 7, 2005 at the age of eighty-six.
“Any woman who still thinks marriage is a fifty-fifty proposition is only proving that she doesn’t understand either men or percentages” ~ Rose Kennedy
This broke my heart but was extremely informative. I did not know the whole history behind this story, although I had heard the story itself before. As someone with epilepsy, I often shiver to think what could have happened if I had been born even a few decades earlier.
Anyone who worships at at the feet of Kennedy men should read this article and understand, that to them, women are property to be discarded if embarassing