The Other Sister

A local author details the tragic story of JFK’s disabled sibling.

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Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 320 pages, $27

The picture of Rosemary Kennedy on this book’s cover shows her warm, beautiful face, which makes the story inside all the more heart-rending. Born after Joe and Rose Kennedy’s two eldest sons—you’ve heard of Jack—Rosemary was dangerously deprived of oxygen during her delivery. A sweet child, she suffered intellectual disabilities, standing out from her competitive, athletic and brainy siblings as the brood grew to nine in all. But she yearned to get and give love, and her mother declared her intent to “mold and to influence” every child; father Joe, too, treated her tenderly.

But as Rosemary grew up, she took occasional turns toward violence, lashing out and needing serious restraint. Overwhelmed, the family moved her to a series of Catholic schools as the spotlight on the clan increased, with Joe becoming ambassador to Britain and his sons starting their rise. Eventually, Joe arranged a lobotomy, touted as a new treatment that could alleviate mood swings. Instead, it was a disastrous failure that left Rosemary incapacitated at the age of 23, banished to an institution away from the media’s peeping.

Larson keeps the future president in the background and is tactfully restrained in reporting Rosemary’s abandonment—Rose didn’t see her daughter for 20 years, and Joe never saw her again. But Eunice Shriver, her always-loving sister, developed the Special Olympics, and the family donated to disability-related causes. And JFK, in October 1963, signed an act funding research into mental retardation. Through diaries, letters and interviews, Larson tracks the family’s move toward redemption, keeping Rosemary at the center of the story.

From Page 117: “Everything is so beautiful…I wish I could stay for a month,” Rosemary wrote her father. She was once again on a diet, eating her meals at the “diet table.” Desperately wanting Joe to approve of her, she told him, “I don’t want to be {fat}. I will surprise you,” she wrote in her usual poor scrawl.

 


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