Like her elder brothers, Joe Jr. and John, she was born at her parents’ sprawling Massachusetts home. Only, there was no doctor present when her mother, Rose, was ready to deliver her daughter in September 1918. The nurse, intent on waiting for help, ordered Rose to keep her legs together until the doctor arrived.
Rosemary was held inside the birth canal for two hours, deprived of vital oxygen.
At age 11, she was sent to a Pennsylvania boarding school for intellectually challenged students, and at 15 to a convent school in Rhode Island where she was educated separately, with the help of a dedicated staff. Reports suggest her family made large donations to the school for its efforts.
In public, at least, Rosemary blossomed. But in private, she struggled.
Her rebellious late-night wanderings . . . in her early 20s had the nuns fearing “that she was picking up men and might become pregnant or diseased,” wrote Kennedy family biographer, Laurence Leamer.
In 1941, Joseph secured doctors to perform a lobotomy on his daughter, a surgical procedure that, at the time, was considered an acceptable form of treatment for mental illness and mood disorders. Although it was rarely recommended for intellectual disability.
The procedure was a catastrophic failure. It left Rosemary incoherent, unable to walk and only able to utter a handful of words.
She was 23 years old.
It was Rosemary’s sister, Eunice — who later became a prominent disability advocate and founded the Special Olympics — who first publically shared Rosemary’s story.