Rosemary Kennedy

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Rosemary Kennedy
Born September 13, 1918
Brookline, Massachusetts, USA
Died January 7, 2005 (aged 86)
Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, USA
Parents Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald

Rose Marie Kennedy (September 13, 1918 – January 7, 2005) was the third child and first daughter of Joseph Patrick Kennedy and Rose Elizabeth Kennedy née Fitzgerald, born a year after her brother, future U.S. President John F. Kennedy. She underwent a lobotomy at the age of 23, after which she was mentally incapacitated for the rest of her life.


[edit] Biography

[edit] Childhood

She was born at her parents' home and christened Rose Marie Kennedy and commonly called Rosemary. To her family and friends, she was known as "Rosie".

Rosemary has been described as being a shy child whose I.Q. tests reportedly indicated a moderate mental retardation, but this is a question of some controversy.[citation needed] Diaries written by Rosemary in the late 1930s, and published in the 1980s, reveal a young woman whose life was filled with outings to the opera, tea dances, dress fittings, and other social interests:

  • "Went to luncheon in the ballroom in the White House. James Roosevelt took us in to see his father, President Roosevelt. He said, 'It's about time you came. How can I put my arm around all of you? Which is the oldest? You are all so big."
  • "Have a fitting at 10:15 Elizabeth Arden. Appointment dress fitting again. Home for lunch. Royal tournament in the afternoon."
  • "Up too late for breakfast. Had it on deck. Played Ping-Pong with Ralph's sister, also with another man. Had lunch at 1:15. Walked with Peggy. also went to horse races with her, and bet and won a dollar and a half. Went to the English Movie at five. Had dinner at 8:45. Went to the lounge with Miss Cahill and Eunice and retired early."[1]

She also was presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during her father's service as the American Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Placid and easygoing as a child and teenager, the maturing Rosemary became increasingly assertive in her personality. She was reportedly subject to violent mood swings. Some observers have since attributed this behavior to her difficulties in keeping up with her active siblings, as well as the hormonal surges associated with puberty. In any case, the family had difficulty dealing with the often-stormy Rosemary, who had begun to sneak out at night from the convent where she was being educated and cared for.[citation needed]

[edit] Lobotomy

In 1941, when Rosemary was 23, her father was told by her doctors that a cutting edge procedure would help calm her "mood swings that the family found difficult to handle at home". [2] Joseph Kennedy gave permission for the procedure to be performed by Dr. Walter Freeman, the director of the laboratories at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., together with his partner, James W. Watts, MD, from the University of Virginia. Watts performed his neurosurgical training at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and later he became the Chief of Neurosurgery at the George Washington University Hospital. Highly regarded, Dr. Watts later became the 91st president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia. The procedure in question was a lobotomy.

At the time only 65 previous lobotomies had been performed. Dr. Watts, who performed the surgery while Dr. Freeman supervised/observed, described the procedure:

We went through the top of the head, I think she was awake. She had a mild tranquilizer. I made a surgical incision in the brain through the skull. It was near the front. It was on both sides. We just made a small incision, no more than an inch." The instrument Dr. Watts used looked like a butter knife. He swung it up and down to cut brain tissue. "We put an instrument inside," he said. As Dr. Watts cut, Dr. Freeman put questions to Rosemary. For example, he asked her to recite the Lord's Prayer or sing "God Bless America" or count backwards. ... "We made an estimate on how far to cut based on how she responded." ... When she began to become incoherent, they stopped.

James W. Watts [3]

Instead of producing the hoped-for result, however, the lobotomy reduced Rosemary to an infantile mentality that left her incontinent and staring blankly at walls for hours. Her verbal skills were reduced to unintelligible babble. Her mother, Mrs. Rose Kennedy, remarked that although the lobotomy stopped her daughter's violent behavior, it left her completely incapacitated. "Rose was devastated; she considered it the first of the Kennedy family tragedies."[4]

Freeman went on to perform more than 3,000 lobotomies[5] before his license to practice medicine was revoked (because of the death of a patient). Such lobotomy treatments are now discredited by the mental health and medical communities, and the procedure is no longer used.

[edit] Aftermath

In 1949, Rosemary moved to the St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children (formerly known as St. Coletta's Institute for Backward Children) in Jefferson, Wisconsin, a residential institution for people with disabilities. Because of the severity of her mental condition, Rosemary became largely detached from the Kennedy clan, but she was visited on regular occasions by her sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics and an advocate for the disabled on Rosemary's behalf. Joe Kennedy also made monetary donations to philanthropic agencies that he founded to help people with developmental disabilities.

Occasionally, Rosemary was taken to visit relatives in Florida and Washington, D.C and to visit her childhood home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Publicly, she was declared to be mentally handicapped. This was more socially acceptable in a political family than a failed lobotomy. "Only a few doctors who worked for the Kennedys knew the truth about Rosemary's condition, as did the FBI", because of a background check of Joe. Joe's attorney told them she had a "mental illness". [6]

[edit] Death

Rosemary died from natural causes on January 7, 2005, at the Atkinson Memorial Hospital in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, at the age of 86, with her two surviving sisters Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Jean Kennedy Smith, and her only surviving brother Senator Ted Kennedy by her side. She was the fifth of the Kennedy children to die, but the first to die from natural causes. She is buried in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts.

[edit] Mental retardation or mental illness?

Researchers disagree over the initial assessment of Rosemary's condition. According to the author Laurence Leamer, Rosemary Kennedy was "probably the first person with mental retardation in America to receive a prefrontal lobotomy". Ronald Kessler, author of The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded, disagrees with this assessment. He believes that Rosemary's problem was instead mental illness. He says it’s true that Rosemary had always been slower than the other children. But as a teenager, she was able to write endearing letters, dance, and do arithmetic. At the age of nine, Rosemary neatly and correctly multiplied and divided: 428 × 32 = 13696, for example.[7]

Joseph Kennedy's aide, Edward Moore, with whom Rosemary lived for years before the Kennedy family moved to London for Kennedy's ambassadorship, said, "She's not quite right", tapping his head. Returning from London at the age of 22, Rosemary apparently regressed in mental skills, became "tense and irritable, upset easily and unpredictably … tantrums … rages … convulsive episodes". [8]

Kathleen Kennedy's former boyfriend, John White, claimed that Kathleen admitted to him the secret that Rosemary had learning problems—but what really concerned her father were "mood changes" and a "new neurological disturbance." She added that "the family considered Rosemary a disgrace and failure'". [9]

Kessler conducted the only interview with Dr. Watts, who "told the author that, in his opinion, Rosemary had suffered not from mental retardation, but from a form of depression. … 'It may have been agitated depression, you're agitated, you're shaky. You talk in an agitated way.'"

Kessler writes, "A review of all records by the two doctors confirmed Dr. Watt's [sic] declaration. … None of the papers listed any of the patient as being mentally retarded. … According to a review in the American Journal of Psychiatry, of all reports of lobotomies ever done, the procedure was only used for psychiatric illness" [10]

"One of the doctors who knew the truth was Dr. Bertram S. Brown, … executive director of the President's Panel on Mental Retardation," Kessler writes. "According to Dr. Brown, the fact that Rosemary could do arithmetic meant that her IQ was well above 75, the cutoff used by most states for purposes of classification in schools to define mental retardation." At the age of nine, she did problems like 428 × 32 = 13696, 3924 / 6 = 654. At age 16 she wrote to her father "I would do anything to make you so happy. I hate to disapoint [sic] you in anyway [sic]." Her diary reveals an ability to write about and understand various situations around her.

Kessler quotes Dr. Brown, a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, as saying, "If she did division and multiplication, she was over an IQ of 75. She was not mentally retarded. … It could be she had an IQ of 90 in a family where everyone was 130, so it looked like retardation, but she did not fall into IQ 75 and below, which is the definition of mental retardation. … There is no way I can picture her at less than a 90 IQ, but in that family, 90 would be considered retarded."

Kessler adds that in Dr. Brown's opinion, the family's treatment of Rosemary led to her mental illness. "I think it's likely she was somewhat slower than the others. Then she was treated as if she was retarded. Then it becomes reactive depression, including rages and loss of control. That is mental illness. … The reason she got depressed was that she reacted to being treated as a lesser member of the family." While the children tried to include her in their activities, "given the highly competitive environment of the Kennedy family, they could not help but to communicate to her that she was not up to their standards." The fact that Joe banished Rosemary to live with his aide demonstrated his rejection of her. "The stigma of mental illness in those days was like tuberculosis or cancer or worse. Mental retardation is more benignly not your fault. … Even in [Dr. Watts's] day, performing a lobotomy on someone who was mentally ill would have been medical malpractice."

According to Kessler, Dr. Brown called the suppression of the truth "the biggest mental health cover-up in history." Since the "public story" is still that Rosemary was retarded, the "lack of support for mental illness is part of a total lifelong family denial of what was really so. … Some of us knew the secret and kept it secret …" [11]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Gibson, Rose Kennedy and Her Family, includes Rosemary's diaries from 1936–1938.
  2. ^ Rosemary Kennedy and Lobotomy
  3. ^ Kessler, The Sins of the Father, p. 226
  4. ^ Kessler, p. 237
  5. ^ Father of the Lobotomy
  6. ^ Kessler, p. 233
  7. ^ Kessler, p. 246
  8. ^ Rose Kennedy, A Time to Remember, quoted by Kessler.
  9. ^ Kessler, p. 224.
  10. ^ Kessler, p. 227.
  11. ^ Kessler, p. 232–235.

[edit] References

  • Burns, James MacGregor, John Kennedy: A Political Profile, Harcourt Brace, 1960
  • El-Hai, Jack, The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness (Wiley, 2004). ISBN 0-471-23292-0
  • Gibson, Barbara, Rose Kennedy and Her Family: The Best and Worst of Their Lives and Times, Birch Lane Press, ISBN 1-55972-299-1.
  • Kennedy, Rose, Times to Remember, 1974, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-47657-4
  • Kessler, Ronald, The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded, Warner, 1996, ISBN 0-446-60384-8
  • Leamer, Laurence, The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family (Ballantine, 1996).
  • McCarthy, Joe, The Remarkable Kennedys
  • McTaggart, Lynne, Kathleen Kennedy, Doubleday, 1983
  • Valenstein, Elliot S. Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery and Other Radical Treatments for Mental Illness (Basic Books, 1986).

[edit] External links

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