Thursday, September 5, 2013
So when I saw this new book about Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, I had to read it. Rose Kennedy was an interesting lady. She was a very devoted Catholic from her teenage years. She and her younger sister, Agnes, spent a year at a convent in Germany as their "finishing" school. Her father had sent Rose there hoping she would forget about Joe Kennedy, her beau. But that plan failed and soon after returning home from Germany, she married Mr. Kennedy in a small service at the family home. Rose began her family with the birth of Joe, Jr quickly followed by Jack and Rosemary. Being very organized, Rose began a card file system to keep track of each child's medical history. As the family grew, she turned the dinner table into a school by discussing current events, religious history and such. Since her husband was often traveling, she was in many ways a single mother. One thing that the book points out is that Rose was very concerned with her children's teeth in a time when most people did not take dental hygiene seriously. Of course, having the money to pay for a dentist back then was a luxury that only the rich could afford. Rose was also very concerned with her own weight as well as the weights of her offspring. There was a suggestion that Rose may have been on the border of anorexia. She ate very little, stating that she had a sensitive stomach. But she was very proud of her good figure after birthing so many children. The author of the biography suggests that it may have been Rose's way of coping with her husband's roving eye. She could control her weight. She is always encouraging the boys to gain weight as JFK was very thin and sickly as a teenager. In later letters, she encourages the girls to "slim". Rose enjoyed her time in the limelight when Joe Sr was appointed ambassador to England prior to WW2. She felt at home among the royalty and well known English personages. It allowed her to thumb her nose at the Boston elitists who shunned Catholics. When Joe's remarks about England being "finished" as WW2 commenced hit the papers, he was quickly relieved of his duties and the Kennedys went home in shame. Joe was never to be seen in the forefront of politics again but he was the machine behind the political careers of his sons. Rose was also active in campaigning for her sons in all their endeavors. She kept up a pace that would have put many younger women in bed.
One of Rose's greatest sorrows was the damage to her daughter, Rosemary, due to a lobotomy when she was only 23 years old. Joe Sr had researched treatments for "slow" children and concluded that this new surgery might help Rosemary who was prone to angry outbursts. Sadly, Rosemary was severely damaged by this surgery and was sent to live in a convent school until her death in 2005. Rose said this was the only time she ever disagreed with her husband's decisions.
Rose Kennedy lost four children. Joe Jr was killed in WW2 as he carried out his duties as a fighter pilot. Daughter Kathleen "Kick" died in a plane crash in England. Sons Jack and Bobby were assasinated. Deeply devout Rose found solace in her faith at these awful times. After the death of her husband in 1969, Rose found many opportunities to speak publicly about motherhood and about retardation. Whereas the family had hidden Rosemary's condition in the past, she now acknowledged it and worked to raise money to help children like her oldest daughter. Special Olympics exists today because of the Kennedy family. Rosemary, while limited intellectually, was a great swimmer. Rose was also a caring grandmother who despaired over some of the choices her grands made regarding drug use and the sense of entitlement they displayed in their everyday life.
Rose did not really slow down until felled by a stroke in 1985 at age 95. She lived ten more years in seclusion at her Hyannis Port home, dying on January 22, 1995. She was buried in a cemetery not far from where she was born and her tombstone simply reads Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.