Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Rosemary Kennedy's Lobotomy

I ran across this story while reading about lobotomies, and I learned something about the Kennedy family I never knew (not that I know it all in the first place).

After reading this article, and more on the subject, I find myself realizing how frightening it must have been (and still must be) for families to have someone in their family who does not fit the 'normal' mode of being.

Is it really so wrong to be a little slow? To need a little more affection and praise? Why do families ignore or turn their backs on these children? I am appalled and utterly furious that this happened. Now we all know that lobotomies are nothing more than radical experiments, but back then? You would think someone would have said "Wait just a damn minute. This man is shoving ice picks into peoples eyes and calling it surgery". Why did so many people have to die or be injured before someone stopped this monster?

This story is credited to fatboy.cc.

Does this young woman look retarded to you?

She was Joe and Rose Kennedy’s third child, their first daughter. She was born in September 1918, two months before the end of World War I, during the Spanish influenza epidemic. Her name was Rose Marie Kennedy, but she became known as “Rosemary.” Later the Kennedys speculated that she was retarded because the nurse had prevented her birth until the arrival of the obstetrician, so that he could collect his full feee.

In his book, “The Kennedy Women,” Lawrence Leamer describes her as “painfully slow… a pretty child with green eyes that peered out on life directly.”

Leamer: “As Rosemary grew into a teenager she desperately wanted praise. She was happy for hours with a mere scrap of approval, and forlorn and discouraged at the hint of criticism…. Rosemary was slow, but she was not stupid and sometimes she would erupt in an inexplicable fury, the rage pouring out of her like a tempest from a cloudless sky.”

Perhaps she was angry at being treated as if she were somehow inferior to her siblings. At most, Rosemary was “mildly retarded,” as her obituaries would one day describe her, as well as the inspiration for her sister Eunice’s “Special Olympics.”

Shortly before World War II broke out in Europe, FDR appointed Joe Kennedy as ambassador to the Court of St. James – at the time the most important diplomatic post any American could hold. Joe of course moved to London, along with Rose and his two oldest daughters – Rosemary and Kathleen. As the American ambassador, Joe and his family would move in the highest circles of British society. And a decision was made: both daughters, the charming and brilliant Kathleen, and the “slow” Rosemary, would be “presented” to the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Rosemary spent endless hours practicing her curtseying – the bow she would have to make to the King and Queen. On the appointed evening, with the cream of British nobility (and the press) watching, Kathleen and Rosemary were presented. Everything went off without a hitch, until the very end.

“Suddenly,” Leamer wrote, “just as Rosemary was attempting to glide off, she tripped, nearly falling. It was a debutante’s worst horror, at the most important social moment of her life, in front of the king and queen, to make a public spectacle of her awkwardness, her ineptness. The kind and queen smiled as if nothing had happened, and there was not even a murmur from the assembly, and indeed, it was all over in a few seconds. Rosemary recovered and followed Kathleen out the door.”

But although no one ever mentioned Rosemary’s faux pas, it reinforced what everyone (at least in the family) understood: that Rosemary was somehow different. Increasingly, the problem was simply that Rosemary was too good-looking, even more striking than Kathleen, who was herself a knock-out. As long as older brothers Joe Jr. and Jack had been around, to arrange her dance card and to scare off the potential suitors “who took her cryptic silences and deliberate speech as feminine demureness,” she was okay. Later, in London she was often squired to social events by a young Embassy employee named, of all things, “Jack Kennedy,” who became known as “London Jack,” to distinguish him from JFK.

But as war clouds gathered, and Joe was recalled to the U.S. after his disastrous pro-Hitler remarks to the Boston Herald, Joe, Jr. and Jack joined the Navy. There was no one left to escort Rosemary. She was packed off to a Washington convent, which she quickly figured out how to escape from.

“At night she walked out into the dark streets looking for the light and life of the city… The family feared that she was going out into the streets to do what Kathleen called ‘the thing the priest says not to do.’… There was a dread fear of pregnancy, disease and disgrace.”

Joe Kennedy began talking to a quack physician from George Washington University named Walter Freeman, who was experimenting with a new form of brain surgery that would come to be known as a pre-frontal lobotomy. He sold Joe Kennedy a bill of goods – the biggest drawback for a female patient, Freeman wrote, was the fact that her head would have to be partially shaved, preventing her from going out socially for several weeks.

Not everything in the family was convinced, though. Kathleen Kennedy sought out a reporter friend of hers who had done research into the new procedure. The reporter told Kathleen that the whole procedure was “just not good” and that post-lobotomy, the patients “don’t worry so much, but they’re gone as a person, just gone.”

Which may have been what Joe really wanted all along. Soon thereafter, Rosemary was wheeled into the operating room. She received a shot of Novocain and when she regained consciousness, her head was on a sandbag.

Freeman and his associate drilled a hole in her skull and inserted a sort of spatula into her brain and began digging. They asked her to sing simple songs and perform basic addition and subtraction. As long as she could recite the doggerel, and handle third-grade arithmetic, they kept digging. Finally, though, Rosemary Kennedy fell silent, and the operation was over.

And so, for all practical purposes, was Rosemary Kennedy’s life.

“She had regressed into an infantlike state,” Leamer wrote, “mumbling a few words, sitting for hours staring at the walls, only traces left of the young woman she had been, still with flashes of rage. This was a horror beyond horror, an unthinkable, unspeakable disaster. Rose and her children had repressed so much, and now they repressed what Joe had done to his daughter, repressed it all and pretended that it had never happened and that Rosemary no longer existed.”

She lived in a series of private institutions, including years in the Craig House, a private hospital north of New York City. No one from the family ever visited her. In the 1970’s, she somehow escaped once more, from a Midwestern psychiatric home, into the streets of Chicago. The wire services carried photos of her in a wheelchair, being hustled into an ambulance by Chicago cops.

But Rosemary’s story, so horrifying in its casual, callous brutality, was never forgotten by millions of Americans, and certainly not by any members of the Kennedy family. In the late 1970s, Bobby’s doomed son, David, was reading a copy of the pro-drug magazine High Times when he came across a story on lobotomies. Naturally enough, one of the illustrations was a photo of his beautiful aunt Rosemary, pre-lobotomy.

“She had a new pair of white shoes on,” David recalled later for the authors Peter Collier and David Horowitz. “The thought crossed my mind that if my grandfather was alive the same thing could have happened to me that happened to her. She was an embarrassment; I am an embarrassment. She was a hindrance; I am a hindrance. As I looked at this picture, I began to hate my grandfather and all of them for having done the thing they had done to her and for doing the thing they were doing to me.”

David died of a drug overdose in 1984. His aunt outlived him by almost 21 years, finally dying in January 2005 in Fort Atkinson, WI, where she had been institutionalized for more than a quarter century. She was 86.


Links : My Lobotomy


London Street Markets said...

Rosemary Kennedy was silenced because she probably was yacking about `Papa` Joe`s promiscuity with his daughters. Sleeping with the girls neither was nor is unusual in many families. Point is then as now you don`t talk about it.

So was Rosemary `outed` by Jack or Robert because she refused to subject herself quietly to their own harassment and abuse?

Who knows?

But the secrecy and railroading of her lobotomy suggests a deeply sinister and sick force at work in Joseph Kennedy and it is not therefore hard to believe he was responsible for the hundreds of thousands of lobotomies which were performed at Threisenstadt and Auschwitz.

We try to make out that perversion is okay. It is normal.

It is not. And the absolute excesses of perversion perpetrated by the Nazis should be assessed as perversions and not as political expediencies.

No perverts in power. No perverts in the Army. No perverts period.

London Street Markets said...

I`ll amend a bit. Kennedy was not responsible for what happened at Threisenstadt per se. What happened at Threisenstadt was part of a mentality. But not a political mentality. More a descent to the lowest level of barbarism and moral squalor (indecent sexual behaviour)....


fourteenknuckles said...

For many years people have known about Rosemary Kennedy and what her monster father did to her.
She was "framed" into being called Mental retarded. In truth her IQ tested in around 90 she was over an IQ of 75. She was not mentally retarded. It was that 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.

And Dr.s that knew the truth later said so.
You should look up the heartbreaking letters she wrote to her father as he made her hide away.
Joe Kennedy was a monster for what he did to this poor girl then making her live this way for over 60 years. Only by way of her death in 2005 ws she freed from what he father did to her.
One must wonder after you cut the brains out of your daughter then wouldn't it follow that two men come and blow the brains out your your 2 favorite sons. And your other son dies of brain cancer.
You yourself have a stroke and suffer.
That is why Joe Kennedy & his sons are known for "The sins of the father" Joe Kennedy Should of been put in prison for what he did to this poor woman. That was so unlucky to be born into his family. And to this hatful monster.
Go look up her heartbeaking letter they put out in the 1980's To see the real Rosemary. Or at least as much as we can see that Joe did not hide.

maggyhayes1 said...

reading about the kennedy family now just recieved my books from amazon . com ' TIMES TO REMEMBER ' BY ROSE KENNEDY,i guess shr got what was coming to her aswell , she lived 105 years her husband had a stroke in 1961 which left him in a vegetative state ( ironic huh )), theresa few photos of rosemary in the book and she in no way appears anything but a bright happy girl big smile and later a stylish dresser and nice looking young woman, if joe knowingly did this to her and his wife went along with it , she deserved to be alone all those years and he deserved the stroke

Anne said...

That's awful. John Kennedy didn't understand what a lobotomy was. He was told that a lobotomy was a new surgery that would help with her mood swings, help her to feel better. It was prescribed for a variety of things back then. He didn't turn her into a sponge because he'd been raping her. He wanted to help her.

Daniele said...

Some hyperbolic speculation here. Don't project your own demons or the current fad for attributing everything to incest. The girls were raised by nuns and mom and the Baltimore catechism. No funny stuff. The remaining daughters were a standing joke among their peers for being plus 30 year-old virgins when they finally married.

I do think there was a lot of experimentation going on at that time with operations of all sorts to try and alter the body or see what would happen. It led to formerly civilized countries like Germany and Japan, sending in pyschopathic doctors to conduct "experiments" on unfortunate victims in conquered countries, such as Poland and China.
Joe was pretty bad, but from all accounts, pro and con, his children were everything to him. He probably really thought it would help the young woman. The doctors are the ones who should have been imprisoned, not only for the famous lobotomy, but for the many, many, more obsure ones.

Scripts_Online said...

This is what a friend of the Kennedy's said to me in secret, but it may or may not be true. Her father Joe Kennedy used to take her to a hotel just he and her, and it was said in quiet circles that he was having sex with his daughter and that is why he did the lobotomy to shut her up, but she was mildly retarded as the article says, and now I see why my father loved the Kennedy's, because I was, as a child, very similar to her, and Robert Kennedy lived in my apartment building and once David Kennedy threw a hockey puck at my head when my mom wanted to set up this stupid play date with our kids and his. But for what Joe did, he paid dearly, and so did all the family to this day! MY GOSH! My mother used to have lunch with Rosemary Kennedy to talk about charity work since my mom was a social butterfly.

L said...

This is just so sad. From reading about all of this I doubt that Rosemary Kennedy was clinically retarted; it seems to me like she was kind of a rebel and non-conformist, possibly suffering from mani-depression or unresolved anger issues. Being angry and having mood swings doesnt make you mentally retarded.

It seems to me like back in the day, the family simply could not deal with her instability and her "differentness" so they just resorted to whatever they could to get her to stay out, so they could pursue their ambitions without drama and headlines. I mean they had the Dr. cut away at her brain until she could no longer speak and her speech became incoherent. It was the lobotomy that rendered her a true mental retard. If you ask me, these people should be sued for abuse, neglect and manslaughter. They took a beautiful, free-willed, passionate young girl who was active and alive and turned her into an incapacitated shadow of a human being. Shame on the Kennedy's really. How sad.

I have a lot of friends who were like that as teenagers: a little ahacky, different, hippie. I mean woh doesnt have teenage angst or goes through crazy phases in their life where they need ot figure themsleved out. The 40s and 50s were not kind to women and there were no providers for women's needs and counseling. Other than being either objects to be admired visually or baby machines and maids, women did not have much of a standing in society. It is no surprise then that a type of a different girl, who isnt interested in the same things as her brothers because she is different, is being sent ot the mental institution by her father to "get fixed". Rosemary's individuality and character were seen as an illness back then, requiring brain surgery by an ice pic. A lot of poeple are awkward in their younger years - I can Rosemary having been one of the many girls in my classes in junior high, who now have turned out to be stable and contended women with family and kids. Rosemary could have been and was going to be that girl had her parents not intervened and ruined her like that.

dc03f064-5932-11e3-8064-000bcdcb2996 said...

Has anyone considered she may have had what today is known as aspergers syndrome...as for Joe being involved in experiments at concentration camps and being involved in incest....this is pushing it just a bit far and I think these suggestions are silly.

T said...

Rosie, never Rosemary to family, had the medical label of moron that then went with an IQ of 60-70. She wasn't just a child with a learning disability or rebellious. And the medical, educational and maternal communities of the 20s viewed mental retardation much differently than they do now. Was it wrong to use lobotomies to "treat" young women like Rose? Yes. But it was a semi-step up from forcefully sterilizing them and throwing them in institutions which was the other main "treatment".

Ana Marques said...

Positively the nurse and doctor were quite wrong on delaying Rosemay's labor.
Yet regarding the lobotomy, well, Joseph Sr. really didn't expect Rosemary would become that way but he had been warned. The American Medical Association had advised him for not to have her lobotomized, for even though being a revolutionary method it was too invasive and they wondered about all the possible harm it could bring about. So, Joe Sr. realized to do it because he didn't want to have more work regarding her, and told nothing to the family about his decision, for he knew they'd never accept that terrible surgery. No doubt those two doctors were to blame, but her father was even more for having allowed it.