Who Is Rosemary Kennedy? Inside the Tragic Life of John F. Kennedy’s Eldest Sister

She Underwent a Lobotomy Upon Her Father’s Order

In 1941, Joseph Kennedy made the executive decision to have his eldest daughter lobotomized. Eunice glosses over this chapter in her Evening Post article, indicating only that Rosemary was institutionalized at the time of her behavioral dip. However, in the years since, it’s been confirmed that Rosemary underwent a failed lobotomy at the hands of Dr. Walter Freeman and James Watts, leaving the 23-year-old unable to speak clearly and resigned to the mental capacity of a 2-year-old.

After Rosemary’s lobotomy, she was sent to a psychiatric facility in upstate New York, where she stayed for seven years. In 1949, she went to live at St. Coletta’s School for Exceptional Children in Wisconsin. Rosemary received few visitors after she was institutionalized—her mother reportedly didn’t visit for 20 years, while her father never visited. J.F.K. covertly paid his sister a visit while campaigning in 1958, and after he was elected and Eunice’s letter was published, the family began to publicly acknowledge her.

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She’s Thought to Be the Inspiration Behind the Special Olympics

Rosemary’s younger sister Eunice founded the Special Olympics in 1968. Although for years she denied the correlation between the organization and her sister’s disability, Shriver later admitted to biographer Laurence Leamer that perhaps it was a subconscious decision. “Mrs. Shriver kept saying no until one day, she turned to me, her head cocked, and said, ‘You know maybe you’re right, maybe there’s something there but I just can’t see it,’” Leamer wrote.

She Died in a Facility for the Mentally Disabled in 2005

At 86 years old, Rosemary passed away in the company of her four remaining siblings—Edward, Eunice, Patricia, and Jean.

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She Was the First Kennedy Child to Die of Natural Causes

Although Rosemary was the fifth child in the Kennedy dynasty to die, she was the first to die of natural causes.

The eldest Kennedy, Joseph Jr., died during the war in 1944; Kathleen, the second eldest Kennedy daughter, died in a plane crash in 1948 at just 28 years old; 15 years after his younger sister’s passing, John Jr. was assassinated in Dallas, Texas; former senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968.

Elisabeth Moss Will Portray Her in an Upcoming Film

The Handmaid’s Tale star went for a statement lip at a recent Top of the Lake photocall, opting for a bold orange-red hue. 

Ian West/PA Images via Getty

Acclaimed actress and Golden Globe winner Elisabeth Moss is attached to A Letter From Rosemary Kennedy. Regarding the film, director Ritesh Batra told The Hollywood Reporter, “The movies about the Kennedy family are deservedly stormy affairs, but here’s a story about the storms within all of us. This is why I am excited to tell this story and to collaborate with Elisabeth, a fabulously talented actor.”