Rosemary Kennedy was the younger sister of President John F. Kennedy, and was born intellectually disabled. After 20 years of shuttling her between schools and consulting countless doctors, Rosemary’s parents removed her from public life, desperate to keep her disability a secret. And then when she was 23, her father agreed to have Rosemary undergo a revolutionary and disastrous procedure: a lobotomy. Drawing on diaries, letters, and other primary sources, Kate Clifford Larson details Rosemary’s childhood, adolescence, and her isolated life after the failed lobotomy. Rosemary is a haunting, powerful portrait of the Kennedy family’s slow path to accepting Rosemary as one of their own.
“During Rosemary’s childhood, the distinction between the intellectually disabled and the mentally ill was rarely made. Instead, according to psychological definitions of the day, ‘idiots’ were the most severely disabled, classified as those with the intellectual capacity of a two-year-old or younger; ‘imbeciles’ as those with a three- to eight-year-old mental capacity; and ‘morons’ as those with an eight- to twelve-year-old capacity. These labels limited society’s understanding of people with intellectual and physical disabilities, and lacked nuanced interpretation of the causes and conditions of various disabilities, including the many types of simple and complex learning disorders.”
Kate Clifford Lawson is an American historian and author. Her books include Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter; Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero; and The Assassin’s Accomplice, a nonfiction work about Mary Surratt’s involvement with Lincoln’s assassination.
Length: 320 pages
Primary settings: Boston, Massachusetts and Jefferson, Wisconsin, U.S.
Secondary settings: New York City, New York, U.S.; London, England
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