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JFK’s Father Had Lobotomy Performed on His Daughter – She Was Unable to Walk or Talk After

Cheryl Kahla
Aug 13, 2021
05:47 A.M.
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One of the most prominent families in American history, the Kennedys, have had their fair share of bad luck. However, not many people know about the misfortunes in the life of John F. Kennedy's younger sister, Rosemary.

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One could say that Rosemary was cursed – she was born on Friday the 13th while Massachusetts was in the midst of a flu epidemic. Due to the pandemic and the number of other patients that the Kennedy doctor had to attend to, Rosemary's mother was in labor for hours.

Rosemary suffered from oxygen deprivation, which resulted in behavioral and educational difficulties later in life. However, she wasn't always like this, and her early life was one filled with adventures and controversies alike.

A portrait of the Kennedy family as they sit in the shade of some trees, Hyannis, Massachussetts, 1930s. (L), Rosemary Kennedy in London in 1937 (R) | Photo: Getty Images

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THRIVING IN THE UK

Rosemary and her sister Kathleen were once "presented" to King George and Queen Elizabeth when she was 19 years old. At the time, she immediately won the hearts of both the royal family and British citizens.

The teenager, on the brink of adulthood, thrived in Britain. Rosemary's father wrote that "she is happy and looks better than she ever did," according to biographer Marius Gabriel.

Eunice and Rosemary Kennedy, sailing from New York in April 1938 to join their parents in London | Source: Getty Images

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HER CONDITION DECLINED

However, Rosemary's life took a downturn two years later when she accompanied her father back to the US. Gone was the bubbly girl that the Brits loved. Rosemary had violent seizures and temper tantrums, and her younger siblings grew increasingly afraid of her.

The young woman was sent to a convent, where even the nuns had trouble controlling her. She would reportedly sneak out at night to meet men at the local taverns.

Rosemary Kennedy in 1938, three years before her lobotomy, ready to be presented at Court. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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JOSEPH KENNEDY'S DECISION

The news of her rebellious behavior reached her father. Besides being worried about Rosemary's safety, he was also concerned about his and the rest of their family's reputation. At the time, he had grand ambitions for his sons.

Joseph instructed two surgeons to perform a lobotomy on Rosemary without consulting his wife. She was only 23 years old when it happened.

Dr. Walter Freeman and Dr. James W Watts, the doctors who performed Rosemary's lobotomy. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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THINGS WENT WRONG

At the time, the procedure was believed to cure psychological "delinquencies," such as alcoholism and nymphomania. Unfortunately, the operation failed. Rosemary lost the ability to walk and talk, spending the next 64 years of her life in institutions.

For the rest of her life, Rosemary could not use her limbs and could only utter a few words even after years of therapy. She spent the rest of her life in isolation, as her father instructed her attendants not to entertain any visitors.

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THE HIDDEN KENNEDY

While her family made headlines for their affairs through the years, Rosemary remained a hidden figure. In fact, not a lot of people have heard of her before. That was because doctors and her father advised that she should not entertain visitors as they could "confuse" her.

She was provided a private cottage on the grounds of a special school in Wisconsin called "Saint Coletta's." Rosemary lived there quietly, in the company of nurses and doctors.

In the 1960s, her father suffered a series of strokes, leaving him unable to move or talk. Likewise, her mother suffered a stroke in the 1980s. It was only then that Rosemary's sisters, Ted, Eunice, Jean, and Patricia, got in touch with her.

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MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME

After her siblings found out where she was, they began contacting Rosemary. One person who kept close contact with Rosemary was her sister, Eunice Shriver. In fact, Eunice founded her beloved organization that hosts the Special Olympics in honor of her unbreakable bond with her sister.

Although Rosemary had no choice but to live life the way she did because of her father's decision when she was 23, Eunice bore the pain and anger that her sister could not express.

After two decades of being hidden from her loved ones, Rosemary and Eunice made up for the lost time by spending a lot of it together in Maryland. During weeks-long visits, they would bond through walks, swims, and family meals.

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GIVING HER THE LIFE SHE MISSED

Ultimately, Eunice's son Tim shared that his mother was happy to spend time with her sister and find a way to bring her back to life and back into the Kennedy family. He said:

"She'd order all the sweets Rosemary loved – angel food cake, puddings, creams. It made mommy happy that she'd found a way to bring Rosemary back to live, back to the family."

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ROSEMARY'S DEATH

Rosemary passed away in 2005 at the age of 86. She was surrounded by her siblings, Eunice, Pat, Jean, and Ted. In "Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter," author Kate Clifford Larson reveals the lobotomy was actually kept a secret for twenty years.

Only when Joe had a debilitating stroke in 1961, her siblings were told that she was actually in a Catholic facility in Wisconsin. She resided there from 1949 until her death. However, her siblings would often visit and try to spend time with her.

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THE "KENNEDY CURSE"

People believed that what happened with Rosemary actually began a curse in the Kennedy family. Three years after she was lobotomized, her brother Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash. Four years later, their sister Kathleen died in a plane crash, too.

In the early sixties, John F. Kennedy's son died of infant respiratory distress syndrome. Three months later, he was assassinated. Years later, his son John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife also died, this time due to a plane crash.

Other Kennedys who lost their lives due to the "curse" include Ted Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Joseph P Kennedy II, Edward M Kennedy Jr, David A. Kennedy, William Kennedy Smith, Michael LeMoyne Kennedy, Kara Kennedy, Mary Richardson Kennedy, and Christopher Kennedy Lawford.

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