5 reviews

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter
by Kate Clifford Larson

Published: 2015-10-06
Hardcover : 302 pages
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43 clubs reading this now
8 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 5 of 5 members
They were the most prominent American family of the twentieth century. The daughter they secreted away made all the difference.

Joe and Rose Kennedy’s strikingly beautiful daughter Rosemary attended exclusive schools, was presented as a debutante to the Queen of England, and traveled ...
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They were the most prominent American family of the twentieth century. The daughter they secreted away made all the difference.

Joe and Rose Kennedy’s strikingly beautiful daughter Rosemary attended exclusive schools, was presented as a debutante to the Queen of England, and traveled the world with her high-spirited sisters. And yet, Rosemary was intellectually disabled — a secret fiercely guarded by her powerful and glamorous family. 
Major new sources — Rose Kennedy’s diaries and correspondence, school and doctors' letters, and exclusive family interviews — bring Rosemary alive as a girl adored but left far behind by her competitive siblings. Kate Larson reveals both the sensitive care Rose and Joe gave to Rosemary and then — as the family’s standing reached an apex — the often desperate and duplicitous arrangements the Kennedys made to keep her away from home as she became increasingly intractable in her early twenties. Finally, Larson illuminates Joe’s decision to have Rosemary lobotomized at age twenty-three, and the family's complicity in keeping the secret. 
Rosemary delivers a profoundly moving coda: JFK visited Rosemary for the first time while campaigning in the Midwest; she had been living isolated in a Wisconsin institution for nearly twenty years. Only then did the siblings understand what had happened to Rosemary and bring her home for loving family visits. It was a reckoning that inspired them to direct attention to the plight of the disabled, transforming the lives of millions.

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Discussion Questions

1. How much did you know about Rosemary Kennedy before reading this book? What surprised you the most about her history...and about the Kennedy family?

2. Talk about young Rosemary—before her symptoms became so severe? What was she like as a child and as a young woman?

3. What role did the Kennedy parents play in their daughter's life, and what was its effect on her. How did she interact with her siblings?

4. Given the advances in treatment of mental disorders, how would doctors diagnose Rosemary's disorder today? How would her treatment be different? Were other options available back in the 1930s and 40s?

5. Why did Joseph Kennedy choose not to reveal Rosemary's lobotomy to the family? What moral issues, if any, are at stake in both making the decision to lobotomize and in keeping it secret?

6. Talk about the quality of Rosemary's life following her lobotomy? Why did no one visit her for more than two decades?

7. What do you think of Joseph Kennedy, his ambitions and obsessions?

8. Talk about Eunice Kennedy and her commitment to improving the lives of those with mental illness. How familiar were you with her work?

From Litlovers

Suggested by Members

How do you think Rosemary's life might have turned out if she had been born into a more normal family? One that wasn't wealthy or privileged?
What could have changed Rosemary's life had she been born with the medical advances of today?
How can anyone justify what Joe ended up choosing to have done to his daughter? How could Rose have been so unaware of the decisions that he was making?
by l0ve2READ (see profile) 11/29/16

What were Rose's motives in reconnecting with Rosemary?
by [email protected] (see profile) 04/12/16

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

"JFK is mentally disabled sister, who underwent a disastrous lobotomy arranged by her father, has long been a dark Kennedy secret. Larson brings her into light."--People Magazine--Best Books of 2015 (#6)

Book Club Recommendations

The effects of lobotomy...were there any benefits?
by l0ve2READ (see profile) 11/29/16
Find and listen to an interview that was done on NPR, where a man relates undergoing "ice pick" surgery when he was a child, and hear how he confronts his father that went along with the decision to have it done to him, because his stepmother felt he was "a problem child".

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Meredith M. (see profile) 04/21/22

by Lesley M. (see profile) 03/11/21

by amy b. (see profile) 08/30/19

by Anne C. (see profile) 03/28/19

by Joan P. (see profile) 11/08/17

  "Rosemary, the hidden Kennedy Daughter"by Sherri T. (see profile) 03/09/17

An inside look at the mysterious life of the Rosemary who was kept from interacting with her large family and sent to live in a group home in rural Wisconsin.

by Gloria C. (see profile) 01/15/17

by Cheryl M. (see profile) 01/11/17

  "Was it just a different time?"by Susan R. (see profile) 11/29/16

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter is an interesting read. Although I knew a little about Rosemary Kennedy because I live in Wisconsin, where St. Coletta's is located, I had no idea of the manipulations... (read more)

  "Sad story of a family's search for a cure"by Maureen C. (see profile) 06/24/16

Rosemarys' story is a sad commentary on a parents search for a cure for a child with a disability. Our book club enjoyed discussing the various issues that her story presented. With little known about... (read more)

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