Book Review Thursday: The Missing Kennedy: Rosemary Kennedy and the Secret Bonds of Four Women


For years Rosemary Kennedy, the oldest daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy, was sheltered from scrutiny by the general public and closely monitored by her family due to her intellectual disabilities.  I had heard about how her father made the decision to have her lobotomized, a procedure which instead of curing her as promised did irreparable damage and the remainder of her life was spent in various institutions.  However, I never had more than a passing knowledge of the story.

Volumes have been, and continue to be, written about the Kennedy family.  This may be the one and only book devoted to Rosemary.  Many Kennedy family books treat Rosemary as a “peripheral member of the family”, according to author Elizabeth Kohler-Pentacoff.  This book is told from a unique perspective given that Kohler-Pentacoff is the niece of Sister Paulus (born Stella) Kohler who just happened to be Rosemary’s caretaker for thirty-five years.

The book takes readers on a journey through not only Rosemary’s life but the lives of her parents and siblings who loved her dearly.  The book begins by telling the story of her birth and the circumstances which resulted in her mental deficiencies.  Joe and Rose spared no expense in order to make sure Rosemary had special attention in order to thrive and learn even during the years of the Great Depression.

It was a years-long painstaking process but when Joe was convinced that a lobotomy would help balance out his daughter’s emotional state, things actually worsened and she was institutionalized.  There were, however, long periods of time it seemed when, for instance, her mother Rose had little or no in-person contact with her incapacitated daughter.  Still, Rose encouraged her other children and family to make an effort to send Rosemary gifts and cards through the years.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, eventually became her older sister’s caretaker.  It’s apparent the Kennedy family, from brother John to sister Eunice to brother Edward (Teddy), were affected by Rosemary’s plight and championed the cause of mentally challenged and disabled Americans during their politically-active lives.

I found it an engaging read which brought to light Kennedy family history which I had previously been unaware of.  Anyone interested in the plight of mentally and physically challenged individuals during the early to mid-twentieth century – or a fascination with the Kennedy family – will find it a great read.

Rating:  ★★★★

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.


  1. I was born in 1941. I knew I was different. I was labeled retarded. There was no help for me I have dandy walker syndrome doctors don’t want to be bothered with me. They brush me off.I will learn from Rose Marie. My family was ashamed of me too.

    • God bless you … glad you can learn from others how to deal with your own challenges. Thanks for stopping by!


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