THE BLOG
08/25/2010 01:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What the "Other Sister" Did for the Kennedys

When it comes to the Kennedy's there is so much to look back at in nostalgia, even before you get to Ted: all that drive and ambition, those wonderful teeth alone, the many photographic portraits from the 20 and '30s of a young family growing with a still-young century...

How we will continue to look back with nostalgia at the good works of Teddy and his older sister Eunice!

But then there was that one terrible thing at the center of their lives that may have fueled all that goodness: I refer to the disastrous decision on the part of their father Joe Kennedy to lobotomize their "other sister" Rosemary, a girl whose erratic behavior and mood swings so unsettled him he had her lobotomized in January of 1941 without even informing his wife much less seeking her counsel.

As we know, the operation went awry, and from that day in 1941 until her death in 2005 she could never again stand fully erect, remain fully continent or speak in a coherent way. She could certainly never again write the kind of letters she wrote to my family the summer before, when she came to the summer camp in the Berkshires that they owned and ran.

Rose Kennedy had contacted my mother in the spring of 1940 saying she wished to send her oldest girl to our Camp Fernwood in the Berkshires, not as a camper - the girl was 22 - but as a sort of "junior counselor" who could, she suggested, help with Arts and Crafts. When my mother took the train to New York to meet with Mrs. Kennedy in a hotel tea room and discuss the enterprise, she found it strange to see that Rosemary was not in attendance.

"We should have known right then the girl was not as 'able' as her mother led us to believe," my mother said to me 30 years later and sure enough: her care proved to be far too much for everyone and her time at Fernwood quickly ended, a fact that the vacationing Mrs. Kennedy was unhappy about.

Rosemary was unhappy too as anyone can see in reading this letter, so full of girlish wistfulness and social good cheer. The penmanship is poor, yes, but the command of the language is just fine. It is hard to imagine that within a few short months all this liveliness would be erased from the world.

How unlucky for Rose and Joe's handsome oldest girl! But how lucky for the nation that the Kennedy children then dedicated their lives to making a place for the marginalized, and in this busy go-getting world raising our consciousness around all issues of the differently abled.

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