book reviews, healthcare, history, mental health, politicians

A review of Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, by Kate Clifford Larson… tells me that I purchased Kate Clifford Larson’s book, Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter on October 25, 2015. It was originally published on October 6th of that year, and I believe I bought it based on recommendations from Alexis, who was my #1 reader and commenter for years. I’m sorry it’s taken me almost eight years to finally get around to reading Kate Clifford Larson’s fascinating book about Rosemary Kennedy, and the very dysfunctional Kennedy family. I’m glad I finally sat down and read the book, because it was surprisingly compelling in many “soap opera-ish” ways.

I’ll admit that before I read Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, I knew almost nothing about the Kennedy clan, other than the fact that they were a very rich and politically powerful Irish Catholic family from Massachusetts, and they seemed to be cursed by many tragedies. I never knew just how many tragedies there were until I finally read this book that’s been sitting in my Kindle queue for so long. My mind is blown on many levels.

Who was Rosemary Kennedy?

Rose Marie “Rosemary” Kennedy was born in her parents’ home on September 13, 1918 in Brookline, Massachusetts. She was the third child and eldest daughter of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Her older brothers, Joe and Jack, were perfectly normal boys, born to wealthy and prestigious parents. Joe and Rose Kennedy would go on to have a total of nine children, eight of whom were healthy, strong, intelligent, and high achieving. Rosemary might have been completely normal, too, except for a terrible decision that was made as she was being born.

On the day of Rosemary’s birth, Rose’s doctor was not immediately available to deliver her, on account of a severe breakout of Spanish flu. The doctor had to be in attendance when the baby was born in order to collect his fee. Consequently, the nurse who was tending to Mrs. Kennedy told her to keep her legs closed and actually pushed Rosemary back into the birth canal. Because of those unfortunate decisions, Rosemary was kept in the birth canal for two hours without adequate oxygen. When the baby was born, she appeared to be healthy and normal, but as she grew, her parents realized that she was not developing as her brothers, and later, her younger siblings, did.

Soon, it became clear to her family that Rosemary had significant intellectual and mental delays. However, because the Kennedys were so rich, powerful, and ambitious, they kept Rosemary’s condition carefully hidden from most people. She was apparently beloved by her family, yet she was also an object of shame for them. Her parents– especially her father, Joe– took great pains to keep Rosemary’s difficulties out of the public eye.

When she was still a child, it wasn’t impossible to hide Rosemary’s condition from the public; but as she grew older, stronger, and wanting more independence, figuring out what to do with Rosemary, and hiding her disabilities from the public, became much harder for her parents. Complicating matters was the fact that physically, Rosemary was very attractive and flirtatious. She enjoyed the company of men, and they liked her, too. The Kennedys were concerned that Rosemary would end up falling into a disreputable lifestyle that would put her in danger or, seemingly worse to them, somehow embarrass the family.

Power parents…

Rose Fitzgerald was a favorite daughter of John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, a very politically powerful Irish Catholic man from Boston, Massachusetts who had served as a Massachusetts State Senator, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Mayor of Boston. Rose met her future husband, Joseph Kennedy, when she was a teenager vacationing in Maine. John Fitzgerald hadn’t really liked Joseph Kennedy and discouraged Rose from being involved with him. But Rose didn’t listen to her father; the couple were wed October 7, 1914, when Rose was 24 years old.

Joseph Kennedy was quite wealthy, and his wife and children wanted for nothing materially. However, he was very unfaithful and had many affairs, to which Rose turned a blind eye. As I read this book, I learned that Joseph was also very image conscious and ambitious, and he expected his family to present the proper look. Rose Kennedy was also very image conscious and obsessed over her children’s bodies. She weighed them every week, and according to Larson’s book, both parents relentlessly fat shamed poor Rosemary, who had a tendency to gain weight.

Rosemary’s schooling…

Because of her intellectual disabilities, Rosemary Kennedy did very poorly in school. Her reading ability never rose past a fourth grade level. She had terrible penmanship and spelling, even though she apparently enjoyed writing letters. She also had trouble counting.

Although Rosemary was basically sweet and loving, she often had what today we might call “meltdowns”. Because she had trouble regulating her emotions and could not seem to grasp basic educational concepts, she went through a whole lot of different schools. Her younger siblings’ scholastic achievements soon surpassed Rosemary’s, as Rose Kennedy was constantly searching for the right boarding schools for her children. Though the other children were bright, competitive, habitual winners, Rosemary was constantly the subject of anguished letters from harried teachers and headmasters who didn’t know what to do with her.

The family experienced a brief hiatus in their scholastic drama when they moved to England in 1938. Joseph Kennedy was then serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, so the family was temporarily based in London. Rosemary was placed at a Catholic boarding school called Belmont House, where she thrived. Unfortunately, the Kennedys had to move back to the United States due to Nazi Germany’s attack on Europe. Although Joseph and Rose kept Rosemary in England for as long as they could, it was too unsafe to allow her to stay there permanently. She moved back to the United States and then seemed to enter a negative spiral. All of the gains she had made at Belmont House quickly vanished as Rosemary became even less manageable.

Another tragic decision– Lobotomy…

Rose and Joseph Kennedy kept trying to find a suitable place for Rosemary. They failed repeatedly. Rosemary’s behavior grew more erratic and unpredictable. While her parents were apparently genuinely worried about her well-being, they also worried about how public knowledge of Rosemary’s condition might affect their political status and business standing.

Joseph Kennedy had heard about a new psychosurgical procedure being offered at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC. Psychiatrist Dr. Walter Freeman, and his associate, surgeon Dr. James W. Watts, were developing a technique that supposedly made “difficult” people like Rosemary more compliant and calm. The procedure was called “lobotomy”, and it involved numbing, and then boring small holes at the top and on either side of the patient’s head while they were awake and restrained. Although the vast majority of patients who had lobotomies did not experience good outcomes, Joseph Kennedy was apparently so eager to solve his issues with Rosemary that he eagerly signed her up for the operation. He did not tell Rose or his other children that Rosemary had the surgery until after it was completed in November 1941.

Like most of the other patients who had served as human guinea pigs for Freeman’s and Watts’ research, Rosemary Kennedy had devastating results after the lobotomy. She temporarily lost the ability to walk and talk, and became even more significantly intellectually delayed. Rosemary eventually learned how to walk again, but did so with a limp. She never regained her ability to speak clearly, and her arm was left palsied.

Heartbreakingly, after the lobotomy, Rosemary’s family basically abandoned her to the care of psychiatric facilities and, later, nuns. She very rarely saw her family for over twenty years, until Joseph Kennedy’s death in 1969. At that time, her family began bringing her back into the family circle. In spite of her intellectual and mental health issues, Rosemary Kennedy was very physically strong and healthy. She died of natural causes on January 7, 2005, in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. She was 86 years old.

My thoughts on the book…

It may seem like I’ve given away a lot of Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter in this review, but actually, I’ve just scratched the surface of this incredible story. Kate Clifford Larson did an excellent job researching this book, and writing a compelling explanation of the Kennedy family. I’ve barely mentioned Rosemary’s siblings, three of whom died tragically young, nor have I shared some of the more shocking and outrageous aspects of this story. I definitely came away with an opinion of Rose and Joseph Kennedy, who gave birth to remarkable children who would shape and influence America, yet showed such crass and callous disregard for Rosemary. Yes, it’s true that some of their actions had a lot to do with the mores of the time period, but a lot of it was also just very cold-hearted and cruel, not just to Rosemary, but also to the people who were tasked with helping her.

I do think that this book is profoundly sad, and parts of it are pretty infuriating on many levels. However, it’s also fascinating, given the historical importance of the Kennedy family and the events that were going on at the time. If you’re interested in American and world history, this book may be a page turner for that alone, as it offers glimpses of the current events of the time, and touches on business, politics, health, and mental health care.

While I definitely think the way Rosemary was treated was cruel, I also realize that there were very limited options for people like her when she was coming of age. That was a time when “defectives” (as they were sometimes called then) were forcibly hospitalized or otherwise locked up, sterilized, and/or kept out of society, and away from their families. Rosemary Kennedy was both blessed and cursed by having such a wealthy family. They could afford to send her to different camps, schools, and hospitals, but they were also ashamed of her, and didn’t want her to “ruin” their financial and political successes.

The Kennedy family was also very deeply entrenched in religion. Larson touches on how Rose Kennedy’s deep devotion to Catholicism caused huge rifts with her children, as she insisted that they adhere to her strict beliefs. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might already know how I feel about religion, and parents insisting that their children adhere to their religious beliefs. Rose Kennedy’s use of Catholicism in her attempt to try to control her adult children is bad enough, but Joseph Kennedy’s disastrous decisions made solely to protect his image and career were especially reprehensible. Moreover, both Rose and Joseph Kennedy treated some of the people who helped Rosemary with contempt and a true lack of consideration.

Kate Clifford Larson includes extensive footnotes, photographs, and a detailed bibliography. Some reviewers complained that there were too many resources included, and too little text. Personally, I didn’t have that complaint, but then to me, this book included information I didn’t know. People who already know a lot about the Kennedys may find this book to be repetitive. Some even stated that they felt it was a waste of time to read it. Again– this is my review, and it wasn’t a waste of time for me. It does make me think I might want to read more about the Kennedys, however.


I’m glad I read Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, by Kate Clifford Larson. I would recommend it to history and political science buffs, but also to anyone who enjoys true stories. However, I would caution readers that this story is pretty sad and infuriating in some parts. Also, I would caution that this book is not strictly about Rosemary Kennedy, but is more from the perspective of her family. You won’t be reading much about what life was like from Rosemary’s perspective, as Larson doesn’t seem to do a lot of original research.

If I had known more about the Kennedys before I read this book, I might have had a more negative opinion of it. But, since I learned new things by reading it, I honestly don’t think of it as a poor effort. Some Amazon reviewers who obviously know more about the Kennedys than I do did take issue with the fact that the book is more about the Kennedy parents and, to a lesser extent, their children, than Rosemary herself.

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The flu is not just a more severe cold…

Picture it. Christmas day 2013. I lived near San Antonio, Texas with Bill, Zane, and Arran. Bill’s mom, who also lived near San Antonio, came to our house to help us celebrate the holiday, then went to Houston visit her sister and brother-in-law.

That year, people living in Texas were being assaulted by the H1N1 virus, popularly known as “swine flu”. Many people in Texas, including at least one teenager, died that year of the flu. Bill still had about six months on active duty, so he got a flu shot. I did not get one, because I live like a recluse. We went out to lunch on the Riverwalk with Bill’s high school friend, his wife, and a few other people, one of whom was visibly sick. By that evening, I was sick, too. I don’t know if I had swine flu or some other strain, but given that over 90% of the flu cases in Texas that year were, in fact, caused by H1N1, I am assuming that’s what I had. It was HELL.

The flu is not an illness I get very often, because I seem to have been blessed with a pretty strong immune system and I really don’t spend a lot of time in close contact with other people. But I do remember very vividly how being sick with the flu felt in 2013. First, I suddenly felt like I had been hit by a truck. My muscles ached. My bones creaked. I was exhausted. Then, I developed a hacking cough and a high fever. Next came the vomiting and diarrhea. I spent a solid week in bed, shivering under the covers; the worst day was midway through, when every single swine flu symptom seemed to strike at once. It took me a few weeks to completely get over the flu, which caused persistent fatigue and a lingering hacking cough so severe that I would regularly vomit.

I was blogging in 2013. I see from posts on my original blog, Bill got sick first. He was only sick for a couple of days and was basically functional. I, on the other laid, was laid out for at least a week. By that, I mean I couldn’t stand to be out of bed for longer than a few minutes at a time. It was most definitely NOT a cold. I have had a lot of colds, but none made me as sick as that flu did. Fortunately, all it did was make me miserable for a few weeks. I did not get so seriously ill that I needed to be in the hospital or developed a complication like pneumonia. Some people are not that lucky.

This was actually a doctored version of the meme that’s been going around… This particular version had the punchline that the lesson is not to hang around with your grandparents.

Recently, there’s been a meme that has been floating around Facebook depicting a young, healthy man who skipped the flu shot. He got sick and survived, but his grandmother did not. The meme’s point is that when you get a flu shot, it’s not just for you. Your body fights a dead or inactive version of the virus, which raises your body’s defenses so if an active virus invades your body, it will be ready to fight it off. Then you help develop herd immunity, which makes spreading diseases to immuno-compromised people less likely. Herd immunity is a real thing. It’s very important, since not everyone can get vaccines. Vaccinations are best given to healthy people who have fully functioning immune systems. Very young babies, people with certain health conditions, people who are allergic to components of the vaccines, and some elderly people cannot be safely vaccinated. So healthy people who are vaccinated help protect those vulnerable people from getting seriously ill.

Last night, I ran across a follow up status update about why flu shots are important. The person who wrote the update is a nurse. She’s seen her share of people who have died from the flu and its complications. She explains why, when you get vaccinated against the flu, you’re actually showing concern and compassion for your fellow man. Naturally, I could not resist reading the comments, some of which were shockingly ignorant and snarky. One person wrote this:

I am 100% pro-vaccine. Myself, my husband and our son is 100% up-to-date on every shot that’s available. However. I do not agree with the fear tactic used to convince people to get the flu shot. The flu is just a harsh version of the common cold. Both viruses change constantly. Too consistently for me to trust the vaccine they just made brand new that year. Just because it’s “improved” doesn’t mean the virus won’t change its chemical composition in a few weeks and that vaccine you just took is no longer helpful to you. I’m not gambling on my 5 year old getting stabbed every single year with a vaccine that isn’t highly proven to work. There’s about a 50/50 chance of you still getting the flu after you’ve received the vaccine for it. I might be more willing to go get it if there was evident PROOF of it actually working, just like all other vaccines. But until then, it’s a hard no in this household.

The person who wrote this shares a Facebook account with her husband. Her profile shows that she’s studied to be a licensed practical nurse, although I have not seen evidence that she has finished her studies. She has also worked at McDonald’s, in nursing homes, and at a livestock yard. When people took her to task about her comments regarding the flu, she repeatedly came back to argue, even accusing some commenters of being “mad” that she has the “right” information that she claims she got from physicians. She followed up with a couple of laughing emojis and posted this:

…y’all are really mad because I simply stated that the “vaccine” they provide every year isn’t a guarantee against the flu because it changes as quickly as the common cold and that’s why there’s no vaccination for it. The flu shot is literally a scientific guess as to which the flu virus is that year which is why it isn’t effective half the time. Mad because I used science instead of the fear tactic y’all try to push. Lol

And this:

Obviously you guys only read the part where I said “it’s a harsh version” and the whole 10 of you got your panties in a bunch over it. Good gravyyyy. Lol go get the shot if you think it actually works, but I’m not going to give in the fear tactic of the rare cases of it being deadly. Over 3 million people get the flu every single year, if getting the flu shot actually did anything then the 6 licensed doctors I have spoken too would have said it works not that “it could help prevent you from getting sick”. Vitamins also help prevent you from getting sick. If it was a true vaccine, we would have eradicated it already. But it’s not, because just like the common cold, it mutates too quickly for us to be able to stop it.

And this:

I’ve already had the flu then my antibodies are just as prepared to fight off the mutated version of the flu as you guys are that rush to go get the “new and improved” version every year. It’s pointless to go get the shot when it doesn’t do diddly squat after a few months. Yeah patients of heart disease are also less likely to have a heart attack/stroke if they exercise regularly and eat proper, quit smoking etc etc. I’ve read more articles about severe side effects from the shot than the pros of it. I was also considered “high risk” for pneumonia after I had my c-section for my son. You can catch pneumonia without having the flu. Those two are grouped together on the top 10 list providing no facts/ science to back up the statement that the pneumonia people have died from is directly in correlation to them having the flu. If getting the flu shot actually made any bit of a difference, shouldn’t the licenses doctors I speak to have said something when I asked “how important is it”? I did my research on my own and still went to numerous doctors asking why and if I NEED to get it. Nobody ever gave me actual statistics to back up the claims that you guys are spouting about. The only thing they have ever said is “it can help prevent getting the flu” Mmmmmmm now correct me if I’m wrong- buuuuut licensed doctors tell you which vaccines are adamant that you get and which ones aren’t. Example- flu shot, chicken pox aren’t adamant because it’s not a big deal. Polio, measles, mumps very adamant about getting because they are a big deal. Go ahead and try to correct 6+ licensed doctors with your MayoClinic degree

Chicken pox is not a big deal? Tell that to anyone who has had a really bad case of shingles. I had a mild case of shingles in 1999, when I was 26 years old. It was miserable, and I didn’t even come close to the nerve pain some people get. I was also fortunate enough to make a complete recovery. Not everyone is that lucky. You get shingles (herpes zoster) after having had the chicken pox. The varicella virus lies dormant in your nerves, waiting for your immune system to be compromised. I got shingles after having had facial cellulitis. Believe me, the cellulitis was enough without the “bonus” of shingles, too. I would have LOVED to have been vaccinated against the chicken pox and spared that experience.

I know the flu vaccine is controversial. To be honest, I have never had one myself. It’s not necessarily because I’m unwilling. I live like a hermit and am rarely around other people except Bill, who does get flu shots. But if I were regularly around more people, I would willingly get a flu shot. I am a believer in the science behind flu vaccines, even though I know that they only protect against certain strains of the virus, which are constantly evolving. I do understand the arguments against getting flu shots, and this post is not me trying to tell anyone to get one. I don’t get them myself, and I don’t like hypocrisy. So get one, or don’t; it should be entirely up to you. What I want to address is the idea that influenza is basically like a more severe cold. It’s not. They are different illnesses, and it’s a fact– flu can and does kill people!

Before I became a bored, overeducated housewife, I studied public health, and had a job as a technical writer for the Bureau of Epidemiology at South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. Prior to that job, I worked in Maternal and Child Health, as well as healthcare policy at the same agency. I earned a master’s degree in public health, which is not the same as a medical or nursing degree, but it does expose one to real information about public health issues. The flu is most definitely a public health issue (and on a related note, I really miss working in public health). It was my job to research and write about public health issues and translate data into information accessible to laypeople. So… while it’s been awhile since I was last in the field, I’m not ignorant about the importance of vaccines. The science behind vaccines has been around for hundreds of years and immunizations have saved countless lives.

My first public health boss lost a set of grandparents to influenza. They both got “Spanish flu”, which was a deadly pandemic caused by the H1N1 virus. The Spanish flu struck in 1918 and the epidemic continued until 1920. It infected roughly 500 million people in countries around the globe; between 50 million and 100 million of those who got the virus died. “Spanish flu” was named such because due to World War I, neutral Spain was one of the few countries where reporters were free to report on the spread of the disease, thus giving people the false idea that Spain was especially hard hit by the flu virus. Reporters in other countries were not allowed to report on the spread of the disease because the powers that be were concerned about keeping up morale among soldiers. Consequently, people didn’t realize how dangerous the flu was worldwide– not just in Spain. It spread like wildfire, and sickened and killed a whole lot of people. So much for the evil media, huh?

While most flu usually kills the very young, the very old, or the already very sick, the Spanish flu of the World War I era also killed young, healthy people, making it seem like an especially vicious virus. Years later, researchers determined that the Spanish flu was actually no worse than most other influenza strains. More people died because of the wartime conditions of the day. People were crowded in medical camps, suffering from malnutrition, enduring wartime stresses, and practicing poor hygiene.

Even today, the flu can kill. I remember in 2013, there was news about young people getting the flu and dying of complications from it. Last year, about 80,000 people died of influenza. While statistically speaking, that may not seem like a lot of people when you consider how many people got sick, that’s probably little consolation to those who have lost a loved one to the disease. And even if you don’t die from the flu, it WILL make you miserable for at least a week. There is a difference between the flu and a cold. They have different symptoms. If you feel sick and don’t know what you have, I recommend checking out a reputable public health Web site that will give you a clue as to what impending flu feels like and what is more likely just a cold. Barring that, you could also visit your doctor, although if you don’t actually have the flu, you could be risking exposing yourself by hanging around people who do have it. Remember– medical settings are full of sick people and cold and flu viruses are super easy to share.

This screenshot is from the Centers for Disease Control, which is considered a reputable Web site among most public health agencies. You can find a similar chart on other, reputable Web sites.

It is true that you can get a flu shot and still get sick from influenza. And it is true that you are more likely to die in a car crash than the flu. However, not everyone has the same risks when it comes to getting sick with the flu. If you are around people who are very young, very old, or have compromised immune systems, getting a flu shot is a very kind and considerate thing to do. It helps protect them from getting sick and dying from an illness that most healthy people can fight off more easily. At the very least, please wash your hands frequently and try to stay home if you’re sick. That’s one of the very best ways to protect yourself and others from the spread of communicable diseases. And please, for the love of God, don’t take healthcare advice from a former McDonald’s worker who hasn’t yet finished her LPN degree. Listen to people who know the difference between the flu and the common cold. As for the McDonald’s/livestock yard/nursing home worker, I’m thinking Darwinism might work its magic on her.

So ends todays public service announcement.