Kennedy, Rose Fitzgerald (1890–1995)

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Kennedy, Rose Fitzgerald (1890–1995)

American matriarch of the Kennedy dynasty, a family with traditions rooted in public service. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on July 22, 1890; died in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, on January 22, 1995; eldest of the six children of John Francis "Honey Fitz" (a politician) and Mary Josephine (Hannon) Fitzgerald; graduated from Dorchester High School, Dorchester, Massachusetts, 1906; attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Boston; attended the Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, Purchase, New York; attended Blumenthal Academy, Valls, the Netherlands; married Joseph Patrick Kennedy (1888–1969, a financier, diplomat, and head of several government commissions), on October 7, 1914 (died November 18, 1969); children: Joseph Kennedy, Jr. (1914–1944); John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917–1963, 35th president of the United States, assassinated in Dallas, Texas); Rosemary Kennedy (b. 1918); Kathleen Kennedy (1920–1948); Eunice Kennedy Shriver (b. 1921, who married Robert Sargent Shriver); Patricia Kennedy Lawford (b. 1924, who married actor Peter Lawford); Robert Francis Kennedy (1925–1968, U.S. senator, assassinated in Los Angeles, California, who married Ethel Skakel Kennedy ); Jean Kennedy Smith (b. 1928, who married Stephen Smith); Edward "Ted" Kennedy (b. 1932).

The matriarch of America's media-dubbed "royal" family, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy lived through the kind of political triumph and numbing tragedy that is usually reserved for classical drama. During a remarkable life span of 104 years, she witnessed three of her nine children elected to the U.S. Senate and one become the country's first Catholic president. She endured the death of her first-born son Joseph Kennedy, Jr., and her daughter Kathleen Kennedy in plane crashes and saw her sons John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy gunned down by assassins. In her twilight years, she lost her grandson David Kennedy, Robert's son, to a drug overdose at the age of 28. Possessed with an unshakable faith and an iron will, she persevered through it all. "I just made up my mind that I wasn't going to be vanquished by anything," she once said. "If I collapsed, then it would have a very bad effect on the other members of the family.… I refuse to be daunted."

The eldest of six children born to John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald and Mary Josephine Hannon , Rose Kennedy acquired her deep religious faith from her mother and her flair for politics from her father who was the first Irish-American congressional representative from Boston, and later became mayor of that city. Standing in for her mother who shied away from the limelight, Rose frequently accompanied her father on official duties around town and abroad. After graduating from Dorchester High School, where she was voted prettiest girl in her class, she wanted to attend Wellesley College, but her father sent her to a series of convent

schools instead. "It was a real turning point," says Doris Kearns Goodwin , who interviewed Rose Kennedy for her 1987 biography The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. "When I asked what her greatest regret was, I expected it would be the death of her sons. Instead it was that she didn't get a chance to go to Wellesley."

At 20, Rose returned to Boston, where she had a coming out party attended by 400 people, among them the city council which declared the day a holiday in her honor. However, as Peter Collier and David Horowitz point out, Rose was excluded from the fashionable women's clubs of "proper (and Protestant) Boston, and was not on the visiting list of the better families." Among a string of eligible suitors, Rose fell in love with Joseph P. Kennedy, the cocky young son of a saloon-keeper, whom she had first encountered years earlier on a family vacation at Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Despite Honey Fitz's protestations, which included barring young Kennedy from the Fitzgerald home, the couple married in October 1914 and settled in their first home on Beals Street in Brookline, Massachusetts, now a national historic site as the birthplace of President John F. Kennedy. They would later live in Riverdale and Bronxville, New York, and also acquire homes in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and Palm Beach, Florida. When the couple married, Joe was already the country's youngest bank president, and his career advanced steadily, culminating in his appointment by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain in 1937. Along the way, Joe amassed a fortune in banking, real estate, movies, and, it was rumored, bootlegging. While he built his empire, Rose ran the house and tended to the couple's nine children—Joseph Kennedy, Jr. (1914–1944), John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917–1963), Rosemary Kennedy (b. 1918), Kathleen Kennedy (1920–1948), Eunice Kennedy Shriver (b. 1921), Patricia Kennedy Lawford (1924—); Robert F. Kennedy (1925–1968), Jean Kennedy Smith (1928—), Edward "Ted" Kennedy (b. 1932)—all born within the first 18 years of her marriage.

Rose Kennedy, who could be a stern disciplinarian, instilled in the children her deep sense of faith and her love of history, frequently taking them on outings to numerous points of interest in and around Boston. "Children should be stimulated by their parents to see, touch, know, understand and appreciate," she said. At mealtimes, she encouraged lively discussions about religion, literature, and current events, and she also devised competitive programs in swimming, tennis, skiing, and other sports. The intense rivalries between the Kennedy siblings began at early age and continued through adulthood. To solve the more practical problems of her growing brood, Rose hired an army of nursemaids and governesses, and even employed a traveling orthodontist who visited the children at their various boarding schools to keep the notorious Kennedy teeth in line. She also kept careful records of the children on index cards which listed such things as weight, shoe size, and medical and dental information.

The greater challenge for Rose Kennedy may have been her husband. A notorious philanderer, Joe alternately pampered and humiliated his wife. Of his many mistresses, the most widely known was Gloria Swanson , who was a guest at Hyannis Port several times. "If she resented me," Swanson wrote about Rose in her memoirs, "she never gave any indication." According to author Charles Higham, who wrote the biography Rose, the Kennedy marriage was successful in spite of Joe's dalliances. "[Rose] enjoyed everything that went with being with Joe Kennedy," he wrote. "She relished the parties, the galas, the politics and all that went with it." Another biographer, Nigel Hamilton, agreed that Rose enjoyed the trappings of wealth, commenting that she "blew a fortune on the latest fashions and jewelry." Indeed, during the 1930s, Rose Kennedy was named the best-dressed woman in public life by a poll of fashion designers.

There were sorrows, however, that defied compromise. The eldest Kennedy daughter, Rosemary, was mentally retarded and in 1941, when her usually docile nature turned violent, it was arranged for her to have a lobotomy, an operation then frequently performed to control behavior. Rosemary, who was 23 at the time of the surgery, was never able to function on her own again and was placed in a convent in Wisconsin where she remains. (In 1946, Joe Kennedy established the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation to help the retarded and later made a will leaving the bulk of his estate to that foundation.) Then there was the unfortunate situation with Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, the golden girl of the family until she fell in love and married William Cavendish, marquess of Hartington, the non-Catholic heir to one of the great titles of England. Rose was so outraged that her daughter was marrying outside the faith that she did not attend the wedding and, according to one biographer, checked herself into a Boston hospital for minor surgery two weeks before the ceremony so she would not have to face the press. While still reeling from Kathleen's marriage, the Kennedys lost their eldest son Joe Junior, a Navy

Lawford, Patricia Kennedy (1924—)

American socialite and daughter of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Born in 1924; sixth child and fourth daughter of Joseph P. Kennedy (1888–1969, a financier, diplomat, and head of several government commissions) and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (1890–1995); graduated from Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, New York; married Peter Lawford (an actor), in June 1954 (divorced 1966, died 1984); children: Christopher Kennedy Lawford (b. 1955, an independent film producer and actor); Sydney Maleia Lawford (b. 1956, a former model and homemaker who married Peter McK-elvy); Victoria Lawford (b. 1958, a homemaker who married Robert Beebe Pender); Robin Lawford (b. 1961, a marine biologist).

Patricia Kennedy Lawford was born in 1925, the sixth child and fourth daughter of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy . Auburn-haired and similar to her mother in personality, Pat was star-struck from her childhood. After college, she worked for a time for NBC in New York then, in 1951, left to become a production assistant for the "Kate Smith Hour." Pat first met actor Peter Lawford on a trip to Hollywood in 1949 and ran into him again at the Republican Convention in 1952, which she was attending with her father. Their courtship was threatened by the fact that Lawford was a Protestant and an actor, but in 1954, after he converted to Catholicism, the two were married. (Before the wedding, Joseph P. Kennedy supposedly told Law-ford: "If there's anything I think I'd hate worse than an actor as a son-in-law, it's an English actor.") The couple moved into the former Louis B. Mayer house in Malibu and formed the Kenlaw Production Company, through which they channeled Lawford's series, "Dear Phoebe" (1954–55), and "The Thin Man" (1957–59). Lawford, a member of Hollywood's notorious "rat pack," was instrumental in introducing John F. Kennedy to Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe , but for the most part he remained something of an outsider. The marriage produced four children, but began to come apart with Lawford's philandering and drinking. Pat left him following the assassination of her brother in 1963 (they were formally divorced in 1966) and moved back East. After a difficult period during the 1960s, she returned to an active life, concentrating much of her energy on charitable organizations.


Collier, Peter, and David Horowitz. The Kennedys: An American Drama. NY: Warner Books, 1984.

Smith, Jean Kennedy (1928—)

U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. Born Jean Ann Kennedy in St. Margaret's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, in 1928; daughter of Joseph P. Kennedy (1888–1969, a financier, diplomat, who was head of several government commissions) and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (1890–1995); sister of Patricia Kennedy Lawford , Eunice Kennedy Shriver , John Fitgerald Kennedy (president of the U.S.), and Robert F. Kennedy (a U.S. senator); graduated from the Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, New York; married Stephen Smith (an attorney), in 1956 (died 1990); children: Stephen Edward Smith, Jr. (b. 1957, a conflict-resolution consultant); William Kennedy Smith (b. 1960, a doctor); Amanda Mary Smith (b. 1967, a writer); Kym Maria Smith (b. 1972, a homemaker).

The youngest of the Kennedy sisters, Jean Ann Kennedy was born in 1928 and graduated from Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, but with no clear-cut goal for her future. She went to Chicago to work in public relations for the Mart, then returned to New York to work as an aide for Father John Keller, founder of the Christophers, an organization dedicated to fighting communism. In New York, Jean met Stephen ("Steve") Smith, an executive for a New York transportation firm founded by his grandfather. An Irish-Catholic, Steve was readily accepted into the Kennedy clan, and he and Jean married in 1956. The Smiths settled in New York, but also had a house in Hyannis, Massachusetts, a stone's throw from the senior Kennedys' compound. Steve became a valuable asset to all the Kennedy campaigns, and Jean, a behind-the-scenes supporter, also did her part. In addition, she devoted a great deal of time to charitable work, including Very Special Arts, an organization which attempts to bring experiences with the arts to the disabled. The Smith marriage encountered some difficult periods during the 1960s, but survived until Steve's death in 1990, one year before their son William Kennedy Smith was put on trial for rape, then acquitted. In 1993, Jean Smith was appointed ambassador to Ireland by the newly elected president, William Clinton.


Collier, Peter, and David Horowitz. The Kennedys: An American Drama. NY: Warner Books, 1984.

Kennedy, Rose Fitzgerald. Times to Remember. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974.

Smith, Jean Kennedy. "'Faith Above All' (a talk delivered as the commencement address at Fairfield University in Connecticut, May 21, 1995)," in America. June 17, 1995.

pilot, when his plane exploded over the English Channel. A month later, William Cavendish, serving as an officer in the Coldstream Guards, lost his life to a German sniper's bullet. Kathleen remained in England and subsequently fell in love with Peter Fitzwilliam, who was not only Protestant but married, though he planned to divorce his wife to marry Kathleen. Rose was so affronted by the affair that she threatened to disown Kathleen completely if she carried out her plans to marry Fitzwilliam. Weeks later, Kathleen and Fitzwilliam were killed in the crash of a private plane in France. Purportedly, Rose, who did not attend her daughter's funeral, regarded the tragedy as divine intervention to keep the couple from marrying.

In a foreword to Rose Kennedy's 1974 autobiography, Times to Remember, the Kennedy children call their mother "the best politician in our family." Certainly, Rose's contribution to both her husband's and children's political careers was substantial. "It was only natural that [some of the children] should choose a political career," she said. "We always told them that their time and their talents were not be devoted to self-aggrandizement or self-amusement, but to the service of others." Rose campaigned for all three of her sons, with zeal and effectiveness. During John's 1960 presidential campaign, she was particularly active. "For six weeks," said Dave Powers, a longtime friend of the family, "every night I'd pick her up and we'd go to meetings. Maybe the first place would be an abandoned North End garage, and she'd put on a babushka and talk to the women about children. And the next stop might be West Roxbury, so in the car she'd change her shoes and maybe put on a mink jacket." Sometimes, however, Rose Kennedy's frankness got her into hot water and embarrassed the family. During Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1968, when she was questioned about the large sums of money her family was spending on his behalf, Rose told a reporter: "It's our money and we're free to spend it any way we please. It's part of this campaign business. If you have the money you spend it to win."

Rose Kennedy often recalled that one of the greatest thrills of her life was standing by her son and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy , on January 20, 1961, when Jack was sworn in as the 35th president of the United States. Earlier in the day, she had followed Jack into a Georgetown church. "No one, including my son, knew I was there," she wrote years later. "I was infinitely pleased and thanked God for the grace which had prompted Jack to start his Administration with a prayer on his lips and in his heart." Other high points in Rose Kennedy's life were linked to her religion. In the late 1930s, while her husband was serving as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, the Kennedy family had attended the coronation of Pope Paul XII and had also enjoyed a private audience with the pontiff. Another special honor from the church came in 1951, when she was honored by the Vatican with the title of papal countess, in recognition of her "exemplary motherhood and many charitable works." Only the sixth woman from the United States to be so honored by the Roman Catholic Church, Rose was thrilled.

The decade of the 1960s tested Rose Kennedy's faith and resilience. Shortly after John's inauguration in 1961, Joe suffered a massive stroke which left him partially paralyzed and completely unable to speak until his death in 1968. There followed Jack's assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and Robert's assassination five years later in June 1968, while campaigning in Los Angeles. The decade ended with a scandal involving her sole surviving son Senator Ted Kennedy, who had his own brush with death in the crash of a chartered plane in 1964, in which the pilot and his close friend Ed Moss were killed. On July 19, 1969, he was involved in a car accident on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts, in which a young political aide, Mary Jo Kopechne , was killed. Admitting that he left the scene of the accident, he ended his chances for the White House, and many believed at the time that he should not even run again for Senate. Rose, however, not only encouraged her son to run, but campaigned vigorously and successfully on his behalf.

During her later years, Rose Kennedy proudly watched a second generation of Kennedys enter politics. Two of her grandsons, Robert's son, Joseph P. Kennedy II, and Ted's son, Patrick Kennedy, were elected to Congress and her granddaughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend , Robert's oldest child, was elected lieutenant governor of Maryland in 1994, becoming the first woman in the Kennedy clan to be elected to public office. In addition to tracking the accomplishments of her grandchildren, Rose also spent a great deal of time enlightening the public about mental retardation and overseeing the work of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation. Remaining physically active into old age, she swam, played golf regularly, and attended daily Mass. After a stroke in 1984, however, Rose withdrew to the family compound in Hyannis Port, which had become the backdrop for both family celebration and family loss. She died there on January 22, 1995, from complications of pneumonia. After a Mass at St. Stephen's Church in Boston's North End, where she was baptized in 1890, Rose Kennedy was buried in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, next to her late husband. In his eulogy, Ted Kennedy said that his mother accepted death not as leaving, but as returning. "She has gone to God," he said. "And at this moment she is happily presiding at a heavenly table with both of her Joes, with Jack and Kathleen, with Bobby and David. She is home."


Beck, Joan. "The Stormy Times of Rose Kennedy," in The Day [New London, Connecticut]. January 28, 1995.

Collier, Peter, and David Horowitz. The Kennedys: An American Drama. NY: Warner Books, 1984.

Gleick, Elizabeth. "Death of a Matriarch," in Time. February 6, 1995, p. 77.

Goodman, Mark, with Jennifer Longley and Avery Brown. "The Last Matriarch," in People Weekly. February 6, 1995.

Kennedy, Rose Fitzgerald. Times to Remember. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974.

Krebs, Albin. "Rose Kennedy dead at 104," in The Day [New London, Connecticut]. January 23, 1995.

McLaughlin, Jeff, and Tom Coakley. "Kennedys Prepare for Last Goodbye," in The Boston Globe. January 24, 1995.

Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography 1970. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1970.

Richwine, David. "Rose Kennedy dies at 104," in The Boston Globe. January 23, 1995.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Kennedy, Rose Fitzgerald (1890–1995)

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