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Behind the facade of America’s most beloved political dynasty lurked a maternal monster – a compulsive shopper and possible anorexic who beat her children and took drugs that may have contributed to the mental health issues of her third child.
The shocking truth about Rose Kennedy is laid bare in the book, “The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch”, which is based on newly released letters and diaries written by Rose herself.
Author Barbara Perry quotes Rose admitting to striking her children and locking them away in dark closets when they became too much for her to handle. “it would just get one or two of them out of the way for awhile,” confessed Rose. “I spanked them with a ruler.
“Then I spanked them with a coat hanger as they grew older because there was always a closet near and there was always a coat hanger in the closet. And I couldn’t be bothered, you know.”
The mother of a future President and U.S. senators, Rose’s life changed when – against the wishes of her father, Boston mayor John Fitzgerald – she married Joe Kennedy in 1914. Honey Fitz, as her father was called, knew Joe was a bad seed and a womanizer. But to Rose “he seemed like the perfect man,” the author writes.
In 1920, when she was pregnant with her fourth child, Kathleen, Rose “became so distraught that she moved back to her parents’ Dorchester, Mass., home,” says Perry.
“How could she face the unremitting pressures of motherhood with her husband focused on business concerns, not to mention chorus girls and actresses?”
But there was no comfort to be found in Rose’s childhood house. According to Perry, “her father told her bluntly that she had to resume her responsibilities as a wife and mother.”
Joe made up for his carousing and cheating by presenting Rose with costly gifts every time she popped out another baby. “I was able to have more maids and more expensive clothes and more expensive fur coats,” Rose is quoted by the author. Eunice Kennedy Shriver insisted her mother was not bothered by rumors of Joe’s romances with actresses Gloria Swanson and Marlene Dietrich.
Rose was more concerned with creating the “perfect” family. She watched the children’s diets obsessively and had a life-long battle with “nervous tummy,” prompting her to eat birdlike portions of bland foods.
“Later in life she adored receiving compliments on her svelte figure,” writes the author. “Modern doctors might diagnose her with an eating disorder. Perfectionist women who strive to achieve unhealthfully thin physiques may suffer from anorexia.”
Rose also compulsively recorded all details of her children’s medical issues. And when they were too boisterous, she beat them and sent them into a dark closet. “Spankings and whacks with a coat hanger were in her arsenal, as were banishments to the closet,” son Teddy stated, according to Perry.
When she absolutely couldn’t cope anymore, Rose fled to Europe, where she indulged in wild shopping sprees to settle the score with her wayward hubby. She confessed to a store clerk that she purchased 200 suits and dresses every year!
Perhaps most shockingly, Perry writes Rose often took Paregoric, an opiate-based drug that may have contributed to the mental retardation of her third child, and first daughter, Rosemary.
Perry quotes Rose explaining Rosemary’s problems by saying, “Sometimes it is a question of drugs, sometimes the expectant mother is taking the wrong kind of drugs.”
Born in 1918, Rosemary wasn’t like her siblings. Her motor and verbal skills weren’t developing and she was walking and speaking at a slower pace. Rose consulted her family doctor, the head of the psychology department at Harvard and a Catholic psychologist about her daughter’s mental issues.
Said Rose, “each of them told me she was retarded, but where to send her, how to help her seemed to be an unanswered question…I had never heard of a retarded child.”
Rosemary was initially tutored at home. She was sent to a school in the English countryside when her father became U.S. Ambassador to Britain. But when the family returned to the States after the outbreak of World War 2, the girl began to deteriorate, having temper tantrums and epileptic attacks.
Stressed over the situation, Rose took off for South America in 1941 and left Rosemary’s medical treatment in the hands of Joe – “a decision that would haunt the Kennedys forever,” writes Perry.
Without Rose’s approval, Joe had a lobotomy performed on their troubled daughter. Tragically, the procedure failed horribly.
“Her mind is completely gone,” Rose said. “I will never forgive Joe for that. it is the only thing I have ever felt bitter toward him about.”
In fact, she backed him when he faced charges he was a Nazi sympathizer because of his eagerness to negotiate with Hitler. “Rose accepted her husband’s stereotypes regarding Jews,” writes the author.
And she “defended her husband” over his attempts to placate Hitler, later writing that Joe “was one of many statesmen who urged a peaceful solution to Hitler’s aggression. She cited Joe’s concerns about the U.S.’s unpreparedness for war,” says the author.
Rose’s life became increasingly solitary with her husband’s death in 1969. Dealing with insomnia, she took Placidyl, Seconal, Dalmane and Librium, all sedatives. In 1984, she suffered a severe stroke and was rarely able to speak intelligibly.
The Kennedy Dynasty matriarch lived for another decade as an invalid before she died in January 1995.