[A black and white photo of Rosemary Kennedy. She is facing to the side and smiling. She is holding a bunch of flowers and a dress.]

Honoring Rosemary Kennedy: A Trailblazer for Disability Rights

Rosemary Kennedy, born on September 13, 1918, bravely broke barriers in the face of challenges, becoming a figure for disability rights. Her parents were Joseph and Rose Kennedy, and she had many siblings, including President John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. She overcame developmental hurdles, such as delays in crawling, walking, and speaking compared to her siblings. Rosemary actively engaged in family life, chronicling her experiences in a diary during her teenage years, recounting social events and even a visit to the Roosevelt White House.

Joseph Kennedy was the US ambassador to Great Britain, and when the family returned to the US in 1940, Rosemary’s condition worsened, prompting her father to authorize a lobotomy in an attempt to alleviate her symptoms. Tragically, the procedure left her permanently incapacitated. Archbishop Cushing recommended St. Coletta’s School for Exceptional Children in Jefferson, Wisconsin, where she spent the rest of her life.

Despite her struggles, Rosemary’s story deeply moved her family, particularly her sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver. In 1962, Eunice initiated a summer day camp for individuals with intellectual disabilities in her backyard, laying the foundation for the renowned Special Olympics, a global event engaging millions of athletes worldwide.

Rosemary’s impact extended beyond her family, inspiring programs to enhance the lives of those with disabilities. President John F. Kennedy advocated for legislation for Americans with disabilities, Jean Kennedy Smith founded Very Special Arts, and Anthony Shriver launched Best Buddies. Rosemary’s influence led to the dedication of institutions worldwide in her honor.

Rosemary died on January 7, 2005, at 86, leaving a profound legacy. Eunice Shriver emphasized Rosemary’s enduring impact in her eulogy, acknowledging her role in inspiring transformative change in disability rights. As we commemorate Women’s History Month, let’s pay tribute to Rosemary Kennedy’s contributions and continue advocating for equality and inclusion for all.