Rosemary Kennedy

Birth Name:
Rose Marie Kennedy
Birth Date:
September 13, 1918
Birth Place:
83 Beals Street, Brookline, Massachusetts
Death Date:
January 7, 2005
Place of Death:
Fort Atkinson Memorial Hospital, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin
Cause of Death:
Natural causes
Cemetery Name:
Holyhood Cemetery
Claim to Fame:
Historical Figure
Rosemary Kennedy was the third child and eldest daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and her brothers included future president John F. Kennedy. She was slower to crawl, slower to walk and to speak than her brothers and she reportedly displayed developmental delays from an early age after a bungled delivery led to oxygen deprivation. Despite her apparent intellectual disabilities, Rosemary participated in most family activities. In the diary she kept as a teenager she described people she met, dances and concerts she attended, and a visit to the Roosevelt White House. When her father was appointed US Ambassador to Britain in 1938, Rosemary went to live in London and was presented at court along with her mother and sister Kathleen. Upon return to the states she allegedly exhibited mood swings and disruptive behavior. Fearing Rosemary would be an embarrassment and roadblock for his male offspring to achieve great power at all political levels, without telling anyone Joseph instructed Dr. James W. Watts to perform a frontal lobotomy. The horrifying surgical procedure – which involved severing the connection between the frontal lobe and other parts of the brain – became popular in the 1940s and 1950s with American and British doctors who claimed to be seeking a ‘cure’ for patients with certain mental health conditions that were deemed socially unacceptable. When they completed the surgical procedure, It quickly became apparent that the procedure had caused immense harm. Kennedy's mental capacity diminished to that of a two-year-old child. She could not walk or speak intelligibly and was incontinent. For the next six decades she was housed at a facility in Ohio, hidden from view and rarely spoken of until she died at the age of 86.

Oh It Gets Worse

James W. Watts, who carried out the procedure with Walter Freeman (both of George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences), described the procedure as follows:

After Rosemary was mildly sedated, “We went through the top of the head,” Dr. Watts recalled. “I think she was awake. She had a mild tranquilizer. I made a surgical incision in the brain through the skull. It was near the front. It was on both sides. We just made  a small incision, no more than an inch.” The instrument Dr. Watts used looked like a butter knife. He swung it up and down to cut  brain tissue. “We put an instrument inside”, he said. As Dr. Watts cut, Dr. Freeman asked Rosemary some questions. For example,  he asked her to recite the Lord’s Prayer or sing “God Bless America” or count backward … “We made an estimate on how far to cut  based on how she responded.” When Rosemary began to become incoherent, they stopped.

Joe Kennedy never showed remorse for his decision that left Rosemary incapacitated. He never visited Rosemary and Rose Kennedy only visited Rosemary after 20 years. On her rare visits Rosemary refused to make eye-contact and turned away, angry with her mother.

Even though Rosemary’s parents and siblings led very public lives, no one explained Rosemary’s absence from the family until after John Kennedy’s election in 1960. It was Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Rosemary’s younger sister, who shared the family secret with the world in 1962, when she wrote about her sister in The Saturday Evening Post. Shriver’s decision to tell Rosemary’s story was brave, but what appeared in print was only partially true. Shriver did not mention the lobotomy or its horrible aftermath.

And in the end, doctors agree that Rosemary only exhibited a mild form of learning disability and would have thrived over time and would have maintained a good quality of life.


Cemetery Information:

Final Resting Place:

Holyhood Cemetery

584 Heath Street

Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, 02467


North America


Map of Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts
Map of Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts

Grave Location:

Cushing Knoll, Kennedy Family Plot

Grave Location Description

As you enter the cemetery, turn right and stay on Cross Or Western Avenue until it ends. Turn left and then a right on Carroll Avenue. Carroll Avenue turns into O’Connell Avenue and eventually ends right in front of the large Kennedy Memorial, visible on the corner.

Grave Location GPS

42.319052, -71.168406



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