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Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy - success and tragic. The early years

Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald was born in Boston (1890-1995), oldest child of John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, prominent figure in Boston politics. Rose was first introduced to politics by her congressman father. By the time she turned 15, Honey Fitz was one of the most popular mayors Boston ever had! He once took Rose and her sister to vis­it President William McKinley in the White House.

Rose had been accepted at prestigious Wellesley College during her junior year in high school, but her father insisted on the very Catholic Convent of the Sacred Heart in Boston instead. Rose reluctantly obeyed her father’s instructions but luckily she grew fond of the convent school, saying the relig­ious training she received there became her foundation for life.

In her teens Rose met Joseph P Kennedy (1888-1969) at Old Orchard Beach Maine where their families were holidaying. Despite her father not being happy with the Kennedys, the young couple were married in 1914 by Cardinal O'Connell.

First married home, in Brookline

The couple's first home was a beautiful, 7 bedoom, three-storey grey building on Beals St in Brookline. Rose had learned fluent French and German when she went to a Dutch boarding school, and was an accomplished pianist. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Rose was named the best-dressed public woman by a poll of fashion designers.

Joseph Kennedy was already making a small fortune each year as a businessman. When the family left Brookline and moved to New York 10 years later, he was already a multi-millionaire financier and in­vestor. His business dealings were often dodgy, especially his involvement with organised crime and bootlegging. And the long­­est of all his adulterous affairs was with Hollywood star Glor­ia Swan­son, an affair that took him away from home during Rose’s last preg­nancies.

Joseph Snr and Rose in the centre back 
and eight of their children, 1931

In just 18 years of marriage, Rose gave birth to 9 children. Joseph Jr was born in 1915, John 1917, Rosemary 1918, Kath­leen 1920, Eunice 1921, Patricia 1924, Robert 1925, Jean 1928 and Edward 1932. [I was exhausted from two babies in two years; Rose was pregnant every 18 months!]. 

In the late 1930s, her husband was named US ambassador to Britain. During their time in Europe, the Kennedy family was invit­ed to attend Pope Pius XII’s coronation in March 1939 and enjoyed a priv­ate audience with him. Only as WW2 broke out did Rose and the children go back to the USA.

In 1938-9, while Fascist persecutions in Germany intensified, Joe Kennedy was strengthening his faith in Nazism. Joseph Kenn­edy had a solution to The Jewish Problem; he said he had worked out with Chamber­lain a plan to ship all German Jews to Africa. In Sept 1940, Kenn­edy again sought a personal meeting with Hitler because he believed he could bring about closeness between the USA and Ger­m­any. When the White House read Kennedy’s nasty pro-Nazi beliefs, I am not sure if a] Roosevelt insisted that Kennedy return home or b] the new British PM Church­ill dem­and­­ed that Kennedy leave the UK.

Despite his father nasty political views, Rose’s eldest son Joseph Jr still fought for the Allies in the Navy. Tragically Joseph Jr was killed in action in Aug 1944, when he was flying on a mission over the Eng­lish Channel. Rose's first daughter Rosemary was lobotomised at 22 (at Jos­eph’s in­sis­tence) and spent most of her adult life in a care home.

And Rose showed some religious nastiness of her own. Daughter Kath­leen was a Red Cross nurse in London and wanted to marry Protestant William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington. Rose was very upset, and felt it was divine intervention when, just months after their marr­iage, Cavendish died fighting in WW2. And Rose was even madder when she heard that Kathleen later wanted to marry the still-married Prot­es­t­ant 8th Earl Fitzwilliam in 1948; again Rose said it was divine in­terv­ent­ion when her daughter Kathleen died in a plane crash in May 1948. Loss after loss :(


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