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Rose Kennedy, successful and tragic. The later years

Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald was born in Boston (1890-1995), oldest child of John Honey Fitz Fitzgerald, as I noted. In their first 18 years of marriage, Rose gave birth to 9 children from Joseph Jr in 1915 to Edward in 1932.

Ambassador Joseph Kennedy and Rose, with 5 of their children
in London, 1938

In the late 1930s, her husband was named US ambass­ador to Britain. During their time in Europe, the arch-isolationist Kennedy made it his mission to prevent America entering the war against Germany. In 1938-9, while Fascist persecutions in Germany intensified, Joe Kennedy was strengthening his faith in Nazism. He 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. Then Kennedy Snr had to take his nasty pro-Nazi beliefs back home.

The losses were relentless. Rose’s eldest son Joseph Jr fought for the Allies in the Navy anyhow and was killed in action in Aug 1944.  Daughter Kath­leen was a Red Cross nurse in London and wanted to marry the Protestant Marquess of Hartington but Cavendish died fighting in WW2. Later Kathleen wanted to marry another English aristocrat  but she died in a plane crash in May 1948.  Finally I discussed how in 1941 her daughter Rosemary was lobotomised at 22 at Joseph Sr’s in­sis­tence, and lived in a care home.

As Rose's younger sons grew older, they began to look toward polit­ics, and she encouraged them. She had learned from her father how to manage public functions and how to con­duct political campaigns on behalf of her sons. When son John stood in 1946 for the Massach­us­etts 11th Cong­ress­ional District seat, previously held by her father Honey Fitzgerald, Rose was excited.

And behind-the-scenes dealing didn’t phase her. After John's vict­ory in 1946, his next big battle was for the US Senate. During his 1952 campaign to unseat Henry Cabot Lodge, Rose was the hostess at many Kennedy Teas sponsored by the Democratic Party.

In her son John's 1960 presidential campaign, Rose again did her utmost, going to meetings every night. Her greatest thrill was in 1961 when John became the 35th American President. Since John's wife Jacqueline had just given birth, Rose and her daughters and daughters-in-law helped host the White House events.

The new President thanking his mother

No mother should ever have to bury her own child.
President John F. Kennedy's burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va
From left: JFK's mother Rose, his brother Attorney General Robert and his widow Jackie.
1963 Chicago Sun Times

Rose’s son John was as­s­assinated in Dallas in Nov 1963, during his first term as President. Her next son Robert, Attorney General and later a Demo­cr­atic senator from New York, was assass­inated in Los Angeles in 1968, while campaigning for Presid­ent. Imagine a moth­er’s everlasting pain in losing her son in war, daughter in a plane crash, virtually losing another daughter in an operating theatre and burying her two more politician sons.

In the aftermath of the terrible Chappaquiddick accident in July 1969, Rose rallied to son Edward's aid and helped to rejuvenate his political career by campaigning for his re-election to the US Senate. He kept his Senate seat for the next three decades.

Much of her later years was devoted to securing public sup­port for the cam­paign to enlighten the public about mental re­tard­at­ion. Her “Joseph Kennedy Foundation” (sic) donated mill­ions to hospitals, ins­tit­utions and day-care centres ac­ross the nation. She was an effective campaigner and a dedicated fund-raiser; she remained a symbol of progressive Democratic politics.

After becoming a widow in 1969, Rose loved to walk alone. She wrote her autobiography in 1974 and spent the rest of her life in relat­ive peace. But a stroke in 1984 left her in a wheelchair. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy died in her Mass. home in 1995, at 104.


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