Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch

by Barbara A. Perry

America does not have a royal family, but if it did, no doubt it would be the Kennedys. And Rose would be the center of that large, powerful family.

Rose Kennedy was the eldest of six children born into a strict Irish Catholic family. Her father, nicknamed Honey Fitz, lived and breathed politics. Because her mother preferred to remain at home, as a child Rose accompanied her father to political events and acted as his hostess in later years. Rose attended convent boarding schools and received a strict religious upbringing. Detail oriented, organized, and a perfectionist, she had a mind of her own and balked over her parents’ choice of a mate. Instead she followed her heart and married a young and ambitious Irish Catholic: Joe Kennedy, the son of her father's political rival.

"America does not have a royal family, but if it did, no doubt it would be the Kennedys. And Rose would be the center of that large, powerful family."

When Joe and Rose married, they immediately hired household help, which meant she never had to wash a dish. Even though she had nine children, Rose bragged that she never changed a diaper. She loved her brood but often found the need to escape her noisy, active family. So she had a private beach house built for her and often went there to swim, nap, or read, enjoying the quiet and privacy she needed. Rose taught the children manners, grooming and decorum, and even quizzed them on geography and current events at meal times. She had very high standards, and when one of them broke a rule, the child was promptly punished. She was also extremely religious and turned to her faith in times of loss as well as moments of great joy.

The children were intelligent, capable and active, with the exception of Rosemary, whose behavior and educational skills were well below normal. Joe and Rose had grand ambitions for their offspring. Joe encouraged all his sons to enter politics. Rose tried to create an image of the perfect family, but no one is perfect. Still, she spent a great deal of time and energy trying to maintain a certain public image, only to be thwarted by the actions of some of her offspring.

Although she had untold wealth and privilege, Rose suffered more tragedy than any person should have to endure. Rosemary underwent surgery that was supposed to help control her erratic adult behavior; instead, the procedure created for her a life of total dependence. Joe had made the decision about the operation without Rose's knowledge. Firstborn Joe, Jr. died in the war after volunteering for a highly risky assignment. Kathleen (Kick to her family) married a Protestant English aristocrat against her parents' wishes. After he was killed by a sniper in Belgium, Kick became involved with a married man and was determined to marry him after he received a divorce. Rose threatened to disinherit Kick if she went through with these plans. While traveling together, Kick and her lover died tragically in a plane crash. Then there was the war-time injuries to son John, in addition to his Addison's disease.

As president, JFK was felled by an assassin's bullet. While campaigning for president a few years later, Bobby was also assassinated. At the time, his wife, Ethel, was pregnant with their 11th child. The youngest, Ted, was involved in a car accident that took the life of his passenger. It seemed that between fate and inappropriate decisions, the Kennedy clan was plagued by trouble and tragedy.

Rose lived to be 104. She always managed to hold her head up high and put a positive spin on things, no matter what. She was greatly admired for her philanthropy, deep religious faith, and devotion to family. Barbara A. Perry deserves much credit for her solid and fitting tribute to this remarkable woman.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on July 19, 2013

Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch
by Barbara A. Perry

  • Publication Date: July 21, 2014
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction, Politics
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0393349462
  • ISBN-13: 9780393349467