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Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World

Review

Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World

“She did what she wanted to when she wanted to do it.” That statement made by an aide typifies the dynamism of “the Kennedy who changed America,” portrayed here in vivid, personal detail by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eileen McNamara. The people she helped --- those with intellectual disabilities --- may not know her name, but the credit belongs to Eunice Kennedy Shriver (1921-2009) for doing the groundbreaking work to offer them equal rights and an equal shot at the American dream.

It was a cruel serendipity that led Eunice to her unique stand to foster better treatment for people with what are now called cognitive disabilities. Her older sister, Joseph and Rose Kennedy’s “prettiest” daughter Rosemary, was cognitively impaired. Eunice, a few years her junior, was her constant playmate as a child. By the time Rosemary began school, it was clear that she was not developing normally; she scored low on IQ testing and was pronounced “retarded.”

"In this fascinating, wide-ranging look behind the scenes at the extended Kennedy family, we see that Eunice was a determined woman who constantly broke barriers."

Though Rose and Joe were not, by McNamara’s account, warm or loving (“It was all about respect”), they were able to send the cheerful Rosemary to boarding schools that offered special education. When she was in her early 20s, she was subjected to a lobotomy at Joe’s orders, and afterwards reverted to an extremely childlike state and lived hidden away in an institution until her death. Eunice, observing what happened to Rosemary, was undoubtedly influenced by it.

In this fascinating, wide-ranging look behind the scenes at the extended Kennedy family, we see that Eunice was a determined woman who constantly broke barriers. She preferred trousers and sports clothes to the fancy, stylish gowns she so easily could have chosen. She was an innovator in almost every sphere of her life, a pro-life feminist when neither of those two contrasting titles was greatly respected. By the time her brother Jack was President, she already was lobbying for legislation to favor the mentally handicapped, resulting in 1963 acts to study and treat those with intellectual disabilities. In 1968, based on her own project, Camp Shriver, she drew together the resources and organizations necessary for the first Special Olympics.

McNamara clearly believes it is time to bring Eunice to the forefront as we consider the Kennedy legacy. Ironically, Eunice was cut from the same cloth as that of her dictatorial, anti-feminist father: she was unstoppable when she took up a banner, she had a missionary’s zeal, a politician’s pragmatism, and the competitiveness that comes from growing up in a large family overshadowed by one’s brothers. McNamara writes admiringly, “She used the Kennedy name to kick open doors all over the world, and for more than forty years, she barged through them…”

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on April 19, 2018

Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World
by Eileen McNamara

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2018
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1451642261
  • ISBN-13: 9781451642261