Archive for the ‘Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.’ Category


Rose Kennedy, wife of newly-appointed American ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy, is shown at center with two of her daughters, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (l) and Rosemary, at their 1938 presentation at Buckingham Palace. Kathleen's 1944 marriage to Billy Harrington, the Marquess of Hartington, an Anglican, infuriated the intensely Catholic Rose Kennedy, who refused to attend the wedding. Widowed just four months later, Kathleen fell in love with a very married man, Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, and became his mistress. Rose was further incensed - because he, like Billy, wasn't a Catholic. Over her mother's objections, Kathleen and Peter planned to wed after his divorce. Instead, in a 1948 trip to the south of France, they both died in a plane crash. No one but Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, attended her funeral in Devonshire, England, in the Cavendish family plot. It has been said that Rose Kennedy discouraged Kathleen's eight surviving siblings from attending the service of their sister.

Rose Kennedy, wife of newly-appointed American ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy, is shown at center with two of her daughters, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (l) and Rosemary Kennedy, at their 1938 presentation at Buckingham Palace. Kathleen's lively personality made her a great hit among the British social set. In 1944, Kathleen made what many considered a brilliant marriage to William "Billy" Harrington, the Marquess of Hartington, the heir to the 10th Duke of Devonshire. Kathleen became the Marchioness of Harrington. Her mother, however, was incensed that Kathleen would marry an Anglican and refused to attend the wedding ceremony. Only Kathleen's eldest brother, Joe Kennedy, Jr., attended. Then, four months later, Billy was killed in the war and Kathleen became a widow. It wasn't long before Kathleen was back in the social whirl of London parties and country estate weekends, and with a new man - a married man. He was Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam. Kathleen fell madly for him and publicly became his mistress. Rose was furious - but not why you think. She was incensed because Peter - like Kathleen's first husband, Billy - was an Anglican and not a Catholic. Nevertheless, over her mother's objections, Kathleen planned to wed Peter after his divorce, Catholic or not. Their wedding never came about. In a 1948 trip to the south of France, both Peter and Kathleen died in an airplane crash. Still furious with Kathleen, Rose Kennedy did not attend her daughter's funeral and discouraged Kathleen's eight surviving siblings from attending. Only Kathleen's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, attended her funeral service. Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish was buried in the Cavendish family plot in Devonshire, England. There her body remains today.

Factbox: Kennedy Political Dynasty Marked By Tragedy

Published: August 26, 2009

(Compiled from Web sites by the World Desk Americas)

The lives of Kennedy family members, noted for their extraordinary accomplishments, have also been marked by tragedy, including the assassinations of President John Kennedy and of Senator Robert Kennedy.

Following is a chronology of some of the tragedies that befell the storied U.S. political dynasty:

1941: Rosemary Kennedy, (pictured here), the oldest daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, who was mentally disabled, was institutionalized for the rest of her life after a lobotomy reduced her abilities. She died in 2005.

Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (c) with 2 of his 4 sons: Joe Kennedy, Jr. (l) and John F. Kennedy

Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (c) with 2 of his 4 sons: Joe Kennedy, Jr. (l) and John F. Kennedy

1944: Joseph Kennedy Jr., the oldest of the nine Kennedy children, died at age 29 in a plane crash over the English Channel during World War Two while flying a mission.

1948: Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish, the fourth of the Kennedy children, was killed in a plane crash in France at age 28.

1963: President John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22 while riding in a presidential motorcade with his wife in Dallas, Texas, at age 46.

1964: Senator Edward Kennedy, the youngest in the family, narrowly escaped death in a plane crash that killed an aide.

1968: Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 5 in Los Angeles at age 42, just after he won California’s Democratic presidential primary election.

1969: Edward Kennedy drove off a bridge on his way home from a party on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. An aide in the car with him, Mary Jo Kopechne, died in the accident.

1984: David Kennedy, a son of Robert, died of a drug overdose at age 28.

1997: Another of Robert Kennedy’s sons, Michael, died in a skiing accident in Aspen, Colorado, at age 39.

1999: John Kennedy Jr. along with his wife and sister-in-law were killed when the plane he was flying crashed in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

For more on the Kennedys, scroll down the right sidebar in “Categories – People – the Kennedys.”

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Dr. Walter Freeman, the ice pick lobotomist

Dr. Walter Freeman, the ice pick lobotomist

I’d fully intended to move away from the subject of insane asylums and talk about a cowgirl from Oklahoma by the name of Lucille Mulhall. But I cannot in good conscience leave the subject without telling what I’ve learned about the barbaric brain surgeon responsible for Rosemary Kennedy’s lobotomy, the operation that permanently incapacitated her at the young age of 23. Rosemary had been acting in an agitated behavior, according to her father, Joseph P. Kennedy, throwing fits and showing interest in boys, and he sought an operation to settle her down. Two doctors were in the operating room that day in 1941: Dr. Walter Freeman, the director of the laboratories at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., together with his partner, James W. Watts, MD, from the University of Virginia.

Dr. Freeman was obsessed with finding a cure for mental illness. In the day before psychiatric drugs, mentally ill patients were shuttered away in institutions like St. Elizabeth’s. Shock therapy, pioneered in the thirties, though not completely successful, had effectively reduced some psychiatric symptoms in agitated patients, rendering them calmer for a time following treatment. Psychiatrists like Dr. Freeman wanted to find the locus of mental illness of the brain. They understood that there were regions of the brain and were looking for surgical answers instead of just locking people up for life. Freeman, however, was not a surgeon but a neurologist. He was wildly ambitious and longed to achieve the lasting fame of his grandfather, a pioneer brain surgeon, once the president of the American Medical Association. Freeman was determined to find a procedure that would root out the defect in the brain that he believed responsible for mental illness.

Freeman discovered the work of a Portuguese neurologist named Egas Moniz who had performed a radical new operation on a group of 20 mental patients. By taking small corings of their brains, Moniz asserted, it had been possible to rid a third of these patients of their symptoms. Moniz didn’t explain why this worked. He had a crude notion that people “who are mentally ill are sort of obsessed, he called them fixed ideas. And that these fixed ideas probably resided in some way in the frontal lobes.”

Along with Dr. Watts, Freeman began to perform lobotomies, or surgeries on the frontal lobes. After several operations, Dr. Freeman called his operation a success. According to Edward Shorter, Medical Historian, “Freeman’s definition of success is that the patients are no longer agitated. That doesn’t mean that you’re cured, that means they could be discharged from the asylum, but they were incapable of carrying on normal social life. They were usually demobilized and lacking in energy. And they were that on a permanent basis.” Many had to be retaught how to use the toilet. They were definitely not the same persons they were before the operation.

Why didn’t the medical establishment stop Drs. Freeman and Watts from performing this radical and untested procedure? This was back in the day when it was considered unethical for doctors to criticize their peers – plus, Dr. Freeman manipulated the press in his favor. He proclaimed he’d found a cure for mental illness. Soon he was receiving glowing reviews. The Washington Star called prefrontal lobotomy “One of the greatest surgical innovations of this generation.” The New York Times called it “surgery of the soul,” and declared it “history making.”

It gets worse. Freeman decided that there was a simpler way to get into the brain than through the top of the skull, as he had done with Rosemary Kennedy. He decided that the skull was thinner behind the eye and that he could make an incision there with an ice pick. Freeman “would hammer the ice pick into the skull just above the tear duct and wiggle it around.”

transorbital lobotomy

transorbital lobotomy

He began to travel around the nation in his own personal van, which he called his “lobotomobile”, hawking this new procedure which he performed with a gold ice pick, and training other doctors in his methods. He even performed a few lobotomies in hotel rooms. Before he was stopped and the lobotomy discredited, Walter Freeman had performed over 3,500 lobotomies. His medical license was revoked when one of his patients died during a lobotomy. Nevertheless, he continued to tour the country in his lobotomobile, visiting his former patients, until his death from cancer in 1972.

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Nellie Bly (1864-1922)

Nellie Bly (1864-1922)

I’ve been thinking about the very different lives of reporter Nellie Bly and Rosemary Kennedy. Although over fifty years separated these women, both found themselves at the age of 23 at the mercy of mental health “professionals.” Nellie Bly placed herself in a dangerous lunatic asylum as an investigative journalist because she was desperate to land a job in a world that didn’t welcome female professionals. How else was an uneducated woman to earn a living in 1887?

Bly was the thirteenth of her wealthy father’s fifteen children, her mother being her father’s second wife. When Bly was six, her father died, failing to make specific provisions for Nellie, her mother, and her two brothers. Like many other great women, Nellie Bly (like Annie Oakley) took it upon herself to find a way to take care of her family. She ran a boarding house with her mother and marveled that her uneducated brothers were able to find jobs as clerks and drummers yet, because she was an uneducated woman, she could only aspire to be a chambermaid or washer-woman. Thus it was Nellie’s poverty and the absence of a father that lead her to have herself committed, at the age of 23, to an insane asylum.

But the converse was true of Rosemary Kennedy. Rosemary landed in a mental institution because she was rich and had a father. She had the misfortune to be born “mildly mentally retarded, into a family dominated by her driven and ruthlessly ambitious father,” Joseph P. Kennedy. Rosemary had been living in a convent to keep her out of the public eye, but, as she developed as a young woman, she had begun sneaking out to see boys, and Kennedy was worried that she might damage his famous family’s reputation.

Rosemary Kennedy (back) (1918-2005), with sister Jean and brother Robert

Rosemary Kennedy (back) (1918-2005), with sister Jean and brother Robert

In an attempt to settle her down, her father, without telling his wife, used his money and powerful connections to arrange for his 23-year-old learning-disabled daughter Rosemary to undergo experimental brain surgery, one of the first prefrontal lobotomies ever performed. The operation took place in 1941, but, according to the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, “something went terribly wrong.” Rosemary emerged from surgery not better, but far worse. She regressed to a state of helpless infancy and was confined to a mental asylum for the rest of her life until her death in 2005. Nellie Bly’s story, though, has a happy ending. She walked out of the asylum a free woman and an international celebrity.

To read more on the Kennedys on this site, scroll down the right sidebar to “Categories – People – Kennedys.”

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Releasing Lunatics from their Chains (Robert-fleury)

Releasing Lunatics from their Chains (Robert-fleury)

I was recalling something my grandmother told me about a “field trip” she and her sister Maurine took to Austin, Texas, back in the 1920’s. Both Grandmother and Aunt Maurine were young and single, living in Lufkin, Texas. They had heard all about the state lunatic asylum and wanted to see it for themselves. I think they were hoping to spot a flesh and blood lunatic. The trip was a real highlight.

The two took the train all alone from East Texas to Austin to visit the asylum.

 “It’s lucky they weren’t captured,” says my sister Loise.

I’ve seen the maps of Austin from those days. The important buildings are marked, including the University of Texas, the State Capital, and the State Lunatic Asylum.  True, the Lunatic Asylum was a garden spot and people other than my relatives were drawn to it for good reasons. But I think novels like Jane Eyre give us an insight into attitudes toward the mentally ill. They were weird, scary, and dangerous.

Evidently the Texas State Lunatic Asylum was ahead of its time in its compassionate approach toward the mentally ill. The asylum movement in America and Europe at that time “strived to provide a healthy diet, exercise, fresh air, adequate rest, a strict daily routine, social contact, and a kind but firm approach,” according to the website of the Texas Dept. of State Health Services (1). No longer flogging the patient or tossing cold water on him, the treatment for the mentally ill in the first half of the twentieth century was still far from humane. 

Rosemary Kennedy

Rosemary Kennedy

In 1941, Joseph Kennedy authorized a frontal lobotomy for his beautiful special needs daughter Rosemary, who was proving to be a bit of an embarrassment to him when she tripped curtseying to the Queen of England.

According to Dr. Watts, a surgeon assisting in the lobotomy of Rosemary Kennedy: 

“We went through the top of the head, 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 put questions to Rosemary. For example, he asked her to recite the Lord’s Prayer or sing “God Bless America” or count backwards. … “We made an estimate on how far to cut based on how she responded.” … When she began to become incoherent, they stopped.” (2)

1. http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/mhhospitals/AustinSH/ASH_About.shtm

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary_Kennedy

NEXT: Stunt reporter for THE NEW YORK WORLD Nellie Bly writes TEN DAYS IN A MAD-HOUSE

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