This won’t come as a surprise–even to those who don’t know me. Have a little laugh and make the jokes about “no, she’s dead”, “no, she was 104!” and so on, yeah, I get it. I’m not Rose Kennedy…but I think about her almost every day.
I’m not American, not Catholic…not a mother of a large brood of children (four, which yes by today’s standards is large but it’s not Kennedy large). My partner isn’t cheating on me with anyone let alone glamorous movie stars. And, at the moment, none of my children are heading for a life in public office. So, why Rose Kennedy?
Rose Kennedy was the mother of John F. Kennedy, war hero, congressman, Senator, and President of the United States. He won a Pulitzer. Her son, Robert, was a civil rights activist, Attorney General for the US, a Senator, and was running to win the Democratic nomination for the presidential elections when he was killed.
Youngest son Ted’s presidential aspirations were lost in Chappaquiddick but he was a Senator for over forty years. Daughter Eunice founded the Special Olympics after years of social work. Jean Kennedy Smith was a US Ambassador to Ireland, and a career diplomat. There were other children: eldest son Joe died as a bomber pilot during WWII. Daughter Kathleen married a Marquess, and when widowed was set to marry an Earl but died in a plane crash. Rosemary was institutionalized after a lobotomy left her mentally disabled (the reason for the lobotomy is much debated, apparently). So, Rose was a busy, busy mother–nine children born in a seventeen year period.
I really don’t know much of anything about Rose Kennedy–I looked up the details about all her children as I could only do the obvious ones off the top of my head. But I did realize that quite a number out of that nine became interesting, significant people who affected the world around them in some way. And, to so many people–the reason they became “somebody” was their father’s amibitions, his plans for his sons to enter politics, for one to be groomed for the presidency. That so many of the children went off into interesting worthwhile careers can be partly attributed to that, and to working with or for the brother who became President. And, when that brother died, working for various groups founded in his memory. The Kennedys were raised for public service.
But where was Rose in all this? I know that there was wealth in the family–Joe had been raised in wealth, was well-educated, and then made went off to make his own wealth, and accumulated power along the way. Rose was the daughter of a Boston mayor (yep, I’m off reading Wikipedia).
And that’s the thing: I’m sure there’s bios of Rose Kennedy, but if you do a quick read on Wiki, Rose Kennedy was the daughter of a Boston mayor who married Joseph Kennedy. Then she gave birth to nine children.
And then you’re done reading.
There are links for all the people who were in her life: the husband, all the children, the grandchildren…but next to nothing about Rose and next to no references. Rose Kennedy was a wife and she was a mother.
And I’m a wife and a mother. Maybe a little more education than Rose, and a few less children, but to most defined just as much in those terms as was she. Here was a woman whose children achieved impressive, public success–and their success is always reflected back on the ambitions and achievements of their father. Rose simply birthed them and provided half the DNA. The family was wealthy so we don’t know how much involvement she had in their daily upkeep but I’m assuming there was some level of help (especially with nine kids!). Obviously, it was a time where women didn’t work: they had children, they helped their husband, they volunteered and did charity work. And Rose did all those things.
Certainly people are willing to blame the ‘bad’ of the children on the father as much as they were the good: Joe was long rumoured to be a bootlegger (always leaving that implication that he made his money illegally, that he was a Johnny-come-lately to his wealth and privilege), and well-known for his adultery. His sons’ predilections for cheating were seen as a direct reflection of their father’s example (although there was always that underlying sneer of what Rose Kennedy had or hadn’t done to “make” her husband cheat).
But all in all, without direct access to a biography, Rose Kennedy remains a cypher to me–and I’m not sure even a biography would change that. Sure I’d read how fervently Catholic she was (wouldn’t attend the funeral of her divorced daughter who’d been planning to marry an Anglican once his divorce came through). I’d read how she wanted to leave Joe when she found out about his cheating but was sent home by her parents because she was Catholic and divorce just wasn’t on. And I know she died at 104 and her son Teddy Kennedy said a lot of nice things about her at the time.
Her life isn’t my business, isn’t anyone’s business, but herself and her family. But that family has left a very public record behind. Beyond the nonsense of the “Kennedy Curse”, there are Kennedys engaged in many different levels of public service still today. And I wonder if, sometimes, when the clan was all gathered at the Kennedy Compound, when they were all in a room together, or sitting outside enjoying a drink…I wonder what Rose thought as she looked at all of them. Did she look around the room and think, “This is all I did with my life?”. Or did she look around and think, “This is all I did with my life!”