Rose had been accepted at prestigious Wellesley College during her junior year in high school, but her father insisted on the very Catholic Convent of the Sacred Heart in Boston instead. Rose reluctantly obeyed her father’s instructions but luckily she grew fond of the convent school, saying the religious training she received there became her foundation for life.
In her teens Rose met Joseph P Kennedy (1888-1969) at Old Orchard Beach Maine where their families were holidaying. Despite her father not being happy with the Kennedys, the young couple were married in 1914 by Cardinal O'Connell.
First married home, in Brookline
The couple's first home was a beautiful, 7 bedoom, three-storey grey building on Beals St in Brookline. Rose had learned fluent French and German when she went to a Dutch boarding school, and was an accomplished pianist. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Rose was named the best-dressed public woman by a poll of fashion designers.
Joseph Kennedy was already making a small fortune each year as a businessman. When the family left Brookline and moved to New York 10 years later, he was already a multi-millionaire financier and investor. His business dealings were often dodgy, especially his involvement with organised crime and bootlegging. And the longest of all his adulterous affairs was with Hollywood star Gloria Swanson, an affair that took him away from home during Rose’s last pregnancies.
Joseph Snr and Rose in the centre back
and eight of their children, 1931
In just 18 years of marriage, Rose gave birth to 9 children. Joseph Jr was born in 1915, John 1917, Rosemary 1918, Kathleen 1920, Eunice 1921, Patricia 1924, Robert 1925, Jean 1928 and Edward 1932. [I was exhausted from two babies in two years; Rose was pregnant every 18 months!].
In the late 1930s, her husband was named US ambassador to Britain. During their time in Europe, the Kennedy family was invited to attend Pope Pius XII’s coronation in March 1939 and enjoyed a private audience with him. Only as WW2 broke out did Rose and the children go back to the USA.
In 1938-9, while Fascist persecutions in Germany intensified, Joe Kennedy was strengthening his faith in Nazism. Joseph Kennedy 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. When the White House read Kennedy’s nasty pro-Nazi beliefs, I am not sure if a] Roosevelt insisted that Kennedy return home or b] the new British PM Churchill demanded that Kennedy leave the UK.
Despite his father nasty political views, Rose’s eldest son Joseph Jr still fought for the Allies in the Navy. Tragically Joseph Jr was killed in action in Aug 1944, when he was flying on a mission over the English Channel. Rose's first daughter Rosemary was lobotomised at 22 (at Joseph’s insistence) and spent most of her adult life in a care home.
And Rose showed some religious nastiness of her own. Daughter Kathleen was a Red Cross nurse in London and wanted to marry Protestant William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington. Rose was very upset, and felt it was divine intervention when, just months after their marriage, Cavendish died fighting in WW2. And Rose was even madder when she heard that Kathleen later wanted to marry the still-married Protestant 8th Earl Fitzwilliam in 1948; again Rose said it was divine intervention when her daughter Kathleen died in a plane crash in May 1948. I think not.
When son John stood in 1946 for the Massachusetts Congressional District seat, previously held by her father Honey Fitzgerald, Rose was excited. She loved politics, especially behind-the-scenes dealing. After John's victory in 1946, his next big battle was for the US Senate. In the 1952 campaign to unseat Henry Cabot Lodge, Rose was the hostess at many Kennedy Teas sponsored by the Democratic Party.
In her son's 1960 presidential campaign, Rose again did her utmost, going to meetings every night. Her greatest thrill was in 1961 when her son 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.
John was assassinated in Dallas in Nov 1963, in his first term as president. Her next son Robert, Attorney General and later a Democratic senator from New York, was assassinated in 1968 in Los Angeles, while campaigning for president.
As Rose's family 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. 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.
Back: Joseph Sr and John Kennedy in the White House
Front: Rose and Jackie, 1961
Much of her time in later years was devoted to securing public support for the campaign to enlighten the public about mental retardation and its causes. Her Joseph Kennedy Foundation 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 widowhood in 1969, Rose loved to walk village streets alone, largely unrecognised. Rose 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 Hyannis Port Mass home in 1995, at 104.