The Lobotomy of Rosemary Kennedy

By on July 19, 2013

Rosemary Kennedy's lobotomy in 1941 left her permanently incapacitatedRosemary Kennedy, the younger sister of John F. Kennedy, was lobotomized at the age of 23. Doctors recommended the procedure to calm her violent mood swings in 1941.

Dr. James W. Watts, who carried out the lobotomy with Dr. Walter Freemen, explained the crude procedure in the book The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty he Founded by Ronald Kessler.

With Rosemary awake, under a mild tranquilizer, Watts made a surgical incision “no more than an inch” in her brain through her skull. He then used an instrument that looked like a butter knife to cut brain tissue. As Watts cut, Freeman asked Rosemary questions, had her recite the Lord’s Prayer, count backwards, etc.

“We made an estimate on how far to cut based on how she responded,” Watts explained.

When she began to become incoherent, they stopped.

Rosemary spent the rest of her life incapacitated, under the care of nuns at an institution in Wisconsin until her death in 2005, at the age of 86.

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Charlie Hintz

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5 Comments

  1. Karl Jensen

    May 28, 2014 at 11:24 am

    This speaks volumes of some of the Kennedy clan, willing to destroy a life and pretend it never happened. Both parents were totally responsible even though Rose pretended she had no part in it and both Robert and President John F Kennedy on several occasions lied about their sister to further their political career. Shameful.

    • cate

      July 22, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      JFK did pass the Community Mental Health Act which was intended to combat the deplorable conditions of mental institutions at the time. It’s been speculated that this was a direct result of what his sister went through. He didn’t publicly denounce the actions of his mother and father, as many of us would hope, but it seems he did try to do right by her in his own way. He wasn’t by any means the monster that his father was.
      Unfortunately, a lot of people, as they do today, believed so strongly in the authority of doctors that they were willing to let butchers like Freeman cut on their loved ones, thinking it could help them. Did you know he practiced his transorbital lobotomies on corpses using an icepick?

  2. Maggie Elmer

    April 29, 2014 at 3:20 am

    Barbaric and cruel. These things were often done to spare a family the embarrassment of an unruly child or woman. These were heavily guarded secrets.

  3. Anunciadora de Paz

    August 27, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    this sucks…

  4. lin

    July 20, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    This barbaric procedure should never have happened. I am so very sorry for her and all the others who were treated like this

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