The Lobotomy of Rosemary Kennedy

Rosemary Kennedy was lobotomized at the age of 23 to calm her violent mood swings and spent the rest of her life incapacitated.
Rosemary Kennedy's lobotomy in 1941 left her permanently incapacitated

Rosemary 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 Kennedy before the lobotomy

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.