JFK sister Rosemary Kennedy was the first sister of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and longtime Senator Ted Kennedy. Considered psychologically unstable by her family, she underwent a prefrontal lobotomy at age 23, which left her permanently incapacitated.
Placid and easygoing as a child and teenager, the maturing Rosemary Kennedy became increasingly assertive and rebellious. She was also reportedly subject to violent mood swings. Some observers have since attributed this behavior to her difficulties in keeping up with siblings who were expected to perform to high standards, as well as the hormonal surges associated with puberty. In any case, the family had difficulty dealing with her stormy moods and reckless behavior. Rosemary Kennedy had begun to sneak out at night from the convent school in Washington D.C. where she was cared for and educated. Rosemary Kennedy’s normally placid personality and occasional erratic behavior frustrated her parents who expected all of their children to behave appropriately, be highly goal oriented and competitive. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. was especially worried that his daughter’s behavior would bring about embarrassment and shame to the family and could possibly damage his political career.
In 1941, when Rosemary Kennedy was 23, doctors told Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. that a new neurosurgical procedure, a lobotomy, would help calm her mood swings and stop her occasional violent outbursts. He decided that his daughter should have the lobotomy performed, but did not inform his wife Rose until after the procedure was completed. At the time, relatively few documented lobotomies had been performed; James W. Watts, who carried out the procedure with Walter Freeman, described what happened:
“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.
After the lobotomy, it quickly became apparent that the procedure was not successful. Kennedy’s mental capacity diminished to that of a two year old child. She could not walk or speak intelligibly and was considered incontinent