As a non-American, I did not grow up on ‘The Kennedy’s’. However, nobody can escape their myth completely. This book looks at the wives of the prominent Kennedy brothers, and their mother Rose. As we move through the generations, I found that the description on the back of Kennedy Wives: Triumph and Tragedy in America’s Most Public Family is correct: their lives were tragic and triumphant.
Rose, Ethel, Jackie, Joan and Vicki were each women of their time. Most of them were the classic ‘support your man’ type woman. Even Vicky, the youngest and the only one with a solid career of her own, needed a teacher’s inspiration to even think of becoming a lawyer (as she did). However, supporting your man is quite an active role if you’re a Kennedy wife. All Kennedy siblings and their spouses joined in supporting the political aspirations of the various brothers running for office (JFK, Bobby, Ted).
Through Rose and then Ethel and Jackie we see just how important that support your man role can be. And just how hard. Rose, married to business tycoon Joe Kennedy, was probably as if not more ambitious than he was. However, she channeled that through her children. Early on, she aimed at raising them to be perfect Catholics. A tall order and one they could of course not live up to. However, three of her sons did succeed in becoming among the most prominent men of their generation. Her daughter Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded Camp Shriver, which would later turn into the Special Olympics. Another daughter, Jean, served as United States Ambassador to Ireland.
Her brood in fact formed America’s most prominent family.
However, the rose of their lives had thorns. They lost their eldest son Joseph Patrick “Joe” Kennedy, Jr. in World War two. Her daughter Rose Marie “Rosemary” Kennedy was mentally challenged and lived in an institution after a lobotomy that had been performed in hopes of curbing her temper. Kathleen Agnes “Kick” Kennedy died in 1948 in a plain crash. It hardly needs mention that her second son John (JFK) was assassinated in 1963. Third son Bobby was assassinated in 1968.
That is a lot of tragedy to deal with.
Rose dealt with it with what one might almost call an English stiff upper lip. Her daughter in law Ethel and Jackie were similar, but Joan could not do it and followed her own parents on the path of alcoholism. Life in the limelight can be tough.
I won’t go into the details of the lives of these women. What I can say is that although I missed a genealogical tree, I was able to follow the thread of this book well enough, despite my ignorance of the lives of this family. It is a fascinating story and women in my generation will recognize just how much expectations of women have changed and how different that makes our lives.
Kennedy Wives: Triumph and Tragedy in America’s Most Public Family, Amber Hunt and David Batcher
Hardcover: 360 pages
Publisher: Lyons Press; First edition (December 2, 2014)
Disclaimer: this review is based on a preview copy made available through netgalley. [Written on November 2nd, scheduled to appear on December 2nd, the official publishing date]