Kate Clifford Larson

Book cover image

Narrated By: Bernadette Dunne

Duration: 7 hours and 44 minutes

What to expect

They were the most prominent American family of the twentieth century. The daughter they secreted away made all the difference.

Joe and Rose Kennedy’s strikingly beautiful daughter Rosemary attended exclusive schools, was presented as a debutante to the queen of England, and traveled the world with her high-spirited sisters. And yet, Rosemary was intellectually disabled—a secret fiercely guarded by her powerful and glamorous family.

Major new sources—Rose Kennedy’s diaries and correspondence, school and doctors’ letters, and exclusive family interviews—bring Rosemary to life as a girl adored but left far behind by her competitive siblings. Kate Larson reveals both the sensitive care Rose and Joe gave to Rosemary and then, as the family’s standing reached an apex, the often desperate and duplicitous arrangements the Kennedys made to keep her away from home as she became increasingly intractable in her early twenties. Finally, Larson illuminates Joe’s decision to have Rosemary lobotomized at age twenty-three and the family’s complicity in keeping the secret.

Rosemary delivers a profoundly moving coda: JFK visited Rosemary for the first time while campaigning in the Midwest; she had been living isolated in a Wisconsin institution for nearly twenty years. Only then did the siblings understand what had happened to Rosemary and bring her home for loving family visits. It was a reckoning that inspired them to direct attention to the plight of the disabled, transforming the lives of millions.


Biography: historical, political and military, Biography: general, Gender studies: women and girls, Biography: arts and entertainment, Biography: science, technology and medicine, Age groups: children, Child, developmental and lifespan psychology, Coping with dyslexia and learning difficulties, Relationships and families: advice and issues, Parenting: advice and issues, Biography: historical, political and military, Political leaders and leadership

Listen to a sample

“The forgotten Kennedy is forgotten no longer…A book about the Kennedys that has something new to say.”

Laurence Leamer, New York Times bestselling author

“It is Rosemary herself who shines from the pages of this profoundly revealing family story.”

Marya Hornbacher, New York Times bestselling author


Wall Street Journal

“Compelling psychological, socia,l and political insight.”

More magazine

“Larson deploys excerpts in heart-rending fashion, showing a sweet, insecure girl who was desperate to please…She has produced a valuable account of mental health tragedy and an influential family’s belated efforts to make amends.”

New York Times Book Review

“A heartbreaking book that makes clear the pain and passion behind the Kennedy family’s efforts on behalf of the disabled.”


Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Narrator Bernadette Dunne delivers the author’s examination of a privileged life gone horribly wrong…Compassion for Rosemary’s strength to survive and her inspiring effect on her brothers and sisters is evident in Dunne’s performance. Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award.”


“A well-researched biography.”


“Engrossing…This expertly researched work offers a candid examination of a once-forgotten member of one of America’s most famous families.”

Library Journal

“Larson’s well-researched and fascinating history includes Kennedy anecdotes as well as major developments in American life…Heartbreaking and illuminating.”


“The author presents a well-rounded portrait of Rosemary before the lobotomy, a beautiful young woman full of spunk and love, and the destruction of that vibrant person as a result of the operation…A well-researched, entertaining, and illuminating biography.”