Rose Kennedy
Countess of the Holy Roman Church
Kennedy c. 1967
Known forKennedy family matriarch
BornRose Elizabeth Fitzgerald
(1890-07-22)July 22, 1890
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedJanuary 22, 1995(1995-01-22) (aged 104)
Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, U.S.
BuriedHolyhood Cemetery
Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.
(m. 1914; died 1969)
ParentsJohn Francis Fitzgerald
Mary Josephine Hannon

Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennedy (July 22, 1890 – January 22, 1995) was an American philanthropist, socialite, and matriarch of the Kennedy family. She was deeply embedded in the "lace curtain" Irish-American community in Boston. Her father, John F. Fitzgerald, served in the Massachusetts State Senate (1892–1894), in the U.S. House of Representatives (1895–1901, 1919), and as Mayor of Boston (1906–1908, 1910–1914). Her husband, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., chaired the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (1934–1935) and the U.S. Maritime Commission (1937–1938), and served as United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom (1938–1940). Their nine children included United States President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith. In 1951, Rose Kennedy was ennobled by Pope Pius XII, becoming the sixth American woman to be granted the rank of Papal countess.[1]

Early life

Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald was born on July 22, 1890, at 4 Garden Court[2] in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. She was the eldest of six children born to John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, at the time a member of the Boston Common Council, and the former Mary Josephine "Josie" Hannon.[3] Her siblings were Mary, Thomas, John Jr., Eunice and Frederick.

At age 7, she moved with her family to West Concord, Massachusetts, and in 1904, they moved again, into an Italianate/Mansard-style home in the Ashmont Hill section of Dorchester, Massachusetts, where Rose attended the local Girls' Latin School. The home later burned down, but a plaque at Welles Avenue and Harley Street proclaims Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Square. The plaque was dedicated by her son, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, on her 102nd birthday in July 1992.

Fitzgerald studied at the convent school Kasteel Bloemendal in Vaals, Netherlands, and graduated from Dorchester High School in 1906. She also attended the New England Conservatory in Boston, where she studied piano. After being refused permission by her father to attend Wellesley College, Fitzgerald enrolled at the Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart (as it was then known) in Manhattan, an institution that did not grant degrees at the time. Kennedy later said that her greatest regret was "not having gone to Wellesley College," saying that it was "something I have felt a little sad about all my life." However, Rose eventually grew fond of the convent school, saying that the religious training she received became the foundation of her life.

In 1908, Fitzgerald and her father embarked on a tour of Europe and had a private audience with Pope Pius X at the Vatican.

Marriage and family life

Waist high portrait of woman in her twenties with a child in front of her
Kennedy with her firstborn child, Joseph Jr., c. 1919

In her teens, Rose became acquainted with her future husband, Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, whom she met while their families were vacationing in Maine. He was the elder son of businessman/politician Patrick Joseph "P.J." Kennedy (a political rival of Honey Fitz) and Mary Augusta Hickey. Kennedy would go on to court Fitzgerald for more than seven years, much to her father's disapproval.

On October 7, 1914, at age 24, she married Kennedy in a modest ceremony at the small chapel of the residence of Archbishop William Henry O'Connell in Boston. They initially lived in a home in Brookline, Massachusetts, that is now the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site, and later a 15-room vacation home at Hyannis Port on Cape Cod, which became the Kennedy family's lasting base. Their nine children were Joseph Jr. (Joe), John (Jack), Rose (Rosemary), Kathleen (Kick), Eunice, Patricia (Pat), Robert (Bobby), Jean, and Edward (Ted).

Rose Kennedy (standing, rear) with her husband Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and grandchildren in 1963. The President is partially in view, holding a Coke bottle.

Joseph provided well for their family, but he was unfaithful. His affairs included one with Gloria Swanson. When Rose was eight months pregnant with the couple's fourth child, Kathleen, she temporarily went back to her parents, returning to Joseph after her father told her divorce was not an option. In turning a blind eye to her husband's affairs, Rose depended heavily on medication. Ronald Kessler found records for prescription tranquilizers Seconal, Placidyl, Librium, and Dalmane to relieve Rose's nervousness and stress, and Lomotil, Bentyl, Librax, and Tagamet for her stomach.[4]

Rose Kennedy was a strict Catholic[5] throughout her life. Even after her 100th birthday, she rarely missed Sunday Mass and maintained an "extremely prudish" exterior. Her strict beliefs often placed her at odds with her children.[6] Jacqueline Kennedy described her mother-in-law in her correspondence to Father Joseph Leonard, an Irish priest: "I don't think Jack's mother is too bright – and she would rather say a rosary than read a book."[7]

Kennedy stated that she felt completely fulfilled as a full-time homemaker. In her 1974 autobiography, Times to Remember, she wrote, "I looked on child rearing not only as a work of love and duty but as a profession that was fully as interesting and challenging as any honorable profession in the world and one that demanded the best I could bring to it..... What greater aspiration and challenge are there for a mother than the hope of raising a great son or daughter?"[8] According to one of her servants, Frank Saunders, she was self-centered, stingy, prudish, and often spiteful.[9]


Name Birth Death Marriage and children
Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy Jr. July 25, 1915 August 12, 1944 Never married and did not have children
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy May 29, 1917 November 22, 1963 Married in 1953, to Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, had four children, one of whom was stillborn (Arabella) and one who died of hyaline membrane disease after 2 days (Patrick Bouvier Kennedy).
Rose Marie "Rosemary" Kennedy September 13, 1918 January 7, 2005 Never married and did not have children
Kathleen Agnes "Kick" Kennedy February 20, 1920 May 13, 1948 Married in 1944, to William John Robert Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, never had children
Eunice Mary Kennedy July 10, 1921 August 11, 2009 Married in 1953, to Robert Sargent "Sarge" Shriver Jr., had five children
Patricia Helen "Pat" Kennedy May 6, 1924 September 17, 2006 Married in 1954, to English actor Peter Sydney Ernest Lawford, had four children; divorced in 1966
Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy November 20, 1925 June 6, 1968 Married in 1950, to Ethel Skakel, had eleven children
Jean Ann Kennedy February 20, 1928 June 17, 2020 Married in 1956, to Stephen Edward Smith, had two sons and adopted two daughters
Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy February 22, 1932 August 25, 2009 Married in 1958, to Virginia Joan Bennett, had three children; divorced in 1982. Remarried in 1992 to Victoria Anne Reggie; had no children

Later years and death

Rose Kennedy with her son, President John F. Kennedy in 1962

After her son John was elected president in 1960, Rose "became a sort of quiet celebrity" and appeared on the International Best Dressed List.[6] Most of her social activities consisted of involvement in charities and women's groups. Rose also took brisk ocean swims outside her Cape Cod house.

After suffering a stroke in 1984, she used a wheelchair for the remaining 11 years of her life. Kennedy maintained her residence at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and was cared for by private nurses and staff. She turned 100 years old on July 22, 1990. Kennedy died from complications from pneumonia at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port on January 22, 1995, aged 104.[10]


In 1951, Pope Pius XII granted Kennedy the title of countess in recognition of her "exemplary motherhood and many charitable works."[11] In 1992, when she turned 102, the intersection of Welles Avenue and Harley Street in Boston was proclaimed "Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Square". The plaque was dedicated by her son, Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Also, the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston, Massachusetts – the park that was created when the city's Central Artery was sunk below ground level in the "Big Dig" – was named after her on July 26, 2004.[citation needed] Well known for her philanthropic efforts and for leading the Grandparents' Parade at age 90 at the Special Olympics, Kennedy's life and work are documented in the Oscar-nominated short documentary Rose Kennedy: A Life to Remember.[12] She was a lifelong autograph collector.[13]

The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge in Ireland is named after her. As of its 2020 opening, it is the longest bridge in Ireland.[citation needed]

Written works


  1. ^ "Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy | JFK Library".
  2. ^ "North End Walk: N5: Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Birthplace: 4 Garden Court". Boston Women's Heritage Trail. February 22, 2001. Archived from the original on February 22, 2001. Retrieved June 20, 2015.
  3. ^ Goodwin, Doris Kearns (2001). The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga. Simon and Schuster. pp.88–89.
  4. ^ Kessler, Ronald. The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded. Warner Books, 1996. ISBN 0-446-60384-8. pp. 318, 372–373.
  5. ^ "Biography: Rose Kennedy". American Experience. PBS. Retrieved March 19, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Hodgson, Godfrey (January 24, 1995). "Obituary: Rose Kennedy". The Independent. Archived from the original on July 1, 2014.
  7. ^ Letters from Jackie, The Irish Times, May 13, 2014
  8. ^ Kennedy, Rose. Times to Remember. Doubleday, 1974. ISBN 978-0385476577. pp. 66, 70.
  9. ^ Reeves, Thomas C. (1991). A Question of Character. Free Press. p. 32.
  10. ^ Robert D. McFadden (January 23, 1995). "Rose Kennedy, Political Matriarch, Dies at 104". The New York Times.
  11. ^ "Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy". John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved September 4, 2023.
  12. ^ "NY Times: Rose Kennedy: A Life to Remember". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2012. Archived from the original on October 16, 2012. Retrieved December 4, 2008.
  13. ^ Barbara A. Perry in Rose Kennedy, the Life and Times of a Political Matriarch ISBN 978-0-393-06895-5 p. 257
  14. ^ Times To Remember 1974 edition. January 1974. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  15. ^ Times to Remember 1995 edition. ISBN 0385476574.

Further reading