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Lifetime Learning

Rose Kennedy: Mother of Camelot

Rose_KennedyBarbara A. Perry
Senior Fellow
UVA’s Miller Center
Presidential Oral History Program

You could almost narrate a century of United States history through Rose Kennedy’s captivating biography.  Her nearly 104 years in the political limelight spanned almost half of the American republic’s own life. Eulogized by Life magazine as “part nun, part enchantress, part ward boss and all mother,” Rose saw her family’s ascendency to the heights of political power and cultural capital, only to be dashed by unfathomable tragedies.

It seems more mythology than fact: her father’s rise to congressman and Boston mayor, just a generation removed from the Irish potato famine; her husband Joe accumulating millions in Hollywood and on Wall Street, then coming to Washington as a New Dealer, followed by his notorious service as ambassador to England. Add to that Rose’s nine lauded children, among them a president, three senators, a congressman, an attorney general, two World War II military heroes, and an ambassador. Rose created an elegant public presence before Jackie was even a twinkle in the nation’s eye. A “republican mother” (grooming her sons for public service), inveterate globe-trotter, consummate fashion plate, media maven, and formidable philanthropist, Rose proved an adept and indefatigable campaigner for Jack, Bobby, and Teddy, informing their compassionate social policies through her unshakable Catholic faith. This story epitomizes the American dream: from immigrant roots to fame, fortune, and influence.

I recently launched my book Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.  (See attached photo.)  Using an invaluable cache of Rose’s recently released diaries and letters, as well as rare photos, historic recordings, and interviews with Kennedy family members, I have discovered the private woman behind the enigmatic public icon.  The book also illustrates how Rose’s perfectionism, initially a response to the strictures imposed on Catholic women of the Victorian era, ultimately created a family portrait that resonated in modern politics and media.

Rose’s crucial role in a patriarchal clan expanded as her father, husband, and sons exited the stage. To understand her is to understand the Kennedy mystique and its enduring hold on the American imagination, fifty years after JFK’s assassination brought a tragic end to the Camelot presidency.

To see a conversation about Rose Kennedy with me and Washington Post journalist Vincent Bzdek, visit Or for a short interview, link to WBUR  at  For more information about this and all my books, please visit .  You can also follow me on Twitter @BarbaraPerryUVA.

mtts logoJoin us for More Than The Score October 19, 2013 to hear Barbara Perry’s talk!

Camelot at 50: Rose Kennedy and the Creation of a Political Legend

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