Rosemary Kennedy, sister of John F Kennedy, pictured in 1938. In 1941, aged 23, her father forced her to undergo a lobotomy, due to her mood swings, seizures and intellectual disability. This procedure rendered her permanently incapacitated and unable to speak, and the truth was kept secret for decades.
In her early young adult years, Rosemary Kennedy experienced seizures and violent mood swings. In response to these issues, her father arranged a prefrontal lobotomy for her in 1941 when she was 23 years of age; the procedure left her permanently incapacitated and rendered her unable to speak intelligibly.
Joseph Kennedy decided that Rosemary should have a lobotomy; however, he did not inform his wife of this decision until after the procedure was completed. The procedure took place in November 1941. James W. Watts, who carried out the procedure with Walter Freeman (both of George Washington University School of Medicine), described the procedure to author Ronald Kessler as follows:
We went through the top of the head, I think Rosemary 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 asked Rosemary some questions. For example, he asked her to recite the Lord’s Prayer or sing “God Bless America” or count backward. “We made an estimate on how far to cut based on how she responded.”
When Rosemary began to become incoherent, they stopped.
Rosemary Kennedy spent most of the rest of her life being cared for at St. Coletta, an institution in Jefferson, Wisconsin. The truth about her situation and whereabouts was kept secret for decades. While she was initially isolated from her siblings and extended family following her lobotomy, Rosemary visited with them during her later life.