As a teen-ager who would be lobotomized just a few years later, Rosemary Kennedy chronicled a life of tea dances, dress fittings and trips to Europe in diaries that her mother ordered tossed out with the trash.
But Rose Kennedy’s secretary didn’t listen. She hung on to the aging leather-bound journals and included them in a new book about her decade with the Kennedy clan.
Rosemary, now 76, has been living in obscurity in a Wisconsin convent school since the 1941 lobotomy. Her three meticulous diaries were written between 1936 and 1938, when she was 18 to 20 years old.
The diaries reveal no great secrets, but they do show that the third child of Rose and Joseph Kennedy led a full life.
“Walked with Peggy. Also went to horse races with her, and bet and won a dollar and a half. Went to the English Movie at five. Had dinner at 8:45,” Rosemary wrote.
Kennedy family secretary Barbara Gibson doesn’t date many of the diary entries in the book she co-wrote with Ted Schwarz.
Gibson said she came upon the diaries about 18 years ago as she and Rose Kennedy sorted through an attic at the family’s Hyannis Port estate.
"[Rose] was throwing things out. . . . We came upon these diaries,” Gibson said in a telephone interview from her Jupiter, Fla., real estate office. “She said, ‘They’re Rosemary’s diaries, I don’t want them. Throw them in the trash.’
“I said, ‘Wouldn’t you want the [John F.] Kennedy Library to have these?’ ” Gibson said. “She said, ‘No, they don’t need them.’ ”
Gibson said she contacted the library on her own. Someone came from Boston to pick up the diaries, only to return them a few weeks later, saying they should remain with the family, she said.
Gibson said she then contacted Patricia Lawford, Rosemary’s younger sister, who told her, “Do whatever mother wants.”
“I threw them in the trash and then thought, ‘No, I’m not going to throw them out, that’s ridiculous,’ ” she said.
William Johnson, an archivist at the Kennedy library, said he doesn’t remember Gibson offering them.
“We would have taken them any time, any place,” he said.
Kennedy family spokeswoman Melody Miller said the family has no comment on the book or the diaries, which Birch Lane Press publicist Matthew Snyder said were authenticated by a variety of sources.
Gibson was Rose Kennedy’s personal secretary from 1968 to 1978. Her book is called, “Rose Kennedy and Her Family.”
Gibson said she left the family’s employ on good terms in 1978 when it became clear that Rose Kennedy, who died earlier this year at the age of 104, needed a nurse more than a secretary.
Rosemary, who was born in 1918, learned to read and write with the help of special tutors. Her father authorized a specialist to perform a lobotomy in the hope of calming mood swings the family found difficult to handle.
“You can see by her writing she was strictly controlled,” Gibson said. “They had this thing about her being retarded and they wouldn’t leave her alone.”
In her book, Gibson questions the severity of Rosemary’s retardation before the lobotomy.
"[Rosemary] talks about going to Europe, people she met, things she did, going to New York, to concerts, operas, tea dances at the Plaza, getting her hair done,” Gibson said.
One diary entry covers a trip to the White House.
“Went to luncheon in the ballroom in the White House. James Roosevelt took us in to see his father, President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt. He said, ‘It’s about time you came. How can I put my arm around all of you? Which is the oldest? You are all so big.’ ”