Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch, by Barbara A Perry

Stoical and politically tough, Rose Kennedy put up with her husband’s philandering, controlled every aspect of her children’s lives and to the end adhered to the ‘Kennedys don’t cry’ rule

Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 01:00


Book Title:
Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch


Barbara A Perry

WW Norton

Guideline Price:

These observations included on her own children – were they getting too chubby? – and her own figure, of which she was inordinately proud. “She especially enjoyed preserving press photographs of herself,” Perry notes acidly at one point.

The author’s occasional sideswipes help balance other moments that can border on the fawning. (“Newspaper portraits of Rose and the queen reveal Mrs Kennedy as the more attractive woman,” Perry gushes of a trip to Buckingham Palace in 1938.)

Challenge to the prevailing view
Yet, if sometimes overtaken by her subject, Perry does an effective job of challenging the prevailing view of Rose as nothing more than a despised wife and irrelevant mother. She cannot, of course, unmake the judgment of John F Kennedy, who, when asked in 1962 about his family’s success by the presidential adviser and historian Arthur Schlesinger jnr, said, “Well, no one can say that it was due to my mother.”

But when Jack and then Bobby were assassinated, and their father was incapacitated by a stroke, it was Rose who held the family together. She came to represent the Kennedys to the world, particularly after Jacqueline married the Greek shipping tycoon, Aristotle Onassis. Rose remains unknowable and, in this telling, even somewhat unlikeable, but Perry shows us that there was a dignity in the stoicism that seems even more admirable today when any excuse to emote in public will do.

The rule was that Kennedys don’t cry, and Rose lived by it. Whether she kept to that principle after closing the door at night and dutifully saying her rosary is surely more doubtful. But Rose Kennedy’s self-control was the reason that she was able to say “Yes, Mr President” at the moment her country asked it of her on that terrible day in November 1963.