Authors: Kate Clifford Larson
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #JFK, #Nonfiction, #Retail
Rose’s confidence in her ability to shape her own future, along with her emotional alliance with her beloved father, was shattered. “I was furious at my parents for years. I was angry at the church. As much as I loved my father, I never really forgave him for not letting me go,” she recalled years later.
Rose would learn to abide by her parents’ wishes, however painful this was to her. There were no options for an accredited Catholic college education for women available in 1907 in Boston. The first accredited four-year Catholic college for women, Trinity College in Washington, D.C., had opened in 1900, but it was one of only ten Catholic institutions of higher learning for women in the United States, none of which were located in New
England. Rose enrolled in the Convent School of the Sacred Heart on Commonwealth Avenue that fall. It would not be the Wellesley education she’d yearned for, and it would never make up for her loss. Seventy years later, Rose still harbored the painful memory of her dreams of a college education dashed because her father had placed his own politics before her aspirations. “My greatest regret,” she told Doris Kearns Goodwin, “is not having gone to Wellesley College. It is something I have felt a little sad about my whole life.”
Established in 1880 by Mother Randall, one of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, the Convent of the Sacred Heart was a day school providing a classical education for girls and young women from the elementary level through two years of postgraduate work. Of French origin, Sacred Heart schools had been spreading across Europe and the United States for decades, their object “the propagation of the devotion to the Sacred Heart [of Jesus] and the education of the upper classes.”
A classical course of study similar to what Rose had experienced at Dorchester High School was augmented by intense religious instruction, medieval church history, and French, of which Rose was not very fond. “I knew Latin, Roman and Greek history and grammatical French,” Rose told Goodwin, “but knew nothing of medieval history and literature, nor could I understand spoken French.”
Her public-school preparation had not readied her for the particular instructional demands familiar to students who had attended Sacred Heart during their formative years. These included “ethics, metaphysics and psychology, history . . . close reading of English classics and general history of foreign literatures; mathematics . . . Latin . . . [and] experimental study of the natural sciences.” Modern languages other than French were optional.
The lack of advanced classes in math, science, and modern literature prevented national accredi
tation, however. Rose’s course of study also included a heavy dose of domestic science, preparing those young women not destined for a religious order to be model wives and mothers.
Religion and faith stood at the core of the Sacred Heart studies. “Let religion be at once the foundation and the crowning point of the education [that the Sacred Heart schools] intend to give and consequently the chief subject taught,” the early constitution of the schools declared.
At the time Rose entered the convent school in Boston, its curriculum had not changed materially since 1869. “Under such training,” one sister Sacred Heart school boasted, “were formed those women who are now doing credit to their Alma Mater, as consecrated virgins, modest wives, consorts to whom are entrusted the mightiest cares of State, and the queenly mothers whom the Catholic Church delights to call her daughters.”
Archbishop O’Connell’s demand that Fitzgerald and his daughter demonstrate their devotion to their faith as upper-class Irish Americans, and their fidelity to him as a rising power among Catholics in Massachusetts, would forever change Rose’s future.
Joe would become Rose’s touchstone over those years of disappointment. As she achieved the higher education available to her, whether at the convent school on Commonwealth Avenue or at the New England Conservatory in Boston, where she studied piano, her time with Joe soothed her wounded soul—and, given Honey Fitz’s disapproval, was perhaps an outlet for rebellion. The young couple managed to see each other through subterfuge and clandestine meetings, often helped along by their friends. “It took teamwork and conspiracy,” Rose remembered many years later.
Her father pushed other suitors, but to no avail.
Even Fitzgerald’s chauffeur, who had a soft spot for Joe, would drive Rose to some of their rendezvous, without the mayor’s knowledge.
Honey Fitz’s specific objections to Joe aren’t clear; certainly his background and drive would have felt familiar to the older man. The grandson of immigrants from County Wexford in Ireland, Joe grew up in East Boston, an urban center dominated by Irish immigrants across the harbor from Boston. A large neighborhood, East Boston differed from other immigrant enclaves in Boston, because it had developed well-established districts populated by middle- and upper-class families. Joe’s father, Patrick Kennedy, lost his own father as an infant and was sent to work at an early age. His wages from toiling on the nearby wharves helped support his widowed mother, Mary Augusta Hickey, and two older sisters, Loretta and Margaret. Smart and hardworking, Patrick Kennedy made successful investments in small taverns and liquor importation that helped him move his family from its immigrant tenement to the wealthier East Boston neighborhood of Jeffries Point.
His son Joseph “Joe” Patrick Kennedy, born in 1888, would have all the educational and economic advantages he did not as a child. Ambitious, articulate, and athletic, Joe would enter Harvard in 1908, a year after Rose began at the Convent of the Sacred Heart.
By that summer of 1908, with possible criminal charges pending against him, Fitzgerald decided to bring his wife and two eldest daughters—Rose, then eighteen years of age, and sixteen-year-old Agnes—to Europe for a lengthy tour, with the goal of leaving his daughters at the Blumenthal Academy of the Sacred Heart in Vaals, the Netherlands, for the year. Having lost his campaign for reelection to a second two-year term as mayor the year before—the campaign that cost Rose her college education—Honey Fitz and the whole family had receded from the public eye. Though he was out of office, a continuing investigation into corruption during his mayoral administration weighed
heavily on him. Rose, highly sensitive to her father’s disgrace, knew that it was a privilege to travel to the Continent for an education, but she also knew the tour meant not seeing Joe for a very long time.
At Blumenthal, Rose immersed herself in European cultures and languages. The school, she observed, was overtly focused on the “practical things of this world,” including “
Kinder, Kirche, und Kuche
”—children, church, and cooking—and the necessity to prepare oneself for those domestic and religious obligations. It was assumed, Rose recalled, that once she and other young women at the convent were married, they would have hired help to cook, clean, and take care of the children. Therefore, their skills lay in their ability to manage household staffs and their proficiency in home economics.
Religion, however, remained the “foundation and the crowning point” at Blumenthal, just as it did at all other Sacred Heart schools.
But Blumenthal was an especially strict and rigorous convent school, requiring fasting, silence, and meditation. It was here that Rose entered into sodality with other young women dedicated to living their lives like the mother of Jesus by becoming a Child of Mary. The Children of Mary was a specialized society advocating devotion to Mary, seeking commitment from young women to be “pure like Mary, humble like Mary, charitable like Mary, obedient like Mary, industrious like Mary,” and to “apply themselves, then, to the constant imitation of Mary’s virtues, and they will be her favored ones indeed.”
These essential virtues were “Purity, Humility, Obedience and Charity.”
Within two months of enrolling at Blumenthal, Rose had become an “aspirant,” committing her to a six-month devotional and meditative experience preparing her to become a full-fledged Child of Mary. By the following winter, however, Rose realized that her infatuation with
news from home and her love of travel had kept her from truly engaging in her course work and communing with other young women at the convent. “It came to me,” she recalled, “that I must try harder to dedicate myself to the standards of the convent life, and that I must take more seriously my commitment to becoming a Child of Mary.”
Rising early every morning for meditation, Rose aspired to be “a model of perfection” so that she could attain “the highest honor a child of Sacred Heart can receive.”
In May, Rose wrote home to her parents that she had received her Child of Mary medal, one of only three issued that spring among 150 young women enrolled at the school, securing her place as a Sacred Heart role model and spiritual protector.
The achievement required of Rose a remarkable self-discipline and commitment to her faith as a calling and a duty.
Once their studies were completed for the spring term of 1909, Rose and Agnes decided they had been away from home long enough. Though Fitzgerald’s intention was to leave the girls at Blumenthal for two years, they missed America, their family—and, for Rose, Joe. Fortunately for the girls, Honey Fitz had decided to run a third time for mayor, and having his daughters home was probably better for his campaign than leaving them in Europe. His prospects were good, now that the taint of political corruption had passed and he had been cleared of wrongdoing. Rose would take her place, again, next to her father on the campaign trail. This time Fitzgerald would be successful, and with a change in the city charter that extended the mayor’s tenure from two years to four, Honey Fitz looked forward to a long and productive run.
In the meantime, with Joe enrolled at Harvard and Rose—eager to continue her education but to be closer to home—now at the Sacred Heart School at Manhattanville in New York, they
were not an ocean apart. During Joe’s Harvard years, Rose later recalled, she fell “more and more in love.”
But her father was more determined in his steadfast refusal to allow Rose to spend time with Joe. His schemes to keep them apart—a trip to Palm Beach so that Rose could not attend Harvard’s junior prom in 1911, arranging dates for her with other eligible young men, another summer tour of Europe—upset Rose and did little to dampen her passion for Joe. Once Joe graduated from Harvard, in the spring of 1912, Honey Fitz and Josie finally relented, becoming resigned to Rose’s wishes and Joe’s intentions. And so Fitzgerald gave his blessing to the young couple.
Though Joe never met with the mayor’s complete approval, his determined pursuit of Rose and his eventual hard-earned business success secured Honey Fitz’s respect over time.
Gone were the secret and furtive meetings. The young couple could at last enjoy each other’s company in public. The course of their courtship was now closely watched in the society columns of Boston’s newspapers. Upon graduation from Harvard, Joe embarked on a career in finance. After a stint as a state bank examiner, he secured enough financing through family and business connections to save the Columbia Trust, a local East Boston bank that Joe’s father, Patrick Kennedy, had helped found decades before and that was now under threat of takeover by larger Boston banking interests. After acquiring a majority-stock position in Columbia Trust, Joe named himself bank president, appointed sympathetic board members, and hired competent friends. Bank assets nearly tripled. His real estate investments flourished.
By 1914, this financial success had brought the economic and social status Joe needed, finally allowing him to marry Rose after an eight-year courtship. On a Wednesday morning in October, Joe and Rose were wed by Cardinal O’Connell in a private cer
emony in front of family and close friends. Cardinal O’Connell’s intervention and the resulting postgraduate years at Catholic schools had recast Rose, molding her into a more conservative and devout Catholic, a self-identity that would forever circumscribe her future with her husband and their children.
After a honeymoon traveling across the United States, the couple settled into their modest new home on Beals Street in Brookline.
Joe and Rose’s first child, a son named Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, arrived in July 1915. John “Jack” Kennedy was born in May 1917, adding to the busy household that now included a nurse, governess, and maid.
Baby Rosemary was christened in the Catholic Church within a week after her birth. Joe’s sister Margaret Kennedy was the godmother, and Eddie Moore was chosen to be Rosemary’s godfather. Moore had been a trusted friend and adviser to Rose’s father, serving as Fitzgerald’s secretary when he was mayor of Boston. In time, Moore became one of Joe’s most relied-upon business associates, and he and his wife, Mary, became close friends to Joe and Rose both. As a devout Catholic, Eddie Moore took his role as godfather to Rosemary very seriously. As cosponsor, with Rosemary’s parents, for the sacred Catholic rite of baptism, Moore made a commitment to the Catholic Church that he would remain devoted to Rosemary his entire life and be available to her whenever she needed him. His role, along with that of Rosemary’s godmother, Margaret Kennedy, required that through his words and actions he would guide Rosemary’s spiritual growth in the Catholic faith.
“We owe them so much for their unswerving devotion, their affection, their care and solicitude for our children,” Rose later wrote of the Moores.
Childless themselves, Eddie and Mary shared in almost daily interactions with all of Joe and Rose’s chil
dren. “They derived vicarious pleasure from ours,” Rose later remembered of the Moores’ love for the Kennedy children, “rejoicing with us on the birth of a new son or daughter and later in life weeping and mourning over the poignant tragedies of war and death which came to us.”
The Moores were present at holidays, birthdays, and religious ceremonies. Mary Moore helped the children learn to shop for presents at Christmas and birthdays, often acting as godmother without the official title.
Rose would later write that she and Joe trusted and loved them like cherished, older family members.
Eddie would become even more than that to Joe. Gloria Swanson, who was to become one of Joe’s more famous mistresses, remarked that Eddie was Joe’s “shadow, his stand-in, his all-around private secretary and aide-de-camp,” and his “chief brain, his auxiliary memory. He kept track of everything that went on.”
Wherever the Kennedys went, Eddie and Mary followed, nurturing special bonds with all of the Kennedy children. Their love and devotion to “Rosie” would be the most important bond of all.