Serviceable life of the matriarch of a storied—and notably tragic—political clan.
As Perry (Presidential Oral History, Miller Center/Univ. of Virginia; Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier, 2004, etc.) observes, Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennedy (1890–1995) first visited the White House in 1897, under the presidency of William McKinley. She last visited it when Ronald Reagan was in office, more than 80 years later. In between, of course, she gave birth to fabled sons and less fabled daughters. She was almost more Catholic than the pope, insisting that His Holiness take time to attend Mass during Easter even as the fate of the West lay in the balance. Kennedy was stern enough, too, to give Barbara Bush a run for the money, though she was also forgiving. As Perry writes, “When her husband and children fell short of her Victorian standards, she simply strove harder to correct, or at least mask, their flaws while touting their genuine accomplishments.” Tragedy marked her long life, with the deaths of three sons—Joe in combat, Bobby and John to assassins—and a daughter, Kathleen, in a plane crash. Perry capably charts Rose’s life, always overshadowed by her husband and offspring, though a more comparative view would have been welcome (how does Rose stack up next to Barbara Bush?). The narrative occasionally takes on the cast of a singsong recitation of biographical convention (“Exploring Concord’s environs, most happily with her gregarious father, Rose embraced history lessons permeating the cradle of American independence”), and some details are curious if perhaps of surpassing interest to scholars—the fact that “[o]nly occasionally did she breast feed her first several children,” for instance.
A mostly useful portrait of an overlooked figure in American political history.