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Ethel Kennedy

Ethel Kennedy
Ethel Skakel Kennedy, c. mid 1960s
Born Ethel Skakel
(1928-04-11) April 11, 1928
Chicago, Illinois
Education Greenwich Academy
Convent of the Sacred Heart
Alma mater Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart
Political party Democratic
Religion Roman Catholicism
Spouse(s) Robert Francis Kennedy
(m. 1950–1968; his death)
Children Kathleen, Joseph, Robert Jr., David, Courtney, Michael, Kerry, Christopher, Max, Douglas, and Rory
Parent(s) George Skakel
Ann Brannack

Ethel Skakel Kennedy (born April 11, 1928) is an American human-rights campaigner and widow of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated while running for nomination as Democratic presidential candidate in 1968.

As Ethel Skakel, she was a classmate of Kennedy’s sister Jean at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. She and Kennedy married in 1950 and had seven sons and four daughters. Their house, Hickory Hill at McLean, Virginia, became the scene of notably elegant and exclusive parties.

Soon after her husband’s death, she founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, a nonprofit charity working to realize RFK’s dream of a just and peaceful world. In 2009, Ethel Kennedy was among the chief mourners at the funeral of her brother-in-law Ted Kennedy. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom.


  • Early life 1
  • Marriage and children 2
  • Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy 3
  • Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights 4
  • Political involvement 5
  • Family involvement 6
  • Media involvement 7
  • Legacy and awards 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Early life

Ethel Skakel was born in SGLCarbon.[6] She attended the all-girls Greenwich Academy[7][8] in Greenwich, as well as the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan.

In September 1945, she began her college education at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart (then located in Manhattan), where she was a classmate of Jean Ann Kennedy. Ethel first met Jean's brother, Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy, during a ski trip to Mont Tremblant Resort in Quebec in December 1945. During this trip, he began dating Ethel's elder sister, Patricia. After Kennedy and Patricia's relationship ended, he began dating Ethel. She campaigned for his elder brother John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy (1917–1963) in his 1946 campaign for the United States Congress, and wrote her college thesis on his book Why England Slept.

Marriage and children

Robert and Ethel became engaged in February 1950, and were married on June 17, 1950, at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenwich. Her wedding dress and bridal party gowns were created by noted New York City fashion designer Mamie Conti. As newlyweds, the couple moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where they lived while Robert Kennedy finished his last year at the University of Virginia Law School. The couple eventually had eleven children; Kathleen, Joseph, Robert Jr., David, Courtney, Michael, Kerry, Christopher, Max, Douglas, and Rory. Rory was born after Senator Kennedy was assassinated.

After Robert F. Kennedy graduated with his law degree, the family settled in the Washington, D.C., area and Bobby went to work for the Department of Justice. That path did not last long, as Kennedy was asked by his family to manage his brother John Kennedy's successful 1952 Senate campaign in Massachusetts.

Throughout the 1950s, he worked for the federal government in investigatory roles for the United States Senate.[9] In 1956, the Kennedys purchased Hickory Hill from Bobby's brother Jack and his wife, Jackie. They needed a larger house, since Ethel was pregnant with their fifth child, Courtney. This enormous 13-bedroom, 13-bath home was situated on 6 acres (24,000 m2) in McLean, Virginia.

Robert and Ethel Kennedy held many gatherings at their home. Whether it was a pool party or a formal dinner party, the guest list was impressive and eclectic. Journalist Roger Mudd recalled meeting John Lennon at one such party. Other notable invitees included the Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, entertainer Judy Garland, dancer Rudolf Nureyev and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who found himself thrown into the pool fully clothed where Ethel Kennedy was also already swimming fully clothed.[10]

Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

Shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was fatally shot by Sirhan Sirhan; Kennedy died in early hours of June 6. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national day of mourning. In 1969, Sirhan was convicted of Robert F. Kennedy's murder and sentenced to death. In 1972, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after the California Supreme Court invalidated that state's death penalty as it existed at that time.

Following her husband's assassination in 1968, Ethel Kennedy stated publicly she would never marry again. For a time, she was escorted to dinners, parties and the theater by singer and family friend Andy Williams. She continued to live at the family home, Hickory Hill, in McLean, Virginia, until December 2009, when it was sold for $8.25 million.

Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights

In 1968, Ethel Kennedy founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, dedicated to advancing human rights through litigation, advocacy, and education. The Center is a nonprofit charity that issues annual awards to journalists, authors and individuals around the world who have made a significant contribution to human rights in their country.

Political involvement

During the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries, Ethel Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama.[11] Kennedy publicly supported, and held fundraisers at Hickory Hill for, numerous politicians including Virginia gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran.[12] For Obama, Kennedy hosted a $6-million fundraising dinner at Hickory Hill in June 2008. The $28,500-a-plate dinner was headlined by former Democratic presidential candidate and DNC chairman Howard Dean.[13]

Family involvement

Ethel Kennedy was among the chief mourners at the public funeral for her brother-in-law Ted Kennedy on August 29, 2009. At the funeral Mass, Kennedy placed the pall on her brother-in-law's casket along with sister-in-law Jean.

Media involvement

Ethel Kennedy agreed to be in a documentary about her life that her daughter Rory directed. The film, titled Ethel, is a personal portrait of Ethel Kennedy’s political awakening, the life she shared with Robert F. Kennedy, and the years following his death when she raised their eleven children on her own; it features candid interviews with Ethel and seven of her children intercut with historical footage and personal videos.

In August 2014, Kennedy nominated President Barack Obama to do the Ice Bucket Challenge as part of an effort to raise awareness about ALS. The nomination video was first posted on her son, Maxwell Kennedy's, Facebook page.[14]

Legacy and awards

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan bestowed her with the Robert F. Kennedy medal in the White House Rose Garden.[15]

In 2014, a bridge over the Anacostia River was renamed the Ethel Kennedy Bridge in her honor, in recognition of her advocacy for environmentalism and social causes in the District of Columbia.[16]

Also in 2014, she was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama for her dedication to "advancing the cause of social justice, human rights, environmental protection, and poverty reduction by creating countless ripples of hope to effect change around the world." [17][18]

See also


  1. ^ Schlesinger (2002), p. 87
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Welcome to Greenwich Academy
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
Further reading
  • Schlesinger, Arthur Meier, Jr., Robert Kennedy and His Times, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002, ISBN 0-618-21928-5
  • Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot. Warner Books: 2000. ISBN 0-446-52426-3

External links

  • Ethel Kennedy at the Internet Movie Database
  • : RFK People & EventsAmerican Experience—From PBS
  • The Documentary Film - Ethel (2012)
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