Ethel Kennedy biography
Ethel Kennedy was born Ethel Skakel in Chicago, Illinois, on April 11, 1928. She met Robert F. Kennedy, known as Bobby, in 1946 and the two married in 1950. The Kennedys ultimately had eleven children. John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, appointing his brother Bobby Attorney General. Bobby was assassinated eight years later, leaving Ethel to raise their many children alone.
Known as a political matriarch and the wife of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, Ethel Skakel was born in 1928, in Chicago, Illinois, to parents George and Ann Skakel. Ethel's mother was devoutly Catholic. Her father started work as an railroad clerk, making only $8 a week. He, along with some co-workers, built a small coal and coke business into a diversified privately owned enterprise called The Great Lakes Coal & Coke Co. The business eventually became Great Lakes Carbon Corporation. As a result, the Skakels became extremely wealthy. In 1934, when Ethel was five years old, the family moved east, settling in Greenwich, Connecticut. There, her father purchased a three-story, 31-room English country manor house on Lake Avenue. Raised with her six siblings, Ethel had the best of everything and was a competitive athlete. She went on to attend the elite Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, where she befriended fellow classmate Jean Kennedy of Massachusetts.
Skakel and Jean Kennedy became fast friends, and eventually roommates at Manhattanville. In 1945, 17-year-old Ethel went on a ski trip with Jean, where she was introduced to Jean's brother, Robert. Although he was dating Ethel's sister at the time, their relationship soon ended. Ethel picked up with Robert soon after. Ethel helped Robert with his brother John F. Kennedy's congressional campaign in 1946. As an English major with a minor in history, Ethel based her college thesis on his John's college-thesis-turned-book, Why England Slept.
Marriage to Robert Kennedy
After she graduated in June of 1949, Robert and Ethel's relationship grew serious. The couple became engaged in February 1950, and were married on June 17, 1950. As newlyweds they moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where they lived until Bobby finished his last year at the University of Virginia Law School. After her husband passed the bar, the family settled in Washington D.C., where Robert began work for the Department of Justice. Their first child, Kathleen, arrived shortly thereafter on July 4, 1951. Joseph II would come the next year, followed by their third child, Robert, in 1954.
While Ethel was busy with new motherhood, her husband was managing his brother John's successful 1952 senatorial campaign. In 1953, he was appointed by Senator Joe McCarthy to be the assistant counsel of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He resigned the post in July of that year, and in August he joined his father's staff, working as an assistant to the Hoover commission. Discontented by McCarthy, the squabbling of older politicians, and what seemed a pointless job, Kennedy returned to the Senate Committee Staff as chief counsel for the Democratic minority.
Interest in Politics
While her husband climbed the political ladder in Washington, Ethel battled with personal tragedy when both her parents were killed in the 1955 mid-air explosion of their private plane. But Ethel, known for her bubbly and vivacious spirit, showed little of her grief. Instead, she poured herself into taking care of her growing family—and helping her husband and in-laws run their political campaigns.
After the 1956 Democratic National Convention, Robert and Ethel bought Hickory Hill—a mansion in McLean, Virginia—from Robert's brother, John, to help house their growing family. Parties and gatherings at the 13-bedroom Hickory Hill manor were numerous and legendary under Ethel's watchful and energetic eye. In addition to politicians and their wives, Ethel entertained musicians, artists and actresses at the home.
In 1957, Ethel's interest in politics was heightened after her husband became chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee. Two years later, she joined forces with other members of the Kennedy clan to campaign for Robert's brother, John, during his run for the U.S. presidency. In 1960, John F. Kennedy won the election, at which time he appointed Robert to his cabinet as the attorney general.
Following John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination, Ethel supported her husband while he campaigned for and won a seat in the U.S. Senate. Ethel was a likeable presence, and her personality always won over the public. Known for her no-nonsense, candid demeanor, she was also good at handling the press. She thrived on her identity as a Kennedy, and her lighthearted humor made a good match for the more serious Robert.
Like his brother, Robert decided to enter the presidential race. Determined to win the 1969 election, Ethel and the rest of the Kennedy family geared up for the campaign trail. Ethel, three months pregnant with their 11th child, was again by Robert's side. But in 1968, immediately after he won the California Democratic primary, Robert F. Kennedy was shot in a Los Angeles hotel three times. He died the next day. In 1969, Palestinian assassin Sirhan Sirhan, was convicted for Kennedy's murder.
During the late 1970s, with a renewed commitment to public service, Ethel focused much of her time and energy on various social causes, most notably the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Project. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, her life began to unravel as she endured one personal misfortune after another. In 1984, her son David was found in a local hotel room, where he fatally overdosed on drugs. Her grief was compounded in 1997 when another son, Michael, died in a skiing accident. And in 2002, her nephew Michael Skakel was tried and convicted for the 1975 murder of his then-neighbor, Martha Moxley.
Ethel endured her own scandal as well, when her friendship with singer Andy Williams—who began to escort her to events after her husband's death—was attacked by media outlets. Many speculated about Williams' own rocky marriage, and believed that the friends were having an affair. In the end, Ethel refused to remarry, citing her Catholic faith as part of the reason behind her decision to remain single. Williams would later divorce his wife and remarry a younger woman. He and the widowed Kennedy would continue to remain platonic friends.