Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Growing Up A Kennedy
Eunice had her life cut out for her when she was born into the Kennedy family. John Kennedy Sr. was known for his strict winning philosophy, and Eunice had a lot of competition with eight other siblings. Her older mentally-retarded sister Rosemary wasn't much of a challenge for her, but she cared deeply for Rosemary and was sympathetic to the way others treated her. For years Rosemary's condition was kept secret. It wasn't until Shriver's brother John was elected to the Presidency that she had a pulpit from which to preach her message. President Kennedy felt strongly about Rosemary as well and in 1961 requested that Shriver research the physical capacity of the mentally retarded.
There was no data to be found. What Shriver did find were people being shut away from society in institutions of despair. No one believed that mentally challenged people could do anything but lay in beds all day. People were too scared to explore anything different. Shriver knew different after seeing what her sister was able to do growing up. She decided the only way to collect the data she needed for her task was to organize her own research
project. Her husband, Sargent Shriver supported her and assisted her in assembling nearly 100 volunteers to help out at a day camp held at Timberlake in Rockville, Maryland, where she taught the attendees athletics, floor hockey and aquatics. Sargent was not always sure of Shriver's idea. In an interview for the Record he stated, "I can remember my own skepticism about this at the beginning. I didn't go around saying 'Hot dog, this is the best thing since they invented the light bulb.' When Eunice started her camp in our back yard in Maryland, I saw people doing things we had been told they couldn't do. Like riding horseback, swimming, and climbing trees. This was 1963. You have to understand, when we used to go around to institutions for the mentally retarded in the 1950s, most mentally handicapped people were not involved in any physical activity. They weren't considered strong or capable. Some places wouldn't even let them in the swimming pool for fear they might drown."
Shriver not only changed the mind of her husband, she had an effect on the way political leaders and eventually the general public viewed the mentally retarded. Sheila Dinn writes in Hearts of Gold, "In the summer of 1962, 100 young people with mental retardation came to Mrs. Shriver's camp to run, swim, play soccer, and ride horses. They enjoyed the camp and loved the sports they learned, and by the end of the summer they were 'faster and stronger' than ever before. The doctors and experts had been wrong!"