A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist examines the life and times of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, arguing she left behind the Kennedy family’s most profound political legacy.
While Joe Kennedy was grooming his sons for the White House and the Senate, his Stanford-educated daughter Eunice was tapping her father’s fortune and her brothers’ political power to engineer one of the great civil rights movements of our time on behalf of millions of children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Now, in Eunice, Pulitzer Prize winner Eileen McNamara finally brings Eunice Kennedy Shriver out from her brothers’ shadow to show an officious, cigar-smoking, indefatigable woman of unladylike determination and deep compassion born of rage: at the medical establishment that had no answers for her sister Rosemary; at the revered but dismissive father whose vision for his family did not extend beyond his sons; and at the government that failed to deliver on America’s promise of equality.
Granted access to never-before-seen private papers—from the scrapbooks Eunice kept as a schoolgirl in prewar London to her thoughts on motherhood and feminism—McNamara paints a vivid portrait of a woman both ahead of her time and out of step with it: the visionary founder of the Special Olympics, a devout Catholic in a secular age, and a formidable woman whose impact on American society was longer lasting than that of any of the Kennedy men.
Eileen McNamara spent nearly thirty years as a journalist at The Boston Globe, where she won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary and was among the first to raise the alarm about clergy sexual abuse. She is now the director of the journalism program at Brandeis University. She is the author of Eunice, Breakdown, and The Parting Glass (with Eric Roth).
“An ace reporter and an artful storyteller, Eileen McNamara has rendered an indelible portrait of a Kennedy sibling every bit as savvy and accomplished as her celebrated brothers. Indispensable.” —Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast and Margaret Fuller: A New American Life
“What a perfect combination of author and subject. The great Eileen McNamara shows how Eunice was the real deal Kennedy: tough, effective, and committed to social change.” —David Maraniss, New York Times bestselling author of Barack Obama: The Story
“McNamara gives us what’s been missing in our vision of America’s First Family: a look at the woman who defied Joe Kennedy’s absent expectations for his daughters, an appreciation for how Eunice made the ignored rights of the intellectually disabled into one of the great civil rights causes, and reason to believe the implausible claim that it was Eunice—not her more celebrated brothers Jack, Bobby and Ted—who crafted the Kennedys’ most monumental legacy.” —Larry Tye, New York Times bestselling author of Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon
“Spectacular! Who better to write such a terrific biography of Eunice Shriver than Eileen McNamara, who devoted her own Pulitzer Prize-winning career giving voice to victims and the disadvantaged. In McNamara’s piercing reporting and lovely prose, the neglected story of the Kennedy brothers’ indomitable sister gets told for the first time.” —John A. Farrell, author of Richard Nixon: The Life
“An exemplary biography: thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and just the right length. It deserves a wide readership.” —Publishers Weekly
“Along with providing insights into Eunice’s roles as wife, mother, sister, and daughter, McNamara uses her journalistic prowess to produce a complete and detailed portrait of this spirited and magnetic activist.” —Booklist
“Compelling.... A clearly written biography crammed full of memorable anecdotes about each of the Kennedys through four generations, about Eunice's influential husband, Sargent Shriver, and about dozens more characters from domestic politics, international diplomacy, and high society.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)