was away. As more children joined the family, this organization helped her maintain the order she needed and the singular purpose she craved. It was an era when the principles underlying industrial efficiency and time management were being promoted in the latest literature to American businessmen and mothers alike. Rose, always an avid reader, embraced the new ideology of modern motherhood. The “Home Manager . . . is the active partner in the business of running a home,” a popular magazine of the day declared, “to make home life happy, healthful, and beautiful.”Rose would apply the most current business and industrial-management techniques to the raising of her children and the running of her household.
She had strict guidelines for health and cleanliness, eating, reading, dinner conversations, playtime, education, and more.In spite of all the full- and part-time help, Rose later insisted that she maintained an active role in the children’s lives. Diapers needed changing, washing, and drying, and baby bottles needed cleaning, sterilizing, and refilling. Someone had to manage the hired help doing all that work. “The bottles for the babies had to be cleaned and sterilized at home on the kitchen stove and woe to the nursemaid if she put her bottles on the stove when the hired girl was preparing the lunch or cooking a cake. Words would fly and kettles would be pushed back and forth and diapers would stop boiling and there would be . . . a fight from the kitchen.” While havoc swirled, Rose would take the youngest in a carriage, with “one or two others on each side,” and up the street the family would go, stopping at the grocery store and visiting Saint Aiden’s Catholic Church on the way back home.
Rose’s index-card catalog for the children became legendary among members of the family. She chronicled medical records for each child, noting every illness, disease, vaccine, and surgery endured, as well as complications, medications taken, height, weight, doctors’ names, allergies, physical exams, and eye-test results. She noted dates of each child’s baptism, schools attended, First Communion, Confirmation, graduation, the names of godparents, and more. Not only did the file cards help her keep track and stay in charge of each child’s medical history, but they also were available to Joe and to all the nannies, nursemaids, and other caretakers responsible for the children during Rose’s absences. The British press would later marvel at this system, dubbing Rose the model of “American efficiency,” but Rose called it “Kennedy desperation.”
Rose’s obsession with weight would become notorious, too. The Saturday-morning weigh-in was a ritual in the Kennedy household. Each child’s weight was noted in Rose’s card-catalogsystem. The children would not become “emaciated . . . fat . . . [or] shapeless” if she could help it.If a child’s weight “showed a change, his program changed.” Young Jack was often underweight, so for him “there would be less swimming and perhaps more fat in his diet.” Alternatively, she would put her children on diets if they gained too much weight, and order them to get more exercise. Because Rose was constantly worried about her own figure, her fixation on weight would dominate nearly every letter passed between the children and their parents well into their adulthoods, even extending to Rose’s grandchildren in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
Dinner conversations were always lessons of some sort. Rose drilled her children on the saints and martyrs of the church, famous men in history, and “great leaders in their country.” The children, Rose wrote, were “taught to admire the leaders of Christendom who died for their faith . . . [and] to emulate the Pilgrim fathers . . . and [they] learned about Paul Revere and his famous ride.”Leadership, Rose firmly believed, was the result of patient, deliberate efforts on the part of parents, who encouraged