Ethel Kennedy was born in Chicago to George and Ann Skakel and grew up in a family of seven children in Connecticut. In 1950, she married Robert F. Kennedy.
Parents to eleven children, Robert and Ethel Kennedy made their home in McLean Virginia. Hickory Hill would sparkle for 60 years as a hub of activity, welcoming Heads of State, Pulitzer Prize winners, civil rights workers, public servants, poets, athletes, astronauts, authors, actors, rock stars, bullfighters, children of all ages and a whole lot of animals.
A tireless campaigner since the mid-forties, she hit the trail for family candidates Jack, Bobby, Sarge, Teddy, Joe, Kathleen, Patrick, Mark and Joe Kennedy III. Ethel was a very early Barack Obama supporter and surrogate throughout his presidential campaign, traveling from Washington to New Hampshire, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana and Colorado.
An adventurous spirit and champion for justice, Ethel marched with Cesar Chavez, sat with Native Americans at Alcatraz and picketed fast food businesses with the Immokalee Workers. She demonstrated outside the South African and Chinese embassies, joined the Global March for Children, trekked up mountainous terrain in Mexico to visit unjustly convicted prisoners and successfully advocated for their release. She has pulled tires out of the Anacostia River, traveled to Haiti to see the effects of the US blocking aid loans, visited Apartheid-era South Africa, (and again 40 years later), crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Rep. John Lewis and confronted Kenyan dictator Daniel Arap Moi about human rights abuses. After filling a Boeing 757 with relief supplies for African countries, she visited orphanages in Namibia and Angola and later brought a mammogram machine to Albania.
She continues to raise millions of dollars for human rights work around the globe.
An avid athlete and not one to shy away from a challenge, she ran the rapids of the Green, Snake and Yampa Rivers, caught trout in the Colorado, swam in the Amazon, skied the Alps, raced with Jean Claude Killy, returned McEnroe's serves, danced with Gene Kelley, was acquitted of horse theft and appeared in the opening segment of a Cheers episode with Cliff and Norm.
With family and friends, she founded the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial in 1968 to carry on Bobby’s work. To support Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ programs, Ethel has been a fundraising pioneer, creating corporate/celebrity tennis and golf tournaments and taking the online auction concept to a whole new level.
Ethel has served on many non-profit boards over the years, including: the NFL Charities, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration, Junior Village, The Lumen Christie Awards, Mount Carmel Shelter for Women, Homes for the Homeless, the Earth Conservation Corps and the Anacostia Riverkeeper.
In 2014 Ethel Kennedy was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Ethel treasures time with her family which includes nine children, their spouses, 34 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.
To learn more, look for ETHEL, Rory Kennedy’s documentary, from HBO.