Ethel Kennedy founded Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights in the months following her husband’s 1968 death. Her integral role in the organization’s growth and development over more than half a century is perhaps the most vivid example of her dedication to carrying out the couple’s shared commitment to service and social justice while raising their eleven children.
Born into a large Catholic family in Chicago in 1928, Mrs. Kennedy grew up in Connecticut and graduated from Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. She married Robert F. Kennedy, the brother of her college classmate, Jean Kennedy, in 1950.
From the very beginning of their courtship, a passion for politics was woven into the couple’s relationship. Mrs. Kennedy worked on campaigns of brother-in-law John F. Kennedy for Congress, U.S. Senate and President, and was at the forefront of pivotal events including the McCarthy hearings, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights Movement, and the battle for labor rights. During this time, she encouraged her growing family to understand the historical importance of the times and be actively involved in improving the lives of others.
After the founder of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Mrs. Kennedy became a political force in her own right. She’s marched with Cesar Chavez, sat with Native Americans at Alcatraz, boycotted fast food businesses with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, demonstrated outside the South African and Chinese embassies, pulled tires out of the Anacostia River, trekked up mountainous terrain in Mexico to visit unjustly convicted prisoners, crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge with civil rights leader John Lewis, confronted dictator Arap Moi in Nairobi and raised millions of dollars for human rights work around the globe.
She’s a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Robert F. Kennedy medal, among many other awards.
At 92, she remains politically, physically and socially active, and is often found spending time with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.