Film Synopsis: “Ethel” celebrates the life of Ethel Kennedy – matriarch of one of the most influential families in American politics. Directed by her daughter, Rory, the documentary is a personal portrait, featuring interviews with Ethel and her children Kathleen, Joe, Bobby, Courtney, Kerry, Chris and Max. The film spans Ethel’s political awakening, the life she shared with Robert Kennedy and the years following his death, when she raised their 11 children. Given the Kennedys’ place at the forefront of many of the pivotal events of the modern era, the sweep is vast, ranging from the McCarthy hearings and the Civil Rights movement, to Vietnam and the anti-war movement, to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. As the film shows, just as John F. Kennedy’s death moved Robert to recommit to a life of public service, Robert’s death pushed Ethel to do the same. She founded Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights to help carry on his work, and has participated in human rights delegations all over the world. Today, many of her children work for social justice, which is often attributed to their father’s influence, but as Rory reminds Ethel, Robert Kennedy died when they were very young. She’ll have none of it. “I just don’t feel I can take the credit,” Ethel says, with a wisdom forged from hardship and triumph, “Nobody gets a free ride...so have your wits about you, and do what you can and dig in because it might not last.”
Program Running Time: 1:37:12
Themes/topics explored: • Politics as a tool for doing good for others • Understanding the importance of living during important historical events • The evolving role of women in politics and society • Living an engaged life as an example for one’s children
Content Areas: Social Studies, U.S. History, Civics and Government
Grade Level: 7-12
Learning Objectives: The Student will… • Describe the significance of key historical events in which Ethel Kennedy lived and their relevance today. • Evaluate the role of politics in addressing social concerns in the 1960s and today. • Analyze Ethel Kennedy’s role in her husband’s political life and compare with partners of political figures today. • Analyze the issues Bobby and Ethel Kennedy fought for in the 1960s and their importance today. • Evaluate the importance of parents sharing with their children the work they do and the values they hold.
Standards Alignment from McREL (www.mcrel.org) U.S. History: • Standard 27: Understands how the Cold War and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam influenced domestic and international politics • Standard 28: Understands domestic policies in the post-World War II period • Standard 29: Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties
Civics: • Standard 1: Understands ideas about civic life, politics, and government • Standard 10: Understands the roles of voluntarism and organized groups in American social and political life
• Standard 28: Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals
• Standard 29: Understands the importance of political leadership, public service, and a knowledgeable citizenry in American constitutional democracy
Time Frame: • Film viewing time: 1 hour 37 minutes. • Lesson Option 1 – Class Discussion: 1 class period • Lesson Option 2 – Multiple Activities o Create a Timeline: 1 class period
- Video Viewing Activity: 1 to 1 ½ class periods - Challenge Envelope Activity: 1 class period - Culminating Activity: 1 class period or as homework
Biography: Ethel Kennedy was born into a large Catholic family in Chicago in 1928. A bright and active young woman, Ethel grew up in Connecticut and married Robert F. Kennedy in 1950. Ethel and Bobby would share a passion for politics, service to their country, and social justice that they would pass on to their eleven children. As the wife of a rising political star, Ethel was often at the forefront of many pivotal events in the mid-20th century such as the McCarthy hearings, the Civil Rights movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the groundbreaking political elections of the 1960’s, and the battle for labor rights. During this time, she encouraged her children to understand the historical importance of the times and be actively involved in improving the lives of others.
In 1968, while running for president of the United States, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Ethel would make it her life’s work to pursue their shared vision, and raise their eleven children to value the gift of a contributory life. In honor of her husband, Ethel, along with friends and family, created Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights to ensure his spirit would live on through supporting individuals, alliances, and organizations dedicated to improving human rights around the world. RFK Human Rights bolsters the efficacy of human rights defenders, and empowers students worldwide through their human rights education program Speak Truth To Power. RFK Human Rights also recognizes the work of activists, authors, journalists, and students who have stood up against oppression.
As Ethel became a political force in her own right, she personally tackled human rights issues both at home and abroad. She has marched with Cesar Chavez, sat with Native Americans at Alcatraz, boycotted fast food businesses with the Immokolee Workers, demonstrated outside the South African and Chinese embassies, joined the Global March for Children, pulled tires out of the Anacostia River, trekked up mountainous terrain in Mexico to visit unjustly convicted prisoners, traveled to Haiti to see the effects of the US blocking loans, visited Apartheid era South Africa, ( and 40 years later) , crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge with John Lewis, confronted dictator Arap Moi in Nairobi, filled a 757 with relief supplies for African countries, visited orphanages in Angola and raised millions of dollars for human rights work around the globe.
Ethel continues to be politically and social active and loves spending time with her family which includes 37 grandchildren. Directed by her daughter Rory, the HBO documentary “Ethel” shares her story, and is an educational tool to help students appreciate the life and times in which she lived.