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Who Is Eunice Kennedy Shriver?

By B. Turner
Updated May 23, 2024
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Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a member of the Kennedy family of Massachusetts. The Kennedys are often considered America's version of a royal family due to their prominence in American politics. While Eunice Kennedy Shriver is probably best known as the sister in this family, she also made many important contributions of her own. Kennedy Shriver dedicated much of her life to public health and social causes, and was pivotal in the creation and promotion of the Special Olympics.

She was born 10 July 1921 in Massachusetts, to Rose and Joseph Kennedy. After high school, she attended Stanford University. In 1943, Eunice Kennedy Shriver graduated from Stanford with a degree in public policy. That same year, her older brother John F. Kennedy became known as a war hero after he helped his crew survive an attack during a World War II battle.

After graduation, Eunice Kennedy Shriver joined the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, which was named for one of her brothers who had passed away. She slowly changed the focus of this organization to represent the interests of the mentally challenged. Her goal was not only to determine the causes of mental retardation in an effort to prevent it, but also to change how the public treated retarded people.

In 1953, Eunice Kennedy Shriver married ambassador Robert Sargent Shriver. He later ran for vice-president of the United States (US), but was unsuccessful. Their second child, Maria, would go on to marry film star Arnold Schwarzenegger. While Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the entire Kennedy family are closely associated with the Democratic party, she publicly supported Schwarzenegger's successful run for governor of California during the early 21st century.

In 1962, as part of her work with the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. foundation, Kennedy Shriver established a sports facility for the physically and mentally handicapped. Eventually, this camp would transform into what the world knows today as the Special Olympics. Eunice Kennedy Shriver formally established the International Special Olympics in 1968, and served on the board of the organization for the rest of her life.

For her work with the handicapped, Eunice Kennedy Shriver received a great deal of recognition throughout her life. In 1995, her picture was used on the Special Olympics edition of the silver dollar. She received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984, as well as a papal knighthood in 2006. Eunice Kennedy Shriver died at the age of 88 on 11 August 2009.

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