Before Chappaquiddick

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Before Chappaquiddick

The Untold Story of Mary Jo Kopechne and the Kennedy Brothers

William C. Kashatus

256 pages
20 photographs, 3 illustrations, 2 maps, index

Hardcover

June 2020

978-1-64012-269-7

$29.95 Pre-order

About the Book

On July 18, 1969, a car driven by Senator Edward M. Kennedy plunged off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, off the coast of Cape Cod. Mary Jo Kopechne, a twenty-eight-year-old former staffer for Kennedy’s brother Robert, died in the crash. The scandal that followed demeaned Kopechne’s reputation and scapegoated her for Ted Kennedy’s inability to run for the presidency instead of acknowledging her as an innocent victim in a tragedy that took her life.

William C. Kashatus’s biography of Mary Jo Kopechne illuminates the life of a politically committed young woman who embodied the best ideals of the sixties. Arriving in Washington in 1963, Kopechne soon joined the staff of Robert F. Kennedy and committed herself to his vision of compassion for the underprivileged, social idealism tempered by political realism, and a more humane nation. Kashatus details her work as an energetic and trusted staffer who became one of the famed Boiler Room Girls at the heart of RFK’s presidential campaign. Shattered by his assassination, Kopechne took a break from politics before returning as a consultant. It was at a reunion of the Boiler Room Girls that she accepted a ride from Edward Kennedy—a decision she would pay for with her life.

The untold—and long overdue—story of a promising life cut short, Before Chappaquiddick tells the human side of one of the most memorable scandals of the 1960s.

 

Author Bio

William C. Kashatus holds a PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Jackie and Campy: The Untold Story of Their Rocky Relationship and the Breaking of Baseball’s Color Line (Nebraska, 2014). He has also published essays in a multitude of periodicals, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, American History Magazine, Baltimore Sun, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Kashatus has appeared on NPR and Pennsylvania Cable Network, as well as on many local television and radio stations.
 

Praise

“Senator Edward M. Kennedy has dominated the tragic story of Chappaquiddick until now. In Before Chappaquiddick William Kashatus gives us the life story of Mary Jo Kopechne, the young woman who died in Kennedy’s car that summer night in 1969. Inspired by her volunteer work on JFK’s 1960 presidential campaign, Kopechne later became a valued staff member to Robert F. Kennedy. Crushed by his assassination, she rebuilt a political career as a consultant and adviser to Democratic candidates. Ironically, Mary Jo will forever be linked to Ted Kennedy, who was a distant reflection of his elder brothers and the idealism she cherished.”—Walter Mears, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author of The Kennedy Brothers

Before Chappaquiddick captures Mary Jo Kopechne’s intelligence, idealism, and beauty. Weaving her life story into the fabric of the Kennedy brothers’ political careers, Kashatus sets this promising young political consultant free from the rumors and bold-faced lies that have tarnished her reputation for a half century.”—Donald D. McFadden, attorney and private investigator for the Kopechne exhumation hearing

“For years after the incident on Chappaquiddick, very little has been published about Mary Jo: who she was, what she and her family suffered. I am so pleased to read Kashatus’s book Before Chappaquiddick and to see Mary Jo’s story told. She was a young woman with ideals. She had hopes and dreams for her future, only to have her life cut short so tragically. She deserves this book, and anyone interested in what happened on the small island of Chappaquiddick so many years ago will find it a worthwhile read.”—Leslie H. Leland, foreman for the grand jury inquest into death of Mary Jo Kopechne

“William Kashatus’s Before Chappaquiddick is beautifully written, thoughtful, and compassionate. He captures the strength of Mary Jo’s character and does so in the context of the idealistic and often tumultuous sixties. In the process, Kashatus shows that she was innocent of any indecent behavior with Senator Ted Kennedy and that she was unjustly treated by the public and the press. His efforts on Mary Jo’s behalf have given our family much needed solace and comfort.”—Georgetta Nelson Potoski, executor of the estate of Joseph and Gwen Kopechne and coauthor of Our Mary Jo

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Humble Origins
2. The Call to Serve
3. True Believer
4. Boiler Room Girl
5. Chappaquiddick
6. Unanswered Questions
7. Broken Hearts
8. Mary Jo’s Legacy
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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