Ethel Skakel’s father George Sr. started work as an eight dollars a week railroad clerk. He, along with some co-workers, built a small coal and coke business into a diversified privately owned enterprise, the Great Lakes Coal & Coke Co., which eventually became Great Lakes Carbon Corporation. As a result, the Skakels became extremely wealthy.
Ethel Skakel Kennedy, who went on to become a political matriarch, was born on 11 April 1928 in Chicago to parents George and Ethel. She was brought up a devout catholic, which has stayed with her throughout her life.
In 1934, when Ethel was five years old, the family moved east, finally settling in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1936, where her father purchased a three-story, 31 room English country manor house on Lake Avenue.
Ethel was educated at Greenwich Academy, and Convent of the Sacred Heart. In September 1945, Ethel began her education at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. It was here that she was introduced to Jean Kennedy and they became fast friends and eventually roommates.
Through Jean she met Bobby Kennedy during a skiing trip, as she was his sister. At this time, Bobby was dating Ethel's sister Patricia but they soon spilt.
Ethel campaigned for John F Kennedy's congressional campaign in 1946, and wrote her college thesis on his book 'Why England Slept'. Bobby and Ethel became engaged in February 1950 and married on 17 June 1950. Their first child Kathleen arrived shortly thereafter. She was followed by Joseph II in 1952 and Robert in 1954.
While Ethel was busy with motherhood, her husband was climbing the political ladder. He successfully ran his brother's 1952 senatorial campaign before being appointed chief counsel for the Democratic minority.
In October 1955 Ethel's parents died when their old corvair plane ran out of fuel. Her brother George also died in a plane crash in 1966, and his widow Pat died shortly thereafter, leaving several children. In 1956, the family purchased Hickory Hill from Robert's brother John. Parties and gatherings at the 13-bedroom mansion became legendary under Ethel's eye, who would entertain politicians, musicians, actors and actresses.
Ethel became heavily interested in politics from 1957 when her husband became chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee. Two years later she helped her family's campaign to make JFK president, which was achieved in 1960. He appointed Robert to his cabinet as the Attorney General.
In 1963, JFK was assassinated and Ethel supported her husband while he campaigned for and won a seat in the Senate. He decided to join the 1969 presidential race, with Ethel by his side.
Unfortunately, this ended in tragedy as Bobby was shot three times in a LA hotel after winning the California Democratic primary in 1968. He died the following day and his assassin Sirhan Sirhan was convicted of his murder in 1969. She was three months pregnant with her 11th child.
During the late 1970s, she had a renewed commitment to public service focusing much of her time on social causes.
Ethel is the founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Centre which attempts to continue the works of Robert F. Kennedy through Human Rights Awards and Journalism Awards. She also co-chairs the Coalition of Gun Control, and is involved with other human rights organisations.
She has endured several family tragedies over the years including the death of her son David in 1984 from a drug overdose and the death of her son Michael in 1997 from a skiing accident.
Ethel has never remarried citing her religion as one reason for why she has remained single. Until 2009, she continued to live at Hickory Hill.