Mary Jo Kopechne
July 18, 1969: Mary Jo Kopechne dies. She was an American teacher, secretary, and political campaign specialist. The only child of Joseph and Gwen Kopechne, she was born in Pennsylvania but the family moved to New Jersey soon after. She graduated with a degree in business administration from Caldwell College for Women in 1962 after which she moved to Montgomery, Alabama where she taught at the Mission of St. Jude. She became active in Civil Rights before moving back to Washington, D.C. and working as a secretary for Florida Senator George Smathers. She joined New York Senator Robert F Kennedy’s staff after he was elected in November 1964. She worked as a secretary to speechwriters and as legal secretary to one of his legal advisors.
During the 1968 US presidential election, Kopechne worked on the wording of Kennedy’s speech announcing his candidacy. She became one of the Boiler Room Girls, the name for six young women working for Kennedy’s campaign. These six women worked in a hot, windowless room tirelessly keeping track of vital campaign data and intelligence on how Democratic delegates were intending to vote. The women were politically savvy and chosen for their intelligence and work ethic as well as their ability to keep sensitive information out of the wrong hands. Kopechne was devastated by Kennedy’s assassination on June 5, 1968. She worked briefly for the George McGovern campaign and then left the world of politics.
She returned in December 1968 and worked for Matt Reese Associates, one of the first political consulting companies in Washington, D.C. By mid-1969 she had completed work on a mayoral campaign in Jersey City, New Jersey and was on her way to making this her career. On this day, she attended a party on Chappaquiddick Island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. The Boiler Girls were being celebrated and Edward “Ted” Kennedy was there. He offered to drive Kopechne back to catch the last ferry. She left the party without saying goodbye and left her purse and keys behind. Kennedy’s car ended up in the water, having been driven off a narrow bridge without guardrails.
The car flipped in the water and Kennedy was able to get out alive. Kopechne was trapped in the car and either drowned or suffocated. Kennedy did not call for help or let anyone know of the accident until nine hours later. The next day, the car and Kopechne’s body were recovered. Kennedy denied having been drinking at the party and claimed he and Kopechne did not have anything other than a business relationship. Since he failed to report an accident causing injury, he was charged and eventually received a two-month suspended jail sentence. The scandal may have caused him to not follow his brothers’ footsteps as he did not run for President in the next two elections. He remained in the Senate until his death in 2009.
The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.
For all my years in public life, I have believed that America must sail toward the shores of liberty and justice for all.
Integrity is the lifeblood of democracy. Deceit is a poison in its veins.
Dad, I’m in some trouble. There’s been an accident and you’re going to hear all sorts of things about me from now on. Terrible things. – all from Edward Kennedy
Also on this day: Perfect – In 1976, Nadia Comaneci received the first perfect score at the Olympics.
Manifesto – In 1925, Hitler’s Mein Kampf was published.
Nero Fiddles? – In 64 AD, Rome burns.
Dent Blanche – In 1862, the mountain was first scaled.