Eunice Mary Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, USA, on 10 July 1921, the fifth of nine children of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.
She received a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Following graduation, she worked for the U.S. State Department in the Special War Problems Division. In 1950, she became a social worker at the Penitentiary for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, and the following year she moved to Chicago to work with the House of the Good Shepherd and the Chicago Juvenile Court.
On 23 May 1953, Eunice Kennedy married Robert Sargent Shriver, and in 1957, she took over the direction of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation.
The Foundation was established in 1946 as a memorial to Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. – the family's eldest son, who was killed in World War II. The Foundation has two major objectives: to seek the prevention of intellectual disability by identifying its causes, and to improve the means by which society deals with citizens who have intellectual disabilities.