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The Beginning of a Worldwide Movement

It all began in the 1950s and early 1960s, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw how unjustly and unfairly people with intellectual disabilities were treated. She also saw that many children with intellectual disabilities didn’t even have a place to play. She decided to take action.


Soon, Eunice Kennedy Shriver's vision began to take shape. She held a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities (ID) in her own backyard. The goal was to learn what these children could do in sports and other activities—and not dwell on what they could not do.

Throughout the 1960s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver continued her pioneering work. She was the driving force behind President John F. Kennedy's White House panel on people with ID. She directed the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. Her vision and drive for justice grew into the Special Olympics movement.

Read more about events leading to the founding of Special Olympics.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver's Charge to the Athletes at Inaugural World Games
Look back at what she said to kick off those momentous and world changing games.

Milestones of the 1960s

June 1962
Eunice Kennedy Shriver starts an innovative summer camp for young people with intellectual disabilities at her home in suburban Washington, D.C. The goal is to see if these young people—most of whom lived in institutions—could participate in sports and physical activities. This was a revolutionary idea at the time.

Fall 1967
The Chicago Park District begins plans for a citywide track meet modeled after the Olympics. A proposal is made to Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Kennedy Foundation. Shriver embraces the project and asks Anne McGlone Burke to enlarge the scope to include athletes from around the country.

January 1968
Anne McGlone Burke travels to Washington to meet with Kennedy Foundation staffers to continue discussion of a large-scale athletic event for people with intellectual disabilities.

March 1968
Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Chicago Park District hold a news conference to announce plans for the first "Olympic" games for young people with intellectual disabilities.

20 July 1968

About 1,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from the USA and Canada competed in the first Special Olympics International Summer Games in Chicago. The Opening Ceremony included a teen runner carrying a torch to light a 45-foot high "John F. Kennedy Flame of Hope." Over 200 events were offered, including broad jump, softball throw, 25-yard swim, 100-yard swim, high jump, 50-yard dash, water polo and floor hockey. The event was so successful that Eunice Kennedy Shriver soon pledged that more games would be held in 1970 and every two years thereafter in a "Biennial International Special Olympics."

The first International Special Olympics Summer Games are held at Soldier Field in Chicago -- a joint venture between the Kennedy Foundation and the Chicago Park District. The advisory committee to the Chicago Special Olympics includes Dr. William Freeberg, Southern Illinois University; Dr. Frank J. Hayden, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation; Dr. Arthur Peavy; William McFetridge, Anne McGlone Burke and Stephen Kelly of the Chicago Park District; and Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson. Eunice Kennedy Shriver is honorary chairman. Dr. Hayden was also executive director of the games.

August 1968
Special Olympics is officially incorporated, with Beverly Campbell, Wallace Duncan and Dr. Frank J. Hayden of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation listed as co-incorporators.

2 December 1968
U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy holds a news conference to announce the formation of Special Olympics, Inc. A seven-member Board of Directors is named: Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Frank Hayden, Robert Cooke, Rafer Johnson, Thomas King, James Lovell and G. Lawrence Rarick. Anne McGlone Burke is later added. Beverly Campbell is named director of community relations.

From left: Frank Pauley, VP of the Iron Workers union and early Special Children's Charities board member; Richard Kirby, founding board member, Special Children’s Charities; man in back, name unknown; Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley; Anne Burke, co-founder,1968 Special Olympics Games; Stanley Harrison, founding board member, Special Children’s Charities; Jack McHugh, founder, Special Children’s Charities.

Special Children’s Charities, an Early Special Olympics Supporter
Special Olympics supporters and supporting organizations begin to grow across North America. One of the most influential was Special Children’s Charities in Chicago, Ill. Jack McHugh, co-owner of the McHugh Construction Company and donor to the 1968 games, was asked to help raise funds. In 1969, he recruited a board of directors composed of prominent business leaders to raise funds under the banner of Special Children’s Charities. This was the first non-profit organization to support Special Olympics. McHugh also helped recruit celebrities, including Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra, to support the cause. NOTE: In 2018 and 2019, the City of Chicago will host the 50th Anniversary of Special Olympics and Special Children's Charities respectively.