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  • 900 x 500 Camp Shriver exercises

    A Revolution Begins

    In the 1960s, people with intellectual disabilities were routinely shut away in institutions. Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver opened the doors to health, new skills and success -- through sports.

    In the early 1960s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver invited young people with intellectual disabilities to explore their skills and abilities in a variety of sports and physical activities. This revolutionary idea would spark a global movement.

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 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.

About Intellectual Disabilities

Special Olympics is a global movement aimed at improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. But what are intellectual disabilities?

Special Olympics Founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver introduces the athlete oath at the first Special Olympics International Summer Games at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill., USA.
An overview of a stadium showing a track and pool
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."

20 July 1968

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.
Black and white photo of six men and a women in suits posing in front of drapery
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.

Next: The 1970s

An idea that started in the USA begins to spread across the globe. Stigma facing people with intellectual disabilities is slowly being replaced with respect and admiration -- on the playing fields and off. Learn more about Special Olympics in the 1970s