Born Eunice Mary Kennedy in Brookline, Massachusetts, she was the fifth of nine children of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Kennedy (née Fitzgerald).
She was educated at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton, London, England, and Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, and attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, graduating in 1943 with a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology. after which she went to work for the United States Department of State in the Special War Problems division.
In 1950, she became a social worker at the then-named Federal Industrial Institution for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, and the following year she moved to Chicago, Illinois, to work with the House of the Good Shepherd and the Chicago Juvenile Court.
On May 23, 1953, she married Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr. in a Roman Catholic ceremony at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, New York.
Her husband served as the U.S. Ambassador to France from 1968 to 1970 and was the Democratic U.S. Vice Presidential candidate in 1972 (with George McGovern as the candidate for U.S. President).
They had five children: Robert Sargent Shriver III (born April 28, 1954), Maria Owings Shriver (November 6, 1955), Timothy Perry Shriver (August 29, 1959), Mark Kennedy Shriver (February 17, 1964), and Anthony Paul Kennedy Shriver (July 20, 1965).
With her husband she had nineteen grandchildren, the second-most of any of the children of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Kennedy. (Her late brother U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy had eleven children who have produced thirty-two grandchildren.)
Upon the death of her sister, Rosemary Kennedy, on January 7, 2005, Shriver became the eldest of the four then-surviving children of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. (Her sister, Patricia Kennedy Lawford, later died on September 17, 2006, leaving just her brother, U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and her sister, former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith, as her surviving siblings.)
 Political career
Shriver actively campaigned for her elder brother, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, during his successful 1960 U.S. presidential election.
In 1968, she helped Ann McGlone Burke nationalize the Special Olympics movement and is the only woman to have her portrait appear, during her lifetime, on a U.S. coin – the 1995 commemorative Special Olympics silver dollar.
Her daughter, Maria Shriver, is married to actor and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger who is currently Governor of California (elected 2003). Shriver, a lifelong Democrat, supported her Republican son-in-law's successful bid. During the 1992 Democratic presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, she was one of several prominent Democrats including Governor Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania, Bishop Austin Vaughan of New York, who signed a letter to The New York Times, protesting the Democratic Party's pro-choice plank in its platform.
She and her husband were opponents of abortion, and she was a supporter of Feminists for Life of America, the Susan B. Anthony List, and Democrats for Life of America.
On January 28, 2008, she was present at American University, Washington, D.C., when her brother, U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, announced his endorsement of Barack Obama's U.S. presidential campaign.
 Charity work and awards
A longtime advocate for children's health and disability issues, Shriver was a key founder of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a part of the National Institutes of Health, in 1962, and has also helped to establish numerous other health-care facilities and support networks throughout the country.
In 1968, Shriver founded the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Community of Caring at The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.
She was awarded the nation's highest civilian award, the (U.S.) Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1984 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, because of her work on behalf of those with mental retardation.
For her work in founding the Special Olympics, Shriver received the Civitan International World Citizenship Award. Her advocacy on this issue has also earned her other awards and recognitions, including honorary degrees from numerous universities.
Shriver received the 2002 Theodore Roosevelt Award, an annual award given by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
In 2008, the U.S. Congress changed the NICHD’s name to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
On May 9, 2009, the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in Washington, D.C., unveiled an historic portrait of her, the first portrait the NPG has ever commissioned of an individual who had not served as a U.S. President or First Lady. The portrait depicts her with four Special Olympics athletes (including Loretta Claiborne) and one Best Buddies participant. It was painted by David Lenz, the winner of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition in 2006. As part of the Portrait Competition prize, the NPG commissioned a work from the winning artist to depict a living subject for the collection. Lenz, whose son, Sam, has Down syndrome and is an enthusiastic Special Olympics athlete, was inspired by Shriver’s dedication to working with people with intellectual disabilities.
Shriver became involved with Dorothy Hamill's special skating program in the Special Olympics after Hamill's Olympics Games ice-skating win.
 Recent health and death
Shriver, who was believed to have suffered from Addison's disease, had several health setbacks in recent years, and on November 18, 2007, she was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts; she spent several weeks there.
On August 7, 2009, she was admitted to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Massachusetts, with an unknown ailment. and on August 10, 2009, her relatives were summoned to the hospital.
In the early morning of August 11, 2009, Shriver died at the hospital. The immediate cause of her death has not yet been disclosed, but she was 88 years of age and believed to have suffered from Addison's Disease for many years.
Shriver's family issued a statement upon her death,
"It's hard for us to believe: the amazing Eunice Kennedy Shriver went home to God this morning at 2 a.m.
She was the light of our lives, a mother, wife, grandmother, sister and aunt who taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to others. For each of us, she often seemed to stop time itself - to run another Special Olympics games, to visit us in our homes, to attend to her own mother, her sisters and brothers, and to sail, tell stories, and laugh and serve her friends. How did she do it all?
Inspired by her love of God, her devotion to her family, and her relentless belief in the dignity and worth of every human life, she worked without ceasing - searching, pushing, demanding, hoping for change. She was a living prayer, a living advocate, a living center of power. She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more. She founded the movement that became Special Olympics, the largest movement for acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities in the history of the world. Her work transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe, and they in turn are her living legacy.
We have always been honored to share our mother with people of good will the world over who believe, as she did, that there is no limit to the human spirit. At this time of loss, we feel overwhelmed by the gifts of prayer and support poured out to us from so many who loved her. We are together in our belief that she is now in heaven, rejoicing with her family, enjoying the fruits of her faith, and still urging us onward to the challenges ahead. Her love will inspire us to faith and service always.
She was forever devoted to the Blessed Mother. May she be welcomed now by Mary to the joy and love of life everlasting, in the certain truth that her love and spirit will live forever."