Mrs. Kennedy died from complications of pneumonia at 5:30 p.m. at the family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., said Scott Ferson, a spokesman for her son, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
The senator and his wife, Victoria, and several other family members were present when Mrs. Kennedy died. Also at her side were daughters Patricia Kennedy Lawford, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith and Eunice Kennedy Shriver; Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel, and many grandchildren.
President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton extended their sympathies to the family.
"Very few Americans have endured as much personal sacrifice for their country as Rose Kennedy," the President said in a statement. "She played an extraordinary role in the life of an extraordinary family."
Mrs. Kennedy had been in virtual seclusion for years. On her 100th birthday, 370 people gathered in a tent on the huge lawn at the Cape Cod compound to pay tribute to the matriarch of one of America's great political dynasties. A film of her life was shown, and family members and guests listened to "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."
Many in the crowd cried as the mother of both an assassinated President and a slain presidential contender sat in a wheelchair in her room, the victim of a stroke in 1984, looking down on her tribute.
A decade earlier, she had celebrated her birthday by leading a grandparents' march to raise funds for the Special Olympics.
Despite all that was written of the sorrow that shadowed her later life, she perhaps summed it up best when, at President John F. Kennedy's funeral, she met with the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.
"It's wrong for parents to bury their children," she told the African ruler. "It should be the other way around."
In just six shocking years, two of her sons--President Kennedy and his younger brother Robert, who sought the presidency--were assassinated. Her youngest child, Edward, survived the crash of a private plane only to face the crash of his car into a pond on Massachusetts' Chappaquiddick Island in 1969, causing the death of his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne.
And as the 1960s drew to a close, there was more sadness. Her husband, Joseph P. Kennedy, the former ambassador to Britain who had suffered a stroke that left him speechless and paralyzed for eight years, died Nov. 18, 1969, at age 81.
In all, Rose Kennedy lost four of her nine children.
Tempering this was her place as the only mother in history to see three of her sons elected to the Senate and one of those elected to the White House.
For all the splendor and the sorrow, she remained a woman of style, substance, privacy--and emotional steel.
"She may look as fragile as a violet, but don't be deceived for a minute," a close friend, Marie Greene, once said. "If Rose had been a boy, she--not Jack--would have been the first Catholic President of the United States.
"No one really knows her," one of her nieces said. "Believe me, she's not going to tell her priest or her hairdresser what's really inside."
There were some clues, however. Politics ran in the blood. When she was 5 years old, her father, John F. (Honey Fitz) Fitzgerald, was elected to Congress; when she was 15, he became the mayor of Boston. Some of her friends called her the "ageless colleen."