Mary Jo Kopechne was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the only child of insurance salesman Joseph Kopechne and his wife, Gwen. The family moved to New Jersey when she was an infant. She attended parochial schools growing up.
After graduating with a degree in business administration from Caldwell College for Women in New Jersey in 1962, Kopechne moved to Montgomery, Alabama, to teach for a year at the Mission of St. Jude as part of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, she moved to Washington, D.C., to work as secretary to Florida Senator George Smathers. Kopechne joined New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy's secretarial staff, following his election in 1964. There she worked as a secretary to the senator's speechwriters and as a legal secretary to one of his legal advisers. Kopechne was a loyal and tireless worker for Robert Kennedy, in March 1967 having stayed up all night at his Hickory Hill home to type a major speech against the Vietnam War as the senator and his aides such as Ted Sorenson made last-minute changes to it.
During the 1968 U.S. presidential election, she helped with the wording of Robert Kennedy's March 1968 speech announcing his candidacy. During his campaign, she worked as one of the "Boiler Room Girls", an affectionate name given to six young women who worked from a central, windowless location in Kennedy's Washington campaign headquarters. They were vital in tracking and compiling data and intelligence on how Democratic delegates from various states were intending to vote; Kopechne's responsibilities included Pennsylvania. Kopechne and the other staffers were politically savvy; they talked daily with field managers and also served as conduits for policy statements being distributed to strategically-located newspapers.
Kopechne was devastated by the June 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy and could not return to work on Capitol Hill. However, as her father later said, "Politics was her life," and in December 1968 she used her expertise to gain a job with Matt Reese Associates, a Washington, D.C., firm that helped establish campaign headquarters and field offices for politicians and was one of the first political consulting firms. She was on her way to a successful professional career.
She lived in the Georgetown neighborhood with three other women. She was a devout Roman Catholic with a demure, serious personality, rarely drank much, and had no reputation for extramarital activities with men.
On July 18, 1969, Kopechne attended a party on Chappaquiddick Island, off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, held in honor of the Boiler Room Girls. It was the fourth such reunion of the Robert Kennedy campaign workers.
Kopechne left the party at 11:15 p.m. with Robert's brother Ted Kennedy, after he — according to his own account — offered to drive her to catch the last ferry back to Edgartown, where she was staying. Kennedy stated he made a wrong turn on the way and came upon a narrow, unlit bridge without guardrails. Kennedy drove the 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 off the bridge and it overturned in the water. Kennedy extricated himself from the submerged car but Kopechne died.
'Borrowed' from Wikipedia