Hidden Histories of Presidential Medical Dramas

There has been nothing in American history quite like the President of the United States being infected with a potentially deadly virus amid a global pandemic less than a month before Election Day. But President Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis is part of a long history of White House medical dramas.

We Nearly Lost Our First President to the Flu. The Country Could Have Died, Too.

Gillian Brockell • The Washington Post

In 1790, George Washington fell severely ill, threatening his life and the young nation he led.

What Really Killed William Henry Harrison?

Jane McHugh and Philip A. Mackowiak • The New York Times

The accepted wisdom is that the shortest-serving president developed pneumonia after delivering a long Inaugural Address in cold weather. But that might not be true.

Medical Mystery: Did This President Suffer a Death by Cherries?

Allan B. Schwartz • The Philadelphia Inquirer

Some suspected assassination, perhaps by poisoning, when President Zachary Taylor died unexpectedly after a brief and unexpected illness on July 9, 1850. What actually took down this previously robust military man?

Lincoln’s Great Depression

Joshua Wolf Shenk • The Atlantic

Abraham Lincoln fought clinical depression all his life, and if he were alive today, his condition would be treated as a “character issue”—that is, as a political liability. His condition was indeed a character issue: it gave him the tools to save the nation.

A Yacht, A Mustache: How A President Hid His Tumor

NPR Morning Edition

President Grover Cleveland believed that if anything happened to his trademark mustache during his surgery at sea, the public would know something was wrong.

The Story Behind Warren G. Harding’s Mysterious Death

Stacy Conradt • Mental Floss

During the summer of 1923, President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence Harding did what many do during the warmer months: They decided to take a road trip. Though much of the trip went well, by the end of the summer, Harding would end up dead and his wife’s reputation under attack.

When a Secret President Ran the Country

Dr. Howard Markel • PBS NewsHour

After President Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke on Oct. 2, 1919, First Lady Edith Bolling Galt Wilson was, essentially, the nation’s chief executive until her husband’s second term concluded in March of 1921.

FDR Had a Secret as He Sought a Fourth Term in 1944: He Was Dying

Michael S. Rosenwald • The Washington Post

Roosevelt, diagnosed with congestive heart failure, probably had a year to live, a doctor said. The president, a Democrat, decided to run anyway — and to do everything he could to put a healthy face on a dying one.

The Medical Ordeals of JFK

Robert Dallek • The Atlantic

The core of the Kennedy image was, in many respects, a lie. A presidential biographer, granted access to medical files, portrays a man far sicker than the public knew.

Trump’s Illness and the History of Presidential Health

Isaac Chotiner • The New Yorker

An interview with Lawrence Altman, a physician who has been writing for the New York Times for more than fifty years, with a focus on the health of political leaders. His interview with Ronald Reagan in 1980 marked the first time a candidate had extensively discussed his health with a reporter.

Bonus Read: Every President’s Health, Ranked

Julia Belluz • Vox

Why was Rutherford B. Hayes the healthiest US president of all time?

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