Presidential health secrets: reclaiming history's medical unknowns
Links to Fileshttp://library.towson.edu/cdm/ref/collection/etd/id/54726
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Type of Workapplication/pdf
vii, 114 pages
DepartmentTowson University. Department of Humanities
This thesis analyzes the role of illness in the administrations of three twentieth-century presidents—Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), and John F. Kennedy (JFK)—who had serious health problems unknown to the mass media and the public in their respective eras. Some of that hidden information has been uncovered by historians and others. Wilson, for example, had a devastating stroke in October 1919, after which his wife and physician hid him in the White House, with the former functioning as an unofficial acting or co-president for many months. FDR hid the long-term effects of his polio and, in the last part of his life, a number of major illnesses were not acknowledged during his campaign for an unprecedented fourth term in 1944. JFK was ill most of his life with various maladies. He denied nearly all of them and projected false vigor in the early 1960s, as FDR had done. These three represent very different paradigms of illness but, in each case, the public was misled by various means and historians could not write full and accurate accounts of their presidencies. This paper considers whether historians now have a more comprehensive picture of these secret actions and any harm they may have done to the nation. Developments in three areas influence the analysis: changes over the century in historiography itself; in society's medical mores, which moved away from restricted communication on health matters; and in media practices, which were altered in part by the growing presence of female journalists, starting in the 1970s. As conventions changed in all these areas, so too did historians’ perceptions of the presidency.