Presidential Health and Protection

Dr. Cary T. Grayson, Woodrow Wilson’s physician and friend, believed that outdoor exercise was a key to keeping the President healthy. Among the thousands of documents generously donated to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library by the Grayson family in 2005 are two letters that highlight the tension that existed between Grayson’s desire for the President to get adequate physical exercise and the need to keep him safe.

“Daily moderate exercise in the open air can be put down as a distinct asset and a health-giving procedure,” Grayson wrote in an article titled “The Secret of Longevity,” published in the Atlantic Monthly in May, 1928. In particular, Grayson urged Woodrow Wilson to walk and play golf as often as his schedule allowed.

Although Wilson wasn’t particularly fond of taking walks, he apparently did heed his doctor’s advice now and again. In a letter from Oliver Peck Newman, President of the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia, written to Dr. Grayson on September 16, 1913 (just six months after Wilson took office), Newman expresses “apprehension over the fact that the President occasionally goes about the street without…adequate protection.” Newman asks Grayson to “notify the Superintendent or Acting Superintendent of Police in advance, whenever the President contemplates moving about the street on foot, in order that we may have one or two plain clothes men accompany him…”

O. P. Newman to Cary T. Grayson, 16 Sep. 1913. Cary T. Grayson Papers, WWPL

As for golf, “President Wilson played golf regularly… I had recommended it to him as a means of relaxation during his particularly arduous term of office,” Grayson was quoted as saying in The Washington Herald, May 11, 1930. Wilson managed to get out on the greens more than 1,000 times during his presidency.


Courtesy of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library

In a letter addressed to Dr. Grayson in April, 1914, Albert Mann, a plant morphologist for the United States Department of Agriculture, communicates his worries over “the dangerous situation of parts of the [golf] course.” While he doesn’t identify the course, the writer describes the 4th tee as “on the edge of a dense and extensive woods with considerable underbrush. I do not think it can be properly safeguarded. It seems to me the 3d, 4th, 5th, and perhaps the 9th holes are unsafe during these troubled times.”

Albert Mann to Cary T. Grayson, 23 Apr. 1914. Cary T. Grayson Papers, WWPL.


Exactly what he meant by “these troubled times” isn’t known, but tensions between the United States and Mexico were high in April, 1914―all the more reason for the President to seek relaxation on the links. We don’t know if Grayson responded to the writer, or if security was increased at the course in question, but Woodrow Wilson continued to be an avid golfer, often accompanied by Dr. Grayson, even playing a few rounds in France during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

Written by WWPL volunteer Danna Fauldshttp


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