The Oddest Remedies

When Woodrow Wilson had a serious stroke in early October 1919, the public was told only that he was suffering from “nervous exhaustion” following a grueling speaking tour throughout the western U.S. to sway opinion in favor of the League of Nations. Cary Grayson, Wilson’s physician and friend was inundated with suggestions from other doctors and members of the general public who held President Wilson in high esteem and wanted to help him recover. Dr. Grayson kept these letters in two files, one labeled “Crank Letters,” and the other, “Woodrow Wilson – Offers of Aid and Advice.” Here are some examples from the files.

In December of 1919, Alexander Bannwart, a 1906 graduate of Princeton University who knew and admired Woodrow Wilson as President of Princeton, wrote to Dr. Grayson to offer his body to the President to “provide healthy living parts, nerves or organs that could be grafted on your patient so as to prolong his usefulness and restore him to health… I have no dependents and am wholly free to do this.” There is no record in the files as to whether Grayson replied to Bannwart’s macabre offer.

Professional cyclist J. C. Booth wrote to Dr. Grayson offering to train the President in bicycle riding to aid in his recovery, while Mrs. E. M. Hawley advised that the President be treated with high-frequency currents of electricity. E. C. Clark thought the President would benefit from drinking dandelion wine taken with a little sugar, and Harold D. Baker touted the virtues of Seawright Spring Water from Staunton, Virginia, which had helped to cure him following a nervous breakdown.

The ideas passed along by other physicians were equally interesting. Dr. George B. Cock wrote: “If Mr. Wilson will adopt the ingestion of one pound of the finest beef steak per day, he will rebuild more quickly… I recommend the finest cuts of Porterhouse steak, broiled quickly over a gas fire…” Dr. M. B. Carleton suggested “electric baths and hot fomentations to the spine, each 2 or 3 times a week.”

Cary Grayson did respond to fellow medical doctors, usually with a brief message like this one to Dr. Cock: “Thank you very much for your letter of January 2d. I appreciate your friendly interest.” Across the bottom of the carbon copy Grayson made of his reply, he wrote in longhand, “Suggests fine beef steaks!”

Written by WWPL volunteer Danna Faulds



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