The Health of the First Ladies

Medical Histories from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama


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About the Book

This first comprehensive study of the medical histories of America’s first ladies—from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama—discusses their illnesses, their treatments and their physicians in the context of their times. As the categories of illness afflicting Americans have changed through history so have the kinds of maladies affecting the first ladies. Infectious diseases and the consequences of poorly supervised pregnancies have been replaced by cerebrovascular accidents and malignancies.
The secrecy with which the White House has traditionally handled inquiries about the health of the president’s wife is explored in detail; however, several first ladies, notably Betty Ford, have been transparent about their illnesses in order to educate the public. The effects of a first lady’s responsibilities on her health is examined. This book also seeks to discern how the well-being of the first lady influences presidential performance.

About the Author(s)

Ludwig M. Deppisch, M.D., is a professor emeritus of pathology, Northeast Ohio Medical University. A native of New York, he lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Bibliographic Details

Ludwig M. Deppisch, M.D.
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 244
Bibliographic Info: 41 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7436-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1766-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Foreword by Dr. Connie Mariano 1

Preface 3

Introduction 9

Part I: Before the Advent of Modern Medicine

One. Martha Washington and Dolley Madison: The First First Lady and the First Mistress in the White House 11

Two. Malaria in the White House: Abigail Adams, Sarah Polk and Lucretia Garfield 19

Three. Letitia Tyler: A First Lady Dies in the White House 32

Four. Retiring and Sickly First Ladies in Antebellum Washington: Elizabeth Monroe, Anna Harrison, Margaret Taylor and Abigail Fillmore 39

Five. Depression in the White House: The Sad Stories of Jane Pierce, Louisa Johnson Adams and Mary Todd Lincoln 53

Six. Julia Grant and Lucy Hayes: Healthy, Supportive, Socially Successful and Minimal Political Impact 71

Seven. Tuberculosis: The White Plague Kills Caroline Harrison and Ravages Other First Ladies 76

Part II: The Twentieth Century

Eight. Ida McKinley and the Audition of the First White House Physician 85

Nine. Strokes, Stress and Smokes: Nellie Taft and Pat Nixon 95

Ten. Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson’s Two Wives 106

Eleven. Homeopathic Physicians and the Kidney Disease of Florence Harding and Grace Coolidge 122

Twelve. Mamie Eisenhower and Menière’s Disease 136

Thirteen. Obstetrics in the White House: Jackie Kennedy, Frankie Cleveland, Edith Roosevelt and the Second Mrs. Tyler 142

Fourteen. Twentieth Century Stalwarts: Lou Hoover, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman and Lady Bird Johnson 155


Fifteen. Breast Cancer and Other Maladies. Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter and Nancy Reagan 161

Sixteen. Modern-Day First Ladies: Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama 170

Seventeen. The Diseases, Burdens and Confidentiality of First Ladies 179

Chapter Notes 183

Bibliography 209

Index 227

Book Reviews & Awards

“Deppisch has written an extensively detailed book with copious notes. He emphasizes the women’s health during their time in the White House, thus tracing the rise of modern medicine in the U.S. and common health practices from the Revolutionary War to the present…recommended”—Choice; “the first book to comprehensively recount details of the health of the most important person in a president’s life: his spouse”—Johns Hopkins Medicine.