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Hidden Histories of Presidential Medical Dramas

There’s a long history of presidential ailments, including George Washington’s near-death encounter with the flu, Grover Cleveland’s secret tumor, and the clandestine suffering of John F. Kennedy.

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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.

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.

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.

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.