Janet Travell: The First Female Presidential Physician

Photo: jfklibrary

With all of the female marches that have taken place as of late, I felt it fitting to pay tribute to Janet Travell becoming the first female presidential physician. As one of the most respected orthopedists in the country, Travell was established as the pioneer in the treatment of a specific type of back pain called chronic myofascial pain.

John F Kennedy suffered from persistent back pain due to injuries sustained from playing football and his time spent in WWII. He worked closely with Dr. Travell for approximately five years leading up to him being elected President of the United States. During the 1960 presidential campaign, Lyndon B Johnson leaked to the press that JFK had been diagnosed with Addison’s disease in an attempt to sway the decision to name him the Democratic nominee. To try and discredit that statement JFK asked that Dr. Travell respond to the allegations, saying that he has not, nor has he ever had Addison’s. In the end, it worked because when Kenndey took office, he rewarded her by appointing her the official presidential physician. However, it was later determined that JFK did have the disease, and he suffered from massive amounts of pain. Dr. Travell was credited for enabling him to maintain the punishing schedule a president must endure. Travell did such a great job that she was asked to stay on as Lyndon B Johnson’s personal physician after the tragic assassination of President Kennedy.

Photo: jfklibrary