Health and Medical History of President

William McKinley

President #25
Lived: 1843-1901 Served: 1897-1901

Timeline from 1776: ← 2013

Maladies and Conditions

Boller 2a says:
McKinley had a remarkable memory for faces and names... Once, while waiting for ceremonies to begin at the dedication of a monument at the Antietam battlefield, he walked over to the edge of the platform and called down to an old veteran in blue, "Hello, comrade, I saw you in the crowd at Gettysburg last month when I spoke there, didn't I?" Astonished, the veteran exclaimed, "Yes, but how did you recognize me?" Queried about his memory afterward, McKinley shrugged it off: "Oh, I don't know, it just comes naturally."

McKinley was 5 feet 7 inches tall, shorter than the average man. He was ridiculed as a "little boy" when he ran for President in 1896 7.

Comment: This is a clear illustration that politics always has been, and always will be, a nasty business. McKinley's manhood should not have been open to challenge, given that he enlisted in the Army at age 17, just weeks after the Civil War began at Ft. Sumter, and that he served in the field virtually the entire war, including the battles of South Mountain, Antietam, Winchester, Cedar Creek, and countless others 6a.

cried in office
[Interesting that McKinley advised to take advantage of a physiological fact to conceal from others that he had been crying.] 4a MORE

the grippe
"At the beginning of the next season [1899?] a New Year's reception was held. After that the President was taken sick with the grip [sic], and consequently all the receptions and dinner parties were over for that season." 8a

McKinley was shot at close range on Sept. 6, 1901. He underwent surgery within hours. He survived the operation, but died on the ninth post-operative day. Both his post-operative course MORE 3a and his autopsy MORE 3b have been meticulously documented 10 9.

There was intense controversy about McKinley's medical care MORE. Some thought that McKinley could have been saved had renowned surgeon Roswell Park performed the operation MORE. More recent commentators believe, however, that McKinley died from pancreatic necrosis, a condition which is still difficult to treat today, and which the surgeons of McKinley's time could not have treated or prevented 5.

Odds & Ends
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Cited Resources
  1. Bensley EW, Bates DG. Sir William Osler's autobiographical notes. Bull Hist Med. 1976; 50: 596-618.
  2. Boller, Paul F. Jr. Presidential Anecdotes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.0195029151 Libraries 80-27092. ap. 189 bp. 188 cpp. 189-190
  3. Braisted, William C.; Bell, William Hemphill; Rixey, Presley Marion. The Life Story of Presley Marion Rixey: Surgeon General, U. S. Navy 1902-1910: Biography and Autobiography. Strasburg, VA: Shenandoah Publishing House, Inc., 1930. Libraries. app. 51-70 bpp. 71-82 cpp. 454-461
    Comment: Rixey was the White House physician for both William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.
  4. Butt, Archibald W. Taft and Roosevelt: The Intimate Letters of Archie Butt, Military Aide. Garden City, NY: Doubleday (1930). Volume 1: pages 1-432. Volume 2: pages 433-862. Libraries. app. 733-734
    Comment: Butt, an Army officer, was military aide first to President Theodore Roosevelt and then to President William Taft. On April 14, 1912, Butt was at sea aboard the Titanic returning from a European vacation that Taft had insisted he take. President Taft later said: "When I heard that part of the ship's company had gone down, I gave up hope for the rescue of Major Butt, unless by accident. I knew that he would certainly remain on the ship's deck until every duty had been performed and every sacrifice made that properly fell on one charged, as he would feel himself charged, with responsibility for the rescue of others." Taft was correct. Butt did not survive the sinking.
  5. Fisher, Jack. Stolen Glory: The McKinley Assassination. Alamar Books, 2001. Libraries.
  6. Halstead, Murat. The Illustrious Life of William McKinley, Our Martyred President. 1901. Libraries. app. 114-121
  7. Page, Susan. Time-tested formulas suggest both Bush and Kerry will win on Nov. 2. USA Today. June 23, 2004.
  8. Pendel, Thomas F. Thirty-Six Years in the White House. Washington: Neale Publishing Company, 1902. Libraries. app. 156-157 bp. 160 cp. 166 dp. 161
    Comment: Pendel was door-keeper at the White House from the time of Lincoln to the time of Theodore Roosevelt. Full text is available on-line at It's a rather dry book, and reads as if it were written by an old man.
  9. Rixey, PM; Mann, MD; Mynter, H; Park, R; Wasdin, E; McBurney, C; Stockton, CG. The official report on the case of President McKinley. J.A.M.A. 1901;37:1029.
  10. Rixey, PM; Mann, MD; Mynter, H; Park, R; Wasdin, E; McBurney, C; Stockton, CG. Death of President McKinley. J.A.M.A. 1901;37:779.
  11. Seldes, George. Witness to a Century. New York: Ballantine Books, 1987.0345331818 Libraries 86-47804. app. 28, 382
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