Health and Medical History of President

William Howard Taft: Food Poisoning in Minneapolis

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food poisoning #2
Taft was Secretary of War in June 1907. During a cross-country speaking and inspection tour that month, he ate some bad fish at the Minneapolis Club in Minnesota. He had diarrhea and "violent" vomiting at 4 am and 7 am the next morning. Nevertheless, Taft continued with activities the next day. He almost collapsed doing so, and was given whiskey as stimulant, which prompted only "a renewal of my troubles" 2a BELOW. The episode was sufficiently alarming that it elicited letters of concern from President Theodore Roosevelt and Roosevelt's White House physician 1a.

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Taft faithfully wrote letters to his wife when he was separated, and described the episode in detail to her the next day 2a. He wrote her from the home of a childhood friend, John C. Hill, in St. Paul:
They gave us a dinner at the Minneapolis Club, but the Club was so small that the dinner was by no means as handsome a one as the expense of it would have justified its being. I ate something at the dinner -- probably the fish -- which gave me a little ptomaine poisoning. I do not know that I should have suffered from it, had it not been that I was utterly exhausted by the previous efforts of the week.

At 4 o'clock in the morning I was awakened, and got up and had a violent vomit and retching, together with diarrhoea, and that was repeated at 7 o'clock. Then I went to St. Paul, and went to the Commercial Club, where I met a lot of people, and then we went out to Fort Snelling, where I had a review, and mounted a horse. I felt so badly ... when I got up that I took only tea and toast, and after I got through the reviewing, I got into an automobile and went around inspecting the post, and when I reached the commanding officer's quarters, I felt so faint that I had to take some whisky [sic], and then I had a renewal of my trouble, and really was so near a state of collapse that they all insisted on my coming back to St. Paul, which I did. ...

After coming back here I tumbled into bed, and I think I slept three or four hours without interruption. The doctors came in and said I must not eat anything, and so I didn't. They were all anxious, however, that I should go to the banquet, which was to be held. ... I was very much afraid that I could not go, for after the sleep I sat up and I felt dizzy and weak, but by sitting up a little and lying down and sitting up again, I finally managed to get my equilibrium, and so I went down and made a short speech of about 15 minutes, and then went back to Mr. Hill's again. ... The effort, while it weakened me, did not do me any harm. I had a very good night and to-day have been in bed, and am going tonight to Sioux Falls, which I shall reach in the morning.

This morning I was permitted to take something for the first time since yesterday morning, in the form of some oatmeal and toast. At noon they let me have some steak and rice, so that I am getting into good condition again, and really what I have needed has been this long rest which I have taken. I am afraid the telegrams that went out were rather startling, and I hope you have already heard ... so as to know there is nothing serious the matter. ... Don't worry.

(Paragraphing has been added to make the text more readable.)
Resources
Cited Resources
  1. 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. ap. 265
    Comment: Rixey was the White House physician for both William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.
  2. Taft, William Howard. Papers of William Howard Taft. On file in the Library of Congress and selected other research libraries. Libraries. aWHT to Helen Herron Taft, June 15, 1907
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