Grover Cleveland: Secret Jaw Operations

jaw cancer
On June 13, 1893, Cleveland noticed a "rough place" on the roof of his mouth. It was diagnosed as cancer, precipitating one of the most celebrated incidents in the history of Presidential medicine. SEE BELOW

Ultimately, on July 1, the President underwent a risky operation aboard his yacht. At his insistence, his illness and surgery were kept secret from the public, the press, the Cabinet, and (one presumes) the Vice President. A second, less risky operation was performed aboard the yacht on July 17.

Afterwards, direct questions about the President's health were answered falsely. "Cleveland is alleged to have said that he had done more lying in the period just before his surgery and the period immediately thereafter than he had ever done in the remainder of his life" 1a. It was 25 years before the secret was compromised.

In 1917 Cleveland's operation was revealed to the public in an article in the Saturday Evening Post magazine. Dr. W. W. Keen, one of Cleveland's surgeons, wrote the article -- with the permission of the Cleveland family. Later, the article was published as a book 2.

The copyright on Keen's book has expired, so we are able to provide the entire text. (Note that the HTML version of the book *is* copyrighted.) The book is divided into the following sections:

  • MORE Foreword
  • MORE Holland's Dispatch
  • MORE The Earlier Controversy
  • MORE The Grave Financial Situation
  • MORE The History Preceding the First Operation
  • MORE The First Operation
  • MORE The Second Operation
  • MORE Author's Note
Cited Sources
  1. Bumgarner, John R. The Health of the Presidents: The 41 United States Presidents Through 1993 from a Physician's Point of View. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Company, 1994.
    a  p.140

    Comment: Devotes one chapter to each President, through Clinton. Written for the layperson, well-referenced, with areas of speculation clearly identified, Dr. Zebra depends heavily on this book. Dr. Bumgarner survived the Bataan Death March and has written an unforgettable book casting a physician's eye on that experience.

  2. Keen, William Williams. The Surgical Operations on President Cleveland in 1893. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1917.

    Comment: The corresponding magazine article was published in the Sept. 22, 1917 Saturday Evening Post on pages 24-55.

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