William Howard Taft: Gout

Taft had gout attacks in both feet. His first attack may have been after shaking hands with thousands of people in Pocatello, Idaho in September 1909 (age 53). Taft wrote that he "developed a pain in the joint of the [right] big toe due I suppose to standing so long when shaking hands in one position. Doctor suspects a little gout, but this [is] too aristocratic for me" 1a.

Within ten months, Taft had become very sensitive about the possibility he had gout, and tried hard to conceal the fact from his wife. He got angry at people who suggested his foot pain was gouty. The dialog between Taft and the physician who finally made the definitive diagnosis is priceless. SEE BELOW Taft's aides actively hid the gout from the public during his Presidency 2a. Taft continued to have attacks as President 3a and in later life wore a gout shoe 4a. He also developed gout stones in his urinary bladder (see below).

7/22/10 [sailing off the coast of New England] 2b
The President's ankle is bothering him a good deal tonight, and I persuaded him to see the ship's doctor on his return. He had to be helped to the landing by [Secret Service Agent] Jimmy Sloan and myself. He is feeling rather discouraged about his golf to-day also.

7/29/10 2c
The President played golf with [steel magnate Henry] Frick this morning and in spite of the bad ankle defeated him three down.

7/30/10 2c
The President went to Myopia to play golf with Judge Grant this morning, but his ankle was so painful that he could not make the start.

Saturday 10/8/10 2d
The President did not play golf this morning; in fact, he is laid up with gout, his foot bandaged and he himself looking the picture of woe. Why is it everyone looks upon gout as a joke? -- everyone save he who has it? I have suspected for some time that he was gouty, and once I suggested it, but he loomed up with such an indignant denial that I dared not to suggest it again. However, he got the truth good and straight from Dr. Jackson, but it is to be held a secret between us three. He is not even going to tell Mrs. Taft, but if Miss Heron does not suspect him when she sees him sitting bandaged as he is, I will be surprised.

He was to have played a foursome this morning in the tournament, with Mr. Hammond, Captain Sowerby, and myself, but when I went by the cottage [at Beverly, Mass.] for him I found him sitting surrounded by anxious women, all examining his foot, which he had bared and which he said had been bruised by a pair of new shoes he had worn the day before. He had such difficulty in walking that he abandoned all idea of golf, and on my suggestion he decided to go to Beverly Farms and consult Dr. Jackson. He was really in such pain that he agreed to go at once, so we started off. As soon as he saw the doctor, he entered into a lengthy description of the new shoes, and then the Philippine boy took off the slipper. The doctor looked at the foot and began to laugh, and the President began to grow red and finally forced a smile and said:

"It is, is it?"

"It certainly is," said the heartless Jackson, "and as good a case of it as I ever saw."

Then and there he told the President he would have to diet, and if he hoped to remain in good condition he must reduce himself. The result of the visit was a strict diet and a bandaged foot and a somewhat ruffled temper. The [begin page 544] President swore me to secrecy on the way back to the house, and I told him if it got out it would be only through himself, which I think will be the case, as soon as Mrs. Taft sees the bandaged foot. He cannot conceal things, and as soon as his sense of humor gets working he will laugh at the sorry figure he cuts and tell it all. But he is so sensitive to ridicule by the press that he may keep it away from his family in order to keep it away from the press. If it were known for a minute that he had an attack of gout, the press would rag him well with it, and every cartoonist in the country would take a whack at him.

[This is the entire entry for the day]

Monday 10/11/10 2e
The President is still laid up with gout. He has been unable to play golf to-day, and Dr. Jackson informed him this morning that he would be unable to walk on his foot for several days more. The President was quite smiling this morning when the doctor arrived. He reported that since he had started on his diet he had lost one pound, weighing only three hundred and twenty-nine as against three hundred and thirty last Saturday, when he began to reduce. This is more than he has ever weighed before.

12/13/11 2f
Went last night to the theater with Mrs. Taft, Miss Helen, and Mr. Charles P. Taft. The President was too unwell to venture out. Both feet are giving him pain. [start page 789] Last week he suffered from pain in one foot and gave out that he had strained it in some way. I knew that his old trouble had him again, but did not suggest it. However, when the swelling went to the other foot, there was no use longer to hide the fact that it was gout.
Cited Sources
  1. Taft, William Howard. Papers of William Howard Taft. On file in the Library of Congress and selected other research libraries.
    a  WHT to Helen Herron Taft, Sept. 27, 1909
  2. 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.
    a  pp.543  b  p.449  c  p.457  d  p.543  e  p.544  f  p.788

    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.

  3. Bromley, Michael L. William Howard Taft and the First Motoring Presidency. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 2003.
    a  p.350
  4. Ross, Ishbel. An American Family: The Tafts - 1678 to 1964. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Co., 1964.
    a  pp.327-328

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