Explore the life and career of Cary Travers Grayson, an American physician and naval officer born in 1878. Learn about his significant role as President Woodrow Wilson’s personal physician, his military achievements, and his involvement in key historical events, including the conspiracy to conceal Wilson’s stroke.
Cary Travers Grayson; (1878-1938), American physician and naval officer. Born in Culpeper county, Va., on Oct. 11, 1878, he studied medicine at the Medical College of Virginia (M. D., 1902), joined the Navy in 1903, and was assigned to the White House staff in 1907. President Woodrow Wilson in 1913 appointed Grayson his personal physician, a post he held until Wilson died in 1924.
Wilson had long suffered from nervous indigestion, and Grayson persuaded him to throw away his stomach pump and adopt a regimen of exercise and relaxation. Wilson’s health improved, and Grayson became one of Wilson’s closest friends, to whom the President would unburden his mind, in confidence. Wilson raised Grayson to the rank of rear admiral in 1916.
Grayson warned the President that a contemplated tour of the West in defense of the Versailles Treaty might cost him his life. Wilson broke down near the end of the tour and then suffered a stroke in October 1919. Grayson helped avert a move to declare the President incapacitated, and he refused to advise Wilson of the extent of his disability.
Retired from the Navy in 1928, Grayson became chairman of the American Red Cross in 1935. He died in Washington, D. C„ on Feb. 15, 1938. His Woodrow Wilson: An Intimate Memoir was published posthumously, in 1960.
Grayson was born to Dr. John Cooke Grayson, a descendant of American George Mason, one of the American Founding Fathers, and Frances Adelena Pettus at Salubria, the Grayson family estate in Culpeper County, Virginia. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in 1898. Following this, he studied for three years at the Medical College of Virginia before transferring to the University of the South. There, he earned his M.D. and Doctor of Pharmacy degrees. Subsequently, Grayson interned for a year at Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C.
Upon completing his medical studies, Grayson was appointed Acting Assistant Surgeon on July 14, 1903. He served at the U.S. Navy Hospital in Washington, D.C., and graduated from the U.S. Navy Medical School in 1904. He also received a second M.D. from the Medical College of Virginia in the same year. Following his studies, he served for two and a half years aboard the USS Maryland during its overseas deployment.
In 1907, Grayson was assigned to the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and became the Naval surgeon aboard the Mayflower, the presidential yacht of President Theodore Roosevelt. He continued in this role during the William Howard Taft administration. Grayson’s close relationship with Woodrow Wilson began in 1913 when he assisted President Wilson’s injured sister during a dinner party, leading to his role as a confidant to the new president.
After Wilson’s first wife’s death in 1915, Grayson introduced Wilson to Edith Bolling Galt, who later became his second wife. Due to his close ties with Wilson, Grayson was commissioned as a Rear Admiral on August 29, 1916. He resided in the White House and accompanied Wilson to the peace talks in Paris in 1919.
Grayson became involved in the conspiracy to conceal the severity of Woodrow Wilson’s October 1919 stroke from the government and the public. Some historians criticized Grayson’s actions, stating that he exceeded the bounds of physician responsibility.
In 2006, more documents from Grayson’s family were donated to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Virginia, shedding additional light on the events that transpired. After Wilson left office in 1921, Grayson was assigned to the U.S. Naval Dispensary, where he continued to attend to Wilson’s health.