Janet Travell

The First Female Physician to the President Celebrated 60 Years Later

Incredible individuals throughout history impacted life as we know it; what a gift to leave a mark on the world for decades after you disappear. Janet Travell is one of these remarkable people. She was a powerful American woman of yesteryear who was not afraid to smash stereotypes and reform medical science by thinking outside the square.

Janet Travell

As a prominent New Yorker born in 1901, Janet lived during times of significant change and prosperity in the city. Her career of choice followed her father into the field of medicine. After graduating from Cornell University Medical College in 1926, she worked at several hospitals across different medical fields. Her findings even made the newspaper in 1947 when the Dixon Evening Telegraph revealed her findings that proved the ancient Chinese medical procedure of acupuncture relieved muscle sprain pain.

Dr. Travell’s most notable medical success is related to back and muscle pain. She deduced that back and muscle pain were caused by spasms within the muscles and the inability for the tension to release. She devoted years of research into solutions for alleviating back pain by using analgesics, some of which are still popular today.

Janet’s success in back pain treatments caught the attention of Senator John F. Kennedy in 1955. He had suffered a back injury in college and then again while fighting in World War II, resulting in several surgeries. When he was elected as President and took office in 1961, Janet Travell became the first woman to hold the position of President’s Physician. Her radical ideas at the time suggested back pain primarily resulted from inadequate seating and posture. These ideas were groundbreaking and paved the way for occupational health as we know it. Newspapers around the country highlighted Dr. Travell, one even showcasing a “day in the life” as President Kennedy’s doctor.

Kennedy in a rocking chair

Through injecting relaxants such as Novocain into Kennedy’s muscle, she provided pain relief for the President, who reportedly couldn’t even lift his 2-year-old son. Her most prominent tool was the introduction of the rocking chair into Kennedy’s life. By offering support to his whole back and creating constant movement in his back region through the rocking motion, his pain was lessened.

As you can imagine, demand for rocking chairs skyrocketed, particularly following the assassination of Kennedy. The day after his death, newspapers were full of details of the shooting. In almost every paper, you will find a small article referring to the popularity of the rocking chair as a result of President Kennedy’s keen fondness for his.

Following the death of Kennedy, Travell went on to work for President Lyndon Johnson until resigning in 1965. Her passion continued with further medical research, lecturing, and writing. She even toured the USA in 1969 for the launch of her autobiography, “Office Hours: Day and Night.” 

Dr. Travell is one of a multitude of historical figures whose lives are remembered between the pages of newspapers. You won’t find a better tool than archived newspapers to read about their contributions and achievements. Look up your favorite historical figure, help with school assignments, or find intriguing facts about your own family, all from the comfort of your rocking chair.

Visit NewspaperArchive.com today to start your free trial.

Start Free Trial