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Cary T. Grayson

Admiral Cary Travers Grayson (October 11, 1878 - February 15, 1938) was a surgeon in the United States Navy who served a variety of roles from personal aide to President Woodrow Wilson to chairman of the American Red Cross.



Grayson was born to Dr. John Cooke Grayson (a descendant of American George Mason, one of the American Founding Fathers) and Jennie Thornley Grayson at Salubria, the Grayson family estate, in Culpeper County, Virginia.[1][2][3] He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary in 1898.[3][4] He studied for three years at the Medical College of Richmond before leaving to attend the University of the South.[3][4] After a year there, he received his M.D. and as well as his Doctor of Pharmacy.[3][4][5] He interned for a year at Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C.[6] The University of the South medical school was best described as a "diploma mill,"[7] for it granted a full-fledged M.D. degree after only a year of classes.[8] The school was shut down in the wake of the Flexner Report in 1910, which led to significant improvements in the accreditation of human medical education in the U.S. and the closure of most fraudulent medical schools.[5]

After completing his medical studies, he was appointed Acting Assistant Surgeon on July 14, 1903.[3][6] He served at the U.S. Navy Hospital in Washington, D.C., continuing to study at U.S. Navy Medical School (from which he graduated in 1904).[3] He received a second M.D. from the Medical College of Virginia in 1904.[3] His studies complete, for two and a half years he served aboard the USS Maryland while it was deployed overseas.[3][4][6] In 1907, he was assigned to the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and appointed Naval surgeon about the Mayflower, the presidential yacht of President Theodore Roosevelt.[3][4][6] He continued in this role for the entire William Howard Taft administration.[3][4][6]

While attending a dinner party in March 1913, he attended to President Woodrow Wilson's injured sister and quickly became a close confidante of the new President.[4][5][6][8] Grayson deliberately downplayed the severity of Ellen Wilson's chronic renal failure, delayed calling in kidney specialists when her condition became severe in 1914, and purposefully hid her worsening condition from President Wilson.[6] In 1915, after the death of Wilson's first wife, Grayson introduced Wilson to his soon-to-be second wife, Edith Bolling Galt.[3][5][6] Grayson's close personal relationship with Woodrow Wilson led to his commission as a Rear Admiral on August 29, 1916. "This rapid promotion of Dr. Grayson from Passed Assistant Surgeon with the rank of Lieutenant to Medical Director with the rank of Rear Admiral was unprecedented and was due to his position as White House Physician."[9] Grayson resided in the White House, and lived with Wilson while he attended peace talks in Paris in 1919.[6]

Grayson was heavily involved in the conspiracy to hide the severity of Woodrow Wilson's October 1919 stroke from members of the government and from the public. Historians have strongly criticized Grayson's actions. "While one might excuse Mrs. Wilson's actions on the grounds of wifely loyalty, Grayson's behavior during these days exceeded the bounds of physician responsibility. Grayson was using the office of the president of the United States as therapy of his patient."[10] When Wilson resolved in the spring of 1920 to resign the presidency due to his ongoing incapacitation, Grayson (in violation of medical ethics) talked him out of it.[11]

After Wilson left office in 1921, the Navy assigned Grayson to the U.S. Naval Dispensary, so he could continue to see to Wilson's health.[5]

Before transferring to the Retired List on December 20, 1928, Admiral Grayson received the Navy Cross for exceptionally meritorious service as aide and physician to President Wilson. He was also made Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honor by the French government. Admiral Grayson was chair of the inaugural committee for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 and 1937, and served as chairman of the American Red Cross from 1935 until his death in 1938.[1][6]

Personal life

Grayson married the former Alice Gertrude Gordon on May 24, 1916, and the couple had three children: James Gordon Grayson; Cary Travers Grayson, Jr.; and William Cabell Grayson.[1][12] The couple lived at Highlands, a large home on Wisconsin Avenue NW until moving into the White House after Wilson's election.[1]

Blue Ridge Farm

File:Grayson on horse.jpg
Grayson on horseback in 1920

An avid horseman involved in the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing, in 1928 Grayson purchased Blue Ridge Farm, a horse breeding operation in Upperville, Virginia. Among his successful horses, Fluvanna was voted the retrospective American Champion Two-Year-Old Filly. In the year of his death, he bred the mare On Hand to Kentucky Derby winner Brokers Tip to produce Market Wise. The colt went on to become a multiple stakes winner and the 1943 U.S. Co-champion Handicap Horse.

Blue Ridge Farm remains in the hands of the Grayson family and has been listed in the United States' National Register of Historic Places.


The USS Grayson (DD-435), a Gleaves-class destroyer was named in his honor.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Cabell, Randolph Wall. 20th Century Cabells and Their Kin. Franklin, N.C.: Genealogy Publishing Service, 1993.
  2. Wright, Willard Hull. 40 Years of Tropical Medicine Research: A History of the Gorgas Memorial Institute of Tropical and Preventive Medicine, Inc. and the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory. Baltimore: Reeves Press, 1970.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 Grimmett, Richard F. St. John's Church, Lafayette Square: The History and Heritage of the Church of the Presidents, Washington, DC. Washington, D.C.: Hillcrest Publishing Group, 2009. ISBN 1934248533
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Levin, Phyllis Lee. Edith and Woodrow: The Wilson White House. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0743211588
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Ferrell, Robert H. The Dying President: Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944-1945. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1998. ISBN 0826211712
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 6.9 Deppisch, Ludwig M. The White House Physician: A History From Washington to George W. Bush. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2007. ISBN 0786429763
  7. Lukacs, John. "His Secret Life." Los Angeles Times. July 26, 1998.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Ferrell, Robert H. Ill-Advised: Presidential Health and Public Trust. Reprint ed. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1996. ISBN 0826210651
  9. Braisted, William C. and Bell, William Hemphill. The Life Story of Presley Marion Rixey, Surgeon General, U.S. Navy 1902-1910: Biography and Autobiography. Strasburg, Va.: Shenandoah Publishing House, 1930. Republished by Kessinger Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1428653341. p. 390.
  10. Crispell, Kenneth R. and Gomez, Carlos F. Hidden Illness in the White House. 2d ed. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1988. ISBN 0822308398 p. 72.
  11. Crispell, Kenneth R. and Gomez, Carlos F. Hidden Illness in the White House. 2d ed. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1988. ISBN 0822308398
  12. Caperton, Helena Lefroy. The Social Record of Virginia. Richmond, Va.: The Social Record of Virginia, 1937.

External links

Non-profit organization positions


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