Our last presidential blog featured William McKinley’s visit to Camp Wikoff, Long Island, where the Daughters of Charity served as nurses following the Spanish-American War. Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were among the soldiers stationed at Camp Wikoff. Serving as McKinley’s Vice President, Roosevelt became President after McKinley was assassinated in 1901. The following year Roosevelt and the Daughters crossed paths for the second time when Roosevelt entered St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis for minor surgery. The photo below shows the banner headline from the September 24, 1902 Indianapolis Sentinel. Our records of St. Vincent Hospital contain a number of newspaper clippings which give the details of Roosevelt’s time at the hospital.
In the Fall of 1902 Roosevelt embarked on a national speaking tour to promote Republican candidates in the upcoming midterm elections. On September 3, while in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a speeding trolley car crashed into the presidential carriage, killing one of Roosevelt’s Secret Service agents. Roosevelt himself was thrown from the carriage and seriously injured. Despite his injuries he continued the speaking tour. One injury, a bruise on his leg, began to swell and developed into a small abcess. By the time he reached Indianapolis he had a noticeable limp, and his doctors advised that he should undergo a minor operation, to lance and drain the wound. When the presidential train reached Indianapolis the procedure was performed at St. Vincent Hospital by Dr. John Oliver, a surgeon on the hospital’s medical staff. Dr. Oliver said in a statement to the press, “The operation was performed successfully, but it really was not a serious one. The fear was that if the serum had been allowed to remain, blood poisoning might set in, but I believe there is no further cause for apprehension. The swelling in the President’s leg was about as big as an open hand laid on the leg. The operation only took a short time and in no way affected the physical condition of the President. He is the same today as any other well man, outside of the sore place on his leg.”
The newspapers also reported on the Sisters’ preparations for receiving their distinguished patient.
“Sister Stella has had long experience in hospital work and is known for her coolness and forethought in times of emergency. Within a few minutes the necessary steps were being taken to receive the patient. Room No. 52, a cozy apartment on the fourth floor and fronting on South Street, was quickly got in readiness. White-capped nurses hurried here and there under the direction of the sisters. The private operating room on the fifth floor was made ready …
… A sentry was stationed just inside the outer enrance to the hospital and other guards took up positions outside. While the operation was being performed, Governor Durbin and Senators Fairbanks and Beveridge sat in the north parlor of the hospital waiting for news from the operating room. No one was allowed to go into this parlor. In the south parlor representatives of press associations waited. It was difficult to get any news from above stairs. Perhaps it was about 5 o’clock when the Sister Superior came into the south parlor and announced that the operation was over and that the President had been moved to his room.
‘The President is in a fine humor and is talking and joking,’ the sister said … ”
According to the newspaper accounts, Roosevelt’s nurse in the operating room was Sr. Mary Joseph. The nurse assigned to his private room was Sr. Regina, one of the nurses he had met at Camp Wikoff when the Rough Riders were stationed there.
Roosevelt’s doctors prescribed ten days to two weeks of rest to recuperate from the procedure. The remainder of Roosevelt’s tour was cancelled and he returned to Washington.
For the political context of Roosevelt’s speaking tour, see Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013), p.305-310.