Exhibiting Excellence

Medical Monument

Legacy of Leaders

From the Editor's Desk


GW's Writing Program:
A Fine Idea
By David Bruce Smith, BA '79

GW News

A Faculty for Writing

Alumni Newsmakers

A Noble Calling

CNN's White House Connection

Artists’ Quarter

Alumni Bookshelf

In Memoriam

Alumni Events and Activities


Contact Us
Alumni Association
Law Alumni Association
GW News Center


Doctor to the Presidents

In an era when most upper class women were raised to be housewives, Janet G. Travell broke the mold, earning her M.D. in 1926 from Cornell University Medical College in New York City. A strong believer in the mantra, “It’s better to wear out than to rust out,” she would go on to do pioneering research on myofascial pain—a term used to describe pain and dysfunction of skeletal muscles—and become the first woman to serve as personal physician to the President of the United States.

Travell joined the faculty of GW’s School of Medicine as associate clinical professor of medicine shortly after being appointed personal physician to President John F. Kennedy in January 1961. She had met then Senator Kennedy in 1955, and was able to offer treatment for the pain he suffered from injuries incurred in World War II and subsequent back surgeries. Travell’s new anesthetic techniques for treating painful muscles did wonders for her famous patient, who was convinced that if not for her help he would not have been able to further his political aspirations.

When Kennedy became president, he brought Travell with him to the White House. She served him until his death in 1963 and then stayed on as President Johnson’s personal physician until 1965. After leaving the White House, Travell remained active teaching, writing, and giving lectures across the country up until her death in 1997, at the age of 95. She authored more than 100 scientific articles and co-authored, with long-time colleague David G. Simons, the acclaimed two-volume book Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual.

Travell continued on the GW faculty as associate clinical professor of medicine from 1961 to 1970, as emeritus clinical professor of medicine from 1970 to 1988, and was made an honorary clinical professor of medicine in 1988. Following her death, Travell’s papers were donated to the Gelman Library University Archives in 1998 by her daughters, Virginia Powell Wilson and Janet Powell Pinci.

Currently on display in the Special Collections Department of the Gelman Library are nearly 150 items from the Janet G. Travell, M.D., Papers, including letters, photographs, articles, memorabilia, and artifacts, which give the viewer a hint of the rich and varied life of this remarkable woman. The exhibit, “The President’s Physician: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Janet G. Travell,” runs through June 30 and can be seen Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For additional information, please contact G. David Anderson, University Archivist, at (202) 994-7283 or call the Special Collections Department at (202) 994-7549. Web: http://www.gwu.edu/gelman/archives.