Dr. Charles Sawyer was a favorite of the President and Mrs. Harding.
Both of Harding’s parents were homeopathic practitioners. His father, George Tryon Harding, went on rounds with a local homeopath and attended sessions at a homeopathic college in Cleveland. With these credentials he held himself out as a doctor. Harding’s mother, Phoebe, was a midwife. On the basis of this practice and assisting...
Both of Harding’s parents were homeopathic practitioners. His father, George Tryon Harding, went on rounds with a local homeopath and attended sessions at a homeopathic college in Cleveland. With these credentials he held himself out as a doctor. Harding’s mother, Phoebe, was a midwife. On the basis of this practice and assisting her husband, she designated herself a homeopathic physician and practiced until her death in 1910.
Charles Sawyer entered the Harding’s lives in 1897 when Phoebe Harding was accused of malpractice in the death of a child. Sawyer, a respected member of the local homeopathic community, absolved her of all responsibility in the affair. The Sawyers and the younger Hardings became friends and after 1904 even traveled together. In 1905 Florence Harding, the wife of the future president, had a kidney removed and became concerned about her health thereafter. In 1913 Sawyer became her physician. "The Duchess" was dependent upon him, and became convinced that only he could keep her alive. The Hardings insisted that Sawyer become White House physician, and he even became a member of the White House poker group. In 1922 the Duchess, now First Lady, developed a critical urinary tract illness of her remaining kidney.
Two famous consultants, Charles Mayo and John Finney, wanted to operate. Sawyer disagreed, and Mrs. Harding ultimately recovered without surgery, which increased her confidence in him. By early 1919, Dr. Sawyer began to suspect that Harding had some sort of heart ailment but no steps were taken.
In 1922, signs of heart disease were increasing – Harding was more easily exhausted and had transient chest pains. A White House valet described how Harding was forced to sleep with his head propped up by several pillows, a sign of congestive heart failure. Again, no action was recommended by Dr. Sawyer in the face of this evidence. In January 1923 Harding had a protracted, enervating gastrointestinal digestive illness that was diagnosed as influenza but may have been abdominal angina. Harding’s final illness occurred during an extended trip to the West in the summer of 1923.
In July, after playing six holes of golf in Vancouver, Canada, Harding became so tired that he could not continue. He called for Sawyer, complaining of nausea and pain in the upper abdomen. Sawyer found the President had a pulse of 120 beats per minute and was breathing 40 times per minute (both of these readings are abnormally high). Sawyer, continuing to mistake Harding’s angina for indigestion, was convinced that its severity was compounded by ptomaine poisoning from "a mess of King Crabs drenched in butter."
The President died in his bed in a San Francisco hotel room on August 2, 1923, apparently of an acute myocardial infarction, that is, a heart attack or coronary occlusion. It was announced that President Harding had died of food poisoning.
A 10 by 12 inch sepia photograph of Harding as president by Edmonton Studio, with a heart-warming inscription and signature, "To The Sawyers of three generations with assurances of highest regards, Warren G. Harding". This was Harding’s favorite official Presidential photo, and we understand the family recollection is that he presented it toDr. Sawyer, his son and grandson as a 1922 Christmas gift. There is a mended tear at bottom; the photograph is otherwise in very good condition.
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