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Janet G. Travell papers

 Collection
Identifier: MS0704-UA
Material in this collection includes correspondence, press releases, papers, case reports, data from experiments, lecture notes, booklets, articles, conference programs, anatomical drawings, galley proofs of publications, newspaper and magazine clippings, photographs, and artifacts. This material ranges in date from 1910-1997.

The collection contains a wealth of information on the work of this medical pioneer, including research and lecture notes, papers, articles, conference reports, and correspondence with colleagues. It allows the researcher to see how medical theories and treatments have evolved over the course of fifty years. It is strong in addressing myofascial pain disorders, which Dr. Travell specialized in, as well as her role as White House physician.

The Janet G. Travell, M.D. papers were donated to the Gelman Library University Archives in 1998 by her daughters, Virginia Powell Street and Janet Powell Pinci. The collection is open to research, with the following proviso from the donors: "This collection is for research and study use only. Permission must be obtained from the donors for publication and/or any commercial use of the materials."

Dates

  • 1910-1997

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Restrictions on Use

The collection is open to research, with the following proviso from the donors: “This collection is for research and study use only. Permission must be obtained from the donors for publication and/or any commercial use of the materials.”

Extent

55 Linear Feet

Abstract

Collection includes correspondence, press releases, papers, case reports, data from experiments, lecture notes, booklets, articles, conference programs, anatomical drawings, newspaper and magazine clippings, photographs, and artifacts.

Historical or Biographical Note

Dr. Janet G. Travell (1901-97) served on the faculty of The George Washington University School of Medicine and University Hospital as Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine from 1961-70, Emeritus Clinical Professor of Medicine from 1970-88, and was made an Honorary Clinical Professor of Medicine in 1988. She remained an active figure up until her death at the age of ninety-five, writing, giving lectures, and attending conferences.

Dr. Travell was a distinguished member of the medical community, serving as personal physician to two United States Presidents: John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson (and the first woman to hold the post.) She was also renowned as an expert on myofascial pain - a term used to describe pain and dysfunction of skeletal muscles - and pioneered numerous techniques for dealing with chronic pain. Dr. Travell co-authored, with David G. Simons, M.D., the acclaimed two-volume textbook Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction. The Trigger Point Manual.

Janet Travell was born December 17, 1901 to Willard and Janet Davidson Travell. Her father was a practicing physician for over sixty years, and his enthusiasm for life and medicine influenced both Janet and her sister Virginia (Travell Weeks) to follow in his footsteps. Janet graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley College in 1922. In 1926 she earned her M.D. from Cornell University Medical College (New York City), receiving the John Metcalf Polk Memorial Award for the highest scholastic standing during her four years in medical school. Two years of internship and residency at New York Hospital followed, in which she simultaneously served as ambulance surgeon on the New York City police force. She was given the rank of Lieutenant, and described the period as "really fascinating and valuable" to her medical training.

Dr. Travell married John W.G. Powell, an investment counselor, in 1929. The marriage, which lasted until Mr. Powell's death in 1973, produced two daughters, Janet and Virginia. Following her residency at New York Hospital, Dr. Travell was a research fellow at Bellevue Hospital, studying the effect of digitalis in thousands of patients with lobar pneumonia. She then returned to Cornell and began work in the Department of Pharmacology as an Instructor and later as Associate Professor of Clinical Pharmacology. Before acquiring a special interest in muskuloskeletal pain, Dr. Travell was Consultant in Cardiology at Sea View Hospital in Staten Island, doing studies on chest pain.

It was during her time studying arterial diseases at Beth Israel Hospital in New York as a Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation fellow (1939-41) that Dr. Travell became absorbed in the problems of skeletal muscle pain. Dr. Travell helped develop new anesthetic techniques for treating painful muscle spasm by employing local procaine injection and vapocoolant sprays such as ethyl chloride (used widely in sports medicine today), and, starting in the mid-1950's, Flouri-Methane spray. It was this pioneering expertise that changed her life in more ways than one. In 1955 she was called upon by the orthopedic surgeon of then Senator John F. Kennedy, who had failed to recover from major back surgeries related to injuries he suffered in World War II. Dr. Travell was able to locate muscular sources for his chronic pain, and injected low-level procaine directly into the Senator's lumbar muscles, which proved effective. She also discovered that one of Kennedy's legs was shorter than the other, and ordered special shoes that would relieve the stress this condition put on his back. Without the medical expertise of Dr. Travell, Kennedy and his family were convinced that he would not have been able to further his political aspirations.

When John Kennedy was elected President in 1960, he appointed Dr. Travell to the post of Personal Physician to the President, because of his strong belief in her work. She advocated his use of a rocking chair to alleviate President Kennedy's back pain and in the process popularized their use among the public, who saw the President pictured in his rocker in the Oval Office. (Dr. Travell took aspects of seating design seriously, and worked as a consultant to such companies as John Deere and Lockheed to produce more comfortable and supportive seats for tractors and airplanes.) Dr. Travell would go on to serve President Lyndon Johnson after the death of President Kennedy, and left the White House in 1965.

Dr. Travell, who was appointed to the staff of The George Washington University School of Medicine and University Hospital as Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine shortly after coming to the White House, remained active teaching, writing, and giving lectures across the country. She was the author of more than 100 scientific articles and co-authored, with long-time colleague David G. Simons, M.D., the acclaimed two-volume book Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction. The Trigger Point Manual. In 1968, Dr. Travell published her autobiography, Office Hours: Day and Night. She said she wrote it for a number of reasons: to inform young people about the profession of medicine, to represent to parents and educators the life of a female physician, to present a philosophy of medicine and a way of life, and to record for history personal recollections of her years in the White House. In its pages one finds a woman of incredible physical and mental vitality.

The zeal Dr. Travell had for life was evident in her professional career as well. The pioneering techniques she developed for treating and controlling muscle pain were shared with other physicians as well as dentists, nurses, physical therapists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, chiropractors, followers of Kinesiology, and other members of the healthcare profession. The work of Dr. Travell allowed countless patients to benefit from her research and practice over the course of her life, and well beyond.

Dr. Travell died Aug. 1, 1997 of heart failure at the age of 95 at her home in Northampton, Massachusetts.

There is a memorial website created by Janet Travell's family. In Memory Of Janet Travell MD.

Collection Organization

Organized into seven series: Conferences, symposiums, and lectures; Papers, manuscripts, reports and subject research; Articles; Correspondence; White House Years; Galley Proofs and manuscript drafts of Dr. Travell's books; and Personal papers, books and certificates.

Acquisition Information

Papers were donated to the Gelman Library University Archives in 1998 by Dr. Travell's daughters, Virginia Powell Street and Janet Powell Pinci.
Title
Guide to the Janet G. Travell papers, 1910-1997
Status
completed
Author
University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Date
2007
Description rules
dacs
Language of description
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

Contact:
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Washington 20052 United States of America