Presidential eyes eyed at Museum of Vision

February 22, 2012

The Museum of Vision, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, marked Presidents’ Day by presenting a look at the vision problems of U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson.

San Francisco-The Museum of Vision, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, marked Presidents’ Day by presenting a look at the vision problems of U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson.

According to the museum, Lincoln had strabismus that can be seen in some photos or portraits of the 16th president. Lincoln’s left eye tended to roll upward, especially when he was tired or excited. News reports of his fiery 1860 presidential election debates with Stephen Douglas describe Lincoln’s eye as “rolling wildly” as he spoke.

Lincoln’s left eye was set slightly higher in his head than his right, and his left eyelid drooped a bit. When he was 10 years old, he was kicked in the head by a horse and may have suffered nerve damage that led to a mild paralysis of his eyelid. Lincoln also suffered from diplopia at times.

America’s 25th president, Theodore Roosevelt, was a Rough Rider and adventurer, and his move into the White House hardly slowed him down. In one of his many boxing matches while president, Roosevelt received a blow to the head that some sources say left him partially blind in his left eye. (Others say earlier injuries caused the damage.) If the punch was the culprit, then Roosevelt’s loss of sight probably would have been due to a detached retina (undiagnosed), say ophthalmology historians.

Woodrow Wilson was shocked to awaken one morning in 1906, 7 years before he became the 27th president, and find himself nearly blind in his right eye. He’d had a hemorrhage in his retina. Other than resting his eye for several months on orders from his ophthalmologist, no real treatment was available in those days. Wilson had hypertension, a risk factor for central retinal vein occlusion, and this condition probably caused the bleeding and damage, say ophthalmology historians.

Several presidents have had trouble with eye twitches, spasms, or rapid blinking, conditions that are more likely when a person is under pressure (especially emotional stress) and/or exhausted or sleep-deprived.

The Museum of Vision aims to preserve the history of ophthalmology and celebrate its contributions to science and health. It also strives to inspire an appreciation of vision science, the ophthalmic professions, and contributions made toward preventing blindness. For more information, visit www.museumofvision.org.

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