Sunday, July 01, 2018

The Presidency…Testosterone Follies

Did you ever wonder why they call it MENopause when it’s a WOmen’s issue?  The #MeToo movement should do something about that, but it seems that there is historical and medical justification.  The ancient world is where we can find the origin of the word menopause. To give a brief summary from, “The ancient Greek roots of the term menopause are: ‘men’ + ‘pauein.’ The word ‘men’ means month, which is closely related to the word for moon ‘mene’ because the months were measured by the moon. The word ‘pauein’ means to cause to cease or stop. So the Greek term pauein from which the word ‘pause’ is derived actually does mean to stop rather than pause.”

Earliest known references to menopause have been very scarce. Aristotle referred to age at menopause being 40 years. (In those days the average life span for women was 34 years, so few reached the age of menopause.) A French physician coined the term menopause in 1821. Medical interest in menopause increased considerably in mid-19th century. In the 1930s, people started describing it as a deficiency disease. Consequently, various replenishment therapies were advocated, e.g. testicular juice and crushed ovaries of animals. In the 1970s, medicalization of menopause was complete. Menopausal symptoms were ascribed to estrogen deficiency and estrogen (hormone) replacement therapy was exhorted as the ultimate liberation of middle aged women.

There is an old adage that goes back to 1678 that suggests, “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” What is ironic is the relevance of not only that proverb but the word sauce to the subject at hand.  Women have age-related menopause based on hormonal changes, and men have “male menopause,” also based on age-related hormonal changes. This is how the National Institute of Health describes the latter:  “Much like the menopause syndrome occurring among older women, a similar condition has been defined among men.” (What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.)

As intimated above, the term “male menopause” is sometimes used to describe decreasing testosterone levels related to aging. Testosterone production increases rapidly at the onset of puberty, then, dwindles quickly after age 50 to become 20 to 50% of the peak level by age 80 (about 1 percent a year after 30).  Many men older than age 50 have experienced frailty syndrome, which includes decrease of libido, easy fatigue, mood disturbance, accelerated osteoporosis, and decreased muscle strength.  Many doctors use the term "andropause" to describe aging-related hormone changes in men. Other terms include testosterone deficiency syndrome, androgen deficiency of the aging male and late-onset male hypogonadism.

The key phrase above is “decrease of libido” which did not seem to be a problem for several of our presidents.  By my count, since the days of our founding “fathers” (an ironically accurate phrase in some cases), the testosterone levels of about one third of our presidents were possibly excessively elevated. This can be verified by the seeming presidential propensity for  out-of-wedlock affairs, in some cases with more than one woman (or man?), and with several other presidents, let’s call it (using the goose metaphor) a gaggle of women. If you remember the book and movie All the President’s Men, what follows may be called All The Presidents’ Women, and that does not refer to wives. This also calls to mind a traditional British Royal Navy toast that’s been called out in jest over wardroom dinners as far back as the age of sail: “To Wives and Sweethearts! May They Never Meet.”  In 2013, this toast was banned because there are now so many women in the Royal Navy.

George Washington

So let’s start with the curious tale of our first, and probably most eminent president, George Washington. In 1999, the following article appeared in the New York Times: “Did George Washington father a son with Venus, a young slave who lived on the estate of his half-brother John Augustine Washington? Three descendants of Venus's son, who was called West Ford, say that according to a family tradition two centuries old, George Washington was West Ford's father. They hope to develop DNA evidence from descendants of the Washington family and Washington's hair samples to bolster their case.

“Historians are skeptical, saying there is no documentary evidence to suggest that Washington ever met Venus, whose son was born four or five years before Washington became President, and several reasons to consider any such liaison improbable. In addition, Washington, 26 when he married Martha Custis, then 27, had no children with her. But Martha bore four children in her first marriage, suggesting that Washington may have been sterile. Yet there is reason to believe that if the child's father was not Washington, it might have been someone closely related to him.”

Additional evidence can be found in the Washington Library in Mt. Vernon that contends, conclusively that “George Washington and Ford’s mother Venus, were not in the same place during the time Ford was conceived. West Ford was born at Bushfield plantation between March 3, 1783 and June 22, 1783. Since Washington was not in Virginia between November 1781, following the victory at Yorktown, and his return to Mount Vernon on Christmas Eve of 1783 at the end of the American Revolution, he was not in proximity to Venus and did not father West Ford.”

I included Washington in this missive only because of the rumors that have persisted over a period of many years, however the facts above seem to absolutely absolve him.  Nevertheless, just prior to his marriage to Martha, he did write love letters to one Sally Fairfax, which might have been OK except for the fact that at the time she was married to Washington’s good friend, William Fairfax, the largest landholder in Virginia. There was never any indication that they were lovers, although they did write each other even after Sally moved to England. They still corresponded occasionally until they both died.

Thomas Jefferson

As far as I know, historically, it has never been pointed out that like Washington, Jefferson’s wife was named Martha, and the woman he might have loved was also Sally.  In Jefferson’s life however, unlike Washington’s, there was a sexual liaison that ultimately produced six children.  But this affair was not out-of-wedlock since it occurred after Martha had died. Yet there was a curious relationship between the two women (as you will read below) even though Sally was a slave.

In 1735 Elizabeth Hemming was born, the daughter of an African woman and a white sea captain named John Wayles, a slave trader who owned at least 135 slaves and large tracts of land. He had lost his third wife and ultimately took Elizabeth, his slave, as his concubine.  She had six of his children, one of whom was Sally Hemings.  Wayles had a daughter, Martha, with his first wife, and after being widowed twice, Martha married Thomas Jefferson.  Thus, the First Lady of the United States was a half-sister to Sally, a three quarter European, one quarter black slave that Martha owned.

For more than two centuries there was controversy as to whether Jefferson actually consorted with Sally, his 16 year-old slave, starting when he was in Paris as the United States Minister to France. This relationship entered the public arena during Jefferson's first term as president, and it has remained a subject of discussion and disagreement until recently. However, in 1998, a DNA analysis confirmed the affair, and by 2000 a consensus emerged among historians that the entirety of the evidence suggests Jefferson's paternity for all of Sally Hemings’ children.

If the DNA confirmation may seem insufficient to prove the relationship, coincidentally, just a few days before this article was sent to the publisher, Annette Gordon Reed, the principal expert on the life of Sally Hemings, wrote the following in the New York Times: “Sally Hemings takes center stage in Monticello on Saturday [June 16], the Thomas Jefferson Foundation opens an exhibit in a space where she is said to have lived for some time. Her story is told through the recollections of her son Madison Hemings, the third of four children she and Thomas Jefferson had who lived to adulthood. His memoir, published in an Ohio newspaper in 1873, gives vital information about the Hemings family genealogy, his mother’s life and the course of his own history.”

She then writes: “At the heart of Madison Hemings’s recollections is a dramatic moment in 1789 that occurred between his parents while they were abroad in France when Jefferson served as a diplomat. That’s when, according to Madison Hemings, his mother became ‘Mr. Jefferson’s concubine,’ and became pregnant. Sally Hemings was happy in Paris, where she and her brother James had a chance for freedom. When Jefferson planned to return to the United States, she refused to leave. To persuade her, Jefferson promised the 16-year-old ‘extraordinary privileges’ at Monticello if she complied. He also made a ‘solemn pledge’ that any children she had would be freed when they became adults.”  So, did Jefferson keep his word? The website Digital History printed an entire letter written by Jefferson’s son in 1873 titled  “Madison Hemings Comments on the Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings Relationship.”

“But during that time my mother became Mr. Jefferson's concubine, and when he was called back home she was enciente by him. He desired to bring my mother back to Virginia with him but she demurred. She was just beginning to understand the French language well, and in France she was free, while if she returned to Virginia she would be re-enslaved. So she refused to return with him. To induce her to do so he promised her extraordinary privileges, and made a solemn pledge that her children should be freed at the age of twenty-one years. In consequence of his promise, on which she implicitly relied, she returned with him to Virginia. Soon after their arrival, she gave birth to a child, of whom Thomas Jefferson was the father. It lived but a short time. She gave birth to four others, and Jefferson was the father of all of them. Their names were Beverly, Harriet, Madison (myself), and Eston--three sons and one daughter. We all became free agreeably to the treaty entered into by our parents before we were born. We all married and have raised families.”

Despite the justified criticism that can be directed against Jefferson for using his slave as a sex object, the fact that Sally remained with him until his death in 1826 at the age of 83, (she died ten years later) could signify that there was at least a degree of affection, if not love involved, and this is suggested by some historians. Keeping his pledge to Sally could serve as an indication of the character of the man himself.  Remember, he is considered by most historians as the fifth best president of the United States.

Next month we’ll investigate the next presidential philanderer.


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