Syphilis is an STD that can cause health problems such as rashes, headaches and pain in the joints and muscles. If untreated, it can lead to the tertiary stage of the disease, which can damage your heart, bones and brain and cause blindness and paralysis.

It took a long time to find the cause of syphilis and develop penicillin, so it’s not surprising that some myths developed about the disease.

Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. To modern audiences, he is best known for his work in the railroad and financial industries, but he had health problems throughout his life. He was obese, suffered from gout, syphilis and a host of other issues including rotting teeth, bad eyesight and a painful jaw.

In 1893, he noticed a rough spot on the roof of his mouth and asked his doctor to take a look. The doctor found a tumor the size of a dime with cauliflower granulation.

Although it was not known then, syphilis causes cancer and a host of other serious diseases. The bacteria Treponema pallidum spreads through vaginal, anal or oral sex, even without penetration and ejaculation. It can also spread through broken skin. Symptoms of the disease progress from sores and ulcers to damage to internal organs. The infection can be prevented by using protection during sex.

Woodrow Wilson

During Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, progressive ideas were a driving force in American politics. His liberalism, especially in foreign policy, lives on today. Unfortunately, his support for racial segregation undid much of the economic progress that Black Americans had made since Reconstruction.

Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia in 1856 and grew up in the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He attended Davidson College for a year before moving to Princeton University, where he graduated with a degree in political science in 1879. He briefly studied law at the University of Virginia, but found that he disliked practicing. Wilson then pursued graduate studies in government and history at Johns Hopkins, and wrote a dissertation called “Congressional Government,” which is still regarded as an important book of its kind.

After teaching at Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan University, Wilson became president of Princeton University in 1902. Wilson was also an accomplished essayist and writer. After his first wife Ellen died of Bright’s disease in 1914, he married Edith Bolling Galt in 1915.

Dwight Eisenhower

Eisenhower entered the military as a cadet at West Point in 1911 and rose quickly through the ranks. He became a general in 1944 and oversaw Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. After leaving the army, he was president of Columbia University and NATO commander before entering the 1952 presidential race against non-interventionist Sen. Robert Taft. He won the election and served two terms as president, overseeing post-war recovery efforts including the Interstate Highway System, People to People International and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

While Ike’s mother was a pacifist, she didn’t try to stop him from going to West Point and becoming an officer in the Army. He later married Mamie. Her first son, Doud, died at age 3. Hinton worked as a bacteriologist and pathologist, developing the first serological test for syphilis. He strove to sway public opinion away from moral condemnation of venereal diseases and toward consideration of syphilis as a medical condition.

Abraham Lincoln

Few Americans have been so universally admired, revered and idolized as Abraham Lincoln. His achievements are mammoth: He led the nation through a political struggle and civil war that preserved the Union, abolished slavery, and opened the door to social and civil freedom for African-Americans.

He was a skillful politician who expertly juggled the competing interests of his constituencies: the army, Congress, foreign countries and ordinary Americans he was conscious of representing.

Nevertheless, his personal life was troubled. He had a sagging face that observers mistakenly thought was depression or sadness. He was also very tired, a common symptom of syphilis infection. His law partner and biographer William Herndon wrote that Lincoln told him he had contracted syphilis in Beardstown, Illinois in 1835 or 1836 (by a prostitute). Herndon wished that Lincoln had never written this confidence in his book. It is likely that Mary Todd Lincoln had syphilis as well. It is possible that physicians recognized her tabes dorsalis (progressive spinal trouble) as a symptom of syphilis at the end of her life.

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