Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Polio and the President

With a paralytic disease called AFM striking some children in the past several years, I wanted to blog a little about a scourge of my early childhood that, hopefully, will never reappear in our lifetimes.

I visited Warm Springs, Georgia in March of 2010 and saw the Little White House where Roosevelt died, the unfinished portrait that still sits in the house, and the pools where Roosevelt had found relief from his polio.  

Yes, Roosevelt was a disabled man in a time were disabled people were disrespected and discriminated against - so much so that Roosevelt had to hide the fact that he depended on a wheelchair for mobility.

Otherwise, people might have thought he was unfit for office.

That would be totally inconceivable today - but those were very different times.  Still, Franklin Roosevelt, who contracted polio at the age of 39,  had a large role in making disability acceptable, and gave hope to a lot of people with polio.  Ever hear of the March of Dimes?  It started as a movement to find a cure for polio

At the time of his death, polio was a feared scourge.  I can vaguely remember the panic that was felt during the summer - the peak time for polio. Parents would even keep their children away from public swimming pools, as it was believed that pools were one place you could "catch" polio.  As children, we believed that being near a storm drain could give you polio.

Some children became so paralyzed that they could no longer breathe on their own.  My generation remembers a device called an iron lung.

But then everything changed.

A charity called The March of Dimes was founded by Franklin Roosevelt in 1938..  Roosevelt had a simple idea- asking Americans to send in a dime, just one dime, to fight polio.  The "march" of dimes helped to finance research, so that the Salk and Sabin vaccines could be developed.   In honor of Roosevelt's fund raising, his face appears on the dime and has appeared for many years.

Ironically, Roosevelt's polio may have been misdiagnosed - but many people alive today can be grateful for that misdiagnosis.

I may have been one of those young children in those old black and white photos lining up in schools for their polio shot.  I even vaguely remember being in one of those lineups.

I was a member of the first generation in human history that did not have to fear polio.   And to my son, polio is just a historical curiosity - although one of his older cousins married a woman who had polio as a child, and has a noticeable limp to show for it.

And yes, there is still a Roosevelt Institute for Rehabilitation in Warm Springs.

If you need a story on how one person can change history, and enrich the lives of millions, you need look no further than this story.

And we all hope a cure is found for AFM soon before more children are stricken.


  1. Thanks for sharing this amazing story of how one person helped change history.

  2. When the Presidential office is used for good, it can certainly be GOOD!

  3. Eddie Cantor coined the term "March of Dimes," as it happens, and did a lot to get it going. I think it was because of the March of Dimes that they put Roosevelt's head on the dime.

  4. I had no idea that Roosevelt's polio may have misdiagnosed, that really puts an unusual spin on the story. My husband's uncle actually had polio as a child. Terrifying disease and this new AFM is just as frightening.

  5. I remember my grandmother talking about not being allowed to go to a pool one summer because of a polio scare. My child brain just couldn't process that.


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