FDR and the March of Dimes

In August 1921 Franklin Roosevelt went swimming with his children near their vacation home off the coast of Maine. After a day of strenuous outdoor activities that left him feeling slightly feverish and fatigued, the thirty-nine year old former Assistant Secretary of the Navy chose to go to bed early without having dinner. Within forty-eight hours he would be paralyzed from the chest down. While his physical condition would improve, and while he never let his disability hinder his ambitions, the future President of the United States would be unable to walk or stand without support for the rest of his life. 

While Roosevelt’s challenges with polio have been extensively documented, his role in helping achieve victory over the virus is less well known.

Eighty years ago this month Franklin Delano Roosevelt founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, dedicated to combating polio. (While FDR was an adult at the time of his diagnosis, the vast majority of those who contracted the disease did so in infancy.)

FDR and child at his vacation home, 1912. Courtesy of Roosevelt Campobello International Park.

FDR and child at his vacation home, 1912. Courtesy of Roosevelt Campobello International Park.

Now known as the March of Dimes, in honor of the fundraiser where people were encouraged to donate as little as ten cents in honor of the president's birthday, this organization’s funding and support were central to the discovery of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin’s polio vaccines.

A 1942 billboard in California sponsored by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, later the March of Dimes. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s commitment to helping polio patients continued throughout his years in the White House. Courtesy FDR Library.

A 1942 billboard in California sponsored by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, later the March of Dimes. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s commitment to helping polio patients continued throughout his years in the White House. Courtesy FDR Library.

The association between the 32nd president and the dimes mailed to the White House during his presidency greatly contributed to FDR's likeness being placed on the dime in 1946, where it has remained up through today.

Having achieved incredible success in eradicating polio across most of the globe, today the March of Dimes Foundation spearheads efforts to improve the health of infants and mothers, focused most urgently on reducing birth defects, premature birth, and loss of life among newborns and infants.

 

For more about the March of Dimes Foundation, visit their website here: www.marchofdimes.org

For more on FDR and polio, visit the Park’s educational resource on FDR and the four freedoms here: http://fdr4freedoms.org/becoming-a-leader/