Roosevelt: A Presidential Campaign
Poliomyelitis: The Last Childhood Plague
Living in Fear: America in the Polio Years
You are on Roosevelt
March of Dimes: America Fights Back
Sister Kenny: Miracle Worker
Dr. Salk: The Man Who Saved the Children
Polio Today: Nearing the end of the battle
In Conclusion

Roosevelt campaigns from a car seat.
Roosevelt campaigns
from a car seat.

Photo courtesy of
the New Deal Network

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From then on, Roosevelt fought three wars.  He fought a war to bring the U.S. economy back on track.  Beginning in 1941 he fought World War II.  Finally, he continued to fight the war against poliomyelitis. 

Roosevelt at the West Virginia Foundation for Crippled Children
Roosevelt at the West Virginia
Foundation for Crippled Children

Photo courtesy of the
New Deal Foundation

Although he was no longer directly associated with the fund raising—the Birthday Ball Commission had given way to the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis—President Roosevelt continued to be a rallying symbol for the war on polio.  He was also, in a nation that was still acquiring newly paralyzed children (and adults) every summer, a symbol of what the disabled could be.  In a nation where the disabled had been hidden away, shunned, perhaps even institutionalized, Roosevelt was a symbol of a person with limitations working to the full extent of his capabilities.1  

The annual fund-raising was moved to movie theaters to take the pressure off of the White House mail clerks, but the drive continued to be held at the end of the January, to coincide with Roosevelt's birthday.  Actors like Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Stewart, and Robert Young would be filmed in "live" shorts, appealing directly to the audience.  The shorts would be shown, and then the lights would come up and ushers would collect donations in baskets.  Only after the money was collected would the feature be shown.2

One might have expected that World War II would take a toll on the collections, and it did, although not in the way that one might have thought.  With the Depression safely behind, many people felt the warm blessing of affluence, and continued to donate.  But by 1943, there were no ushers left at the movie theaters.  All of the young men had been drafted.

The task of fundraising, like so many other civilian jobs, was turned over to women.  Roosevelt directed O'Connor to create a Women's Division, and told him that Mary Pickford had volunteered to be the honorary director of women volunteers.3  O'Connor had no interest in organizing women, but there was no other source of labour, and he never counted on the power of the image of almighty womanhood, mothers gathering to raise the money that stood between America's children and The Crippler, Poliomyelitis.

The organization of the Foundation around movie stars and the common people made it more powerful.  It also made it able to stand the loss of what might have been its most important spokesperson.  Franklin Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Warm Springs, Georgia, on 12 April 1945.

Roosevelt's body passes down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Roosevelt's body passes down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Photo courtesy of The HistoryNet

In 1964, an international agreement between U.S. President Harry S Truman and Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson established the Roosevelt Campobello International Park Commission to preserve the vacation home where Roosevelt was struck down by polio and the course of history was changed forever.  Twenty-eight hundred acres are preserved in the park, along with the Roosevelt cottage.  Both governments felt the need to recognize the many contributions that Roosevelt had made to both nations.4  

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Living in Fear
Roosevelt | March of Dimes | Sister Kenny | Dr. Salk
Polio Today | In Conclusion
Bibliography | Links


1.  Smith, Jane S.  Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine.   New York, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.  1990.  p. 46.

2.  idem.  p. 75.

3.  idem.  p. 79.

4.  "Home Page."  Roosevelt Campobello International Park Commission.  1997.  (31 May 1999).