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Dakota Center for Independent Living

A Look Into the Life of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York on January 30, 1882. He was the son of James Roosevelt and Sara Delano Roosevelt. In 1905, he married Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (his fifth cousin once removed). Together, they had six children, but only five survived infancy.

In 1921, Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted polio. At first, Roosevelt refused to accept that he was permanently paralyzed. He tried numerous therapies and even bought the Warm Springs resort in Georgia seeking a cure. However, he never regained full use of his legs.

For a time, Roosevelt was resigned to being a victim of polio. He believed his political career was over; however, his wife and Louis Howe, a close friend, encouraged him to continue. Over the next several years, Roosevelt worked to improve his physical and political image. He taught himself to walk short distances in his braces and was careful not to be seen in public using his wheelchair. He wanted to be seen as healthy because of the discrimination against people with disabilities at that time.

Roosevelt went on to become president when he defeated Herbert Hoover in November of 1932. When he took office in March of 1933, there were 13 million unemployed Americans, and hundreds of banks were closed. In his first 100 days in office, Roosevelt created the New Deal.

In 1938, Roosevelt announced the creation of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, better known today as the March of the Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes used the funds raised in these early efforts to set up new research facilities to find a cure for polio as well as dozens of local hospitals to care for those who had contracted polio.

Roosevelt went on to serve four terms as President. He is the only president to have served more than two terms. In April of 1945, Roosevelt suffered a massive stroke and passed away. After his death, members of the March of Dimes organization lobbied for a permanent tribute honoring Roosevelt by placing his portrait on the dime. On January 30, 1946, what would have been Roosevelt’s 64th birthday, the U.S. Mint released its first batch of Roosevelt dimes.

The decade following Roosevelt’s death saw many deaths from polio. In 1949, 2,700 Americans died from polio. Jonas Salk, a young doctor whose work was funded by March of Dimes, developed a new vaccine to combat polio. In 1954, over 1.8 million schoolchildren were vaccinated. The last case of polio in the U.S. happened in 1979.