The President vs. The Epidemic: FDR’s Polio Crusade

Dave Welky is Professor of History at the University of Central Arkansas.



No president can end an epidemic single handedly, but they can inspire a popular movement that eradicates a disease. Such was the case with Franklin Roosevelt and polio.


Seventy-five years ago, on April 12, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at the “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia. His administration’s achievements, such as Social Security and unemployment relief, are woven into the fabric of American government. Pundits still measure new presidents against FDR’s First Hundred Days, and present-day politicians slap the “New Deal” label on ambitious agendas. Donald Trump, like FDR a wealthy New Yorker presiding over turbulent economic times, has recently cast himself as a “wartime president” in his predecessor’s mold.


Although FDR’s continuing relevance is undeniable, one of his greatest achievements has faded into relative obscurity even though Americans are reminded of it whenever they sift through their pocket change. The faces gracing common American coins are a parade of Great White Men – Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson – with no obvious rationale for appearing on one denomination or another. It would be as apropos for Lincoln to grace the quarter as the penny.


But examine the smallest and thinnest coin, the dime. More specifically, the Roosevelt dime, first minted in 1946. FDR’s stolid look, with a hint of Cheshire-cat grin, conceals a hidden logic. While president, FDR was a driving force behind the March of Dimes, the charity that financed Dr. Jonas Salk’s creation of a polio vaccine. Because of this medical wonder, along with its successors, the United States has not spawned a polio case for more than forty years. This remarkable chain of events makes FDR responsible for saving thousands of lives and saving even more people from paralysis.


FDR contracted polio in 1921, the year following…


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Coronavirus: Amid crisis, challenges faced by FDR resonate on 75th anniversary of death

By: Paul M. Sparrow, For the Poughkeepsie JournalPublished 6:00 a.m. ET April 9, 2020 | Updated 11:24 a.m. ET April 9, 2020

Editor’s note: Paul M. Sparrow is the director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. He wrote this article for the Journal in recognition of the anniversary of Roosevelt’s death on April 12.

As America and the world confront the deadly COVID 19 pandemic, we should all take a moment to remember the inspirational legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the 75th anniversary of his death.

The society we live in today is based on his vision of global cooperation and economic equality — Social Security, minimum wage, a 40-hour work week, child labor laws, the World Bank, NATO and the United Nations are all just a small part of the Roosevelt legacy. But it is his inspiring leadership in the face of global catastrophe, and his ability to speak hard truth and instill confidence in the future that are most relevant today.

Paul Sparrow, Director of the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park on May 31.

Paul Sparrow, Director of the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park on May 31. (Photo: Patrick Oehler/Poughkeepsie Journal)

During his 12 years as president FDR confronted first the Great Depression and then the rise of fascism and totalitarianism. Yet he never wavered in his belief that the American people could overcome any challenge.


It was April 12, 1945. President Roosevelt was recovering at the polio rehabilitation center he created in Warm Springs, Georgia, on that early spring day. His exhausting travel to the military conference in Yalta with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill had taken a toll on his already poor health.

World War II was nearing its end in Europe and FDR was focusing on…


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From Antartica to Rikers Island: A Fireside Chat with Jasmine Brown 02/27

From Antartica to Rikers Island: A fireside chat on climate change, prison reform, and police misconduct

About the Chat: The term “fake news” is one that is being used more and more around the world to discredit legitimate media. Come hear Jasmine Brown discuss her experience as a news producer for ABC News’ “Nightline.” On topics such as climate change and police misconduct the Jasmine and her team are focused on providing Americans with an accurate picture of what is happening in our country. Come learn about the people behind our news and the challenges and rewards that accompany a career in media.
About the Speaker: Jasmine Brown is a producer for ABC News’ “Nightline” in New York City. She has reported from some of the most remote places on the planet, producing stories ranging from the effects of climate change in Antarctica and the Marshall Islands to reforms inside Rikers Island. She covered the police shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge in 2016 and the 2017 Las Vegas massacre. Before joining “Nightline,” Brown worked at “20/20,” where she contributed to the network’s Peabody Award-winning coverage of Hurricane Sandy. In 2016, she was awarded the Edward R. Murrow Award for a news series for “ABC News Nightline: Face-to-Face.”

She is studying the role of implicit bias in instances of police misconduct and the ways in which news coverage, cell phone videos and police body cameras illuminate how routine encounters can turn deadly.

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National Defence Course: Strategic Communicaton (Helsinki) 4/23

The FDR Foundation is thrilled to return to Finland to help their government, in our own small way, conduct the National Defense Course on Strategic Communication.

The “students,” selected by the Advisory Board for National Defense Education, will be a Communications Directors from combination of the Government, Regional Authorities, State owned and private companies, the Finnish Church, etc.

National defence courses

Fieldwork in Post-Conflict Settings 2/12

Fieldwork in Post-Conflict Settings: A fireside chat about interviewing former combatants and activists in Nepal


About the Chat:

Appropriately responding to Human Rights abuses, civilian resistance, and global conflict were critically important to FDR’s time as President. Governmental abuse of power, coupled with horrific acts of violence, around the globe led to the United States’ involvement in World War Two and shaped global relations for the past 80 years. While the actors have changed, Human Rights violations continue to occur around the world. It is vital to understand how populations respond to these abuses in order to inform, comprehend, and predict actions and reactions around the globe. Come hear Christopher Shay discuss his field work in Nepal, and his research on the effectiveness of violent and non-violent resistance!

About the Speaker:

Christopher Shay is a doctoral student and research fellow at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. He studies international relations and comparative politics, with a focus on political violence, insurgencies (both violent and nonviolent), and state repression. His dissertation research uses statistical evidence to show that governments (even newly established democracies) usually fail to alleviate human rights abuse after conflicts, and attempts to explain why some countries manage to break out of the ‘repression trap’. Aside from his doctoral research, Christopher manages the Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes (NAVCO) data project for Dr. Erica Chenoweth, and also provides analysis on India’s long-running Naxalite (Maoist) insurgency to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Prior to beginning his graduate studies, Christopher worked with the Student Conservation Association and the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a conservation educator, a fire ecology research assistant, and as a wildland firefighter. 

Wednesday, 2/12 7 PM FDR Suite SIGN UP required 

Reservations available starting 1 a.m. on Monday 02/03