Chicken Soup for the Sole: Franklin D. Roosevelt

There’s no doubt that you’ve heard of the man I’ll be writing about this month: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. However, just because you know his name doesn’t mean his story offers more than a few surprises. Behind Roosevelt’s celebrated presidency there lies a story of a man who had to overcome numerous physical hardships to lead his country during two of its most trying periods: the Great Depression and World War 2.

A Young FDR Falls Ill…and Bounces Back

At the age of 39, Franklin Roosevelt was a practicing lawyer in New York with lofty political aspirations. However, during a family visit to an island called Campobello, FDR was struck with a fever, numbness, and eventually, paralysis. (It is generally accepted that FDR contracted poliomyelitis, however, this is occasionally disputed.) Roosevelt was ultimately left paralyzed from the waist down, and although the diagnosis was dire, FDR embarked on an extremely challenging attempt at recovery. With the help of hydrotherapy and iron-clad determination, FDR learned to stand and walk short distances with a pair of heavy iron braces. From there, the sky was the limit: in the form of the Presidency of the United States and honor as one of our country’s greatest presidents for leading the U.S. through the darkness of the Great Depression and World War 2.

A Reluctant Icon for People With Disabilities

Sadly, President Roosevelt went to great lengths to conceal his paralysis from the public, and only three known photographs of him in a wheelchair exist. In fact, he was so concerned about the public learning about his disability that the Secret Service was instructed to disrupt the actions of photographers who documented his paralysis and destroyed their confiscated pictures. Despite his disinterest in being a visible symbol of a very young disability rights movement, he founded the March of Dimes, which was established to raise money and awareness for the treatment of infantile paralysis but now is primarily concerned with the prevention of premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality. Fun fact: this is why the Federal Reserve chose to feature Roosevelt’s portrait on the dime! Despite his reluctance, he is still looked on as an inspiration to people with disabilities.

My name is Jessica Cox, and I feel like what people call “disabilities” are really opportunities for people to showcase what the human body and mind can overcome and achieve. If you’re interested in having me share my story at your convention, meeting, or faith-based gathering, call me at 520-505-1359 or contact me on my website.