Franklin D. Roosevelt

"The only thing to fear is fear itself."


Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was born in Hyde Park, New York on January 30, 1882. FDR was the son of James Roosevelt and Sara Delano Roosevelt. He had a strong academic background. He attended Groton (1896-1900), a prestigious preparatory school, and received a BA degree in History from Harvard in 1903. He then continued his education at New York’s Columbia University, but during his time at Columbia he passed the bar exam and decided to leave the university without receiving a degree. In 1910 he entered politics and was elected as a Democrat to the New York State Senate.[1]

In the meantime, in 1905 he married a distant cousin, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. Together they had six children. Roosevelt was reelected to the Senate in 1912, and was a supporter of Woodrow Wilson’s candidacy at the Democratic National Convention. As a reward for his support, Wilson appointed him as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913, a position he held until 1920. Being part of the naval administration was beneficial for FDR because he was able to show people his efficient and energetic personality. This position was also a valuable experience because his popularity and success in the naval administration ultimately resulted in FDR being nominated for vice-president by the Democratic Party in 1920.

However, many individuals were opposed to Wilson’s plan for US participation in the League of Nations, which resulted in Republican Warren Harding winning the presidency election that year. Roosevelt returned back to his private life after this incident. In 1921, Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio. Despite his courageous efforts to overcome his crippling illness, he never was able to regain the use of his legs. Roosevelt did not let his disease stop him; shortly after his diagnosis he resumed his political career. In 1928, Roosevelt was elected as governor of New York. Shortly after this election, he began to campaign for presidency in 1930. The economic depression damaged Hoover and the Republicans’ reputation, and with FDR’s bold efforts to combat the depression, his reputation had yet again been improved. In 1932, FDR won the nomination as the Democratic Party candidate for president.[2]

Personal Challenge:

Before Roosevelt assumed his position as President he was diagnosed with polio. His crippling illness did not stop him from achieving the goals that he wanted to accomplish; he was a very determined and passionate person. FDR was the type of person who wanted to do whatever he could to help the public, which is why he decided to put a great deal of effort into finding a cure for polio because at the time many people were suffering from this disease.

His efforts first started at a therapeutic spa in Warm Springs, Georgia, which was famed for the recuperative benefits of their water treatments. Roosevelt was first treated at Warm Springs in 1924, and continued treatment there for three years because he was utterly impressed with the results. He decided to buy the property and created the nonprofit Warm Springs Foundation, which established the springs as the first hospital in the nation to focus entirely on the treatment of polio victims. When Roosevelt became President, he saw this as a great opportunity to continue to fight for his favorite cause. In 1934, Henry Doherty, an FDR supporter, donated $25,000 to establish a series of “birthday balls” to help fight the cause of polio. “Birthday balls” were local parties that occurred on FDR’s birthday, January 30, which doubled as a celebration for his birthday along with a fundraiser for the cause. These balls soon became an annual occurrence. The tagline of the balls was, “dance so that others may walk.”[3]

Roosevelt was encouraged by how successful the “birthday balls” were and decided to organize them on the national level. On January 3, 1938, he announced the creation of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP). About a year later NFIP became associated with the March of Dimes. The March of Dimes used the funds raised in the early efforts to set up new research facilities to find a cure for polio.[4]

Roosevelt continued to visit Warm Springs throughout his presidency, building a small cottage nearby that became known as the Little White House. It was here that he died of a stroke on April 12, 1945. Despite the best efforts of FDR, polio still continued its destructive path, with a new outbreak every summer. The March of Dimes’ financial support for medical research finally paid off when Jonas Salk, developed a new vaccine to combat polio. In 1954, the March of Dimes helped to provide a mass vaccination of more than 1.8 million schoolchildren, and just a year later the vaccine helped to eliminate polio as a whole. Even though Roosevelt did not live to see the eradication of polio, it was his efforts that helped to bring this disease to an end.[5]

Cultural Ill:

Roosevelt came to presidency at the end of the Great Depression, which was one of the hardest times that Americans and the U.S. economy had faced since the Civil War. Individuals were very skeptical of Roosevelt at first and did not trust him. Roosevelt took immediate actions to initiate his New Deal program to help the economy. FDR's New Deal program scared individuals because they thought that Roosevelt was going to lead them further into a depression. Citizens became even more incredulous when FDR made the decision to close the banks temporarily. Roosevelt understood that he needed to prove himself to the public.

Following this further, FDR’s primary task was to put people to work. To help the general public see his concerns about finding Americans jobs, Roosevelt began to work with a special session of Congress during the first “100 days” to pass recovery legislation. He set up alphabet agencies such as the AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Administration) to support farm prices and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) to employ young men. Other agencies were created to assist business and labor, they also insured bank deposits, regulated the stock market, subsidized home and farm mortgage payments, and aided the unemployed. Roosevelt took measures that helped to revive confidence in the economy. Banks reopened and direct relief saved millions from starvation.[6]

In 1935, Roosevelt continued to prove himself as a strong leader to the public. He initiated another flurry of New Deal legislation along with the establishment of the Works Projects Administration, which provided jobs for laborers, artists, writers, musicians, and authors. The proposed New Deal legislation also included the Social Security Act, which provided unemployment compensation for elderly citizens and veterans. People were very excited about the New Deal and the other ideas that Roosevelt created. Roosevelt gave individuals hope and they looked up to him as a leader. They reelected Roosevelt for another term of presidency because they were very impressed with how he was able to pull the economy out of the depression. FDR brought the economy out of the depression, and disproved the initial fears of Americans. Roosevelt was under a lot of pressure from the public, but he followed through and did what he believed would help to save the country during the depression.[7]


Perseverance: Before he became President, Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio. He was determined to heal himself of the disease, while helping to cure the entire nation as well. He created one of the first hospitals in the nation to focus entirely on the treatment of polio victims. He also created many foundations and programs to help raise money for the cause. FDR did everything in his power to try and find a cure for polio. His efforts eventually paid off after he passed away when Jonas Salk produced a vaccine to stop polio.

Choice-Worthy Good:

Roosevelt became President at the end of the Great Depression, and he was aware that he needed to calm the fears of the public and restore the confidence of Americans in order to get the country back on it’s feet. Roosevelt had many ideas of how to bring the economy out of the depression, but he wanted the support of the public before he decided to make any final decisions. One of the ways FDR chose to accomplish this was through the radio, where his ability to public speak came in handy. Roosevelt called his radio talks, “Fireside Chats.” Informal and relaxed, the talks made Americans feel as if he was talking directly to them. Roosevelt continued to use fireside chats throughout his presidency to address the fears and concerns of the public and to inform them of the positions and actions taken by the U.S. government. It was one of Roosevelt’s main priorities to gain the trust and support of the public, and he did everything in his power to make sure of this. He could have made decisions without regarding or informing the public, but Roosevelt chose to go above and beyond and make Americans his first priority as president.[8]

By: Jennifer Bash


"Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt." Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.

"Franklin D. Roosevelt." The White House. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.

"Franklin Roosevelt's Personal Polio Crusade, 75 Years Ago." A&E Television Networks, 03 Jan. 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.

"Teaching With Documents:FDR's Fireside Chat on the Purposes and Foundations of the Recovery Program." FDR's Fireside Chat on the Recovery Program. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
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