Roosevelt,Polio, and a World War II New York Childhood


Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at Yalta, 1945 two months before Roosevelt’s death courtesy Wikimedia Commons


I spent my World War II childhood in New York City. My parents allowed no talk  during dinner as we listened to Edward R. Murrow or H.V. Kaltenborn describe the battles — these commentators often said we’d won. Before the days of TV, they didn’t tell us much. We listened to the radio or watched the newsreels at the movies. We didn’t know.

Every home had rationing books filled with coupons to be used for butter, sugar, meat, and gas. we kids rolled all our gum wrappers into tin foil balls for the war effort. My job was to pull down the blackout shades every night so that the German, Italian, or Japanese planes would not see our lights and bomb the city.

How fortunate we were compared to the rest of the world where there was no escape from bombs, occupation, hunger, and death.

Our big fear was polio, or infantile paralysis, a disease that ran rampant until 1955. Just imagine: one afternoon you’d send your kids to the swimming pool. Two days later they’d start running a fever or throwing up. The next morning they might wake up paralyzed.

Polio got strong support. Although primarily a children’s disease, President Roosevelt contracted it when he was 39. In his photos he is always seen sitting at a table, or in a chair. His condition sparked the creation of THE MARCH OF DIMES, a charity established to help those with polio, and to do the research to find a cure.

Polio victims required months of physical therapy so that their paralyzed limbs wouldn’t atrophy. The most serious victims were paralyzed in an iron lung.

President Roosevelt enjoyed lifelong therapy in Warm Springs Georgia.  We kids all had cardboard folders containing slots for dimes. We filled them up for THE MARCH OF DIMES.

Today, the vaccine is given routinely as a childhood inoculation. Few remember the scourge of polio.

8 responses

  1. Thank you for sharing this Paula. Polio was my mother’s greatest fear. So much that my twin brother and I were in a way isolated from other children. But I am glad we didn’t get the disease. Measles took three weeks to be clear of

  2. I remember from 1953 there was polio epidemic in our neighbourhood. One of my classmates was hospitalized but recovered. A third cousin of mine died 7 years old. I still see how his small casket was driven past my home on the way to the graveyard. Life continued and nobody mentioned the tragedy.

  3. I remember polio. We were not allowed to swim at the public pool in grey Neck. We also came to Maine every summer- luckily. I remember those cardboard dime holders, too!

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