Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his family returned to their New York City home here on 65th Street in early 1921 after living in Washington while FDR served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920. In August 1921, FDR followed his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, and their five children to their vacation home on Campobello Island off the coast of Maine. There he was stricken with polio and became extremely ill. Eleanor and his close advisor, Louis Howe, took care of him until he was well enough to travel back to New York. He spent several weeks in the Presbyterian Hospital but his legs remained paralyzed and he would never walk again. Once home he started physical therapy in his third floor bedroom and learned how to move about with crutches and braces supporting his legs. Almost immediately, Howe and FDR minimized the severity of his condition in letters and responses to reporters’ inquiries as illustrated in this September 20, 1921, letter to Clayton Wheeler. Howe had moved into the Roosevelt home and was filling in for FDR at his job with the Fidelity and Deposit Company until he was fit enough to return to work. In this letter, on company stationery, Howe assures the recipient that the President will have a complete recovery from the polio – an early example of political “spin.”
Artifacts in this exhibit have been selected from the collection of Gary Schulze who has generously loaned them to Roosevelt House.
NOMINATION TO THE PRESIDENCY
FDR returned to public office in 1928 when he was elected governor of New York. His re-election by a landslide in 1930 positioned him for the Democratic nomination for president in 1932. He is shown here receiving the news of his selection on Friday night, July 1, 1932. The next day he broke with tradition by flying from Albany to the convention in Chicago to give his acceptance speech. One reporter noted, “It was evident that the thousands of people believed they were in the presence, not only of the nominee of the Democratic Party, but of the next President of the United States.” FDR inscribed this photo to his Personal Secretary Marguerite “Missy” Le Hand, “Friday Night, July 1, 1932, The Big News. For M.A.L. from FDR.”
‘WALKING’ WITH A CANE
By the time FDR ran for president he had learned how to move – to appear to be walking – without using crutches. He would firmly link arms with his oldest son James, or an aide, for support on one side of his body, and then use a cane in his other hand. With the muscles he had developed in his powerful torso, he moved his legs as they were held up by braces. Shown here is his traveling cane (and its case) which could easily be assembled with either top, curved or straight, both with FDR’s monogram. FDR gave this well-used cane set to his close friend Walter Reynolds, former Chief Clerk of the United States Senate, after he had injured his leg in an accident. It remained in Mr. Reynold’s collection until he passed away and was acquired from his estate.
In the accompanying photo (c.1935-36), below, FDR is holding his cane, arm in arm with his son James; at right is James Farley, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and also Postmaster General. The photo was inscribed “To Jack W [indecipherable] from his friend Franklin Roosevelt.”
FDR was not only known for his cane but also for his cigarette holders. Like many men of his generation he was a heavy smoker, estimated to at least a pack a day and more. Numerous photos show him with a cigarette holder. This is one of several that he owned and used and is believed to be the one he’s holding in the photograph. The holder and its cushioned leather case are both quite worn and show heavy use. At the time, the serious consequences of heavy smoking were not well understood although FDR’s doctor did advise him to cut back because it was affecting his health. In contrast, he drank in moderation.