Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd president of the United States. He was the only president to be elected four times and ruled from 1933 till he died in 1945.
He is most acclaimed for taking the country through the Great Depression and World War 2.
He also increased the powers of the Federal Government through the New Deal and was involved in the formation of the United Nations.
But what is less known about this great statesman was his struggle with mobility.
So why was FDR in a wheelchair?
Why Was Franklin Roosevelt in a Wheelchair?
The exact extent and nature of his paralysis were not public. His leg muscles were extremely weak and he was unable to stand. He would occasionally wear long-leg steel braces to support his weight.
During the first stages of diagnosis, he would wear a corset and pelvic band hooked to the braces. This is because the gluteus maximus of his hips was also damaged. But his sensory and autonomic nervous systems worked just fine
After some years of rehabilitation, FSR could now walk short distances with leg braces but with the support of people. He also developed his upper body strength.
This was during a time that most immobile people were rarely seen in public.
At this time he was serving as a Navy assistant secretary and was vying for vice president. All this now seemed impossible with his diagnosis.
But this did not deter him, in fact he was elected Governor of New York – Twice. And finally, in 1932 he was elected President of the United States.
Many people did not know that FDR was paralyzed. He was never seen in public in a wheelchair. It is believed that Eleanor (his wife and political advisor) deemed public knowledge of his immobility would be detrimental to FDR’s political success.
He only stood up during ceremonial occasions and when it was absolutely necessary. When e stood up it was with the support of his braces and crutches but it was excruciatingly painful and he loathed it.
To stand on a podium, he would grip the podium firmly and thrust his pelvis forward to hyperextend his hip joints.
Another trick he would use to disguise his immobility was leaning hard on an attendant and stabilizing himself with a cane.
Because of this, the movement was slow and painful. His drop foot made it worse as he had to swing it forward to clear the area.
FDR also made an agreement with journalists not to photograph him in his wheelchair.
Today, it is believed that his ability to succeed regardless of his disability, made him an embodiment of resilience to guide the country through two crises.
For some, refusing to be defined by polio warmed the hearts of many and displayed his character of strength.
Roosevelt helped establish Warm Springs, the first modern rehabilitation center.
It is inscribed the words of Eleanor Roosevelt’s words.
“Franklin’s illness gave him strength and courage he had not had before. He had to think out the fundamentals of living and learn the greatest of all lessons — infinite patience and never-ending persistence.”
I hope you would have found it interesting, you may also check out the other famous wheelchair celebrities that have become permanent wheelchair users.
1. Gilbert RE. Disability, Illness, and the Presidency: The Case of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Politics and the Life Sciences. 1988;7:33–49.
2. Stephenson CT. Depicting Disability: The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. Social Education [Internet]. 1996 [cited 2022 Oct 18];60:299–300. Available from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ534979