Mom always admired Franklin Roosevelt. Though he died before she was 2, she always seemed to have a fascination with him as a person and as a president, winning the presidency four times, all while hardly able to walk.
That's why I'm glad that on Mom's last trip out to see me in 2010, I was able to get her down to Hyde Park to the Roosevelt historic site.
Mom wrote this paper in the mid-90s, writing about Roosevelt and how his disability was kept under wraps. The photo from that 2010 trip to Hyde Park, Mom and a statue of president.
Franklin Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, NY in 1882. He was elected our 32nd president in November 1932 and reelected (overwhelmingly) 3 more times in succeeding elections, 1936, 1940 and 1944. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage early in his fourth term. He was president during a most difficult time in our country's history. The depression and World War II were big events which threatened to tear this country apart. It took a strong man to keep life on an even keel.
This strong man, however, was in a wheelchair, disabled by polio in 1921. This small fact should have ended his political career. But not Roosevelt, he had more physical drive and mental know-how than most of us will ever know. All of these facts are well known now and in any encyclopedia.
All of this, however, made me very curious. In this day and age, when presidential candidates are scrutinized beyond belief, where every ailment is known in detail, every friend becomes well-known to all of us, how could a man in a wheelchair get elected president? I became curious to see how much the average American citizen knew about his disability. I decided to ask around with some of my older friends. I asked "do you remember your parents speaking about Mr. Roosevelt and his disability?" In all cases, they said yes, they knew he was disabled, but were unable to tell me when they found out.
I decided to look at the Press-Citizen from 1932 for the first campaign. By using Microfilm at the public library, I started looking. I looked through May, then in August for the Democratic convention. There was little publicity on the campaign, which started in September. Even then there wasn't much coverage. Nothing was mentioned about his disability. There were few pictures and the ones I did see were well-positioned. Always in a sitting position.
I checked out a documentary on Rosevelt, "The New Deal." Again, this was well-orchestrated. There were some standing shots, always by a doorway or someone was holding on to his arm. They showed people walking out of the White House to the awaiting car. Roosevelt was already in the car.
I remember seeing some news commentator a few years ago on TV discussing the political campaigns they had covered over the years. They discussed the Roosevelt years. They freely admitted that there was an unwritten pact among themselves not to film him walking on his crutches or wheeled in his chair and definitely not when he was carried, out of respect for him. I doubt that the average citizen knew until he was already president, then they realized it didn't matter. A sort of cover up until people were used to the idea by kind of osmosis.
It really shows when we don't make it an issue, it isn't an issue. This could be applied to race, health, gender or religion.
I also realized something else very curious. In July 1992 a law was passed and put into effect called the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Briefly, this law prohibits employers from discriminating in hiring qualified workers with disabilities. Indeed, it even went further and said that the employers are expected to make reasonable accommodations in the work place for these individuals. These could include elevators, ramps, automatic doors, parking places, closed captioning or interpreters for the hearing impaired, braille readers for the blind, etc.
A full 60 years before this law, we had a disabled man elected to the highest office in the land, living in a house that had to have been less-than accommodating, traveling extensively through this country and abroad.
What happened in those 60 years, I can't imagine a disabled person elected today without the news plastering it all over TV and newspaper.
I really admire Roosevelt's tireless drive for a country he loved.