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Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 31st Visit to Georgia


Thirty-first Visit

March 12 - March 26, 1937

Once again Roosevelt was able to visit only one time during the year, but at least he did get to spend two weeks at Warm Springs in March of 1937. Two issues, one domestic and one international, dominated the news of 1937. At home, Roosevelt proposed a radical “reform and modernization” of the Supreme Court—which had blocked much of his New Deal legislation. He proposed adding a new Supreme Court justice (which he would appoint) for each Justice who did not retire by age 70 1/2, with a maximum of five new Justices to be added. The purpose of this proposal was to create a Supreme Court more amenable to his ideas. This brought cries of “dictator” from his political enemies, and elicited concern even among his friends. This was one of the few political battles that Roosevelt did not win. One of the first to take public stand against Roosevelt’s Supreme Court proposal was Georgia Senator Walter F. George.

Internationally, Japan invaded Manchuria, in northern China, in 1937. With this Asian crisis added to the already smoldering situation in Europe—where Hitler formally denounced the treaty which had ended World War I—the world was inching ever closer to what seemed an inevitable large scale conflict. Yet the isolationist mood and the need to fight the Depression still dominated the thinking of most Americans.

Roosevelt arrived in Warm Springs on March 12, to a warm greeting by his fellow companions and almost all the townspeople of Warm Springs - schools had even closed for the occasion. The day after his arrival he was visited by Georgia Governor Eurith D. Rivers, who was one of Roosevelt’s most vocal supporters in Georgia. That night a state Democratic celebration was held in nearby Columbus—to commemorate the landslide victories by Roosevelt and his fellow Democrats in Georgia in the 1936 elections. Roosevelt needed to rest, and did not attend the meeting, but did send the following statement:

“I want to convey to all of you my very cordial greetings. I wish that I could be with you tonight and talk to you personally. You all know how I love to come to Georgia and it has been grand to have the perfect weather with which we were greeted yesterday on arrival.

We all have real cause for a victory dinner. We can celebrate whole heartedly the progress we have made during the past four years and feel assured it is but a forerunner of even better things to come.

With each of us playing his part, individually and collectively, we will go ahead with our program for a democracy which will insure a more wholesome and happier life for the nation as a whole.

In other words, we are all striving to make a democracy which will live to serve the people.

To young Governor Rivers, and to all of the distinguished guests, I send my best wishes and, as a fellow Georgia, celebrate with you in spirit tonight.” Source: Columbus Ledger, March 14, 1937, p. 1.

This statement clearly shows how much Warm Springs still meant to Roosevelt, even if his visits had been few and short in the preceding years.

While Roosevelt may not have been able to spend much time personally at Warm Springs, his attempts to raise money for the Foundation and for polio research in general did not suffer. With the prestige of the presidential office and a number of talented people behind him, fund raising was going quite well, despite the Depression. It had become a tradition to hold “birthday balls” all around the country on Roosevelt’s birthday (January 30) to raise money for the fight against polio. In 1937 Roosevelt established the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis to co-ordinate all the fund raising efforts and the research trying to develop a vaccine. While the Warm Springs Foundation was certainly a part of this effort, the National Foundation was much broader in scope—and proved to be a tremendous fund raiser—raising over one million dollars in its first year alone—all through volunteer work, every penny went toward fighting the disease and treating those who already suffered. Half of the money raised stayed in the local communities where it was collected.

Before departing Warm Springs, Roosevelt did deliver one inspirational message to the patients there; he also mentioned his experiences in the early days of Warm Springs:

President Roosevelt’s Extemporaneous Remarks
to Patients at Warm Springs, Ga., March 24, 1937

[The patients and the waiters sang and put on several short skits. Fred Botts then spoke briefly, expressing the patients’ appreciation to the President and spoke also of the old days at Warm Springs, particularly the episode relating to the old stage coach “which was gotten out of moth balls for the first time in about forty-one years and hitched to the Foundation mules.” Those who rode in and on the coach were dressed in “ante bellum” clothes for the occasion. “We started down this grade and all of a sudden the coach came up against the mules and they stopped right then and there and, with keen deliberation, just kicked blazes out of the front part of the coach.”]

Members of the Warm Springs family: That is the first time I ever heard the true story of the famous ride of the old stage coach.

I go back, of course, a great deal further than Fred does—six months further. That is because Fred came in the spring of 1925 and I came in the fall of 1924. I will have to tell one on fred: One afternoon the afternoon train came in and at that time I was all alone down here at what was then a southern summer resort, very much down at the heels. It had been a famous place nearly a hundred years before. I think Fred, who knows all things, will verify the fact that in the old hotel registers that went back to 1840 you will find the name of Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and a lot of prominent statesmen of that period. But the old place had fallen on rather thin days and when I came down here in the fall of 1924 they had had a very poor season and the man who ran the hotel—well, he was in the red and most of his knives and forks had disappeared and most of the crockery had been broken. I was having a very lonely time down here. There wasn’t any doctor and there wasn’t anybody else except a dear old mailman who went around once a day, reading all the postcards and telling everybody about everybody else’s family affairs.

And then, during that winter, some of our friends the newspapermen, who always have to write things in order that you may have newspapers to read, they wrote a story and the story was to this effect: that there were two people in the United States who had swum their way back to health; one was a man who had once run for Vice President of the United States away back in 1920 and there were pictures of that man swimming around in a pool at Warm Springs. Then there was a picture of a lady, with what, in those days, was a very skimpy bathing suit, by the name of Annette Kellerman, and she had swum her way back to health. And so it went on and told all about Warm Springs.

So, in the spring of 1925, one afternoon when the train came in there were two gentlemen who came off the train, one of them in the arms of the other. And the one in the arms of the other was Fred. And there was also a lady who came off the train and she came off in the arms of the brakeman. She was a lady from St. Louis who weighed about two hundred pounds.

Well, I did not know what to do about it. I had not the faintest idea. They assumed, of course, that I was a doctor and a lot of people since then have assumed that I am a doctor. So, in the meanwhile, we put Fred to bed and we put the lady to bed and in the morning they came down to the pool. Kell, Fred—I wish you could have seen him. I thought he was in the advanced stages of tuberculosis so I got Dr. Johnson to come over from Manchester to look him over because I thought we would have to do more than send for a doctor. Well, the doctor said that fundamentally, although he could not move a leg or an arm, there was nothing the matter with him. So we put him in the pool and he sank. So we got Fred a life preserver and from that time on he sort of floated gaily around the pool. Mind you, that was the public pool; we did not have any patients’ pools in those days. And the two hundred pound lady? We put her in the pool and she floated. In fact, she floated high.

Well, of course we had to give them the exactly diametric opposite of my treatment. We had to feed eggs and cream and all sorts of things to Fred to put flesh on his bones and, as to the lady, we had feed her just as little as possible. So, as the days and weeks went by, old Dr. Roosevelt, who did not know anything about it at all, finally persuaded Fred to see if he could not get his legs down to the bottom of the pool. That was easy, because they did not have any flesh on them anyway. But, when it came to the lady, that was different. Old Dr. Roosevelt put the lady alongside the edge of the pool—there was a hand rail there—and I said, “Just concentrate. Use your mind. Just think about getting that leg down to the bottom of the pool.” Well, she would get about half way down and then I would take hold of her right leg and push a little and push a little and finally got the whole leg down to the bottom of the pool. And finally I said, ‘Concentrate and hold it there.’ And then, gently, I would move over to get the left leg down and as I moved the left leg down up came the right leg.

So you see these girls who think they are physiotherapists don’t know anything about it. I invented it first.

So it went on for a period of years and I have forgotten when it was—Fred, about 1927 you and Dr. Hubbard and I were perfectly thrilled. We had a Thanksgiving Dinner down here and as I remember it, at that first dinner in the old firetrap of a hotel we had seventy people present and we just cheered. We patted ourselves on the back and Dr. Hubbard made speeches and Fred made speeches and I made two or three dozen speeches and we had a perfectly grand evening.

Well, after a very few years, before the old firetrap of a hotel was torn down, we got to the point where we had over two hundred people in the old hotel dining room and then we were told, after it was all over, the fact that while we were there the old hotel had sunk six inches into the ground. When we heard that, we decided that that kind of place for people to take treatments in and live in was just too dangerous to life and limb. That was the origin of the newer Warm Springs.

I don’t want anybody to think that this is a completed Warm Springs. We have only just started, just in the same way that the treatment of all polio has advanced, as it has during the past twelve or fifteen years, to a perfectly amazing extent so that you people who are in wheel chairs and walking around with canes and braces, you can all be very happy in the fact that today medical science will give you a much better break than if you had started fifteen or twenty years ago. The medical end of this thing that is putting us back on our feet is growing just like Warm Springs is growing, and Warm Springs is going to grow in the days to come in proportion to the things we learn each year about better methods for the treatment of infantile paralysis.

Every year that I come down here I go over blueprints. I went out to a picnic yesterday afternoon and I spent a good part of the time looking at blueprints. Well, those blueprints show us the Warm Springs of the future only so far as we today can analyze. We know that we have a long way to go. I am very happy of course to see what has ben accomplished in the past twelve or fourteen years but, at the same time, I am quite confident that in the next twelve or fourteen years we are going to make even greater progress than we have in the past. That relates not only to the actual physical end of it, the treatment down here that young people and old people are going to go through—in increasing numbers by the way, because I am not the least bit satisfied with treating a hundred or a hundred and ten people at one time; I would like to see a lot more treated—it is not only that, it is the fact that in the future, with this development in medical science, in this development of the physical end of Warm Springs, we are going to keep alive for everybody down here what has been known in the past as ‘the Warm Springs spirit.’

I wish that I could be here more, as all of you know. I have been away now for nearly eighteen months and I am counting, although I missed a visit in 1936, I am counting on making two in 1937. I am counting on coming back here and realizing that the spirit of Warm Springs is just as much a fact as it was in the old days when we had to do a lot of things for ourselves. I am quite sure also that the country is beginning to understand that it owes a duty to all of us who, for one reason or another, are handicapped to a certain extent in one way or another. There is no reason in the world why everyone of you youngsters, some of you flat on your backs, some in plaster casts, some with arm splints—there is no reason in the world why some of you should not be able to, as I call it in college, “pull your own weight in the boat.” The communities you live in, I think, are going to give you a chance to pull your own weight in the boat when you grow up, whether you be boys or girls, and that is something that is encouraging, so encouraging that every one of you can work toward the idea and ideal of pulling your own weight in the boat.

I am sorry I have to go away on Friday. I am told that I am perfectly unnecessary in Washington, that things are going so quietly there that I might as well be here. I am inclined to think that is perfectly true; there is a good deal more of truth in that than one would imagine. The country is going along all right and that is true, too, of Warm Springs. In the past year I have been devoting much of my time to the country and I am inclined to think that in the future I shall be able to devote a little more of my time to Warm Springs.

One difficulty about being away for nearly a year and a half is that there are a whole lot of you that I have not met yet. So tonight, before I go out, I am going to stand at the door and get acquainted with a lot of you and I hope to see many of you back here next Thanksgiving time, when we will have a real old-fashioned turkey dinner.

Source: National Archives

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 31st Visit to Georgia View large image

FDR Arriving in Warm Springs
Source: Collection of Ed Jackson

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 31st Visit to Georgia View large image

FDR with officers of the UGA Phi Kappa Society in Warm Springs, 1937
Source: Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 31st Visit to Georgia View large image

FDR with Children at Warm Springs, 1937
Source: Collection of Ed Jackson

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 31st Visit to Georgia View large image

Children Working at Table in Warm Springs, 1937
Source: Collection of Ed Jackson