How was FDR's disability revealed to the public?

Today, it is common knowledge that President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not have the use of his legs during his presidency. However, during that period, FDR took great pains to hide this fact.

So, at some point, the public became aware of his condition. I can’t find anything explaining when this happened, and what the reaction was. Was it a big deal? Were people shocked? Did it happen during his lifetime (which would mean it also happened during his presidency)?

Thanks in advance to all who reply.

They have this on Wikipedia that explains how he became paralyzed, but now how the public reacted:

Doesn’t Gulllian barre go away. I know 2 people that had it and in one it was 2 week paralysis with no aftereffects. The other was a couple months ,but he never came all the way back in racketball. But he gets around with no obvious effects.

Unfortunately, you typically need the correct treatment, administered promptly. Your friends had the benefit of an accurate diagnosis and treatment, it seems.

I can’t answer the question either but I can affirm that before his death in 1945, he had become a poster boy for the March of Dimes, so his disability was certainly known.

I know of at least one Guillan-Barre victim who is still partly paralyzed (more his hands and arms than his legs) after a year. He is slowly–very slowly–recovering all functions. He is around 70 and that probably makes a difference.

My PhD thesis advisor had what he called Parkinson’s syndrome (which he said meant that he had the symptoms, but not the classic disease) and explained that he had had Guillan-Barre when he was 2 and it had come back to bite him when he was 60. Sounds a lot like post-polio syndrome and maybe the cause is similar; I don’t know too much about it, but I thought I would mention it.

My mother was old enough to have voted for Roosevelt four times, and she was very much of a “news junkie” during her entire life. She said the general public had no idea of Roosevelt’s disability. This was before TV, so people’s exposure to the president was via radio or newspaper photos or newsreels. In the photos and newsreels he was always either sitting down or standing against someone or something. You had to have been really looking for his disability to see it, and the general public didn’t have a clue.

The news media, of course, knew about it. But unlike today it was not considered appropriate for reporters to “out” him for something that personal, something that might lower his stature in such a time of crisis.

Informed people had known something of Roosevelt’s difficulties since the 1920’s. His laborious walk to the podium, on crutches and on the arms of his teenaged son, to nominate Al Smith had been one of the most dramatic moments of the Democratic National Convention of 1924.

When he ran for the nomination in 1932, his disability was used against him. “We don’t want a dead man on the ticket,” said rival William Gibbs McAdoo. “It requires a man of great vigor and bodily strength to stand the physical strain of it,” said Al Smith (by then an opponent). So Roosevelt’s disability wasn’t exactly a secret, at any time.

He did, however, manage to conceal its severity. He gave the impression that he could walk a little bit, when in reality he could barely stand up. He was aided by cooperative photographers and the press, especially after he became president in an era when the office was granted greater respect than today.

So it’s not as if people were either aware of Roosevelt’s disability, or not. Many more informed people were aware of the disability, but not of its severity. Less informed people, especially those who came of age after Roosevelt became president, were barely aware of it at all.

His polio was never a secret. But Roosevelt staged it so that most people got the impression that he managed to be able to walk again. The press knew but didn’t see it as a proper subject for a story.

Probably the first public acknowledgement of just how badly he was striken was the play Sunrise at Campobello in 1958, which was made into a movie in 1960. However, both play and movie ended in 1928 and gave the impression to many that Roosevelt continued to improve so that he was walking – albeit painfully – when he ran for president.

I know when I visited Hyde Park as a kid in the early 60s, it was openly mentioned that he had polio, but the extent was glossed over. I remember seeing his wheelchair, but the impression I got was that he used this as a convenience, not because he couldn’t walk at all.

I asked my mother about this once and she also said that it was common knowledge that FDR had had polio, but the extent of his disability was never really known to the general public. They knew he used a cane, and one of his last speeches was from a wheelchair (he apologized for his “unusual posture”, i.e. sitting down). It was common knowledge that his wife would go in his stead to places where a man with difficulty walking would find the terrain almost impossible, such as some of the WPA worksites and, if I recall, on one occasion a coal mine. At least some of the poor who voted for him felt his problems with polio and getting around gave him sympathy for people who, through no fault of their own, found themselves on the down and out. Maybe that’s even true.

This description is accurate.

My mother was a small child in the 1930s and she knew and so did her parents. Anybody who wanted to know knew, but nobody talked about it and it was considered really rude to talk about it.

Sounds a lot like Sunnydale Syndrome.

I think the public knowledge was that he was “lame” rather than completely paralysed.

Roosevelt to Congress, March 2, 1945

There were at least some photos of Roosevelt in a wheelchair.

This photo from September 1945 shows an elevator on Roosevelt’s plane with the caption “Elevator made it possible for him to come aboard in his wheelchair easily.” So the secret was certainly revealed within a few months after his death.

Here’s a quote from [Time](As against the Press’s desire for newsworthy pictures, it seemed probable last week that most citizens would sympathize with the President’s insistence on respect for his privacy and dignity. But on one score news photographers have repaid his past graciousness in full. Just as mention of his lameness in print is ordinarily avoided, so no Press photograph or cinema newsreel ever shows Franklin Roosevelt rolling in his wheelchair or walking awkwardly with the aid of his stick.)magazine in 1936.

I think public perception was that Roosevelt sometimes used a wheelchair, but the public wasn’t aware that his “walking” was only possible with great diffculty in a staged situation.

I believe there are only two authenticated news photographs of Roosevelt in a wheelchair. The press had a “gentleman’s” agreement not just not to print such photos, but never even to take them. They never mentioned Roosevelt’s incapacities. Never ran feature articles on him. Total silence for 12 years.

Roosevelt had pushed himself to the point where he could walk a short distance by putting on his braces and using one of his sons as a kind of walking crutch. Although it looked as if he was just linking arms with him, he actually put as much of his weight on him as possible so he was half carried along. That made it seem as if he could walk fairly easily.

With him and the entire press corps actively conspiring to make his paralysis invisible, it was easy to keep the full story from coming out until after his death.

Today, of course, it’s just the opposite. Roosevelt NEVER appeared in public WITH a wheelchair or WITHOUT his trademark cigarette holder.

Latter-day pictures and statues of FDR, of course, make sure FDR is shown in a wheelchair with no tobacco products anywhere.