Monday, November 22, 2010

Elizabeth Hayward Causes: March of Dimes

The virus poliomyelitis, also known as polio or infantile paralysis, is highly contagious and can easily be spread from person to person. If the virus enters the bloodstream it can result in severe damage to the central nervous system and muscle weakness or paralysis. It usually affects children.

A series of widespread polio epidemics began in the early 20th century, resulting in great suffering throughout the United States. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt caught polio at the age of 39 and was severely crippled the rest of his life. In 1938, President Roosevelt established the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to defeat the polio epidemic. The history of that organization is one of the great medical stories of the 20th century.

The foundation began its effort with a radio campaign asking everyone in the country to contribute a dime to fight polio. The foundation's fundraisers were called The March of Dimes, and that name stuck to the entire organization. The March of Dimes funded the work of researchers Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin and many others in the development of the two successful polio vaccines.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was remembered after his death in 1945 for his part in the eradication of polio by having his picture placed on the dime.

Along with many of her other efforts to benefit the healthy growth and development of children, Elizabeth Hayward was involved in the March of Dimes. This little button is one of the items from the collection of her political and social memorabilia.

Elizabeth's grandchildren grew up with  children who had suffered from polio. Her grandson John injured an ankle during a game of tag and remembered the following story:
One of my friends, Don Weaver, had suffered from polio and was completely incapacitated from the waist on down; he loaned me a pair of crutches that he had, so I could walk around with him—he on his leg braces and on his other crutches. This was during the summer when we liked to go swimming in one of the large irrigation ponds in the Burch Creek [Ogden] area. One day after I had shown some improvement from my ankle injury, we went to a pond with one of his brothers and with a couple of my brothers. I almost didn’t get there, because traveling for about a mile or a mile and one-half on crutches was a real chore—especially for me on crutches, but not for Don because he had been doing it for years and had tremendously strong arms and shoulders. Coming back after swimming in the cold irrigation pond was downhill and easier than going up...

Despite the race for a cure, one of Elizabeth's great-grandchildren caught polio in September 1954, just seven months before Dr. Jonas Salk announced that the polio vaccine was "safe, potent, and active." While the great-grandchild suffered a comparatively mild case, he still feels the effects of the disease many years later.

Although there is still no way to cure polio, the disease has been almost entirely eradicated throughout the world, and will continue to be more and more of a distant memory as long as vaccination efforts continue, thanks to the dimes and community efforts of many people like Elizabeth Hayward.

These images in this series were provided by Wessman cousin Toni. Thanks, Toni! The picture of FDR and the March of Dimes poster are from their respective Wikipedia entries. The newspaper clipping is from the Kane County Standard (September 16, 1949) and illustrates some of the changes in medical care during this period.


  1. You can delete this but that's a penny and not a dime! :)

  2. :)

    I guess it does look funny to discuss a dime and then see a penny! The buttons are cataloged on various web sites by size, with 7/8" being a very common size. We'll be seeing that same bust of Mr Lincoln a lot in the upcoming posts.

  3. How funny! (Not polio!) I had the same thought as Jared--but, then realized the penny was to show the size of the button.

    What an interesting story. Thank you for all of your wonderful posts.

  4. Oh, well I guess that's okay then (although a dime would be better!).

    Thanks for all your work and posts.