Birthday Balls
- FDR and the March of Dimes

Franklin Roosevelt's Annual Birthday Ball Addresses

Radio Address on the President's First Birthday Ball for Crippled Children
January 30, 1934

Tonight I am very deeply moved by the choice of my birthday anniversary for the holding of Birthday Balls in so many communities, great and small, throughout the country. I send you my greetings and my heartfelt thanks; but at the same time I feel that I have the right to speak to you more as the representative on this occasion of the hundreds of thousands of crippled children in our country.

It is only in recent years that we have come to realize the true significance of the problem of our crippled children. There are so many more of them than we had any idea of. In many sections there are thousands who are not only receiving no help but whose very existence has been unknown to the doctors and health services.

A generation ago somewhat the same situation existed in relation to tuberculosis. Today, because of constant stressing of the subject, the Nation understands the tuberculosis problem and has taken splendid steps not only to effectuate cures but also to prevent the spread of the disease.

The problem of the crippled child is very similar. Modern medical science has advanced so far that a very large proportion of children who for one reason or another have become crippled can be restored to useful citizenship. It remains, therefore, only to spread the gospel for the care and cure of crippled children in every part of this kindly land to enable us to make the same relative progress that we have already made in the field of tuberculosis.

As all of you know, the work at Warm Springs has been close to my heart, because of the many hundreds of cases of infantile paralysis which have been treated there. It is a fact that infantile paralysis results in the crippling of more children and of grownups than any other cause. Warm Springs is only one of the many places where kindness and patience and skill are given to handicapped people. There are hundreds of other places, hospitals and clinics, where the surgeons, doctors and nurses of the country gladly work day in and day out throughout the years, often without compensation.

Warm Springs, through the generous gifts which are being made to the Foundation tonight, will be able to increase its usefulness nationally, especially in the field of infantile paralysis. We shall be able to take more people and I hope that these people will be able to come to us on the recommendation of doctors from every State in the Union. I want to stress, however, that the problem of the crippled child is so great that in every community and in every State the local facilities for caring for the crippled need the support and the interest of every citizen. Let us well remember that every child and indeed every person who is restored to useful citizenship is an asset to the country and is enabled "to pull his own weight in the boat." In the long run, by helping this work we are contributing not to charity but to the building up of a sound Nation.

At Warm Springs the facilities are available, insofar as beds and funds permit, to the rich and to the poor.

The fund to which you contribute tonight will undoubtedly permit us to extend the facilities of Warm Springs in a greater degree than before. I like to think and I would like each one of you who hears me to remember that what you are doing means the enriching of the life of some crippled child. I know and you know that there could be no finer purpose than our will to aid these helpless little ones.

Today so many thousands of welcome telegrams and postcards and letters of birthday greetings have poured in on me in the White House that I want to take this opportunity of thanking all of you who have sent them. From the bottom of my heart I am grateful to you for your thought. I wish I could divide myself by six thousand and attend in person each and every one of these birthday parties. I cannot do that, but I can be and I am with you all in spirit and in the promotion of this great cause for which we all are crusading.

No man has ever had a finer birthday remembrance from his friends and fellows than you have given me tonight. It is with a humble and thankful heart that I accept this tribute through me to the stricken ones of our great national family. I thank you but lack the words to tell you how deeply I appreciate what you have done and I bid you good night on what is to me the happiest birthday I ever have known.

Radio Address on the President's Second Birthday Ball for the Benefit of Crippled Children
January 30, 1935

Most of you who hear my voice tonight know in general terms of the story of the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation--of how, from very small beginnings ten years ago, there have been built up two useful, practical factors in the fight against one of the most insidious and baffling of American health problems.

The first has been the work at Warm Springs itself--the joyous task of taking care of scores of children and of trying to bring them back to useful, active participation in life, and also the interesting task of trying new methods which suggest themselves from time to time through the many and constant advances of medical and surgical science.

The other objective, long dreamed of, receives tonight its greatest incentive. In every part of the Nation funds are being raised to give better care to crippled children within or near their own community. Seventy percent of your generous contributions go to these local needs. The other thirty percent go, not to the Warm Springs Foundation, but to a distinguished Committee, to be allocated by this Committee for the furtherance of research into the cause, the prevention and the treatment of infantile paralysis.

I need not tell you of my own deep personal happiness that my birthday is being made the occasion for aiding this splendid work. I wish that I might be with each and every one of you at each and every one of these parties and entertainments in every State in the country.

Today I have also been made happy by thousands of telegrams and letters--so many of them, indeed, that even an enlarged White House staff could not begin to express thanks for them. To all of you who sent them I, therefore, take this opportunity of extending my gratitude.

To all of you who are so generously helping the cause of crippled children everywhere, I also send my thanks and my best wishes. I like this kind of a birthday.

Address by Radio for the Third Birthday Ball for the Benefit of Crippled Children
January 30, 1936

Tonight, on my fifty-fourth anniversary, I am very happy because Colonel Doherty, Carl Byoir and Keith Morgan tell me that their reports indicate that this year's celebration, in the interest of continued efforts against infantile paralysis, will exceed our fondest hopes of success. Tonight in every State and in every outlying territory of our Nation many millions of people are enjoying themselves at all kinds of local parties. They have resolutely aligned themselves to carry on the fight against infantile paralysis until this dread and costly disease is brought under definite and final control.

Ten years ago it was made possible for me, with the support of many personal friends, to start the work of the Warm Springs Foundation in Georgia and I dedicated it to one purpose--to apply itself to the task and to keep everlastingly on the job, not by itself alone but with the cooperation of the doctors, the orthopedic hospitals and those thousands of individuals on whose shoulders falls the brunt of caring for several hundred thousands of the afflicted.

No single agency, whether it be the doctor, the hospital or the research laboratory, can cope individually with this great problem; we can do it only by joining our efforts.

Without your local committees the National Committee could not function. You tonight who are attending these celebrations, and you who are in your homes, have greatly helped to make a reality of what was once only a hope. In nearly seven thousand communities you are helping to produce concrete results by making it possible for large numbers of those who suffer from physical handicap caused by infantile paralysis to receive aid and assistance. The lives of these people, young and old, will be made easier. Through rehabilitation by far the greater part of them will become more mobile and will take their places in active life once again with their heads lifted high and their courage unabated.

I am confident that each local committee will work out, with the best medical advice, plans for the wise administering of the 70 percent of the funds which, as a result of this year's Birthday parties, will remain in your community for expenditure.

The 30 percent of the funds which you will send to the National Committee will be used by the Foundation to intensify the national part which it is playing in building up the national fight. I take this opportunity to thank Mr. Jeremiah Milbank, Dr. Paul de Kruif and the other members of the Research Commission, and all those who with them are administering the research activities in connection with the work.

With full confidence and faith in the success we are already attaining. I rededicate the Foundation to the task which lies ahead.

I wish I could look into your faces tonight. You have made me very happy, more happy than I can express in words. Though I cannot be with you, I want each and every one of you to know and feel that I deeply and sincerely appreciate all that you have done for the cause, all of the inspiration which you have applied to it. I am especially grateful not only to the National Committee but to the local chairmen of the local committees who have worked so hard, and also to the press, to the radio, and to the newsreels which have visualized for the whole country the need and the reasons for this great national campaign.

To several hundred thousand victims of infantile paralysis I send very personal greetings, especially to the youngsters among them whose lives lie ahead of them. It is on their behalf that I thank you once more.

Radio Address on the Fourth Birthday Ball for Crippled Children
January 30, 1937

You are participating in the finest birthday present which you could possibly give me; and at the same time, you are participating in birthday presents to many thousands of children in every part of the country.

Because devoted volunteers, who have worked for the success of the parties tonight, are numbered by the tens of thousands, I cannot, I regret, make personal acknowledgment to each and every one of my appreciation of their unselfish services. I take this occasion, therefore, to thank you all and, in addition, to thank the many other thousands who have written me and telegraphed me.

I cannot express this word of heartfelt appreciation without acknowledging with pride and with satisfaction the splendid response the Nation has made in answering the call of suffering which comes to us from the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys. Truly, "one touch of nature makes the whole world kin."

The preliminary response to the Red Cross appeal has been generous and I know that every dollar necessary to help the flood sufferers will be forthcoming from the rest of the Nation. The appeal for our friends in the flood areas is one of high emergency. Through national effort on a national scale, we shall hope in the days to come to decrease the probability of future floods and similar disasters. In the meantime, we propose to meet this emergency.

The problem of infantile paralysis is not in the same sense an immediate emergency. It is with us every one of the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. It is an insidious and perfidious foe. It lurks in unexpected places and its special prey is little children. It may appear in epidemic form, in any community.

May I tell you a little history? As most of you know, the Warm Springs Foundation undertook treatment and investigation of infantile paralysis in a very small way in 1927. The first birthday parties were held three years ago, on January 30, 1934. The proceeds from the parties were used, in part, for necessary equipment at Warm Springs, in part for taking care of patients from every section of the country who could not afford the cost of the treatment and, in part, in studying the whole national problem of infantile paralysis. As this study developed three years ago, we came to the conclusion that the work of the Warm Springs Foundation should concern itself far more with the broad national problem of infantile paralysis than with the work of taking care of only a few hundred children each year at Warm Springs, with its necessarily limited accommodations.

Therefore, with the birthday parties on January 30, 1935, and in 1936 the proceeds from these parties in thousands of communities were devoted and, in 1937, will be devoted not to the work at Warm Springs, but to the broader national problem of infantile paralysis. Seventy percent of all the money which has been raised has gone and goes to the care of children crippled by infantile paralysis within their own communities. A committee of doctors and of leading citizens determines how best that money shall be spent in each community. With that determination Warm Springs has nothing to do.

The other thirty percent of the proceeds goes primarily to two objectives. The first is research. Through a special research commission, with the help of a medical advisory committee, outright grants for nearly three hundred thousand dollars have been made to about fifteen of the leading research laboratories scattered through the country.

Much has been learned, much has been accomplished. While it is too early to say that infantile paralysis, in its epidemic form, can be stopped, we hope that through new methods we can soon arrive at a substantial decrease in the number of children who become infected. We believe that we are on the right track.

The second function has taken the form of establishing a central office of coordination. Every year there come thousands of letters from every part of the country, from parents of children who have recently been stricken or from parents of children who were attacked and crippled years ago by infantile paralysis.

When the individual case is brought to the attention of this office of coordination, it is carefully checked and sent to an orthopedic surgeon or an orthopedic hospital or to a nursing service or clinic or to a State society for the handicapped. Some kind of help is obtained--perhaps an operation, or a new wheel chair, or a new brace or a new corset. In many cases good advice or a careful medical examination gives helpful results.

You will see, therefore, that the Foundation has been putting the care of infantile paralysis and the research into its causes on a national basis for the first time. The expense of research and of the national coordination of these cases entirely absorbs the thirty percent of the proceeds of these birthday parties.

You are giving tremendous help, not only to the crippled children of your own community but also to the fight against the continuance of infantile paralysis in the Nation. The work, with your help, is going on. It will not cease until some day the disease itself is brought under control and proper aid has been rendered to all.

I wish that some physical way might be found for me to come in person to each of your parties tonight. I am with you in spirit. I am grateful to you for the splendid work that you are doing, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Radio Address for the Fifth Birthday Ball for Crippled Children
January 29, 1938

My Friends:My heart goes out in gratitude to the whole American people tonight--for we have found common cause in presenting a solid front against an insidious but deadly enemy, the scourge of Infantile Paralysis.

It is a very glorious thing for us to think of what has been accomplished in our own lifetime to cure epidemic diseases, to relieve human suffering and to save lives. It was by united effort on a national scale that tuberculosis has been brought under control; it was by united effort on a national scale that smallpox and diphtheria have been almost eliminated as dread diseases.

Today the major fight of medicine and science is being directed against two other scourges, the toll of which is unthinkably great -- cancer and infantile paralysis. In both fields the fight. is again being conducted with national unity--and we believe with growing success.

Tonight, because of your splendid help, we are making it possible to unite all the forces against one of these plagues by starting the work of the new National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The dollars and dimes contributed tonight and in the continuing campaign will be turned over to this new Foundation, which will marshal its forces for the amelioration of suffering and crippling among infantile paralysis victims wherever they are found. The whole country remains the field of work. We expect through scientific research, through epidemic first aid, through dissemination of knowledge of care and treatment, through the provision of funds to centers where the disease may be combated through the most enlightened method and practice to help men and women and especially children in every part of the land.

Since the first birthday celebrations in 1934, many splendid results have been accomplished so that in literally hundreds of localities facilities for combating the disease have been created where none existed before.

We have learned much during these years and when, therefore, I was told by the doctors and scientists that much could be gained by the establishment of this new National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, I was happy, indeed, to lend my birthday to this united effort.

During the past few days bags of mail have been coming, literally by the truck load, to the White House. Yesterday between forty and fifty thousand letters came to the mail room of the White House. Today an even greater number--how many I cannot tell you, for we can only estimate the actual count by counting the mail bags. In all the envelopes are dimes and quarters and even dollar bills--gifts from grown-ups and children-mostly from children who want to help other children to get well.

Literally, by the countless thousands, they are pouring in, and I have figured that if the White House Staff and I were to work on nothing else for two or three months to come we could not possibly thank the donors. Therefore, because it is a physical impossibility to do it, I must take this opportunity of thanking all of those who have given, to thank them for the messages that have come with their gifts, and to thank all who have aided and cooperated in the splendid work we are doing. Especially am I grateful to those good people who have spread the news of these birthday parties throughout the land in every part of all the big cities and the smaller cities and towns and villages and farms.

It is glorious to have one's birthday associated with a work like this. One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. And that kinship, which human suffering evokes, is perhaps the closest of all, for we know that those who work to help the suffering find true spiritual fellowship in that labor of love.

So, although no word of mine can add to the happiness we share in this great service in which we are all engaged, I do want to tell you all how deeply I appreciate everything you have done. Thank you all and God bless you all.

Radio Address on the Sixth Birthday Ball for Crippled Children
January 30, 1939

I like to think that the celebrations being held from one end of the country to the other tonight are an indication of the national determination to wage unending warfare against a national peril.

We are all engaged in a campaign which, because of special circumstances, requires that our effort shall be nationwide, unified and continuous. Infantile paralysis is an enemy which neither slumbers nor sleeps. It lurks in hidden places and strikes without warning whether the victim be child, or youth, or man or woman of mature years.

I emphasize the importance of a nationwide, continuous campaign because experience tells us that epidemic diseases can be stamped out only through carefully directed work on a nationwide scale. We need, therefore, the cooperation of every state and county, every city and town, every hamlet and crossroads community in this work. Only by such cooperation has tuberculosis been brought under control in our lifetime. Only by the same concerted action will the scourge of infantile paralysis be stamped out.

I should like to say just a word about the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Not yet two years old, it is a mature and efficient organization working industriously to perform its functions with but one objective--the banishment of infantile paralysis. Last year the National Foundation received all of the net proceeds of the birthday parties for its national work.

This year fifty per cent of the net proceeds of tonight's parties will go to the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. But the remaining fifty per cent will be spent in the communities where the money is being raised. The funds will be administered through county chapters of the National Foundation. These chapters will be composed of those chairmen who have worked so hard to make this year's drive the success we all anticipate, and those other members of the communities whose association with medicine, public health activities and other agencies give them special equipment to supervise infantile paralysis relief work in local communities.

While the county chapters extend local assistance to victims, especially those who are without funds, the National Foundation must carry on with equal persistence the work of tracking the germ of the disease to its source.

We believe that this basis of the division of funds will also afford a well balanced division of activity between the central organization and the far-flung county communities. Thus while the central organization directs the broad work of research and care and treatment, local relief will be carried out through county chapters in accord with the American principle of local self-determination.

In thanking all who have made possible the widespread celebrations being held tonight--I am informed that some twenty-five thousand events are being carried out--may I, in passing, speak of one phase of this campaign which touches me personally. I refer to the fact that these celebrations to raise funds are being held on my birthday. I consider that as only an incident and not a very important incident at that.

By this I do not mean that I am insensible of the honor which the selection of my birthday for this effort implies. I am deeply appreciative of that honor and feel in my heart a joy greater than I can express that in this year, as in previous years beginning with 1934, my birthday should be chosen as a pivotal date around which this splendid campaign should move.

The point I wish to make is that the really important thing is the work itself. For that noble work one day is as good as another. The ideal we strive for is to work every day in the task which is ours to achieve.

Again, as in previous years, I must take this means of thanking the vast army who have worked for the success of this campaign. Their very number, greater than ever will be known, precludes individual acknowledgment. My thanks go to all who have made contributions, either directly or indirectly, whether through patronage of the parties, in contributing to the March of Dimes, or aiding this great work by other means. And I desire, also, to express my heartfelt appreciation to the thousands and thousands of friends who have sent birthday greetings.

With my thanks to all of my countrymen goes from the depths of my soul a prayer that God will bless the work and the workers. The good cause must go on.

Radio Address for the Birthday Ball for Crippled Children
January 30, 1940

MY HEARTY GREETINGS to all the nation.
I wish that everybody within sound of my voice could capture something of the joy I feel on this birthday. It is a joy, the keenness of which is enhanced because in the larger sense these far flung celebrations are wholly impersonal. At least, that is the way I like to view them. A recent writer has put it this way:

It is an expression of our greatest political asset-the enormous fund of tolerance, good will, good humor and simple human kindliness which underlie our public life.

Here is no trace of partisanship, no taint of social disunity, of economic controversy. There is not any, has never been, the slightest attempt to play politics with the various efforts-the March of Dimes, the Birthday Balls--to raise money for a worthy national purpose . . . so the effect of this great celebration is to keep political discussion and partisan passion within the bounds of that neighborly good temper, which is still the chief quality that distinguishes the American electorate from the political masses of the Old World.

In sending a dime . . . and in dancing that others may walk, We the People are striking a powerful blow in defense of American freedom and human decency. For the answer to class hatred, race hatred, religious hatred, is not repression, criticism or opposition. The answer is the free expression of the love of our fellow men, which is the real thing we celebrate on January 30, 1940.

This morning a very old friend of mine, a distinguished Justice, sent me a note of congratulation which embodied a new and a very useful thought for us grown-ups.

He said: "The compassionate purpose to which our national tradition now dedicates this day has a profound symbolism. For in a way we are all crippled children. And we are the more poignant in our disabilities than the immediate beneficiaries because we think we are grown-up and big and strong, and yet are so often unhumorously immature and unequal to the tasks our times impose on us."

That is a nice thought because if as we grow older we realize our inability to meet perfection, the happier we can and should be in everything that we do to make life a little better-to use the vehicles of science and cooperation to improve the lot of those who need it most.

Today I think the nation as a whole is aware of and awake to the scourge of infantile paralysis. To minimize its effects, to drive it out entirely in the long run, is, as you know, our primary purpose today.

But as the years go on I hope that these annual celebrations will extend that task to the care of all crippled children, no matter what the cause of their crippling.

What a magnificent task this is! More than twenty-five thousand parties are being held today and tonight--hundreds of thousands of devoted volunteer workers in State, county, city and hamlet. To all of them, of all ages and representing all callings, I tender my heartfelt thanks for what they have done.

To all who have helped through The March of Dimes and otherwise with generous donations, I am likewise grateful. Nor can I overlook the thousands of affectionate birthday cards and birthday messages which have so gladdened my heart today.

I think I am safe in saying that no nation in the whole world has ever in all history put a larger volunteer army into the field on any given date than the army of Americans which tonight is taking part in the defense of American childhood.

During the World War we had nearly five million American men under arms. It is safe to estimate that at least four or five times as many Americans, men, women and children, are enrolled in this new army which has joined the march to save life and not to take it.

It is in that magnificent spirit and with the definite knowledge that we are making sure and steady progress that I say to each and every one of you tonight--"Thank you, and God bless you."

Radio Address for the Birthday Ball for Crippled Children
January 30, 1941

From the bottom of my heart I thank all of you- every man, woman and child who has labored with my old friends, Basil O'Connor and Keith Morgan, in this great cause. And let me, at the outset, also give you my thanks in behalf of all those victims of infantile paralysis to whom this celebration tonight spells a new hope and a new courage.

Most of all, I am grateful to America -- for reaffirming at this hour America's humanity, America's active concern for its children. This is the eighth birthday in a row which all of you have made an occasion for joining hands in this national humanitarian effort.

I cannot say, as you can well understand, that this is for me a completely happy birthday. These are not completely happy days for any of us in the world. Shall we say that American birthdays this year are being made at least happier than they would otherwise be because all of us are still living under a free people's philosophy?

It is not only that the lights of peace blaze in our great cities and glow in our towns and villages -- that laughter and music still ring out from coast to coast--that we will return to safe beds tonight.

It is not that we feel no concern for the plight of free peoples elsewhere in the world; that we do not hope that they may continue the freedom of their governments and their ways of life in the days to come.

It is because we believe in and insist on the right of the helpless, the right of the weak, and the right of the crippled everywhere to play their part in life- and survive.

It is because we know instinctively that this right of the unfortunate comes under our free people's philosophy from the bottom up and can never be imposed from the top down.

I do have satisfaction on this birthday of mine because of the fact that definite progress has been made in these past twenty years on a national scale in the fight against infantile paralysis. In a very broad but a very definite sense, this fight is a true part of the national defense of America.

I have always tried to remember that the particular problem of infantile paralysis does call for a truly national fight. We have it in every State of the Union. We are at last organizing adequately to fight it.

We have had to face the necessity of uniting medical scientists and doctors and nurses and public health officers and the general public into a unique offensive -- and the battle year by year is gaining greater success.

This year-in, year-out campaign culminating on each January thirtieth has had, and still has, the support of almost everyone from those who give large sums down to the school children of the Nation who contribute their pennies. Clearly, unquestionably, we are winning the fight- winning it, thanks to all of you.

And so, to all of you I give my own thanks for the rarest birthday present of all -- the gift of your charity, the gift of your kindliness to each other and to the Nation.

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