why  FDR + polio + Roosevelt Island

The FDR Hope Memorial

recounts a history
of FDR + polio + Roosevelt Island

envisions a future
in which the environment found on Roosevelt Island—a single, inclusive community composed of people with and without disabilities — becomes the norm for all communities

offers a place
of comfort, hope, understanding, and inspiration

people to break down barriers that inhibit understanding, acceptance, and tolerance of people with disabilities

people with disabilities to discover and enjoy a richer and fuller life, to see that disabilities can be overcome


"Enabled, not disabled"


FDR + polio + Roosevelt Island

Franklin Roosevelt spent much of his adult life in a wheelchair. The polio virus, which infected him in 1921 at the age of 39, left him with almost no use of his legs. Twelve years later he became President of the United States. He went on to save the country from economic calamity and the world from Hitler. Many on Roosevelt Island believe FDR’s disability is a special reason to have his memorial on this Island. Here’s what they mean. In 1970, Welfare Island housed two chronic disease hospitals and a Fire Department training station. 

Many of the hospitals’ patients had contracted polio before the epidemic was stalled by vaccination in 1955. Some of them were in “iron lungs.” When the disease weakened the muscles of breathing, artificial respiration had to be provided. Over the years, Coler and Goldwater Hospitals pioneered the use of ventilators that freed polio victims from being tethered to stationary machines.

Nancy Brown was one of those people. For more than 30 years, she has lived in Eastwood and, on most days, you can see her taking the sun in front of Rivercross. Nancy remembers the discussions of renaming Welfare Island. She remembers FDR’s connection to polio as one of the prime factors in the Island’s final name change.


She remembers Vicki Holland. Vicki was another polio survivor who had moved from the wards of Goldwater Hospital to an apartment on Roosevelt Island. A plaque memorializes Vicki at the base of the lighthouse at the Island’s northern tip.

The Island’s housing was built with the disabled as a priority. Certain apartments were specially designed with wider doorways, lower light switches, and accessible bathroom and kitchen facilities. All of the public and commercial spaces followed suit. People in wheelchairs became part of the fabric of all of our lives. Roosevelt Island is a living, breathing memorial to FDR. And when we celebrated FDR Day here each year, it was clear that we were focused on FDR as an icon for the disabled. The FDR Memorial on this Island should focus on the President’s strength in conquering his disability.


— Dr. Jack Resnick
March 2008
Excerpted with permission of
The Main Street WIRE


Why portray FDR as disabled?

FDR did not publicize the extent of his disability in order to avoid allowing an impression, however inaccurate, that his disability indicated weakness. Portraying his disability today honors FDR in a way that was not possible during his time.

FDR with Winston Churchill

FDR with Winston Churchill