FDR's Birthday Ball

 FDR's Birthday Ball
President Roosevelt Birthday Ball – 1937. Program. Cover. Ephemera Collection, Galveston and Texas History Center.

Celebrating the President's Birthday Ball

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) was among the greatest American Presidents. He is remembered for facing head on the challenges of the Great Depression and World War II, as well as greatly expanding the role of the federal government in the economy and foreign relations. At Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1921, Roosevelt was stricken by infantile paralysis (polio), which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Nevertheless, he achieved mobility by using a wheelchair and metal leg braces. During 1924, he sought relief in the therapeutic waters at Warm Springs, Georgia. Roosevelt established the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation to help others who contracted polio. He was elected Governor of New York in 1929. Beginning in 1933, he served as President for four terms.

President Roosevelt made his fight against polio a personal cause. In his honor, Birthday Balls would be held every January 30th in cities and towns across the nation. These sought to raise funds to benefit the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation and local efforts to combat polio. Birthday Balls took place from 1934 until the President’s death. The foundation eventually became the March of Dimes through his collaboration with entertainer Eddie Cantor (1892-1964).

The accompanying image shows the cover of the 1937 Birthday Ball in Galveston. Postmaster Robert A. Lyons (1884-1940) was general chairman of the event. Lyons had been the President’s choice to serve as Postmaster of Galveston. The ball was held at City Auditorium, with music provided by the 69th Coast Artillery Band. On account of racial segregation, African Americans had their own Birthday Ball at Gulf View Terrace. The 1934 Galveston Birthday Ball raised $1,240 for the fight against polio.

The Birthday Ball programs are part of a collection of thousands of pieces of ephemera owned by the Galveston and Texas History Center. Staff is scanning representative examples of the printed items. The scans will eventually be uploaded to the History Center’s website.

By Casey Edward Greene, Rosenberg Scholar. January 22, 2020.