March of Dimes

I couldn’t believe it, and I made [my wife] go over it again and again. The Foundation had been set up for cases like mine, people who couldn’t possibly meet the overwhelming expenses involved in an illness like this, or who, by meeting it, would find themselves hopelessly in debt.
Larry Alexander, 1954

The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, later renamed the March of Dimes, was established in 1938 and grew out of the great success of the Birthday Balls for President Franklin Roosevelt. The balls and the foundation, both Roosevelt’s ideas, were directed by his friend and former law partner, Basil O’Connor.

The March of Dimes was a grassroots campaign run primarily by volunteers. Over the years, millions of people gave small amounts of money to support both the care of people who got polio and research into prevention and treatment. Those contributions financed Jonas Salk, Albert Sabin, and the other researchers who developed the polio vaccines that children around the world receive today.

  • The organization’s name came from comedian Eddie Cantor’s comment that the donation of dimes from across the country could become a “march of dimes,” a reference to the popular March of Time newsreels of the era.
  • The first March of Dimes poster child was printed in 1946 and featured Donald Anderson who became a postal worker and lived in Seattle, Washington.
Being a poster child was one of the highlights of my childhood. I got to meet Vice President Nixon and Alice Roosevelt Longworth and ride around in a taxi and be treated like a princess.
Carol Boyer, 2004
  • A quart of milk in the 1930s
  • A copy of On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in 1937
  • A copy of Esquire, LIFE, The New Yorker, Cosmopolitan, Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping, or McCall’s in 1942
  • A hot dog in 1945
  • Two bottles of Coca-Cola in 1945
  • A bag of popcorn at the fairground in 1948
  • A one-way subway fare from Times Square to Coney Island in 1948
  • A cup of coffee in 1950
  • A pay phone call in 1960

March of Dimes promotional photograph of Louis Armstrong at a fund-raiser around 1959
Courtesy of March of Dimes

Elvis Presley being vaccinated, 1956

Courtesy of March of Dimes

When her daughter contracted polio in 1946, Lassie Black got involved in the fight against polio and eventually led the northern Florida March of Dimes. This is one of the scrapbooks she kept about her daughter's illness and her own activities.
Courtesy of Edna Hindson and Julie Silver

View object record

A 1950 Miami Herald clipping shows Mrs. Black (right, standing) with Basil O’Connor, the driving force behind the Warm Springs, Georgia, foundation and the March of Dimes. Actress Helen Hayes (sitting), also shown, was another March of Dimes leader, after her nineteen-year-old daughter Mary died of acute polio in 1949.

Participants in the Mother’s March, here in 1951, went door-to-door collecting donations at houses where the porch light was turned on as a signal for the volunteers to visit there
Courtesy of March of Dimes

March of Dimes collection envelope

View object record