When I first contracted polio, except for my arms, hands, and neck muscles, I seemed to have paralysis all over my body…. My taste buds were affected; my eyes refused to focus correctly; my mind wandered; and lung muscles were also stricken. At the end of six weeks, I lifted my head off the pillow and was able to sneeze slightly. Three weeks [later] I managed to turn myself on my side. By this time I was able to carry on a conversation without running out of breath. In December, my feet returned for the most part to a normal condition.
Mrs. V. A. Pahl, 1940s

For the majority of patients, the paralysis, breathing difficulties, and other symptoms of the acute phase of polio were a temporary condition.

I had longed to come home but now that I was there, it wasn’t much fun. Home wasn’t the same if I couldn’t sleep in my own bedroom or use the bathroom by myself…. I felt like a stranger in those familiar rooms.
Peg Kehret, 1996

Birthday party for Edna Hindson (left on bed), at Hope Haven Hospital, Florida, 1946
Courtesy of Edna Hindson and Julie Silver

Rehabilitation Hospitals



Leg braces and cane used by President Franklin Roosevelt
Courtesy of Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York

Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker, and members of Congress, I hope that you will pardon me for the unusual posture of sitting down during the presentation of what I want to say, but I know that you will realize it makes it a lot easier for me in not having to carry about ten pounds of steel on the bottom of my legs.
President Franklin Roosevelt, March 2, 1945, the opening words of his last speech to Congress
[Some] equipment is actually used for muscle substitution. The orthopedic corset is a back-and-stomach substitute. It keeps the huge and heavy upper torso and head from grinding down with all that weight on the relatively frail backbone. Long and short leg braces are metal bones strapped with leather to substitute for quadriceps, hamstrings, tibia, and gastrocnemius. Missing muscles are remade of aluminum and leather.
Lorenzo Wilson Milam, 1984

Three-year-old Joy Weeber, 1959
Courtesy of Joy Weeber

Toddler’s corset worn by Joy Weeber, around 1959
Courtesy of Joy Weeber

View object record
I cried when they took away my wheelchair at 3 but my mother said it only took three walking lessons on crutches and I was gone…. I ran with all the neighborhood kids on the mountain and hit anyone who said I was crippled with my crutch.
Joy Weeber, 2004

Double leg braces custom-made for Jean Csaposs, 1931
Courtesy of Jean Csaposs

View object record

Milwaukee brace, used to support the spine

View object record
My braces were built. Steel down both legs from hip to heel outside, from groin to heel inside, running down into the shoes, bound round the thigh and calf with stiff leather cases. Locks at the knees but nothing resembling a joint. It was stand stiff-legged or don’t stand. They weighed, shoes and all, ten pounds…. Then the crutches. If I were to move it would have to be by the power of my shoulders and my triceps … and the hands grasping the holds of the crutches.
Jim Marugg, 1954
I loathed the thing [brace], but the doctor had said I must wear it and that was that. To my parents, a doctor's word was as good as the Lord’s.
Don Kirkendall, 1973

Post-Polio Syndrome

Polio’s adverse influence continues to be felt by many of the people who contracted polio decades ago.

Postpolio Syndrome is characterized by new symptoms that occur in people with a history of polio after a long period of stability (generally at least fifteen to twenty years) in which whatever strength they had remained unchanged…. The symptoms may include new weakness, unaccustomed fatigue, decreased endurance, muscular pain, new swallowing or respiratory problems, cold intolerance, new muscle atrophy, and loss of function.
Dr. Julie Silver, 2001