Same image, more thoughts

Roosevelt_in_a_wheelchairThank you everybody for sharing your thoughts and ideas about this photo! I’ll summarize briefly what some of you have said and asked about it. First of all, many people responded to my use of the word iconic. Is this really an iconic photo? they asked. It is not iconic like Nick Ut’s photo of children fleeing from a napalm attack in Vietnam, or the one of JFK’s son saluting at his father’s funeral. I know things get called iconic way too easily, and that, particularly, you always need to think about the question for whom an image is iconic. To be honest, I used the term somewhat naively; I should perhaps have said “very famous”, because I don’t really mean to suggest it transgresses far beyond its own context – which is often considered as a requirement for an icon (e.g. the coke bottle and the image of Che Guevara symbolize far more than the drink and the man). But I am convinced that this picture became famous, probably quite suddenly, in the course of a few years, at some point between 1941 and now, and I would like to know when. Ideally I would have a table with numbers of reprints by year, but it is rights-free and in the public domain, so it seems impossible to get something like that.

Anyway. As for the content: it made various people think of Annie the 1982 film about the red-haired orphan (who, in a small subplot, visits president Roosevelt). It struck me, because I have that association too. Even though the girl doesn’t really look like Annie at all. I suppose it goes to show how influential cinematic representations are, even (or especially) if they are in a children’s musical. I bet many people nowadays know Roosevelt was in a wheelchair, because they have seen him in a wheelchair in Annie. (Which is also interesting in light of the fact that most of these people presumably don’t think he was wont to burst into song at random intervals.) But while this girl is not Annie – she was called Ruthie and was the daughter of the caretaker of Roosevelt’s Hill Top Cottage at which this photo was taken – I’m inclined to believe that the photo may have become very well-known around the same time as Annie. Both couple a man who is visibly powerful yet disabled, with a girl who is visibly common yet young, enchanting and able-bodied. In a sense they are extremes, who together encompass an America that provides room and opportunity for everyone who has the courage to take on the challenge.


Over Sara Polak

Blog about my research: The World We Live In Today Is FDR's World
Dit bericht is geplaatst in (New) Media, Cultural memory. Bookmark de permalink.

3 reacties op Same image, more thoughts

  1. Henk Schonewille schreef:

    Hi Sarah,
    Just read your post about the “iconic” photo of FDR in his wheelchair. So, maybe this information is “superfluous”.
    That photo was taken in February 1941 by Margareth Suckley. BTW, Margareth was also the person who gave Fala as a present to FDR.
    In my opinion, this photo became famous in 1945 when, after FDR’s death, the public found out that FDR was disabled.

    • Sara Polak schreef:

      Thank you Henk! Your comment is by no means superfluous. I already knew the first part (about Margaret Suckley), but am wondering: do you have any sources for the second part? I would be particularly interested in historical evidence that 1) the public found out that FDR was disabled in 1945 and 2) evidence that that photo was then “around” in the public arena. If you can point me to such evidence, please do. Thank you very much!

      • Henk Schonewille schreef:

        Sorry Sara, but I can’t give an exact answer to your questions. I searched my FDR library, but I don’t have exact references to news clippings in 1945 about his disabledness.

        I always wondered how the press and the public reacted in 1945 after FDR’s Congressional speech about the Jalta conference, in which he almost for the first time in twenty years mentioned his disability in public.

        I have some book references, but I do think you already know these books by heart:

        FDR’s Deadly Secret- Steven Lomazow: Chapter 14 – p. 187 : “From the moment FDR died, much of the White House press corps began to lift the tight censorship they had imposed on themselves. The same newspaper editions that reported FDR’s death finally contained candid accounts of what those reporters who covered the president had all seen and heard. –ibid.- p. 188 reports about a front page story in the NYT the morning after FDR’s death about the condition of the FDR’s health. Ibid. p. 188 and 189: an editorial in the Saturday Evening Post of May 19, 1945 in which Garet Garett made a statement that the state of Mr. Roosevelt’s health was a secret from millions of Americans….
        Of course these articles are about FDR’s health during his third and fourth term of office, but perhaps it also refers to FDR’s disabledness?

        Perhaps interesting to know is that Steven Lomazow currently has a (live)blog about this book. Perhaps he’s willing to answer some of your questions: see:

        Contrary to Lomazow, Hugh Gregory Gallagher in his book: FDR’s Splendid Deception (with the “iconic” photo of FDR and Ruthie Bie on the cover), p. 212 tells about the fact that the biographers of FDR continued the conspiracy with the public about the image of FDR as vigorous and physically fit.

        The Wilson Quarterly of Summer 2005, has an editorial about FDR’s Hidden Handicap.

        Some of your U.S. collegue scholars recently published articles and books about your subject. To mention a few: Ray Begovich, James Tobin (but of the early FDR polio years). Also Professor Lennard J. Davis, a well-known American specialist in disability studies, and the autor of works in a number of fields. see: Again, perhaps they know the answer to these questions.

        I would also like to point out an article, written by Matthew Pressman: “Ambivalent Accomplices: How the Press Handled FDR’s Disability and How FDR Handled the Press,” see:

        Last but not least, FDR Koning van Amerika – A. Lammers – p. 272: 2e alinea. In this book Lammers refers to the flow of publications about FDR after his death in april 1945.

        Furthermore, I don’t have evidence that the photo of Ruthie Bie was “around” in the media in 1945. I don’t know if Ruthie Bie (now Ruth Bautista – Bie) is still alive. Maybe she can tell you when her photo was first published in a US-newspaper?

        And of course, it’s always a pleasure to (re)visit the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park and find your answers there. Like FDR’s quotation: “All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River”.

        Good luck with your thesis.

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