Wednesday, July 17, 2013

FDR, Disability, and the Journal of the Historical Society

Randall Stephens

Scott Hovey, managing editor of the Journal of the Historical Society, points us to the July 12th issue of Time magazine online. In it doctoral student in history at Boston University Matthew Pressman challenges the idea that a "gentlemen's agreement" existed between
the press and Franklin Roosevelt regarding the president's disability.  Writes Pressman:

The recently discovered film clip of President Franklin D. Roosevelt being pushed in a wheelchair, despite showing neither Roosevelt’s face nor the wheelchair, has become an object of considerable public interest. One reason people find the clip so fascinating is that it seems to represent a radically different era in American political life—one in which the president could rely on the press corps to help him hide from the larger public something so glaringly obvious as the fact that he was a paraplegic from having contracted polio at age 39. 

An NBC Nightly News report on the discovery stated that there was “a gentlemen’s agreement” between FDR and the press corps to hide the extent of his disability, and the Associated Press wrote that it was “virtually a state secret.” That has long been the conventional wisdom, repeated in countless books and articles. But it is inaccurate. In fact, the press sometimes described his condition in great detail. (read more)

Find out more in the September 2013 issue of the Journal of the Historical Society, which will include Pressman's article on the subject. Here is the TOC for that forthcoming issue:

PETER A. COCLANIS, "Editor’s Introduction"

JAMES B. LEWIS, SEONG HO JUN, AND DANIEL SCHWEKENDIEK, "Toward an Anthropometric History of Chosŏn Dynasty Korea, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Century"

KAREN M. HAWKINS, "A Moderate Approach: How the War on Poverty Was Kept Alive in Eastern North Carolina, 1963-1968"

MATTHEW PRESSMAN, "Ambivalent Accomplices: How the Press Handled FDR’s Disability and How FDR Handled the Press"

WYATT WELLS, "Research Note: Appointments of Catholics during the New Deal"


Randall said...

See also this story and video clip on the NPR site:

Gabriel Loiacono said...

Congrats to Mr. Pressman. This really does recast that period effectively. Politics appears a bit rougher, but also the president's disability appears a bit more acceptable than previously thought!