Warm Springs: A President in our Midst (Part 3 of 3)
This marks our last History Spotlight of the 2021 year. It has been my incredible pleasure to put these moments of Columbus history and our region's together for you this year. I have learned so much and I hope you have as well.
Thanks to all of our members, Historic Columbus remains on sound financial footing to brace for the challenges 2022 may bring. We have also continued to stay active and in the public eye thanks to new education programming and game-changing revitalization projects. Stepping out of our comfort zone over the past year has resulted in great out-of-the-box ideas, and it has made us stronger.
As always, don't hesitate to contact me with your thoughts, concerns, and ideas for future History Spotlights. Please know Historic Columbus is grateful to each of you. Historic preservation has flourished because of your passion for the history of this town, its stories, and its people.
I hope you enjoy today's conclusion of the Warm Springs series. Thank you again for all you do for preservation in Columbus! Have a wonderful holiday season. Stay safe and take care.
Elizabeth B. Walden
Sources include: A President in our Midst: Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Georgia by Kaye Lanning Minchew, Warm Springs by David M. Burke, Jr. and Odie A. Burke, and
West Central Georgia in Vintage Postcards by Gary L. Doster.
The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. FDR, May 1932
On October 4, 1928, two days after being named the Democratic nominee for governor of New York, Roosevelt appeared at the Springer Opera House in Columbus. The gathering celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the city. The Columbus Enquirer described the evening as one of the “greatest political gatherings ever assembled in Columbus.” Introduced as the “courageous cavalier of Democracy,” Roosevelt lashed out against those who opposed Alfred E. Smith because of religion. His talk was frequently interrupted by the audience from Columbus, Fort Benning, Phenix City, and the surrounding areas of Georgia and Alabama that had packed the theater, with at least 250 people listening outside on amplifiers. Roosevelt assured them that “no matter what may happen on November 6, (he was) going to keep coming back to Georgia.”
Those gathered in the photograph include, on the left, Jack Ellis, then a group representative from Opelika, Alabama. Those in the center include Roosevelt, Walker R. Flournoy, William de L. Worsley, Mrs. Perry Burrus, Mr. and Mrs. Bentley H. Chappell, Leighton MacPherson, Henrietta Worsley, Mrs. William de L. Worsley, and Mrs. William Hart.
On December 15, 1931, Governor Roosevelt sent a check for $1,500 to begin construction on a cottage in Warm Springs. He called upon the skills of Henry Toombs who had earlier built cottage for him in Warm Springs and New York. Now Toombs was charged with building a six-room house overlooking a deep wooded ravine on Pine Mountain. Roosevelt selected the site while horseback riding with Fred Botts. Botts remembered him saying, “I'll build me a cottage here and begin my new life.” FDR’s plans included a sundeck shaped like the fantail of a ship where he could work and enjoy the scenic vistas and sunsets. FDR used only local materials, the long leaf pine and stones from the mountain, for the construction. Daniel Construction Company was hired to build the house, and by May, it was completed. Roosevelt signed the invoice for $8,738.14, and afterward he announced his candidacy for president before the patients and the townspeople of Warm Springs. He and Eleanor threw a housewarming party for everyone in the area. The entire party cost $31.
Roosevelt now had two homes in Warm Springs, and he wanted to rent them while he was campaigning. In a note from Arthur Carpenter to the Foundation accounting department, he asked to set up two accounts in the governor’s name. To distinguish the accounts, he said, “Call the new cottage the Little White House.” The name stuck. When President-Elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt returned in 1932, the nation was mired in the Great Depression, and the people looked to FDR for hope. Some of the most far-reaching policies of the New Deal would be fashioned under the slate roof. The eyes of America focused on the tiny community of Warm Springs, Georgia, and Roosevelt’s Little White House. The education FDR had received while in Georgia was about to pay off.
This husband and wife team, Irvin “Mac” and Elizabeth “Lizzie McDuffie, served President Roosevelt not only in the Little White House but also in Washington. Irvin was FDR’s valet and barber for twelve years, while Lizzie served as housekeeper and confidante to the Roosevelts for 18 years.
After many months of speculation, Roosevelt officially entered the race for president of the United States on January 29, 1932, when he allowed his name to be listed in the North Dakota presidential primary. James Farley managed his 1932 campaign for president with assistance from longtime Roosevelt associate Louis Howe. FDR is pictured below with James Farley.
Roosevelt soon named W.E. Page, publisher of the Columbus Ledger and Enquirer-Sun, as his personal representative in Georgia “to act on his behalf relative to furthering his Presidential nomination,” according to the Warm Springs Mirror. The Piedmont Hotel in Atlanta housed the state headquarters for the Roosevelt for President campaign. Page had been a part of a Columbus group that befriended Roosevelt during his early days in Georgia. Sitting outside the Meriwether Inn, a poster proudly proclaims, “Roosevelt for President.” More than anybody in the nation, the patients and people of Warm Springs knew FDR best. They had seen him struggle, seen his weaknesses, and knew his strengths. Through example, he taught the patients that there was nothing to fear but fear. This was something he would share with a worried nation.
In March of 1932, Roosevelt won the primary in Georgia and in November, he had won the presidential election. There were many celebrations and victory parades in Warm Springs for their friend. Presidents had not often traveled to Georgia. Now, President Roosevelt was coming to celebrate his Thanksgiving holiday with them and his most loyal supporters, the patients at the Foundation. On January 30, 1933, as Adolph Hitler became chancellor, president – elect Roosevelt celebrated his birthday in Warm Springs with dozens of physically impaired children. The nation was excited with hope and confidence in FDR. But there was not a happier group of folks in America than the people in Warm Springs. They had seen Franklin Roosevelt, patient number one, overcome many hurdles. The stigma of polio was often more handicapping than the disease itself. Although he never walked completely on his own again, he had developed a technique at Warm Springs that appeared as if he could walk using a cane. Using his left hand to grip the right arm of his bodyguard or family member who held him up, he heaved his useless legs forward. The cane acted as a prop. This was a tremendous physical struggle, but he knew that if he were confined to a wheelchair, his political aspirations would vanish.
Everyone had heard about his recovery using the waters of Warm Springs and his effort to aid others suffering at the Foundation. For his next birthday in 1934, the people of America took up a collection; they danced, holding numerous fundraisers across the country and sending $1 million to the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation. These “Birthday Balls” would continue until 1938, when the fundraisers would give birth to the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, what we know of today as the March of Dimes. Roosevelt wanted every polio patient to receive the same kind of care, where they lived, that Warm Springs patients received. What FDR experienced in Warm Springs was translated to the American people. The high cost of FDR’s first electric bill at the Little White House would give birth to the Rural Electrification Administration or REA. He had observed banks collapsing and farmers struggling. As a result, the nation received the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), along with many other programs designed to lift the country out of the Great Depression.
A cabinet conference in Warm Springs, Georgia made the headlines as members of FDR's "Brain Trust" directed the policies that shaped everyone's life in America. Pictured above with FDR is Henry Wallace (top right photo, seated to the right), secretary of agriculture and future vice president in FDR's third term. Eugene Vidal, director of aeronautics, is standing. Warm Springs was a place where FDR could relax, but as president, many people demanded his time, and there were many debts to pay. He is shown below with many prominent citizens of Meriwether County and other Georgians who showed their support during the elections in front of the Little White House.
Growing the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation and its campus was also at the top of Roosevelt's list during his early presidential years. Fire had remained a concern and Roosevelt would often express his thoughts about the wooden structures. The decision to demolish the Meriwether Inn came at this time following the discovery it had sunk six inches into the ground. They felt it was too dangerous to life and limb for the patients to live in and take treatments. In 1933, fundraising began for a new reception hall and dining room that could replace the Meriwether Inn. Led by the incredible efforts of Cason Callaway and Cator Woolford, the rive netted enough to build Georgia Hall. The dedication of the new Georgia Hall was made in November of 1933. FDR stated at the dedication," I express my appreciation and thanks, first, to you my neighbors of Warm Springs and Meriwether County, for your true friendship toward me and toward all those who have come here...and made me feel prouder than ever to call this my other home."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was at his happiest and his most thoughtful for the needs of the nation when at Warm Springs. When the press asked FDR how he had come up with the Tennessee Valley Authority, he stated that while in the Little White House, he drafted an outline that developed into the TVA. After living in the South, FDR had taken a deep interest in the problems of the rural communities. He was always developing ideas from his Warm Springs experience that could be applied at a national level. The 1930s closed with the world at war. The United States had not entered yet, and the president’s visits to Warm Springs often became delayed or postponed for months as the situation darkened. He expressed his concerns of danger in 1940 during a brief Thanksgiving visit: “I hope to be down here, without any question, if the world survives, next March for my usual two weeks in the spring.”
Yielding to his concerns about the international situation, he cut his visit short and returned to Washington, D.C. A week later, he asked Congress to declare war on Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt failed to visit Warm Springs at all in 1942 and spent only two days there in 1943. During these stressful days of wartime, he had little time to rest as his health began to fail.
By 1945, the war in Europe was drawing to a close, the Pacific campaign was raging in Okinawa, Roosevelt was preparing to open the first United Nations conference, and he was having his portrait painted. This painting has been left unfinished. On April 12, 1945, FDR was planning to attend a barbeque given by the mayor of Warm Springs. Naval musician Graham Jackson brought his accordion to entertain the president that evening. At the Foundation, the children were practicing for a skit to present to their benefactor the next day. In the Little White House, FDR was sitting at his card table with his cousins nearby. His friend Lucy Rutherford had brought an artist, Elizabeth Shoumatoff, to paint a life-size watercolor of the president. Fala, Roosevelt’s Scottish terrier, was near his master’s side. The sky was blue, and the azaleas and dogwoods were in full bloom.
The future seemed brighter. FDR penned some words, finalizing his Jefferson Day Address for the UN Conference that read, “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.” Shortly after that, he complained of a headache and collapsed. The artist and Lucy immediately left, with her painting unfinished. The president was carried to his bedroom, and at 3:55 PM, Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away. Overnight, thousands of soldiers from Fort Benning arrived to bid their commander in chief farewell. As the procession left the Little White House, Eleanor held the tradition of saying goodbye to the patients before leaving. The streets of Warm Springs were lined with soldiers and townspeople who wept. The tracks were lined with people from Warm Springs to Washington who wept. The globe joined those in Warm Springs, Georgia and wept. Just like the first time FDR arrived in Warm Springs at the depot, he was carried. Now he was being carried again, to leave Warm Springs for the last time. On his first visit, there was little fanfare. On his last exit, the whole world was focused on Warm Springs.
The New York Times eulogized Roosevelt this way: “Men will thank God on their knees a hundred years from now that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the White House.” Almost immediately, Warm Springs became a footnote in history. For two decades, the presence of FDR in Warm Springs had been a powerful force. Now there was a vacuum. It would take years to recover from the shock of FDR leaving so suddenly. Quietly, Warm Springs had touched every American. New Deal programs and policies had developed in Warm Springs such as the REA and TVA. When he saw Southern banks closing, his thoughts developed the FDIC. Agricultural practices tried on FDR’s farm had grown into nationwide policies aimed at benefiting farmers nationwide. FDR’s experience in Warm Springs helped to shape his thoughts both politically and philosophically.
In Warm Springs, Roosevelt dreamed of ending polio, creating a national playground, and developing a modern hydro-therapeutic center. Humbly Warm Springs has also touched nearly every person on earth. To this day, everyone that has taken the polio vaccine can be thankful that Roosevelt contracted polio. What began as a birthday party in 1933 grew to become the March of Dimes that funded research into vaccines. On April 12, 1955, the Salk vaccine was pronounced “safe and effective.” Visitors began returning to Warm Springs to see the “Unfinished Portrait,” the Little White House, and Memorial Museum. The Foundation, now on the National Register, evolved into the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation, devoted to serving those in need. The village of Warm Springs revitalized itself to become a destination for hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. FDR’s farm on Pine Mountain has become a part of the F.D. Roosevelt State Park, the largest in Georgia, with campgrounds hiking, and scenic overlooks. Roosevelt’s dream is coming true. Meanwhile, the waters of Warm Springs will continue to flow, as they have for millennia, touching lives and aiding those who use its remarkable qualities.