March of Dimes

Not many organizations are able to put themselves out of business.  The March of Dimes however did. Founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as the National Center for Infantile Paralysis, it became known as the “March of Dimes” when the call went out for regular Americans to simply give a dime – ten cents – to fund research into a cure for polio. The call came from entertainer Eddie Cantor who mused, “Nearly everyone can send in a dime, or several dimes. However, it takes only ten dimes to make a dollar and if a million people send only one dime, the total will be $100,000.”  The dimes poured in and by 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine. Eventually the disease was licked and the March of Dimes turned its focus to birth defects.

When I was a little girl I spent more than a few weekends in Warm Springs, Georgia, home of FDR’s “Little White House.” The late President died there in 1945, having first traveled there in hopes that the warm mineral waters would cure the paralysis he suffered as a result of polio. My mother was at the medical center in Warm Springs in hopes of finding relief from her severe rheumatoid arthritis. By the time my mom was a patient there, polio had been cured and only a few patients still dealing with the ravages of the disease were still visiting Warm Springs.

It was just a crazy a coincidence that years later I was asked to serve as National Celebrity Spokesperson for the March of Dimes Mother’s March. I recalled my visits to Warm Springs, I had gone door to door soliciting dimes for the cause, and participating in walk-a-thons during high school. Most importantly, I was by then a mother of healthy little ones – and knew just what a blessing that was. And what a thrill it was to know that I was following in Grace Kelly’s footsteps! She too had been a celebrity spokesperson for the March of Dimes. 

With polio no longer an issue, the mission of the March of Dimes today is to make sure that every baby is born full term. Today its research focuses on the causes of pre-term birth and the challenges that babies born too soon face. If you’ve had a preemie or your baby had surfactant therapy to help his or her little lungs mature, you’ve benefited from March of Dimes research!