The only president to be elected to office four terms, Franklin D. Roosevelt led the U.S through some of its most difficult times while dealing with struggles of his own.
Born the only child of a wealthy and well-respected family, Roosevelt received the finest education and privileges from an early age. While attending Groton School for boys, he did not excel in athletics, but took to heart the teachings of Groton’s headmaster, Endicott Peabody, who urged students to help the less fortunate through public service.
During his last year at Harvard, he became engaged to Eleanor Roosevelt. They wed in 1905, and FDR studied law at Columbia University Law School. He passed the bar exam in 1907, though he didn’t receive a degree. After practicing law for three years, he found the practice boring and restrictive, and decided to move on to greater things.
In 1910, FDR was invited to run for the New York state senate. He won and was reelected in 1912, serving as chair of the agricultural committee where he passed farm and labor bills and social welfare programs. Woodrow Wilson appointed him as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and he was energetic and an efficient administrator. He specialized in business operations, working with Congress to get budgets approved and systems modernized, and he founded the U.S. Naval Reserve.
FDR was defeated for the New York Senate position in 1914, and again in 1920 when he ran as the Democratic vice presidential candidate with James M. Cox. However, both experiences gave him invaluable experience and exposure.
Meanwhile, FDR was also diagnosed with polio. At first, he was in denial of the paralysis he suffered as a victim of this debilitating disease. Despite his efforts, he never regained the use of his legs. He later established a foundation to help others, and instituted the March of Dimes program that eventually funded an effective polio vaccine.
For a time, he resigned to the disease, believing his political career was over. But through the encouragement of his wife and political confidante, Louis Howe, he began to improve his physical and political image. He learned to walk short distances in his braces and was careful not to be seen in public using his wheelchair.
Being elected as the governor of New York in 1928 gave FDR the confidence boost he needed to campaign for the presidency in the midst of the Great Depression on a platform of government intervention in the economy to provide relief, recovery, and reform. When he took office in March of 1933, there were 13 million unemployed Americans, and hundreds of banks were closed. Roosevelt faced the greatest crisis in American history since the Civil War.