The FDR Committee's "Why"

  • Jun - 11 - 2024
  • Mary E Dolan

Dear Friends of the FDR Memorial and FDR Memorial Committee,

In 2019, after learning of the passing of my former boss, mentor, and friend, Mike Deland, the pang of unfinished business hit me – hard. Mike and I had always talked about formally chronicling and writing “our story” of the fight for the FDR wheelchair statue. Sure, we both had boxes of articles and other materials from that campaign, but that was it. I reached out to Jane Deland - Mike’s widow; Jim Dickson, who led the grassroots campaign for the wheelchair statue; and Davis Buckley, who consulted with Mike about the statue back in the 1990s, and we all agreed we had to do something to record our history, or it would fade away.  

Then, I went down to the FDR Memorial. I hadn’t been there in years. The fountains weren’t working, the lighting was not functioning well, shrubbery was overgrown obscuring FDR’s quotes, and the plaque in the bookstore dedicated to the efforts of the disability community and donors was illegible. Rubbed away. Literally, we were disappearing, and the majesty of the Memorial was slipping away. Clearly, if we were to preserve the story of the wheelchair statue campaign, we had to dedicate ourselves to preserving the entire Memorial.  And so, this journey began.  

But we do not go on this journey alone. The Memorial is owned and operated by the National Park Service (NPS). Upon completion and dedication, memorials are handed over to NPS to serve as the custodians for the American public. As good as they are, NPS has made it clear that they cannot do it all. Many new memorials have been added in DC alone, but NPS faces staffing and budget cuts. As a result, NPS looks to groups like ours to help them with all aspects of overseeing historic sites. Since 2019, we have been doing that in various ways.

When I alerted NPS that the plaque was illegible, they re-inked it. That was a quick fix. When we published an accessibility audit on the Memorial, NPS improved accessibility features at the Memorial. The fountains and the lights continue to be a challenge because of their complexity, but the fountains are better than they were in 2019 because, I believe, we have been a positive squeaky wheel.

We have made major inroads to writing “our story” and embedding it into the narrative of the FDR Memorial.  We have published an initial archive about the campaign, including oral histories, written lesson plans, produced a documentary short, and led teacher professional development workshops. Given each opportunity, we are excited to share the story that has led us here. 

We are proud of our advocacy work on repairs and accessibility and are thankful to NPS for their attention to those matters. And, most certainly, we are proud of the content we have created about the wheelchair statue and the commemoration of the Memorial’s 25th anniversary we led in 2022.  

So allow me to prompt the question --- what if the FDR Committee had not been around for these past five years?  Would the Memorial look as good as it does now? Would people have a more inclusive experience at the Memorial thanks to accessibility upgrades? Would growing numbers of teachers know how to include FDR’s disability experience and the fight for the wheelchair statue in their instruction? Would anyone have recognized its 25th anniversary?

Get my point on why we do what we do?  

And there is so much more to do.

Perhaps this gives you a sense of why we exist and why choosing to give to the FDR Committee is important to sustain this work.  

Thank you in advance for your support.


Mary E. Dolan, Co-Founder and Executive Director