President Roosevelt’s personally-owned and -used walnut cane with a white bone handle and tip, measuring 39.5″ long, featuring two black rings below the grip and a silver ring at the bottom of the handle. Includes a detailed letter of provenance on White House letterhead from Mildred Prettyman, a White House worker and the widow of Arthur S. Prettyman. Her husband had served as Roosevelt’s valet from 1939 until the president's death in 1945, and continued working for Harry S. Truman until he left office in 1953. In part: “It gives me pleasure to present to you one of the canes owned and used by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was given to my husband, Arthur S. Prettyman shortly after the handle was cracked, by the President…This particular cane was used a great deal by the President until he cracked the ivory top. It has a curved handle for the hand grip and two black rings near the top. At the bottom of the handle is a silver ring. The bottom of the cane has an ivory tip nearly 3 1/2 inches long…This most personal possession of the President must be preserved for future generations.” Accompanied by multiple photos of President Roosevelt holding the cane at various events, including a visit with Winston Churchill, as well as a photo of Mildred Prettyman with the cane at the time she transferred it to the distinguished Amyx collection.
This cane is a historically significant reminder of FDR’s personal struggle with the crippling effects of polio that inspired one of his lasting legacies—the fight to eradicate the disease. Roosevelt became permanently paralyzed from the waist down after contracting polio at the age of 39 during a family trip to Canada in 1921. Unwilling to acquiesce to this immobile fate, he spent the rest of his life trying to recover—he spent the next three years searching for any means possible to walk again, concerned that this inability would affect his political career. Having exhausted most other options, he heard about a young man who had shown improvement after a course of hydrotherapy in the mineral-rich waters at a Georgia resort. It was then, in 1924, that FDR famously traveled to Warm Springs, Georgia, where the immersion in warm water was one of the few things that seemed to ease his pain—shortly thereafter he purchased the resort and developed it into what became a world-famous polio treatment center—the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, still in operation today as the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. It was at Warm Springs that he was able to strengthen his withered leg and hip muscles and eventually found himself able to stand on his own, at which point he fitted his hips and legs with iron braces and laboriously taught himself to walk a short distance by swiveling his torso while supporting himself with a cane. The cane became an essential part of his image—he was careful to never be seen in his wheelchair in public, instead appearing either seated or standing upright with the support of a cane or aide.
This exact cane is seen in many images of President Roosevelt throughout the early 1940s, including at a number of extraordinarily important historical events such as his meetings with Winston Churchill in 1941 and 1942, which resulted in the Atlantic Charter and the establishment of the United Nations, as well as more ordinary occasions like the visit of Princess Juliana of the Netherlands at Hyde Park. The extensive photographic evidence available of Franklin D. Roosevelt clearly using this cane throughout his presidency establishes its importance as a relic of American history—as an item often used by FDR, this particular cane is of paramount historical significance.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.