Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Polio Vaccines and Cottage Cheese

Below is a V-Mail from this day 69 years ago. Sometimes, what I can learn from one casual line in these letters simply astounds me.

Jan 26, 1944 V-Mail Back

This V-mail was sent to Alex via the Fleet Post Office in New York on January 26th, 1944. Sylvia sent it from her family’s home on Jerome Avenue.

Jan 26, 1944 V-Mail

Dearest husband,

Cookie was [sic] to the doctor’s today – and she weighs almost 22 lbs. and is almost 30” tall. For a seven ½ month old baby, she’s a little horse! She can take plain milk now – no more formula! Hooray!! The sterilizing of bottles keeps up for another few months. Slowly I’m to start her on chopped foods – she’s to get cottage cheese three times a week. I’m to return in 4 weeks and that’s when she’ll start getting her Diptheria injections. And baby, am I scared of that. I wish you were here to hold my hand- or to hold Baby while she gets the needle. Your mother and Edward were here today – and mom brought Cookie two dozen fresh country eggs. Wasn’t that sweet and thoughtful? And it’s so timely, because it’s the end of the month, and it’ll be a week before the check arrives. Your mom is very thoughtful, honey. She and everyone else is well. They’re all going to an affair for infantile paralysis this Sunday. You remember, the drive is on again and it’s the President’s birthday ball too. Mom watched Adrienne clap hands in two languages and then she sang her a little Hungarian rhyme and Adrienne clapped hands at that too. (cont’d) Sylvia

Unfortunately, I don’t have the attached continuation of this letter but this one page alone is full of so many interesting details. The check arrives at the beginning of each month. Adrienne will eat cottage cheese three times a week! She will get multiple Diptheria injections. Alex’s mother brings fresh country eggs. Where was she coming from? I love the idea of Adrienne clapping in “two languages,” and clapping along to a Hungarian rhyme.

The mention of the “drive” and President’s ball refers to the origination of the March of Dimes.  In 1938, Roosevelt created the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. According to the FDR Library website, “To increase awareness of the campaign, radio personality and philanthropist Eddie Cantor took to the air waves and urged Americans to send their loose change to President Roosevelt in ‘a march of dimes to reach all the way to the White House.’ Soon, millions of dimes flooded the White House. In 1945, the annual March of Dimes campaign raised 18.9 million dollars for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis…” The Birthday Balls helped raise financial support that led to a polio vaccine. “Although the Birthday Balls ended in 1945 with the death of President Roosevelt, both of their legacies live on in the March of Dimes.”

This is an amazing example of how a nationwide movement, spurred by one inspiring leader, can have an enormous effect. Even when many Americans awaited the checks at the beginning of each month for their survival, as Sylvia did, people attended these balls. Even immigrant families in Brooklyn donated what they could to finding a cure for Polio.

The organization continues today to promote infant health:


Eleanor at FDR Birthday Ball at the Statler Hotel in Washington DC, with Red Skelton, William O. Douglas, Lucille Ball, John Garfield, and Maria Montez. January, 1944. FDR Library Archives, NPx. 72-18:325

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