History Tour



Presidents have always supported the March of Dimes and its mission to improve the health of America’s youngest citizens, including Barack Obama who met with Board of Trustees Chair LaVerne H. Council, and March of Dimes president Dr. Jennifer L. Howse.
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Ronald Reagan met with Scott Cunningham, the March of Dimes National Ambassador who underwent advanced surgery immediately after birth to close his spine.
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John F. Kennedy, whose own son Patrick was born prematurely and later died from breathing problems, welcomed Linda Breese to the White House. The March of Dimes poster child suffered disabilities caused by spina bifida.
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Franklin D. Roosevelt, himself stricken with polio, showed sincere concern for children at the rehab center he created in Warm Springs, Ga.
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Polio vaccine


Today, vaccines protect children from polio and 14 other serious diseases, including chickenpox, rubella, the flu and hepatitis.
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The March of Dimes organized testing of the Salk polio vaccine with 1.8 million schoolchildren who became known as “Polio Pioneers” and were part of the largest peacetime mobilization of volunteers in our history.
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The March of Dimes funded Dr. Jonas Salk whose research led to a “safe, effective and potent” polio vaccine in 1955 and saved thousands of lives. The March of Dimes also funded Dr. Albert Sabin’s work on an oral vaccine licensed in 1962.
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During devastating polio epidemics, the March of Dimes paid for and transported thousands of iron lungs to help patients breathe when their own muscles were weakened or paralyzed.
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More than 7 million people get involved in our largest fundraiser each year. March for Babies® raises awareness and $108 million to fund lifesaving research and community programs.


The first March of Dimes walkathons took place in 1970, setting the stage for the growth of WalkAmerica®, which became March for Babies in 2008.


Even the youngest volunteers understand the importance of helping others. Today, thousands of young people, from elementary school to college, help the March of Dimes, often inspiring a lifetime of volunteering.


As polio epidemics grew more widespread, volunteers went door to door to collect dimes so researchers working in labs could develop a successful vaccine. The campaign was known as Mothers March®.

Birth defects research


Building on our strong track record in genetics, we’re moving forward with research to uncover the causes of birth defects and premature birth so more babies get the strongest, healthiest start.


In the 1960s, March of Dimes research led to the first newborn screening test for PKU, an inherited disorder that causes intellectual disability. Today, thanks to March of Dimes advocacy, every baby is screened at birth for 29 or more serious but treatable conditions.


The March of Dimes has been a leader in genetics education on birth defects and the risks of inherited genetic disorders.


With his breakthrough of determining the double-helix structure of DNA, March of Dimes grantee James Watson paved the way for mapping the human genome.



Dee Snider, front man for 1980s rock band Twisted Sister, the father of two premature babies and the national spokesperson for Bikers for Babies®, has raised millions of dollars for the March of Dimes.


Robert Redford continued the longstanding tradition of supporting the March of Dimes National Ambassador program, meeting with poster children like Betsy Burch.


Marilyn Monroe appeared with March of Dimes poster children at the annual March of Dimes fashion show at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. The event drew people from the worlds of entertainment, fashion and high society, just as today’s Beauty Balls® do.


Elvis Presley was one of many stars who supported the March of Dimes by promoting polio vaccination. Louis Armstrong, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra also encouraged their fans to get the polio vaccine after it was licensed in 1955.



One of the ways the March of Dimes recognizes the outstanding work of nurses is through our Nurse of the Year awards. We also award several scholarships annually to nurses enrolled in graduate programs in maternal-child health.


As the crisis of premature birth grew, the March of Dimes supported professional development for nurses caring for critically ill babies in newborn intensive care units. Babies’ lives depend on the quality of care that these highly skilled nurses can give them.


As March of Dimes researchers expanded knowledge of birth defects, we armed nurses with education in prenatal care. Today we offer a wide range of nursing modules to help nurses translate the latest research into the care they provide.


During polio epidemics, nurses played a vital role in patient care and found countless ways to comfort young children with the disease.

Local programs


In communities around the country, March of Dimes community grants enable women to receive group prenatal care, quit smoking and receive other services that increase their chances of having full-term pregnancies.


When hurricanes wiped out hospitals on the Gulf Coast, the March of Dimes funded Mom & Baby Mobile Health Centers® to bring prenatal care where women need it most.


Knowing that many women sought prenatal care only when labor began, the March of Dimes joined forces with women’s groups to educate moms-to-be, a tradition that continues today.


Mobile field units served as classrooms and clinics, as well as emergency transport of polio patients. They were equipped with a respirator, hot pack machine, resuscitation equipment and a self-contained power generator to bring medical support where it was needed most.



Mission: Healthy Baby® provides information and resources to military moms and families to alleviate stress, answer questions about pregnancy and help keep dads involved.


In a show of support, sailors in formation spell out “Join March of Dimes” on the flight deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.


American military cargo aircraft transported iron lung respirators for the March of Dimes to polio patients throughout the United States and overseas to places as far away as Japan.


The March of Dimes is grateful to the U. S. Armed Forces for their fundraising efforts like this one at an airfield in Florida where an American Red Cross nurse and a member of the Flying Tigers drop off their contributions in March of Dimes coin jars.



We’re reaching out to moms about the importance of waiting for labor to begin on its own through our Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait™ campaign. We also partner with hospitals to improve the quality of care that moms receive.


We have partnered with local organizations in 33 developing countries on four continents to strengthen data collection systems and parent organizations. Our professional and public health education materials help raise awareness and improve care.


Moms today know the importance of taking a multivitamin during pregnancy, thanks to the March of Dimes Folic Acid campaign. Kelsey Adams was born healthy because her mom took folic acid after her first pregnancy ended in stillbirth.


As medical director of the March of Dimes, Dr. Virginia Apgar stimulated interest in professional education and research into the causes and prevention of birth defects. The “Apgar Score” evaluates a newborn’s condition at birth.



Dr. David K. Stevenson leads the research team at the new March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University School of Medicine. Scientists from different disciplines share their knowledge to find the causes of premature birth.


The March of Dimes launched a national Prematurity Campaign to raise awareness of the serious problem of preterm birth and to help reduce the alarming number of babies born too soon in the United States.


The March of Dimes funded the development of surfactant therapy to treat respiratory distress syndrome in premature babies. Danielle Cofey was one of the first babies to be treated successfully in the United States.


Recognizing the urgency of treating critically ill babies close to home, the March of Dimes played a vital role in creating a regional system of newborn intensive care units (NICUs).

Family support


The NICU Family Support® program provides information and comfort to families with a premature or sick baby. Each year, we help more than 80,000 families understand the people, equipment and conditions they’ll experience in the NICU.


The March of Dimes and its corporate partners provided diapers, clothing and other supplies to Louisiana families who had lost their homes and access to medical care during Hurricane Katrina.


The March of Dimes helped create support groups for families with a baby in intensive care to ease their fear and heartache.


Herbert and Betty Smith, California schoolteachers, spent Christmas with their daughters at a respiratory center. The Smiths were confined to iron lungs provided by the March of Dimes to help them breathe after being diagnosed with polio.