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Georgia State University

The Photograph as Evidence: FDR at Oglethorpe May 22, 1932


Lane Brothers Stationary

Photographs are invaluable in documenting people, events, attitudes, aesthetics, and changes in the social and physical environments. Special Collections and Archives houses many photograph collections of various sizes, from the Lane Brothers Commercial Photographers Collection, to the Tracy O’Neal Collection, and on through the various images that accompany collections in the Southern Labor Archives,  the Women’s Collection,  the University Archives, and the Popular Music and Culture Collections, which includes the Johnny Mercer Collection. Georgia State University Library’s website (click here) provides links to a number of digital images of some of these photographs, including 10,000 digital images from the Lane Brothers and the Tracy O’Neal Collections. A description of these two collections is found here.

Currently, the Special Collections and Archives Department is moving images from local databases into a new content management system (CONTENTdm). To make more of the department’s photographs accessible to the research community, several digitization projects are underway, including early prints and negatives from the Lane Brothers Commercial Photographers Collection and the photographic print collections in the Southern Labor Archives. The Johnny Mercer photographs from the Popular Music and Archives Collection will soon be available online, and the Department will continue creating digital content from the Women’s Collection and the University Archives.


As part of the Special Collections and Archives project working with the Lane Brothers Commercial Photographers print collection recently, a 1932 unpublished photograph of then-Governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came to light.


When Bill Clinton dedicated the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial on the Washington Mall, May 2, 1997, the question that had dogged the Memorial Commission for 20 years had been resolved:  Should the former president Roosevelt be depicted in a wheelchair, or not? The final decision on the main sculpture in the monument was foreshadowed some 65 years earlier in a recently digitized photographic print (click here for image) from the University’s Special Collections and Archives Lane Brothers Commercial Photographers Collection (link to the collection here).

Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio at the age of 39 in 1921. Although the diagnosis is sometimes contested, the result of his disease was paralysis from the waist down. In private Roosevelt used a wheelchair, but in public he used leg-braces, canes, and crutches, and he was usually photographed sitting in a regular chair, or standing propped up.  Why? Any consummate and successful politician of the era – someone exactly like Roosevelt – depended on the appearance of strength and good health to win elections.  Because it was how Roosevelt preferred to be seen, the Memorial Commission decided to have President Roosevelt depicted sitting in a regular chair.

As in the FDR Monument, the Lane Brothers Commercial Photographers  image shows the then Governor of New York and current presidential candidate seated with his academic robes obscuring his chair and most of his legs. In the Lane Brothers Commercial Photographers image, made on one of his many visits to Atlanta and Georgia, Roosevelt is being presented with an honorary degree diploma by Oglethorpe University President Thornwell Jacobs (on the right) at Oglethorpe’s 1932 commencement exercises. The print is one of the 258,000 images in the Lane Brothers Commercial Photographers Collection acquired by Georgia State University in 1985. The majority of the images are negatives with concentration from the 1940s to the 1960s.  Several of the prints, however, date from the 1930s.

Further reading on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial:

Online information on FDR:

The Special Collections and Archives Department, is a non-circulating collection available for research during the academic year, Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM. For more information, please contact Special Collections and Archives by email ( or by telephone (404 413-2880).

Commencement ceremonies–Georgia–Atlanta
Degrees, Academic–Georgia–Atlanta
Oglethorpe University (Atlanta, Ga.)
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945–Public appearances–Georgia–Atlanta
Jacobs, Thornwell, 1877-1956