Another Epidemic - Polio

by Mary T. Clark 

Ann Roberson Morris had polio and she was a profile in courage. This narrative, although giving factual information about her battle with the disease, is about the Ann I knew. It is about her indomitable spirt, which led to an inspiring and fulfilling life.

Ann was 16 years my senior. She was the only child of F.P. (Robbie) and Ethel Roberson. How did I come to know her? Her father, Uncle Robbie, and my father, George Clark, were partners in Roberson-Clark Furniture Co. in DeLand. I, therefore, knew Ann in a child’s mind, from the time of forever. Much of this information comes from the records kept by my mother, Blanche, in my childhood scrapbooks and from the stories told to me.

While at Duke, Ann began a life of service and the beginnings of a distinguished career. She was a member of the Student Co-ordinate Board, House Council, Neridian swimming team and in Sandals, the freshman leadership honorary society. She entered Stetson University and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English in August of 1953. At Stetson, she was a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority, Kappa Delta Pi and Scroll and Key.

Ann’s parents announced her engagement to John Jesse Morris, Jr. (Jack) that summer. Jack was studying mechanical engineering at the University of South Carolina. They married in August 1953 at the home of Ann’s aunt and uncle, Dr. Robert and Fran Burry, at 200 West Pennsylvania Avenue. Ann’s cousin, Leonard Burry, and I served as ring bearers. After a short trip, they moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where they both attended the university.

While earning her master’s degree and doctorate and giving birth to two children, Jan and Lee, this remarkable women and her family moved to a home, behind her parents’ house, designed to help her with her disability. Disability? Ann never allowed anything to get in her way.

In September Ann was transferred from Umatilla to Warm Springs, Georgia, (the treatment center where U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt frequently stayed) and returned to her home in August of 1950. Reported in the Deland Sun News as “much improved,” Ann remained at home except for periodic checkups at Warm Springs. 

After becoming ill on a Wednesday in July, she was taken to an Orlando specialist on Friday and was diagnosed with Volusia County’s first case of infantile paralysis (then the common name for polio). She was then taken the Harry-Anna Crippled Children’s Home in Umatilla, where she was placed in an iron lung, and active treatment was started. She had paralysis in both legs, and doctors were unsure at the time about the definite course of the disease.

DeLand’s mayor, Dr. Charles Tribble, suspended the city’s swimming program for two weeks because of the case of polio. Participating children were placed under observation and quarantine. One of those children, Cricket Lenox Obrecht, recalled: “The last time I was with Ann was the day before she got sick. She drove me to Burt’s Park, which was adjacent to DeLeon Springs, for an additional swimming lesson. Dr. Burry called my mother, told her about Ann and suggested that we stay home until we received further notice. I remember that he told Mom that his wife, Fran, would call to keep us informed. I was placed in quarantine for two weeks.”

In this recollection, Mary shares her memories of a close friend, Ann Roberson (later Morris), who contracted Volusia County’s first case of polio in July 1949.

She authored numerous academic publications and co-authored The Composite Novel with her longtime friend, Maggie Dunn. She was the first woman elected to head the Stetson Faculty Senate- twice. She worked tirelessly for women’s rights and was instrumental in organizing the first chapter of NOW at Stetson in 1978. In that same year, she created the Women and Gender Studies Program at Stetson. Ann held the Nell Carlton Chair in English from 1986-1990. In 1991, Stetson appointed her Women’s Advocate for the university. A respected and beloved professor, Dr. Ann Morris retired in 1995.

Yes. Ann had polio, but Ann never had a disability. She inspired others and left her legacy with her family, students, and friends. Ann died July 21, 2015, but her inspiration and contributions live on.

A 1948 graduate of DeLand High School, Ann was enrolled as a rising freshman at Duke University for the 1948-49 school year. After completing her first year, Ann came back that summer to her home at 538 West Pennsylvania Avenue. A versatile athlete, Ann loved to swim and had won awards in that field. She was a Red Cross swimming instructor. As part of the DeLand summer recreation program, she supervised the children’s swimming program at DeLeon Springs.

1948. Ann Roberson, seated far right, president of DeLand High School Student Government.  - DHS Yearbook photo

1948. Ann Roberson, right, voted Most Likely to Succeed with Charles Beatty, left. - DHS Yearbook photo

Iron lung in exhibit at DeLand Memorial Hospital & Veterans Museum - similar to the one used by Ann at Umatilla & one given to DeLand Memorial Hospital by Elks Club in late 1940 - WVHS Archives photo

My memories of Ann began at that time, so I always knew her in a wheelchair. Uncle Robbie had a pool built in their backyard, where Ann and Althea Strawn taught me to swim. There were few pools in the area at that time, and I remember just three, including Ann’s. In my then four-year-old mind, I recall that it was a rectangular above-ground pool made of cement blocks.

Ann then developed an interest in photography, and Cricket and I were both recipients of this talent. My first communion pictures were taken while I sat on a piano bench on the Morris’s screened-in back porch.

Ann standing on crutches on a holiday card she signed - photo courtesy of Mary T. Clark

Early 1950s. Ann in pool built by her parents in their backyard. Photo courtesy of Mary T. Clark

Early 1950s. Ann in wheelchair. Photo courtesy of Mary T. Clark

Treatment pool at Warm Springs, GA, where Ann received care in 1950 - Internet Photo

1966 photo of Stetson professor Dr. Ann R. Morris (seated left) with Stetson President John E. Johns (standing behind her) after he spoke to the Friends of the DeLand Library. - Stetson Archives photo

Ann as student at Stetson University before 1953, receiving second place public speaking award from Dean Hoskins, right. First place for the Walter Hays Award went to Bill Roberts, center. - Stetson Archives Photo

Dr. Ann R. Morris discussing Greenfeather budget with Stetson University VP for Finance, Graves Edmondson in 1967. - Stetson Archives photo