The Seeds of the Fellowship began in 1938, by two people who had been disabled by Polio.
Patricia Carey contracted polio at the age of eight years whilst living in India where her father was serving as a brigadier in the Army. Patricia was diagnosed as having Infantile Paralysis (The medical term for polio at that time). Eventually Patricia returned to the UK and embarked on language studies. Through her physiotherapist Patricia contacted someone who was teaching German and French who, incidentally, had also become disabled by infantile paralysis but at the age of forty-two, this bringing to an end his career as a Shakespearean actor. As a consequence of becoming a wheelchair user he embarked on teaching languages; his name was Frederic Morena.
The friendship between Patricia and Frederic developed and so Patricia was led to tell Frederic of an idea that had been in her mind for some time. She thought that it would be valuable to polio-disabled people to have a support organisation which, she felt, could be ‘something to lean on’. Frederic did not, initially, approve of the idea, saying that it would become a mutual club where people could discuss their aches and pains! However, Patricia was not to be daunted; she eventually persuaded Frederic that her idea was valid and he decided to help.
A public meeting was arranged in January 1938 an art gallery in Bloomsbury, London, near to the Morena’s apartment. Thirty people attended the meeting as they were interested in what Frederic and Patricia proposed, people with polio could band together and support each other, to provide mutual support. The proposal to form an organisation was put to the meeting. Attendees at the inaugural meeting included Florence Bryant, Tom Rowley, Jeanne de Leon, Tina Witherspoon-Lancashire, as well as able-bodied supporters, family members, and friends who could see the value of a new organisation. It was decided that an organisation should be formed and the name that was selected was the ‘Infantile Paralysis Fellowship’. This was to be an organisation for disabled people, run by disabled people, to provide welfare, friendship, and fellowship for people who had been affected by infantile paralysis.
Waldo Eager CBE was appointed as the first chairman. A collection was taken to help with the expenses of getting the Fellowship off the ground. Just over £5 was raised not a princely sum but with the average wage at that time being about £4 a week it was a start. Frederic Morena was appointed as the first secretary. Subscriptions were set at two shillings and sixpence (12.5 pence) for polio-disabled members and five shillings (25 pence) for able-bodied members. With this initial meeting a new era began in the lives of people affected by poliomyelitis in Britain.
On 18th May 1939 a letter from Hugh Fletcher Moulton was published informing the people of the formation of the Infantile Paralysis Fellowship which “seeks to help the sufferers help themselves and to afford each other mutual aid and sympathy”. The letter went on to say the principal objective of the Fellowship is to help members to find work and suggested that there were (at that time) somewhere between five to seven thousand people with the after-effects of infantile paralysis in Britain. These relatively low numbers (which were probably inaccurate) accentuated feelings of loneliness and isolation that led to so many of the difficulties encountered by polio-disabled people. Frederic Morena’s address was given with an invitation to join the Fellowship or send donations towards its work. As the membership gradually grew, it was felt that a regular means of communication was needed. Thus, the first edition of ‘The Bulletin’, the Fellowship’s regular newsletter, appeared in April 1939 and has continued to keep in touch with members ever since.
The membership was growing and beginning to spread all over Britain but the majority of members, initially, were in London. The Bulletin carried news of a get-together at Lyons Corner House in the Strand; about sixty people came to that first meeting of the Fellowship proper. The Corner House meeting was followed by an even larger meeting at the Tea House in Kensington Gardens in London. The committee had originally catered for about two hundred people; it was estimated that four hundred people came along that afternoon. The Fellowship had taken root.
(Acknowledgements : Information in this section is taken from ‘Something to Lean On’, published in 1999 by the British Polio Fellowship, written and compiled by the late Barry North who had Polio and was the Fellowship’s former historian and archivist.)