Townsend, Francis Everett

(1867-1960)
   Born in Fairbury, Illinois, Francis Townsend grew up in Nebraska. After failing as a farmer in Kansas, he attended Nebraska Medical School in Omaha and graduated in 1903. He established a medical practice in South Dakota, and after serving as a doctor in the army during World War I, he moved to Long Beach, California in 1920. However, his practice was insufficient to support him, and he had to find other parttime work or risk facing old-age in poverty. In 1934, Townsend and the realtor for whom he had been working established the Old-Age Revolving Pensions, Ltd. and began to publicize his idea for a government- run pension scheme that would provide $200 per month for everyone over the age of 60 not in employment financed by a business tax. By 1935, there were more than 3,000 “Townsend Clubs” across the country with a membership of more than 500,000. When the plan was introduced to Congress in January 1935, it attracted more than 20 million signatures in support of legislation. The movement posed a political challenge to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal and contributed to the move “left” in the “Second New Deal.” It provided additional impetus for the Social Security Act. Once that measure was enacted, the Townsend movement lost its drive, and it was also economically unsound. Townsend then joined Father Charles Coughlin in the Union Party in 1936 but left before the election to support Alf Landon. He continued to support the Republican Party and spoke on behalf of the elderly for the remainder of his life.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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