Townsend Clubs

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TOWNSEND CLUBS


Francis Everett Townsend (18671960) originated the "Townsend Plan" for old-age pensions in the United States during the Great Depression (19291939). Townsend became a doctor during the first decade of the twentieth century and practiced general medicine in a small community in South Dakota. His experience sensitized him to the problems of age and poverty. He eventually moved to California, and when he was 66, he lost his job as an assistant medical officer in Long Beach, California, in 1933. Townsend began to speak out actively about the hopeless conditions of the aged poor in the United States. He not only spoke about the problems of the aged poor, but he also proposed a partial solution in the Long Beach Telegram on September 20, 1933. He proposed that a pension of $150 per month (later $200) should be given to all U.S. citizens who retired at age 60 and who promised to spend the money within 30 days; he also proposed a national sales tax to finance the old age pension. This proposal was intended as a Depression recovery program as well as help for the elderly poor. The idea quickly became popular among older businessmen, professional people, and farmers. The "Townsend Movement," as it was called, was organized in local clubs and it claimed five million members at its peak in the 1930s. However, the increasing effectiveness of federal social security programs and dissension among members of the Townsend Clubs about who to support in 1936 for president contributed to the decline of the movement.