Francis Townsend

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Dr. Francis Townsend

Dr. Francis Everett Townsend (January 13, 1867 – September 1, 1960) was the originator of a retirement pension plan (Townsend Plan) which forced President Franklin Roosevelt to enact his own legislation for the elderly know as Social Security.

Early life

Francis Townsend was born in into an impoverished farm family in Fairbury, Illinois. Shortly after his birth the family moved to Nebraska where he grew-up as a boy. As a young man he worked as a farmer in Kansas, land speculator in Los Angeles, and a laborer in Colorado. In 1903 Francis Townsend graduated from Omaha Medical College. In World War I he served as a doctor in the Army Medical Corps.[1] After the war he moved to California and started a medical practice.

Townsend Plan

Dr. Townsend was a Long Beach, California physician employed by the city health department when he lost his post in the Great Depression. Townsend saw the economic suffering around him--especially the elderly--and established Old Age Revolving Pensions, Ltd. in January 1934.[2]

The Townsend Plan, as it became known, consisted of a 2% federal sales tax on all commercial transactions. From the money collected, a pension of $200 a month would be paid to all citizens over 60. To qualify the pensioner would have to retire completely from the workforce and spend the entire amount within 30 days. Townsend believed his plan would open jobs to a younger workforce and stimulate the economy.[3]

Townsend movement

Real estate agent Robert Earl Clements, a local friend of Dr. Townsend, took the idea and promoted the plan around the country creating some 4500 Townsend Clubs in 1935 with 3.5 million members. By 1936 twenty million Americans had signed petitions asking Congress to enact the Townsend Plan.[4] The Townsend National Weekly was a newspaper issued to promote the movement.

The Townsendites, as they were called, had a evangelical vigor to their movement as they took their message to others.[5]

Union Party

In 1936 Townsend joined with Father Charles Coughlin and Gerald L.K. Smith in support of the Union Party.


  1. Congressional Record, V. 153, Pt. 12, June 18, 2007, page 16128
  2. Justice between Generations: the Growing Power of the Elderly in America, By Matthew C. Price, page 62
  3. United States Social Security: A Reference Handbook, By Steven Greene Livingston, page 154
  4. Lessons from the Great Depression for Dummies, By Steve Wiegand, page 146
  5. Justice between Generations: the Growing Power of the Elderly in America, By Matthew C. Price, page 62

See also