Dr. Francis Everett Townsend (January 13, 1867–September 1, 1960) was an American physician who was best known for his revolving old-age pension proposal during the Great Depression. Known as the "Townsend Plan," this proposal influenced the establishment of the Roosevelt administration's Social Security system.
Townsend and Clements employed the techniques of real estate salesmanship to gain support for the Townsend Plan. Soon there were organizers in almost every state seeking to create Townsend clubs and to sell Townsend Plan paraphernalia. The Townsend Plan, with a new corporation called the Townsend National Recovery Plan, Inc., pressed on and won back many of its previous supporters by the end of the decade and focused on gaining influence in Congress.
The Townsend Plan continued to agitate for higher benefits after the Social Security Act's passage and reached its peak of support in the months after it was enacted. The Townsend organization could plausibly claim that the benefits were far less than what the American public wanted. The average Old Age Assistance benefit was about $20 per month as late as 1939, and the program known as Social Security was not due to take effect until 1942, despite the fact that opinion polls indicated that the American public thought that $40 per month was fair for the elderly. Although the Townsend Plan was hampered by Dr. Townsend's personal control over his organization and his vendetta against Roosevelt, by continued political pressure, augmented by other pension organizations, such as California's Ham and Eggs, the Townsend Plan helped to induce amendments to the Social Security Act in 1939. These amendments greatly upgraded old-age benefits for both programs. Along with other pension organizations that promoted state-level Old Age Assistance programs, the Townsend Plan indirectly spurred the augmentation of Social Security in 1950, when it finally became a more generous program than Old Age Assistance. The Townsend Plan continued to exist in some form until the early 1980s, but had fallen into political insignificance during the 1950s.
Edwin Amenta. 2006. When Movements Matter: The Townsend Plan and the Rise of Social Security. Princeton: Princeton University Press.