The Townsend Plan Movement

drawing of Dr. Townsend
Dr. Francis E. Townsend.
SSA History Archives
Townsend and Downey
Dr. Francis E. Townsend (right), confers with Sheridan Downey, U.S. Senator
from California and Upton Sinclair's running mate in the 1934 gubernatorial campaign.
U.S. Office of War Information photo, National Archives.

photo of old car with Townsend sign

Townsend supporters rally in Columbus, Kansas in May 1936.
Library of Congress Photo, LC-USF34-004168-E DLC


The Plan
Dr. Townsend published his plan in a Long Beach, California newspaper, as a kind of extended "Letter to the Editor," in early 1933. He was surprised by the swift and massive response the letter generated. Townsend had tapped a major social problem in America (poverty among the elderly) and the nation was crying out for a solution. Townsend's letter led to the formation of an organization and the development of a formal Plan. The Plan was then published as a pamphlet and distributed throughout America.

This is the pamphlet the Townsend group distributed in early 1934. At this early point in the campaign they saw President Roosevelt as an ally. (You will notice that page 19 of the Plan quotes President Roosevelt at length.) Townsend fully expected Roosevelt to endorse his plan. Roosevelt, like most establishment figures of the era, saw the Townsend Plan as irresponsible and unworkable. Indeed, there is some evidence that Roosevelt was prodded to introduce his Social Security proposal to counter the growing influence of the Townsend Plan. Townsend and his followers were bitterly disappointed with Social Security because it did not promise immediate payments in 1935, because the benefits Social Security promised were small compared to the $200 per month that Townsend wanted, and because people had to work under the Social Security program to earn a payment.



The Townsend Plan Newsletter

"The Modern Crusader" was the newsletter published by the Townsend Plan's Long Beach, California headquarters. It began publication in the summer of 1934 and this is the October 26, 1934 issue. At this point in the "crusade" enthusiasm is running high and many California politicians and merchants were anxious to be identified with the movement.

Page 1 of the "Crusader" promises the "Largest Mass Meeting in World's History," and to "do Away with Poorhouses." The lead editorial promises nothing less than to ". . . make the United States the ideal spot on earth in which to live."



Editorial Cartoons

These are cartoons related to the Townsend Plan and Social Security--three are from the Townsend newsletter and one is an item from the mid-term 1934 elections.


Decorative Stamps
Among its multitudinous public information materials, the Townsend organization produced license plates, windows stickers, commemorative plates and spoons, and numerous decorative stamps which Plan supporters used to adorn their letters. Here is a sample of a few of the stamps used to promote the program.

Townsend rainbow

Townsend stamp 2

Townsend stamp 7


Townsend Plan stamp


Other Material Related to the Plan

Excerpts from Congressional Hearings on the Townsend Plan (1935)

Excerpts From Townsend's Autobiography (1943)

An Analysis of the Problems with the Townsend Plan (2001)