The Dale Maley Family Web Site

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Francis Townsend

Francis Townsend:

I decided to do a little research on this man, since he may be the most nationally famous person to be associated with Fairbury. When you go into the Fairbury Post Office, look on your right on the west wall, and there is a plaque saying the post office is named after him.

I have just finished reading his 1943 auto-biography book. And I will extract some sections about Fairbury and post them later.

He was born in Fairbury in 1866, about 3 miles east of town. Below is a drawing of the house he was born in, and lived in at Fairbury.

 

 

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Here is a short description of Francis Townsend from .....http://www.answers.com/topic/francis-townsend

Francis Townsend was born into a poor farm family near Fairbury, II., on Jan. 13, 1867. The family moved to Nebraska, where Francis attended Franklin Academy. He went to California expecting to get rich in the land boom, only to end up nearly penniless. After a few years at farming and odd jobs in Kansas and Colorado, Townsend entered Omaha Medical College, graduating in 1907. He set up practice in South Dakota, where he remained until he entered the Army Medical Corps in World War I. He married a nurse, Minnie Bogue.

After the war the Townsends lived in Long Beach, Calif. But Townsend's medical practice was far from prosperous. He finally secured appointment as assistant city health director but, with the Great Depression, lost the job. At retirement age himself, Townsend grew increasingly indignant over the plight of the masses of poverty-stricken old people. In 1933 he proposed a plan whereby the Federal government would provide every person over 60 a $200 monthly pension. This would be financed by a Federal tax on commercial transactions.

The response to Townsend's Old Age Revolving Pension Plan was overwhelming, and soon inquiries and monetary contributions poured in from all parts of the country. By 1935 Townsend claimed that more than 5, 000 "Townsend Clubs, " with some 5 million members, operated across the country. That year the Townsend organization secured an astounding 20 million signatures on petitions urging Congress to enact the Townsend Plan. Organized pressure from the Townsendites was the single most powerful impetus behind passage of the Social Security Act of 1935. Yet Townsend saw the social security program as woefully inadequate.

Disillusioned with Franklin Roosevelt's administration and embittered by rough handling before a congressional investigating committee, Townsend in 1936 joined forces with Father Charles Coughlin, founder of the National Union for Social Justice, and Gerald L. K. Smith, self-pro-claimed inheritor of the late Huey Long's "Share Our Wealth" movement, to form the Union party. But the result of that year's presidential election was disastrous for them, as Roosevelt won reelection by a record majority.

In 1937 the U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted Townsend for contempt of Congress in the 1936 House investigation. However, Roosevelt commuted Townsend's 30-day prison sentence.

Townsend never stopped pushing his pension scheme. But the prosperity of the post-World War II years and improvements in private, state, and Federal pension benefits blunted the appeal of his message. He died in Los Angeles on Sept. 1, 1960.

 

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 Back in 1933 when Townsend first proposed his plan, he advocated a pension of $200/month for everyone over age 60. In 2012 dollars, this would be about $40,000 annually. The average Social Security payout today is about $14,000 per person.

When Social Security started paying monthly checks in 1940, the average benefit was about $20/month, 10% of Townsend's proposed $200/month.

 

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 Francis Townsend returned to Fairbury many times and held a big meeting. My mother remembers attending one such meeting when she was a girl. These meetings often show up in the Blade history section. Here is one from 1946.......

August 9,1946

Delegates and visitors to the eighth annual homecoming for Dr. Francis E. Townsend, founder of the Townsend old-age pension plan, will start coming in today. Several thousand people are expected here for this annual event. The room formerly occupied by Fun Haven has been leased during the homecoming and the business sessions and other activities will be held there, including a dance Saturday.

 

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 Francis Townsend was a medical doctor, not an economist. He struggled with a realistic plan to pay every person over age 60 a monthly pension of $200 per month.

Several alternatives he suggested including a 3% income tax, a national sales tax, and a 2% tax on all transactions. He received a lot a ridicule about the 2% transaction tax because nobody back in the 1930s, or even today, knows how many total transactions there are. There is also no easy way to administer a transaction tax. Most economists said none of these proposed taxation methods would begin to pay for the $200 per month for the 9 to 12 million people age 60 or older.

Roosevelt's Social Security plan started with a 2% income tax (including employer and employee contributions) and paid out $20 per month.

The Social Security tax has risen over the years and is now 15.34% (including employer and employee contributions).

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Also in his book, Townsend makes up a daily diary for a typical pioneer wife in the 1870's.....

Mother died under my cousin's care thousands of miles away from most of her children, but I am sure she lacked nothing that money could do for her. Like many another pioneer mother, she was worn out. There is a physical limit to what you can do for others, though the physical was the only limitation she ever acknowledged. Mother lived to bless and comfort others. How she did so much of it with her frail little body (she weighed about 80 pounds when she died) no one could ever figure out, but she had the happiest mother faculty I have ever known. She apparently made each one of her children believe that he or she was the favorite child —a secret to be kept from all the rest. I have mourned many times over the fact I did not tell her a thousand times oftener than I did that she was the best mother God ever made. As I observe the lives led by young married women of today I like to speculate on how many of them would have had the courage to marry if they had been faced with the prospect of toil and hardship which was the inevitable lot of young pioneer wives of a hundred years ago.

It was nearly 80 years ago that my mother married. ago. A diary of the life she led during the years when I had an opportunity to observe her ministrations to her family might have been something near what I shall record. Remember, her main activities were carried on in a log cabin about 12 by 16 feet in area. This main room was kitchen, dining room, bedroom and sitting room combined. There were two smaller rooms to our abode but they were sleeping quarters solely. Outside the main house was a combined smoke house and storage room where supplies were kept, some 40 feet distance from it. 

Well, here is about what mother's diary would have said for one day, had she ever taken time to keep one: "Got up at 5:30 o'clock this morning as usual. The men must be in the fields by 7, as the planting season is on us a bit late this year. This is Saturday and, as always, a day of extra work. Father started the fire in the cook stove while I dressed and transferred the small children from the trundle-bed to our big bed, so I could run the little bed under the big one and clear the room for setting the breakfast table. 

"Getting breakfast was routine. Father had sliced the ham in the smoke house last evening, so as soon as the fire was going well I had the big griddle heating and soon the smell of sizzling ham filled the room. We have such good hams this year and so many of them--it is certainly something to be thankful for. As soon as the ham fried to a turn it was placed on put in the warming oven. This is a horizontal drum through which the stove pipe passes on its way to the chimney. It will hold several large dishes of food and keep them warm. 

"While the fat that came from the ham was still warm, the eggs were broken into it. A good thing our hens are laying well now as it takes at least two dozen eggs for our breakfasts. As soon as the eggs were out of the way, the potatoes were fried. A great tureen was filled with fried potatoes as the men have prodigious appetites when following the plow or the planters. 

"These three main dishes—ham, eggs and potatoes— together with a mountain of bread slices, a pound of butter and several large mugs of coffee, constitute the breakfast bill-of-fare at our house as a regular thing. They are supplemented, of course, with plenty of sorghum molasses and an occasional glass of jelly. The latter, I try to reserve for the children's lunches when they go to school. 

"After the men had gone to their work—and while the larger girls were clearing away and washing the dishes—I started a fire under my big 30-gallon iron kettle in the yard and filled the kettle with water for the washing. Had a large washing this week. A muddy time, such as we have had this spring, makes for lots of soiled clothes. In good weather like this I can do the laundry out of doors and avoid filling the house with steam and odors. I have four tubs—two for the washboards and two for the rinsing. The girls help me at the washboards and to use the children's help, I wash on Saturday instead of Monday. "Once the laundry was out on the lines it was time to begin preparing dinner for the men who would be in promptly at 12 o'clock noon. I gave them corned bed and cabbage for this meal, with pie for dessert. 

It is some times hard to keep the meals from becoming monotonous. They have to be good for my working men. Good cooking is the only thing that keeps men from complaining, :so I always see to it that they eat well. 

"After dinner, the Saturday baking had to be done. Two dozen large loaves of bread, a couple of cakes and a half dozen pies were turned out. Supplemental baking could be done during the week. It does not pay to make too many pies at one time. To be good, they must be fresh.

"With the baking out of the way, I attended to my churning. The cream cannot be allowed to stand too long in warm weather or it sours and does not turn out the sweet butter on which I pride myself. My butter brings the highest price at our trading store where I have a big credit for butter and eggs sold. Churning is a tedious task and hard work but the children do it for me if I praise them a bit. Lifting the dasher up and down through the thick cream pulls hard on youngsters' muscles and it is no wonder they tire. But a big drink of buttermilk and slices of nice warm bread spread thick with fresh butter and good sorghum molasses prove a reward to put any youngster into good humor—especially if a kiss is thrown in for good measure. 

"When the clothes had been gathered in from the line, folded, and dampened slightly for the Monday ironing, the supper meal was served. That out of the way, my cheeses turned and put under the presses again, it was evening. gathered the mending into a great pile. I called the older girls around me and showed them how to darn stockings and mend rips and tears in clothing, how to sew on buttons so they will stay. "When father drops off to sleep in his chair and the little ones start nodding over their school books or slates, I know it is time for bed. 

Tomorrow is a Sunday and while occasionally we drive to church on Sunday morning, the horses are always too tired during the heavy spring work season to be subjected to the six-mile pull through the mud. So we will stay home tomorrow and make a pleasant day of it by singing hymns and taking turns reading aloud from the Bible and other good books, "A day of rest once a week is a necessity for us all; without it I fear the long hard grind of work would become unbearable. 

"The growing weight under my apron is bothering me a little tonight. It is coming to be hard to carry throughout the day as I go from task to task. However, time will cure that and I shall have another 'blessed event' to be thankful for. I already have him named and most of his little garments are made. I am already well acquainted with him and know just what he will look like —if he is not a she. I am sure he understands what I am saying to him for he seems to wriggle with satisfaction as I talk to him. 

"Well, diary, this has been a day of hard work but the family is happy and we arc all together. That is what counts." The business of having children was vitally important to the pioneer mother. Children or the lack of them often spelled success or failure for the family. Boys were needed for the outdoor work on the farm. Girls were needed for the baking, the churning, the sewing and for the care of chickens and smaller livestock. Some idea of the changing trend in the nation's economy can be gleaned from the fact that the most successful family a hundred years ago was the largest family. 

The most successful of moderate income families today is often the smallest, which has fewer expenses for its big city existence and which can afford to live in a two-room apartment rather than the large home which many children require. Throughout my medical career in frontier communities the necessity of women having many children was particularly borne home upon me, the family doctor. It gave me an understanding of the problem my own parents faced in their work of carving out a farm estate from the lush Illinois prairies. 

It was while I was just starting my practice at Belle Fourche, South Dakota, in 1906, that mother and father made a down payment on a little home in that community to be near me. Mother was not well and soon became very feeble. I had no money and neither did my brother George, then dubbing away on his marginal land in Nebraska. My cousin, N. L. Breckenridge, who had prospered in California, arrived for a visit. He insisted that mother and dad return to live with him in the Golden State's sunshine until she had recovered her health. But she was with him only a few months when she died. Later, I took over their obligation on the Belle Fourche home and improved the property when I married. Father went to Kansas and made his home with my sister, Del, until his death in 1910. I never knew him to be "broke" even though he left no estate at death.

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  I finished reading Francis Townsend's auto-biography book. Here is a copy of my book review that I am posting to Amazon....

Francis Townsend was born on a farm 3 miles east of Fairbury, Illinois. His father homesteaded on 160 acres. He gives an interesting description of growing up in Fairbury, including the typical day of a pioneer wife in the 1870s.

At 18, the family moves to Nebraska. The family is hoping for an easier life than farming in Fairbury. His father bought a hardware store. Francis dropped out of high school and went to California with his brother to harvest hay. Then he became a ranch hand 70 miles north of Los Angeles. He also did odd jobs in the Seattle area.

Francis returned home to Nebraska and finished high school at age 26. He then went to Kansas and lived with his married sister. He tried farming and taught school part-time. He got tired of that and hitched a train to Colorado to go gold mining. He ended up being a mucker, shoveling broken rock into train cars down in a mine.

Next he became a traveling salesman, selling cook stoves. He saved some money to start medical school at age 31 in 1899.

After becoming a doctor, he took up practice in South Dakota. He wrote letters to the editor of the newspaper complaining about corruption in the town. He also married a nurse in 1906. They had twin girls, but they died at 9 months of age. They adopted a girl, but she died shortly after giving birth. They had one son born to them.

In 1917 he enlisted as a WWI army doctor. He served in the states and dealt with the flu epidemic of 1918. He advocated for joining the League of Nations.

In 1919, he got very sick with peritonitis. To recover, he moved to Long Beach, California, which is where some of his medical school class mates lived.

In Long Beach, he experienced the Roaring 20s with real estate and petroleum booms.

In 1929, the Great Depression hit.

Dr. Townsend one day saw an old woman fumbling in a garbage can for scraps of food. He decided this was awful, and this drove him to come up with the idea of the Townsend Plan. All he wanted was the knowledge that the old woman who had been reduced to foraging in a garbage can for food, and all the other old people in the country, were secured from want and relieved of worry about the material necessities of life until death should come to them.

Townsend's theory was that as more inventions continued to be created, there would be surplus labor. His solution was to raise working man's wages by removing the age 60+ people from the work force. 

In September, 1933, at age 67, he wrote his first letter to the editor advocating the Townsend Plan. His plan was that each person age 60 and above would receive a government pension of $200 per month, and they had to spend that money within 30 days. Note this is equivalent to $40,000 per year in 2012 dollars.

Townsend had several alternatives to raise the taxes required to pay for these pensions. These included a 3% income tax, a national sales tax, or a 2% tax on all financial transactions.

After writing the first editorial on the Townsend Plan, he started a national movement to institute the Townsend Plan. It grew rapidly to over 11,000 Townsend clubs nationwide. The movement even had national conventions. The first national convention was held in October 1935 in Chicago.

He published a newspaper that reached volumes of 310,047 issues in 1935.

In January 1935, the 1st Townsend Plan bill got introduced. It was revised to HR 7154 with a 2% transaction tax. It was not passed.

In 1936, Townsend testified before Congress. He thought he was being mistreated by the Congressional committee, so he walked out of the hearing. He was granted a presidential pardon for walking out.

Townsend made 14 motion picture mobile theaters and put them on the road to educate people who could not read. 

On 8/14/35, FDR signed the Social Security Act. Lump sum payments started in 1937 and monthly checks started with Ida Mae Fuller in 1940. It was funded by a 2% income tax and payments were $20 per month. The 2% is the total of employee and employer contributions.

Townsend passed away September 1, 1960.

His Townsend Movement mostly ended in 1940 after the Social Security act starting paying monthly checks. Remnants of his movement continued until the early 1980s.

This autobiography was well written in that it was easy to read.

If you are from Fairbury, it gives a good idea of what pioneer life was like in Fairbury in the 1870's and 1880's.

 

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The 1878 history book of Livingston County lists Francis's grandfather as the first settler in Pleasant Ridge. An interesting story about getting lost in a blizzard......

The first permanent settler in what is now Pleasant Ridge Township was Nathan Townsend. He came from Cape May County, New Jersey, and settled on the southwest section (31) of the town, in June, 1843. His settlement and claim was in the timber skirting the Vermilion River, and was the only one in the territory embraced in Pleasant Ridge for a number of years. He bought his claim, which had been made originally by a man named Brooks, noticed as one of the early settlers of Avoca Township. 

This man Brooks, though he had built a cabin and made a claim here, and had even lived on the claim for a short time, is really not considered an actual settler, and had sold the claim to a man named Wilson, who had never lived on it, but had sold it to one Leighton, and Leighton sold it to Townsend. It seems to have been a practice of Brooks to make a claim, erect a cabin on it, and then sell it to some other party, as we hear of him among the old settlers in several different neighborhoods. After disposing of this claim, he made one in the next grove east, being just on the edge of Forrest Township, and which he made without any regard to the points of the compass, but was located on four different " forties." He finally removed to Iowa. 

This settlement of Townsend, however, is usually mentioned as the first in Pleasant Ridge, and, as stated above, was made a number of years before another family sought the neighborhood.

For the first years of their life in the wilderness, and until they got a start, their lot was rather a hard one. When Townsend first settled here, there were few families within a radius of a dozen miles, and we have the word of Daniel Townsend, a son of Nathan Townsend's, that he knew every man living between Ash Grove and Rook's Creek, a distance of sixty miles. They sometimes had hard scratching' to live, and went to Chicago for salt, and to Wilmington to mill, and to Green's Mill near Ottawa. 

Daniel Townsend related to us how an uncle of his had been to mill once, in Winter, when the weather was intensely cold. Becoming so cold that he could not remain in the wagon, he got out to walk, when it is supposed that walking by the side of his wagon, he drew one line little tighter than the other, thus pulling his horses round in a circle.

He finally realized the fact that he was lost on the prairie, and it covered with snow, with a cold wind blowing from the North. Seeing that he must inevitably freeze to death if he wandered on in this way, he turned his horses loose from the wagon, thinking that they would strike out on a due course for home, and he would follow their trail, being too cold to attempt to ride; but they dashed off from the wind, contrary to his expectations. All night long he wandered over the prairie and through the snow, the utmost exertions required to keep from freezing to death. At daylight the next morning, he found his way to Mr. Townsend's, so nearly frozen that he fell in the yard, and but for timely aid must have died in a very short while. He was taken in and cared for, and Mr. Townsend's boys went out to look for the horses, which, however, were never found alive. 

They had wandered a long distance from home,, and seemed to have taken refuge from the wind in a deep ravine, where they either starved or froze to death, and were found finally by tracking wolves to their skeletons.

When Townsend used to go to Wilmington to mill, there was but one cabin between their settlement and the Kankakee River, and it had been deserted for a time. Of the Townsend family, there are still living in this immediate neighborhood three of the sons-Daniel, George and Aquilla; and two sisters, Mrs. A. Towns and Mrs. Breckenridge. Another brother lives in Wisconsin, and a sister in Texas; while the father, Nathan Townsend, has recently removed to Nebraska.

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Here is an interesting chart showing the concept of the Townsend Plan...from the book When Movements Matter. From Townsend's viewpoint in the middle of the Great Depression, mechanization and continued inventions would result in not enough jobs for everyone. If you removed the young and the old from the work force, then there would be more jobs for the middle age group.

 

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The only book I have seen on Townsend is titled When Movements Matter. http://tinyurl.com/ngmrvvm

The author does a detailed historical review of the Townsend Plan movement. I just finished reading the book. A copy of my Amazon book review is belo
w....

One of the ideas behind the Townsend Plan was that due to mechanization and future inventions, less workers would be needed in the future than in the past. This view was held by most of the economists in the 1930's. Townsend's idea was that if you remove the very young and the very old from the worker pool, the remaining people could be fully employed. The Townsend plan of paying a government pension of $200 per month to every worker over age 60 would remove the older workers from the worker pool of labor.

Townsend's concept was well illustrated on the chart in the book, "The Span of Life from Birth to Death".

The author points out several weaknesses of the Townsend Plan. The $200 per month was exorbitantly high (about $40,000 per year in 2012) dollars. Maybe Townsend set the amount so high because it got older people to join his movement, and they could always bargain back to something less.

Another weakness was how to pay for the plan. One of his proposals was a 2% transaction tax, but back then and even today, nobody has any idea of how many total transactions there are.

Townsend was also not a politician, so he had no idea how to move Congress or the President politically. Townsend was also not the best person to pick to leak a major social movement. He lacked many skills and eventually dumped his partner, who was the organizing brains behind the movement.

The author speculates the Townsend Movement is not better remembered today because of several reasons. Not many records exist today of the movement, compared to the massive archives about Social Security. There were also no great writers about the movement in its heyday. The Great Depression is also not a period people want to remember. Nobody is alive today that was a key player in the movement. Townsend was also not a colorful character, and he was not assassinated or killed.

When Townsend dreamed up his $200 per month pension scheme, he was 67 years old. He had just got laid off from his city government job, and his wife had to go back to work as a nurse. By creating this movement, Townsend was able to create a job for himself the rest of his life that paid $400 per month.

The author did a valuable service by writing this book and capturing as much information as possible about this movement.

The author concludes that Townsend's efforts did influence the passage of Social Security to provide a minimum income to senior citizens.

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Townsend was a prolific publisher and many items were published to support the townsend movement.  You can still find these items for sale on Ebay in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Townsend's autobiography, he describes what it was like growing up in Fairbury  in the years 1867-1885:

The Farm

 

I was born on my father's farm in Livingston County in north-central Illinois, about three miles east of the little village of Fairbury where my father did most of his trading. My earliest recollection is of being carried by my mother during one of our farm's periodical floods down a sort of peninsula of dry ground toward the stable where our horses were kept. I remember mother standing me on the roof of a pig-shed from which point I could watch my father wade hip-deep into the water that had invaded the barnyard during the night, as he untied the horses and drove them to high ground.

 

The incident, I grew to learn, was typical of our farm. Father had homesteaded in this north-central Illinois prairie land and the marshes and swamps were a part of it. Before we left that part of the country, when I was 18, father's farsightedness and hard work had tile-drained the land until it was clear of such marshes. But through the years of my childhood and youth I was constantly shaken in the summer with swamp malaria. We called it "ager" or "chills and fever."

 

I believe this was one of the things that kept me from developing as an athletic boy. I have never been heavy and now, at 76, am described as lean, large-boned and gaunt.

 

Fortunately, the type of malaria we had in our community was seldom fatal. Had it been, Illinois could never have produced a Chicago just 115 miles northeast of Fairbury. The warm prairie sun did much to alleviate "the shakes" and I can still remember how good it felt to my chill-wracked body when mother carried me out to the sunny side of the house as a child. She would place me where she could keep an eye on me while she worked at her cheese-making or at the lye kettle, making soap for the family.

 

According to our old family Bible record, I was born on the 13th of January in 1866, but according to that same record my sister, two years older than I, was born in 1865. The inference is that my father, who did little writing and probably had not become used to the change in figures so early in the New Year, wrote 1866 when he should have written 1867. Anyway, since it permits me to call myself 76 years old instead of 77, I shall say the date of my birth was 1867.

 

There is a new two-story frame house on the Fairbury farm these days. I use the word "new" advisedly. It is at least 65 or 70 years old but was built by my father during my childhood to replace what we afterwards called "the old house." This "old house" is the one in which I was born. To say it was of composite architecture would be an under-statement. It was a three-room log and clapboard cabin. First there was a log cabin, about 12-by-14 feet in size, where my parents and most of the small children slept in the winter time to be near the wood-burning range fire.

 

This cabin had a lean-to, shed-like arrangement in the back and a one-room frame shack tacked on one end. The lean-to on the west was ten feet wide, running the full length of the cabin. This, the larger boys occupied as their bedroom. On the north, butted up against the end of the cabin, father had attached the small frame building which he had probably obtained from some deserting homesteader of the community. This was sided up with clapboard and had a roof of the same material. It lent quite an air of distinction to our little abode, 'otherwise so typical of the Midwest farming community of the '60s.

 

At that early day, not many of the houses of the region in which we lived could have been called palatial. This latter wing, or addition, was reserved for the larger girls of the family and for visitors who occasionally stayed the night with us when, of course, the larger girls shifted to—the Lord knows where.

 

I cannot for the life of me figure out where my mother disposed of all of us, even when we had no visitors. She always had from five to six of her own children and as many more of her half-brothers and sisters, who had been orphaned at an early age, to look after and to bed down at night. Probably one of the chief reasons why my parents lost none of their children after I came along was because we were numerous enough to insure against freezing in the winter. We had to pile up three and four in a bed and thus developed plenty of animal heat.

 

Be that as it may, we have demonstrated that we are a tough tribe. All six of my parents' own children are still living and in good health. There were two huge cottonwood trees in our farm-yard and an old well that was walled up with cobbles.

 

In those days there was no idea of sanitation and our horse trough was situated where the water could soak back into the well. It was two miles to the nearest schoolhouse and we trudged it over bad roads, through mud and slush, through the raging blizzards and driving rains of northern Illinois. There was no grading at the rural schools. Neighbor-hood teachers were hired for a pittance and we all ganged together and plodded through McGuffey's reader. I read that one book over and over, and had the same arithmetic drilled into me, year after year.

 

Ability and a liking to read was the one thing that I can see clearly I got out of that schooling. I became an inveterate reader. The present rural school building at the crossroads three miles east of Fairbury is the same one I attended in my childhood. A coat of paint, a new roof and a new stove were the only changes I observed during a visit down there last fall. The children who streamed out of its double-doors at noon time were probably bent on the same devilment that occupied us seventy years ago.

 

One term in school that I recall vividly was taught by a man who was interested in grammatical composition and pronunciation. That was the term when I learned a great deal. But taking an interest in your schooling was not considered "regular" by the rest of the youngsters.

 

I learned to disguise my liking for it to avoid the gibes and jeers of the other children. My mother was sympathetic with my longing to know words. Where she saved the money, I don't know, but somehow she dug up enough to buy me a hand dictionary. I still remember its dimensions—two-and-a-half inches thick and three-and-a-half inches long—so you can realize how prized that dictionary was to me. It started me on the building, up of a vocabulary which has been added to, from time to time since, by my association with cowboys, mule skinners and worldly-wise young medical students.

 

I used to like to memorize, too. One year we had a man teacher who expressed amazement at the way I was able to memorize whole passages verbatim. We had a contest between the schools of the county and I was entered. I recited, from memory, the story of the boy who climbed the great natural bridge of Virginia. I delivered the recitation before a strange audience. I recall that I marveled at not feeling the slightest touch of stage-fright.

 

Since that time I have seldom come across a beautiful passage in book or magazine but I have committed it to memory. It helps me pass the time on long cross-country train and airplane trips which I am compelled to travel. Besides, I get a lot of comfort out of keeping the beauty of words in my mind.

 

Life in our home community was of the backwoods country sort. We had our camp meetings and our revival meetings. They would be held in the schoolhouse. I would go to them and after awhile I'd get sleepy and would be dozing off until awakened by a song. I attended this schoolhouse, for classes or meetings, from the age of eight to the age of eighteen. When I first entered its doors, I wanted nothing to do with the pig-tailed girls whom I met. By the time I was 13, I had been so attracted to a sweet little miss of my own age that I used to get a great thrill simply out of sitting on the bench with her and touching her hand. It was real ecstasy.

 

In later days I attended many a meeting in the schoolhouse just to ac-company one of the belles of the district—and to take her home! Of course, we youngsters on the farm without money still had the pleasures of such games as post-office. I suspect it's an old, old game—played for centuries before we were born and one which will be played for centuries after we have passed.

 

One particular incident I recall was my infatuation with the schoolmarm, at that time only a year older than I. Pretty and lovely, I guess she must have been, though it's so many years ago the recollection is a little misty. My father had a big grove of evergreens. The only incident of my infatuation that I now recall was how my brother and I got permission from father to pile ever-green limbs and build a big bonfire. When it was burning merrily, everyone grouped around. The school teacher had come over to our farm to pay a visit and there in the warmth of the flames, she stood near me. It inspired a memory that has remained. Standing close together: I wonder if that is the secret of love—just a girl and boy shoulder to shoulder, absorbing the warmth of the flames together.

 

Several of my girl and boy cousins lived half a mile beyond the river on grandfather's homestead at the edge of some woods. "Whoopees" would regularly ring out over the river as one side called to the other and the girls and boys would go down and play in the water together.

 

Ours was, I suppose, a happy childhood. We knew poverty in those days; in fact, we were just as well acquainted with it as people are nowadays, but it seems to have been a different sort of poverty.

 

There were many years of my childhood when I am sure my father handled less than $100 a year in actual cash, but I have no recollection of ever being hungry after I was grown up. Our larder was always well stocked. We had meat and vegetables and cornmeal for bread. We had fruits in season (mostly wild, of course). We had eggs and chickens, milk and cheese. On the whole, we were a well-fed lot of youngsters and looked it.

 

As to clothing, that was always whole, if patched and faded. We did not have to be gaudily dressed to feel at ease with our neighbors. They, too, wore hand-me-downs above and flour sack undies below. We wore knitted caps and each had two or three pairs of overalls. Our clothes were home-made and our dress did not concern us. Good and staunch, they were, but they had no style to them. They wouldn't pass muster today.

 

The difference between the poverty of those days and these, I suppose, lies in the fact that we did not have to reach for our pocketbooks every time we wanted some-thing. As neighborhoods and as families, we were self-sufficient. We made our things or did without—and we raised our food or collected it from the good earth which harbored the winged creatures and animal life on which we subsisted. We were not herded together in squirming droves, dependent for our welfare upon being able to buy from the other fellow. We were self-reliant because our wants were simple and our area for collecting the necessities of life, broad.

 

I think my hatred of poverty, with its inhibitions and restrictions, did not begin to develop until I was almost of age. In fact, I can think of but one instance in all my childhood days when monetary or class distinction was ever displayed to my wondering eyes. I shall tell of that incident later.

 

Singing was one of our chief amusements. My father loved to hear the children sing. He traded a horse and some cash for a parlor organ and the young folks would assemble around it for a sing-fest. That's where I learned many of the old, old hymns that we sing today at every Townsend club gathering. Father was a long while in paying off the $75 which that organ cost him.

 

Living in such a swampy region, we lost many a crop from flood and excessive rainfall. There were years in which only the high spots of our farm could be cultivated. It frequently happened that our corn and potatoes and wheat required little storage space in the fall and we had to husband them with great care. We were fortunate in that we grew to manhood and womanhood with a father who worked hard but man-aged to keep even with the world—rather than with a father on the dole, broken by adversity. Many a son and many a daughter has been tempted into crime by the sight of a father or mother who has given all and ended up in poverty.

Psychologists have often found that some of the most "hard-boiled" felons adopted their life of crime because they had seen a good father or mother come to want in their latter years through no fault of their own.

 

In almost every depression, when dad loses his money, the son also loses his job. There were times on the farm when my brother and I did not get on with our father but we were never embittered to the point of seeing him other than he was: a hard-working man, a stern taskmaster, one who struggled long and faithfully to gain the little he acquired and who tried to be just to all.

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The Blade Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009

70 Years Ago

August 4,1939

Dr. Francis E. Townsend, of California, came back to Fairbury, his native town, Sunday, and told of his plan for putting the nation back on its feet—and in fact making it a place of Utopian surroundings. Whether you believe in the Townsend plan or not, Dr. Townsend, its originator, painted a word picture apparently so feasible that there was no chance of it failing. A crowd esti­mated at between four thousand and forty-five hundred was on hand to greet the doctor and applauded every point he brought out.

 

 

 

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