There are several Facebook pages that are devoted exclusively to the Alton area, particularly its past. The other day I posted a captioned photo of the historic Alton Woman’s Home, which is located on State Street.
Built in 1909, the Alton Woman’s Home provided housing for elderly women who lacked the financial resources to care for themselves or relatives who were in a position to care for them.
A 2018 “Our Past” feature in The Telegraph noted that “prominent Alton women served on the board of managers and administered the program. Mrs. A.K. Root was president of the board for many years.” There was obviously a critical need for such a refuge in the Alton of long ago. “ Mrs. Sophia DeMuth, police matron, was one of the first in Alton to advocate a home for the ‘friendless.’”
This building ceased to function as the Alton’s Woman Home in 1966 and transitioned into a nursing home for men as well as women. It is currently Heritage Manor Apartments. My photo drew a number of comments. “We called it the old ladies’ home,” one person wrote. “I played the piano there on Sundays.”
A man who knew American history observed that the Alton Woman’s Home closed just one year after Medicare and Medicaid became law. He then offered a bit of political commentary. “My grandmother told me the story of a ‘poor house’ in Southern Illinois that once housed the aged that could not afford to be independent and didn’t typically have relatives to take them in.” The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. “Social Security was a good start,” he wrote, “but the cost of health care could be the deal breaker.
Ronald Reagan believed Medicare would lead to the destruction of “every area of freedom as we have known it in this country.” I can almost hear some of you saying in astonishment. “Ronald Reagan was one of our nation’s greatest presidents. He would never have been clueless enough to believe that Medicare would destroy our freedom.”
I hate to disillusion you but, yes, The Gipper was indeed clueless enough to believe such an absurdity. In fact, he believed it so strongly that he attempted to warn his fellow Americans about the dangers of Medicare in a 1961 LP he recorded titled, “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine.”
Medicare, he warned, was a Trojan Horse concealing socialism. “Now, back in 1927 an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for President on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism, “ Reagan stated. “But, he said under the name of liberalism the American people will adopt every fragment of the socialist program.” There is no historical evidence that Thomas ever made such a statement. Reagan, or whoever wrote the script he was reading, simply pulled that “quotation” out of the air.
“One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine,” Reagan said. A later generation of Republicans carried The Gipper’s claim to the next level. A Tennessee Republican state senator in 2014 compared Obamacare enrollments to Nazi Germany sending Jews to concentration camps.
Reagan said that a “Congressman Ferrand” had introduced a bill “that all people of Social Security age should be brought under a program of compulsory health insurance.” The Gipper quoted Ferrand as saying, “If we can only break through and get our foot inside the door, then we can expand the program after that.” American Rhetoric, which contains a transcript of Reagan’s record, states: “Online efforts to locate an identity — including proper spelling — for a Congressman ‘Ferrand’ as well as a record of the existence and substance of the initial legislation have proven unsuccessful to date.”
Reagan urged listeners to write their politicians and demand that they oppose socialized medicine (a/k/a, Medicare/Medicaid). He warned of dire consequences if such legislation was enacted. “And if you don’t do this and if I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free,” he cautioned.
This wasn’t the only issue that Reagan got wrong. He also opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Nonetheless, Reagan was twice elected to the presidency. We Americans are such a forgiving people.
John J. Dunphy is an author, book store owner and recording secretary for the Godfrey Democrats.