Little did Ida May Fuller know she would find a piece of history inside her mailbox when she opened it on a February day in 1940. When the 65-year-old retiree and lifelong Republican lifted the lid of the mailbox outside the front door of her Ludlow, Vermont, house, she found a check for $22.54 from the U.S. government.
That check dated January 31, 1940, was the first payout from the Social Security program that had been enacted five years earlier by the federal government during the Great Depression.
The Social Security program is one of the most enduring legacies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The measure provided for compensation to the unemployed and payments to retirees over the age of 65 who contributed payroll tax deductions during their working years. “The civilization of the past hundred years, with its startling industrial changes, has tended more and more to make life insecure. Young people have come to wonder what would be their lot when they came to old age,” Roosevelt said when he signed the Social Security Act into law on August 14, 1935.
A descendant of Mayflower passengers, Fuller was born in 1874 on a farm outside Ludlow. After working as a school teacher for a dozen years, she attended business school and then worked as a legal secretary at a Ludlow law firm for 24 years before her retirement in November 1939.
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