A conference in the home of
Margaret Wagner often left visitors with an impression of a gracious,
thoughtful, reserved person, who had no desire for the fame which is her
due. She earned an international reputation for her pioneering work with
the older citizen.
Margaret Wagner was born in Cleveland. When she was a child her father
took the family to Europe where his business interests called him. They
spent a year in England, a year in France, and a year in Germany. While
she was abroad she saw people how needed help. There were crippled and
blind, and many children were ill. Perhaps her life work was inspired
by such experiences.
From 1916 until her retirement in 1961 she devoted her time to social
service work: at the Cuyahoga County Public Health Association and at
City Hospital (now Metropolitan General) where she started a Social Service
Department. This took patience, for it was a pioneer undertaking. Everyone
was skeptical about the need for such services in a hospital. But hospitals
all over the country have such departments as a matter of course today.
It is in the field of social service to the elderly that the name Margaret
Wagner carries weight. In 1930 Miss Wagner was asked to join the staff
of the Benjamin Rose Institute. Mr. Rose had been interested in helping
aged citizens. Miss Wagner, because of her training and experience, seemed
to be the person needed. At this time little was known about geriatrics.
Margaret Wagner began to work with her fine mind and warm, understanding
heart. Neither public nor private agencies had become fully aware of the
needs of the aged. With the great movements to the city and life in apartments,
there seemed to be no room for them. Then, too, advancements in medical
science were prolonging the lives of thousands of the older generation.
Public and private agencies, hospitals and social service organizations
were awakening slowly to the great need. Miss Wagner had an opportunity
to pioneer in this field. She gave leadership to the Benjamin Rose Institute
and achieved great things.
The Social Security Act was passed in 1935. When Harry Truman
became President he invited a small group of medical social workers to
come to a meeting in Washington to discuss the problems of the aged. Mr.
Truman’s effort for medicare for the aged came before the people
were ready for it, but he had the pleasure of being present when President
Johnson had signed the Medicare Bill in July 1965. Miss Wagner had a small
part in this movement.
Locally Miss Wagner has received many honors. In 1955 she
was given the Distinguished Service Award of the United Appeal. The Woman
of Achievement Award of the Interclub council was given her in 1958. In
1959 the Welfare Federation of Cleveland gave her the Outstanding Service
Award. Many other evidences of the recognition of her services could be
mentioned. Perhaps the greatest tribute to this great woman was the Margaret
Wagner House on Euclid Heights Boulevard. It would not be surprising if
some older citizen of Cleveland Heights would claim one of her other achievements
as being of greater importance to more people. It was Margaret Wagner
who started the first Golden Age Group in Cleveland in 1937. Over the
country the groups may be known as Senior Citizens, Council of Senior
Citizens, Golden Age, but they all stem from the program of recreation
that Miss Wagner started.