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.
Reprinted with permission from “The Proud Heritage of Cleveland Heights,” © 1965 by the Women’s Civic Club of Cleveland Heights