The birth of the Gray Panthers movement - in Philly

Maggie Kuhn, outside her home in April 1975.

Margaret Eliza Kuhn was born on August 31, 1905, in Buffalo, New York.

She graduated from West High School in Cleveland and then attended Western Reserve University. In 1930, she became head of the Professional Department of business girls at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.

In 1941, she became a program coordinator and editor for the YWCA’s USO division. She later became program coordinator for the General Alliance for Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women in Boston. In 1950, in order to take care of her ailing parents, she accepted a job near them in Philadelphia as assistant secretary of the Social Education and Action Department at the Presbyterian Church’s national headquarters. In 1969, she became a program executive for the Presbyterian Church’s Council on Church and Race, and was a member of a subcommittee that dealt with the problems of the elderly.

As Kuhn approached retirement age, she was distressed because she did not want to stop working. So in 1970, she met with a group of friends to address the problems of retirees. The group grew and eventually called itself the Gray Panthers. By 1973, eleven chapters had opened. The Gray Panthers quickly received public notoriety and expanded as a national organization, opening a national office in Washington, D.C., in 1990.

Over the years, the Gray Panthers have been involved in grassroots activities that deal with public and governmental policies that deal with the elderly.

Kuhn described the mission of the Gray Panthers: “In the tradition of the women’s liberation movement, the common mission of all the Gray Panther groups was consciousness-raising. Instead of sexism, we were discovering ‘ageism’—the segregation, stereotyping, and stigmatizing of people on the basis of age.”

Before her death in 1995, Maggie Kuhn had written an autobiography entitled The Life and Times of Maggie Kuhn. She had never married and was able to be involved in many activities that helped make significant changes in the welfare of the elderly. Speaking about never being married, she said, “Many people ask why I never married. My glib response is always ‘Sheer luck!’ When I look back on my life, I see so many things I could not have done if I had been tied to a husband and children."