Maggie Kuhn - Gray Panthers

Gray Panthers

On her 65th birthday, the Presbyterian Church forced her to retire. She banded together with other retirees and formed the Gray Panthers Movement. Seeing all issues of injustice as inevitably linked, they refused to relegate themselves to elder rights, but focused also on peace, presidential elections, poverty, and civil liberties. Their first big issue was opposition to the Vietnam War.

After an elderly woman was killed and robbed of $309 after cashing a check, Kuhn enlisted the help of Ralph Nader who set up a meeting with the president of the First Pennsylvanian Bank. The bank agreed to establish special check-drawn savings accounts for people over 65 free of charge and make loans more accessible to older people.

The Gray Panthers' motto was "Age and Youth In Action," and many of its members were high school and college students. Kuhn believed that teens should be taken more seriously and given more responsibility by society. To her, this was but another example of our fast-paced, exploitative culture wasting vital human resources.

The Gray Panthers also combated the then-popular "disengagement theory," which argues that old age involves a necessary separation from society as a prelude to death. Kuhn implicated the American lifestyle for treating the old as problems of society and not as persons experiencing the problems created by society. And she accused gerontologists of perpetuating the illusion of old people as incapacitated, noting that grant money only seemed to fund such research. She called into question the representation of old people in popular media.

Kuhn raised controversy by openly discussing the sexuality of older people, and shocked the public with her assertion that older women, who outlive men by an average of 8 years, could develop sexual relationships with younger men or each other.

She also took a stance on Social Security, arguing that politicians had created an intergenerational war over federal funds in order to divert public attention from the real budgetary issues: overspending on the military and extravagant tax breaks for the rich.

Kuhn criticized housing schemes for the elderly, calling them "glorified playpens". While admitting that they helped to keep seniors safe, she contended that they also segregated the elderly from mainstream society. During her years as a Gray Panther activist, she lived in her own home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She shared that home with younger adults, who received a break on rent in exchange for their help with chores and their companionship. Kuhn founded the Shared Housing Resources Center.

Kuhn wrote her autobiography, No Stone Unturned, in 1991. Four years later, she died of cardiac arrest in Philadelphia at the age of 89.

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