Maggie (third from left) and fellow Gray Panthers at an anti-nuclear rally in Washington, D.C. in 1979
The Gray Panthers is an organization of intergenerational activists working to change laws and attitudes for social and economic justice. Some of the many issues they have tackled include peace, health care, jobs, housing, ageism, sexism, racism, media stereotyping, family security, the environment and campaign reform.
In August 1970, Maggie Kuhn brought together a group of five friends, all of whom were retiring from national religious and social work organizations, to look at problems faced by retirees. These women discovered a new freedom in their retirement - the freedom to speak their minds about what they believed in, such as their opposition to the Vietnam War. Gathering with college students opposed to the war, the group, named the Consultation of Older and Younger Adults for Social Change, met in Philadelphia to share ideas. A year later, more than 100 people had joined the Consultation.
In 1972, as the new group was gaining more media attention, a New York talk show producer nicknamed the group the Gray Panthers, characterizing them as lively, quick-witted, controversial and action-oriented. The name stuck and was officially adopted.
The Gray Panthers continued to get media exposure and attract a strong following in the '70s through anti-war protests. Sponsors of the "Black House Conference on Aging" to call attention to the lack of African Americans at the first White House Conference on Aging, they also performed street theater calling for health care as a human right. The group united with Ralph Nader's Retired Professional Action Group, which led to legislation monitoring the hearing aid industry. In 1973 the Panthers established a National Media Watch Task Force to trace ageist stereotyping. Their documentation persuaded the National Association of Broadcasters to encourage media sensitivity and develop guidelines for media monitoring of age discrimination.
Throughout the 1970s and early '80s the Gray Panthers grew into a national organization comprised of local networks. In 1981, they gained official NGO (Non-governmental Organization) status at the United Nations. In 1985, they opened their first public policy office in Washington, D.C., where they relocated their headquarters in 1990. Advocacy for the national health care system remained a priority for the group.
In 1995, one month after the Panthers' 10th biennial convention honoring her legacy, Maggie Kuhn died in her sleep. Since Kuhn's death, Gray Panthers from ages 9 to 93 continue to fight for welfare-workfare reform, health care, education and economic justice. In recent years, they have scored major victories for consumers in their fight for accessible Medicare information for seniors. The Gray Panthers have also taken on big drug companies on a range of issues to hold corporations accountable and ensure that all consumers have access to safe and affordable prescription drugs.