March is Women's History Month. The theme this year is "NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women."
Women's History Month is a time to recognize the contributions of women throughout history.
Leading up to the Aging in America conference in Chicago in 2015, H.O.M.E. caught March mania with Super Senior Madness. No surprise to us, most of the seniors that our staff nominated were women.
Perhaps the fiercest competition came when Ruth Bader Ginsburg faced off with Maggie Kuhn. While Ruth Bader Ginsburg would go on to win the competition, today let's spend some more time highlighting the accomplishments that Maggie Kuhn made in her lifetime.
A lifelong activist
From starting a League of Women Voters on her college campus to advocating for desegregation, Kuhn was a lifelong activist. Describing herself as a sucker for a good cause, she stood strong against injustice and discrimination based on gender, sexuality, poverty, race, and age. Kuhn was a bold champion for social change, not just for older adults, but for people of many marginalized groups.
Founding Gray Panthers
As an activist, anti-ageism was long a cause that Kuhn championed. As such, she consulted on the first White House Conference on Aging in 1961.
Perhaps her best known accomplishment, Kuhn founded the Gray Panthers in 1970 when she experienced age discrimination in her own life. As was common practice at the time, her employer, the United Presbyterian Church in New York, had a policy that forced employees into retirement at age 65. Thanks to the Gray Panthers' advocacy, in 1978 the retirement age was raised to 70 and it was eliminated in 1986.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, the Gray Panthers played a key role in advocating for reform in housing, healthcare, the economy, and more. From intersectionality to federal budget priorities to systemic discrimination, Kuhn saw the connection between the issues that seniors face and larger needs for social change. As such, the Gray Panthers took on military spending and global peace, economic justice, anti-racism, and LGBT rights.
Popularizing shared housing
After her forced retirement, Kuhn lived in her own home with people ages 21 to 89. She referred to her alternative living situation as her "family of choice." Similar to our Intergenerational Housing Program, Kuhn's model allowed for each member of the household to have privacy, yet also enabled members to nurture meaningful relationships with people of all generations.
She termed this model "shared housing" and began a resource center to help others seek or launch housing alternatives. Today, intergenerational housing like H.O.M.E.'s, co-housing models, and homesharing programs are growing alternatives to senior housing.
Pioneer in uniting generations
Kuhn believed that young people and older adults should be integrated in housing, and in social justice movements. Inspiring young people to get involved with the fight against ageism, she would say, "Every one of us is growing older."
Though the Gray Panthers focused on older adults, its credo was "Age and Youth in Action." Many of its members were, in fact, young adults and teenagers.
Are you looking for a way to take a stand with older adults? Consider volunteer or leadership opportunities with H.O.M.E.!