because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Maggie Kuhn

When the Presbyterian Church forced Maggie Kuhn into "retirement" at the age of sixty-five, they didn't realize they were unleashing a dragon. After all, women of that age are supposed to be happy sitting in their rockers on their respective porches, aren't they? It isn't as though Maggie didn't have enough to keep her busy.  A disabled mother and a mentally ill brother both required her attention.  But this was Maggie Kuhn, who had been teaching YWCA classes for women about organizing, social issues and even sexuality in the 1930's and 1940's.

Later, while teaching Presbyterian seminarians about the social aspect of the Gospel, Kuhn realized that the Church's retirement homes were places where the aged were treated like children, which she saw as a waste of talent and energy. So, when she was summarily relieved of her duties for being "over the hill," she immediately organized the Gray Panthers, a human rights organization and lobbying body that fights against ageism, a word nobody had ever heard before Kuhn burst on the scene.

Demonstrating that older Americans have interests and the willingness to take action on those interests, the Gray Panthers started by taking on the Vietnam War and never looked back.  Until her death in 1995, just short of her ninetieth birthday and twenty-five years after her so-called "retirement," Maggie Kuhn left no stone unturned to leave the world in a better state than she found it. No topic was off limits. In fact, she even talked about sex among elders, suggesting that, since women live longer, they should connect with younger men or each other to meet their sexual needs.

"Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes!" Kuhn was quoted as saying.  And speak her mind, she did. Whether pioneering housing cohabitation styles that put younger and older people together to the advantage of both or haranguing Congressional legislators about overspending on the military while pretending Social Security was a problem, Kuhn proved that age ain't nuthin' but a number.  And an in-your-face woman is ageless.

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