Women’s History Month: Maggie Kuhn

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

When I posted information on International Women’s Day, I forgot to say that this day is part of  March’s Women’s History Month. When I Googled this topic, this is what came up:

“The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society.”

Wow! I’d say it’s about time that all these organizations acknowledge the role that women have played in our history. The best way for me to honor this month is to share what I have been receiving in the mail throughout the month, as well as focus on one or two important women. Below is a brief review of NO STONE UNTURNED:The Life and Times of Maggie Kuhn, an autobiography written by Maggie with the help of Cristina Long and Laura Quinn.


I remember reading about Maggie Kuhn many years ago, when she was head of the Grey Panthers.  In reading her autobiography, I realized she was way ahead of her time, a feminist before the Women’s Movement, a radical before Ms. Magazine celebrated our boldness, and a scrappy citizen of Philadelphia, where I now live.

Maggie Kuhn was born on August 3, 1905 in Buffalo, New York. However, her family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she lived until 1930, attending Western Reserve University’s College for Women in Cleveland. Graduating with honors, she first worked with the YWCA in Cleveland, and when her father was transferred to Philadelphia, she worked there and then moved to work in the New York City Y, the first time away from family.

She had many beaus, but never married.  When she was “forced” into retirement in 1970, she became outraged, but instead of giving up, she called six other (female) friends forced into retirement, and with their newfound freedom, they set out to change the world. The group formed a new group that fought ageism, racism, sexism, and  militarism, working with young people actively and with passionate protests.

As the review in Answers.com notes, Maggie Kuhn practiced what she preached. For example, instead of “retiring” to a nursing home,  she kept her house and invited younger women to live with her at a much reduced rental rate, in exchange for shopping and taking her to meetings. (She traveled thousands of miles yearly, sometimes with a wheelchair.) In this review, the writer notes that Maggie shocked her audiences with her audacity, claiming three things she liked about being  older:

1. She could speak her mind, which she did often.

2. She outlived much of her opposition

3. She could reach out to the young.

When I first picked up this book for $1.00 in the lobby of the library, I was only mildly interested in reading it.  But once I started to read, I could not stop. The book in inspirational and has cemented my original admiration of Maggie Kuhn when I first read about her work as head of the Gray Panthers. True to form, Maggie Kuhn died in  her home in Philadelphia on April 22, 1995 at the age of 89.

The last page of her autobiography is awe-inspiring. She writes that she wants a simple funeral, upbeat with lots of music, and hopefully taking place in the summer so she could have a garden service. She writes, and I quote:

In the meantime, I want to live a full life until my death, filling my seat at the Academy of Music, to go on attending Gray Panther meetings, to do something outrageous every day. Thought not original, I would like my gravestone inscribed with the words, “Here lies Maggie Kuhn under the only stone unturned.”  After all, there is still so very  much to be done! Whenever I feel a little dizzy or weak, I take a sniff of some good old-fashioned ammonia spirits. What a  kick!

NO STONE UNTURNED was published by Ballantine Books in 1991. My hardbound copy is listed at $18.00, but it is available used on Amazon for about $8.00.  If you click on the title on the icon below (no image available, but the cover photo is at the top), you will go directly to www.Amazon.com to purchase this excellent autobiography.

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