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Gray Panthers Hope Efforts Attract New Blood

The Gray Panthers, mired in the doldrums since the death of its fiesty founder two years ago, hopes to mount a comeback this weekend at the organization’s biennial convention.

The Gray Panthers, founded in 1970 in Philadelphia by Maggie Kuhn, has seen its membership decline from a high of 80,000 to 40,000 since Kuhn’s death at age 89 in 1995.

“We haven’t paid enough attention to recruitment,” Catherine DeLorey, the Panthers’ newly elected national board chairwoman, said earlier this week. She said she hoped this weekend’s convention - called “Bridging Generations for a New Social Contract” - re-energizes the organization.

Kuhn, a charismatic, independent, high-energy woman, founded the Gray Panthers just months after being forced to retire at age 65 from her job with the United Presbyterian Church.

She described the organization as an advocate for “fundamental social change that would eliminate injustice, discrimination and oppression in our present society.”

Kuhn didn’t pick the name the Gray Panthers - others did. She originally called it “The Consultation of Older and Younger Adults for Social Change.” But a Philadelphia reporter dubbed the group the Gray Panthers, and the name stuck.

Hardly anything irritates the Panthers more than to be labeled a bunch of senior citizens - a term Kuhn detested.

“This is not an old person’s organization,” said DeLorey, 55, who is president of the Women’s Health Institute, and co-founder and director of a women-owned health center. “It’s always had youth and age together.”

The Panthers were at the forefront of the anti-Vietnam war movement and have remained in the activist vanguard ever since - in Washington and in state capitals.

In recent years, the San Francisco chapter has picketed for the unionization of home health care nurses; campaigned in favor of affirmative action and against toxins. And it blew the whistle on book dumping by the new San Francisco Main Library as it underwent high-tech conversion.


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