Chapter 3
The Road to Chicago (1972–75)

Peering over half-lens granny glasses, Maggie Kuhn opened the first national Gray Panther convention in October 1975 with a call to form coalitions with the disabled, environmentalists, and the women’s movement. Her audience of more than two hundred Panthers from thirty-seven states had come to Chicago to give collective life to what was now a national movement. From California to Massachusetts to Arkansas, twentyeight “networks” had affiliated with the national office in Philadelphia, and eight thousand people were on the Panthers’ mailing list. Following Maggie, Shubert Frye told the assemblage, “We have known in our bones that some time we must meet one another face to face. So here we are in Chicago. Let’s growl, prowl, and if necessary, scowl or howl, to make the best of this great occasion!”1

Frye spoke to the convention on behalf of the National Steering Committee, “women and men who struggle with putting the dream into some manageable form and order, trying desperately not to sacrifice the humaneness of the dream to the mechanics and weight of the structure.” He reviewed the “long process” of growth from Consultation to Gray Panthers, from “old people, to a coalition of young and old, to affiliation of persons of all ages,” and from “an informal, self-perpetuating, regional Steering Committee to a representative, national body operating under Articles of Agreement.” Frye listed several accomplishments since 1972: merger with Ralph Nader’s Retired Professionals Action Group; reports on the hearing aid and nursing home industries; advocacy for a national health service; protest against negative imagery of old people on television; and assistance to emerging Gray Panther networks nationwide. Yet money, he continued, remained an “ever present goal.” A Gray Panther Project Fund had been incorporated to receive tax-deductible contributions, but with neither membership dues nor regular contributions from the networks it was individual gifts and church grants, and much volunteer labor, that sustained the Gray Panther office at its minimal level of operation. This

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