Sept. 8, 2022 — Buried in the back pages of American newspapers of February 1954, were newswire agency reports from Washington of a resolution introduced by Rep. Lester Holtzman (D., N.Y.), to designate the first Sunday of every October, as Grandparents Day. It stalled after what he deemed a smear campaign by what he perceived as “political assassins” trying to unseat him, asserting that he had no part in keeping former Maj. Irving Peress from serving overseas while an Army dentist.
The scandal seems tame by today’s standards, but it was the first attempt in the U.S. to try and establish Grandparents Day as a National Holiday.
In 1956, Marian McQuade, generally regarded as the activist who launched her advocacy with seniors, organized an annual event called the “Past 80 Party,” where seniors 80 or higher were invited to celebrate with a wholesome festival every June in Richwood, West Virginia. Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day, which Congress passed in 1914, was coincidentally also from West Virginia.
Grandparent’s Day has its place in other cultures, first being designated a holiday in Poland in 1964. Today, Poland has separate back to back days to honor grandmothers and grandfathers, January 21 and 22.
Parents had their day, but elders needed one, too. So, a bit of desperation was sensed with the Oct. 4, 1968, national Associated Press release from Terri Blake, a 65-year-old, New York, pin-up grandmother, clad in a homemade bunny outfit, that was “conducting a campaign for a National Grandmother and Grandfather Day.”
After a handwritten letter from a nine-year-old Russell Capper was sent to President Nixon in 1969, proposing a day be appropriated to recognize grandparents, he was surprised to receive a response on June 12, 1969. The president’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, thanked Capper but stated that the president “ordinarily issues proclamations designated periods for special observances only when Congressional resolution authorizes him to do so.”
Requests to the President were followed with a series of resolutions, issued with multiple supporting sponsors through the years but they garnered very little traction. By 1973, McQuade started a personal campaign in hopes to create a special day to honor grandparents. She hyper focused on writing letters to her local and state representatives until she received the attention from Senator Jennings Randolph. Randolph also introduced the idea of making Grandparents Day a national holiday to the Senate, but the proposal died.
After heavy campaigning locally and nationally by McQuade, West Virginia became the first state to assign a day to honor grandparents, proclaimed by Governor Arch Moore on May 27, 1973. The following year, a Presidential request to designate a special day for grandparents, this time, the Sunday after Thanksgiving Day, was sponsored by Dominick V. Daniels (Rep D. N.J.), who also gave it a shot but the resolution stalled.
Things started to take shape in February 1977 when Randolph and other Senators presented a joint resolution, for approval of the Chamber and President Jimmy Carter, to make the first Sunday after Labor Day officially National Grandparents Day.
On June 22, 1978, legislation cosponsored by Elizabeth Holtzman (D. N.Y.) and 23 additional Representatives put pressure on Congress to act with another request to issue an annual proclamation, designating the first Sunday September after Labor Day of each year as “National Grandparents Day.”
A White House rep formally called Marian McQuade in September 1978 to inform her that President Jimmy Carter had signed a bill, designating the Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day beginning in 1979.
Eager to rejoice, and cash-in on the news, the official sponsor of all anniversaries, the Hallmark holiday for Grandparents Day was declared by the arrival of nearly quarter page ads in national newspapers, announcing the “Beginning [of] a New Tradition” by the greeting card manufacturer.
McQuade was honored later, with a postage stamp bearing her likeness in 1989, during the tenth anniversary, memorializing her on a United States Postal Service envelope. She lived to be 91 year old, when she passed away on September 26, 2008, in Oak Hill Virginia. She was considered a family hero for her accomplishments. And important players who helped usher in a day we can celebrate with our elders. She was survived by her 15 children, 43 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren.