Annually celebrated on the first Sunday after Labor Day, National Grandparents Day marks a time to honor the people who brought our parents into the world, as well as a moment to reflect on the experiences and wisdom of those who survive life's many hardships and carry on into their golden years. Here's a look at how National Grandparents Day rose from grassroots foundings to a permanent spot on American calendars.
The Holiday First Took Shape in the 1960s
One of the first known attempts at creating a commemorative day for grandparents came through the efforts of Jacob Reingold, an acclaimed pioneer in senior care and the longtime executive director of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale facility in the Bronx, New York.
Inspired by the messages he heard from fellow attendees of the 1961 White House Conference on Aging, the first of its kind, Reingold established a day to honor grandparents at the Hebrew Home later that year. It became a borough-recognized holiday in 1963, though momentum for continued expansion seemingly ended there.
In 1969, a 9-year-old boy named Russell Capper reportedly wrote to President Richard Nixon about declaring a national holiday to honor grandparents. The President's secretary responded with a polite but firm rejection, noting that such a day of observance required the formality of a Congressional resolution.
Momentum Grew in the 1970s
Next up to take on the challenge was a West Virginian empty nester named Marian McQuade. Influenced by her grandmother's involvement with elderly neighbors and friends, and building on her work for nursing homes and the West Virginia Commission on Aging, the longtime advocate set about drumming up support for a day of recognition for seniors in the early 1970s.
Her initial concept of a "National Shut-in Day" failed to rouse political allies, prompting a tweak to something more family-friendly. Regardless of the name, her idea was less about showering grandma and grandpa with cards and chocolates and more about bringing attention to those often isolated in their homes and facilities.
"It's not for grandparents like me to get presents," McQuade later said. "It's to alleviate some loneliness."
Thanks to her intensive lobbying, West Virginia marked its first Grandparents Day in 1973, and the following year, a total of 22 states signed on to the cause. However, many of those states declined to make it an annually recurring celebration, and a bill proposing a national holiday, sponsored by West Virginia Senator Jennings Randolph, died in the House of Representatives.
It Was Declared an Annual Holiday in 1978
In 1977, McQuade received a boost from a Georgia-based businessman named Mike Goldgar. According to some outlets, Goldgar had spent thousands of dollars in trips to Washington, D.C., as part of his push for a congressionally recognized day, though he envisioned making up for those expenditures through hefty contributions from the greeting-card, florist, candy, and jewelry industries.
Despite their philosophical differences, McQuade agreed to head the nonprofit National Council for Observance of Grandparents Day, with Goldgar serving as executive secretary and chief promoter.
Their goal came to fruition in August 1978, when President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation declaring September 10 of that year to be National Grandparents Day. The next year, following the passage of the all-important Congressional resolution, President Carter announced that the first Sunday after Labor Day would be annually recognized as the day to honor grandparents, citing them as a "link to our national heritage and traditions."
National Grandparents Day Endures
Unsurprisingly, the relationship between the Grandparents Day co-founders soon fizzled over their conflicting views of commercial interests. McQuade filed a lawsuit to separate her business dealings from those of Goldgar, though she failed to achieve satisfactory legal closure when her partner died before the start of court proceedings in 1986.
Nevertheless, National Grandparents Day was on the map to stay, its emergence marking the fulfillment, to varying degrees, of the dreams nurtured by McQuade, Goldgar, and Reingold, who saw his contributions to the holiday entered into the Congressional Record in 1987.
McQuade, who appeared on a postage stamp to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Grandparents Day, succeeded in raising awareness for the elderly through her creative efforts. She launched a website for the occasion and her own National Grandparents Day Council, which enhanced celebrations by naming an official flower (forget-me-not) and song (Johnny Prill's "A Song for Grandma and Grandpa"), before her death in 2008.
And while the holiday never quite became the financial bonanza predicted by Goldgar, the greeting-card industry reported a respectable $3 million in Grandparents Day sales in 2003, the 25th anniversary of its inception. The promoter also ensured he would receive the recognition he seemingly craved, as he marked his final resting spot with a headstone that reads: "Founder of Grandparents Day."