Celebrate Grandparents Day

A look back at the history of Grandparents Day as the annual celebration takes place on the second Sunday in September

By Rich Thomaselli

It all sounded so official in 1979, with words and phrases like "whereof"' and "hereunto" and "joint resolution."

But when President Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation creating a National Grandparents Day, little did anyone know how it would grow. At the time, Carter said the holiday would recognize "the importance and worth of the 17 million grandparents in our nation."

Barely a generation later, there are now more than 70 million grandparents in the United States.

That's a lot of recognition.

And a lot of gifts, cards, and flowers, too.

On September 11, 2011, Grandparents Day will reach its 32nd anniversary. Like Mother's Day and Father's Day, it's a time for family celebration, and a chance to honor the important role grandparents play in children's lives.

Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade, an Oak Hill, W. Va., housewife, founded the holiday. McQuade had worked with senior citizens for many years and her original idea for the holiday was not only to recognize grandparents but also to bring attention to the needs of people living in nursing homes.

She began her campaign locally in 1970, eventually drawing the attention of U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph (D., W. Va.), who was instrumental in lobbying Gov. Arch Moore to establish a statewide day for grandparents. Moore did just that in 1973, the same year that Randolph introduced a Grandparent Day resolution in Congress.

Randolph's resolution bounced around both houses of Congress with no action for several years, until McQuade and her supporters turned to the media for help with their efforts. The added pressure paid off, and in 1978 Congress passed legislation declaring the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day. Carter signed his proclamation on September 6, 1979, and the first Grandparents Day was celebrated three days later.

In 1989, the U.S. Postal Service honored McQuade with a commemorative envelope bearing her likeness to acknowledge the tenth anniversary of the holiday. McQuade, sadly, passed away last year at the age of of 91. She was the mother of 15, the grandmother of 43, and the great-grandmother of 15.

In that original proclamation, Carter wrote that because grandparents "are usually free to love and guide and befriend the young without having to take daily responsibility for them, they can often reach out past pride and fear of failure and close the space between generations."

Today, though, an increasing number of grandparents have actually assumed daily responsibility for their grandchildren. According to AARP, 4.5 million children are being raised in households headed by grandparents. For those kids and millions of others, grandparents create special relationships and impart lessons that last a lifetime. As Carter wrote, "Grandparents are our continuing tie to the near-past, to the events and beliefs and experiences that so strongly affect our lives and the world around us."


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