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National Grandparents Day – what’s the story behind the day?

by Sue Brooks

The pandemic has had a harsh impact on our ability to spend time with older relatives, such as grandparents. Conversely, it has awakened us to just how much we cherish those intergenerational ties.

Sunday, Sept. 12 is National Grandparents Day and we wondered about its history. There appear to be three people behind the movement.

Russell Capper

According to a recent online Better Homes & Gardens article by Emily VanSchmus, in 1969, 9-year-old Russell Capper penned a letter to President Nixon requesting that a day be dedicated to grandparents — much like the national celebrations of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Capper received a letter from Nixon’s secretary indicating that the president liked the idea but couldn’t declare a holiday without a resolution from Congress…

Generations United’s website at grandparentsday.org states that National Grandparents Day is “rooted in the innovative work of two committed and passionate pioneers: Jacob Reingold and Marian McQuade.”

Jacob Reingold

Reingold, who served as Executive Vice President of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx from 1958 to 1995, attended the 1961 White House Conference on Aging. Accordingly, he was so inspired by a speech concerning the “new image of the aged” that he “focused on recognizing the role of millions of older Americans who are grandparents.” That same year, on September 16, the first day specifically honoring grandparents was held at the Hebrew Home. Two years later, it became an official holiday in the borough of the Bronx. 

Marian McQuade

In 1970, West Virginian Marian McQuade, who served on the West Virginia Commission on Aging and the Nursing Home Licensing Board, began campaigning to create a special day of recognition for grandparents. She said she wanted to educate youth about the importance of seniors and the contributions they have made throughout history. She urged the younger generation to “adopt” a grandparent and “learn more about their lives, challenges, and desires for the future.”

She reached out to civic, business, faith and political leaders and began a statewide campaign for Grandparents Day in West Virginia. In 1973, the first Grandparents Day was proclaimed there by Governor Arch Moore.

Reingold and McQuade’s work culminated in 1978 (nine years after Capper’s letter) when Congress passed legislation proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day, and President Jimmy Carter signed a presidential proclamation.

(An interesting side note: According to legacyproject.org, McQuade and her husband, Joseph, had 15 children, 43 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild!)

Wishing those who celebrate a safe, memorable day!

Sue Brooks is NJAAW’s Communications Manager.

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