Madison in the Sixties – December, 1969
December 2— A massive urban renewal project for the Miffland neighborhood runs into trouble at the Plan Commission, as area alderman Paul Soglin challenges plans for high-rise condo units. Soglin wants to rehab the existing housing stock through renovation and cooperatives rather than build new.
December 6–7— About seventy women— students, TAs, young professionals, wives, and mothers— attend the Women’s Liberation Conference at the University YWCA on Brooks St. Workshops include “The Psychology of Women,” “Women and Sex,” “Family Structure Alternatives,” “Women and Racism,” “Images of Women in the Mass Media,” “Women as Exploited Consumers,” “Jobs and Pay Structure for Women.”
Two legal decisions of note.
Flashing your middle-finger at a police officer may be rude and defiant, Circuit Court Judge Richard Bardwell rules on the 10th, but it does not appeal to a prurient interest in sex. So he reverses a teenager’s $50 fine for obscenity. Asst City Attorney Henry Gempeler claimed the gesture met the ‘prurient interest’ test the US Supreme Court set for finding obscenity, but Bardwell doesn’t buy it. The case arose when a Madison cop stopped a car and warned the driver about a faulty muffler; afterwards, as the car drove away, the teenage passenger turned around and gave the officer the single-digit salute – at which point, he was charged with using an obscenity. “This finger gesture does not appeal to my prurient interest in sex,” the jurist rejoins. “You’ll find more than a finger dangling everyday right down at the Dangle Lounge.”
On the 15th, Circuit court judge William Sachtjen overturns the 6-month suspension of Fire Captain and former Local 311 union president Ed Durkin which the Police and Fire Commission imposed in August for his role leading an illegal firefighter strike in March. Sachtjen rules that the amnesty clause which the city council and mayor agreed to in settling the strike took precedence over the PFC’s power to discipline. He puts Durkin back to work, with full back pay.
And in potential court news revealed the day after Christmas, the city council is refusing to pay $8,000 in damage claims against the city arising out of the Mifflin Street Block Party riots earlier this year. The claims were filed by insurance companies under a state law which makes municipalities responsible for damages “to persons or property by a mob or riot.” But City Attorney Edwin Conrad says the events that first weekend in May were not of the kind covered by the law.
December 18— Quirky attorney Edward Ben Elson declares his candidacy for Dane County district attorney at the Wilson Hotel. The twenty- eight-yo co-owner of the No Hassel head shop and clothing store on University Ave. wears a modish grey Edwardian suit and maroon shirt. Convicted in June of violating the state law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, Elson vows to not enforce that and other “bad laws,” such as those against marijuana and cohabitation; he warns that someday it may even become a crime not to wear a seat belt. Despite his weak showing in the spring mayoral election, and calling himself “mad as the hatter,” Elson says he’s “dead serious” and will campaign vigorously as the candidate of the American Transcendental Party.
And these items from the protest dateline …
December 12— An action by the Students for a Democratic Society against T- 16, the Quonset hut at the corner of Linden and Babcock Drives used for ROTC instruction, leaves four protesters arrested and four campus policemen injured after a free- swinging melee. About two hundred demonstrators then move through campus, smashing windows in the Army Math Research Center, Bascom Hall, and the Humanities Building before a vanguard of about two dozen students attack the unguarded Peterson Administration Building, where they throw garbage cans through the large interior plate glass windows and destroy or remove thousands of the hated photo ID cards. The destructive vandalism is attributed to small, autonomous affinity groups. The Daily Cardinal applauds the objectives and accomplishments of the march but decries that poor execution resulted in the “needless and counterproductive” property destruction.
December 28— At 4:15 a.m., student radical Karl Armstrong breaks three windows in T- 16, tosses in two 1-gallon jugs filled with gasoline, and lights a match. University senior Bryce Larson hears the breaking glass, sees the flickering flames, and calls campus police; the Madison Fire Department is able to save the building, limiting damage to about a thousand dollars. Police track Armstrong’s footprints to Tripp Circle but lose the trail and never develop any suspects.
December 31— Armstrong enlists his brother Dwight to steal a plane from Morey Airfield, where Dwight works, to make a bombing run on the Badger Ordnance Works in Baraboo. About two hours into 1970, Karl drops three makeshift bombs of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (ANFO); they fall harmlessly into the snow and do not explode. Driving back to Madison, the New Year’s Gang is pulled over by police. Karl is given a warning for speeding.
Finally, Economics professor emeritus Harold M. Groves — a founder of the modern cooperative movement, the intellectual and political father of Wisconsin’s first-in-the- nation unemployment compensation act and the homestead tax credit for the elderly, and an important supporter of Frank Lloyd Wright— passes away in his sleep on December 2 at the family home, 1418 Drake St. One of six children of a Lodi farm couple, Groves earned three degrees at Wisconsin; he received his doctorate in 1927 under the legendary professor John R. Commons, and later held the endowed chair named in his honor. Groves served in the Assembly and Senate in the early 1930s as a Progressive Republican, and also as state tax commissioner. Groves was the chief faculty sponsor and patron of the interracial, interreligious women’s cooperative Groves House, which opened at 150 Langdon St. in 1943, with the Green Lantern Eating Co- op in the basement. A friend of Wright’s since the 1930s, Groves and his wife, Helen, helped the architect build the Unitarian Meeting House and were leaders of Citizens for Monona Terrace; Groves served six years on the city’s Auditorium Committee until he was replaced by the anti–Monona Terrace mayor Henry Reynolds in 1961. He ran for the Common Council in 1963, losing to veteran incumbent Harrison Garner. Harold Groves was 72 years old.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, vaccine-taking, mask-wearing, hand-washing socially distant WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan