Women’s liberation, black studies and violent political protest, that was Madison in December, 1969. Stu Levitan has the details on this week’s Madison in the Sixties.
Madison, 1969 – December
December 1— On the first, the faculty unanimously accepts plans to establish a Department of Afro- American Studies that would grant BA and BS degrees in the new Afro- American Studies major – the primary demand of the Black Strike in February. Proponents hope the regents and Coordinating Council for Higher Education give final approval in time for the department to start next fall.
December 2— A massive urban renewal project for the Mifflin neighborhood runs into trouble at the Plan Commission, as area alderman Paul Soglin challenges plans for high-rise condominium units designed for adults working downtown. Soglin wants to rehab the existing housing stock through renovation and cooperatives rather than build new.
December 6–7— About 70 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,” “Roles of Women in Other Cultures,” “Images of Women in the Mass Media,” “Women as Exploited Consumers,” “Jobs and Pay Structure for Women,” and “Women’s Liberation as a Part of Total Change.”
December 18— Quirky attorney Edward Ben Elson, 28, co-owner of the No Hassel head shop and clothing store, 813 University Ave., declares his candidacy for Dane County district attorney at the Wilson Hotel while wearing 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 it may even become a crime someday 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 only candidate of the American Transcendental Party.
On the 19th— Business professor James Graaskamp, UW Ph.D., 1964, is named the state’s Handicapped Person of the Year by the Governor’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped. A quadriplegic, Graaskamp developed polio in 1950 at age 17 and has been in a wheelchair since. He joined the faculty in 1964 and is an owner of Landmark Research Inc., and a commissioner of the nonprofit Industrial Land Utility Corp.
And these items from the protest dateline …
December 10— Governor Warren Knowles signs into law the seventh bill this year cracking down on student protest. The new law, a response to the Black Strike, sets a minimum one-semester suspension from university attendance or employment for any person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor arising out of the forceful disruption of classes, the disruption of pedestrian or vehicular traffic, or the seizure of university buildings.
December 12— An SDS action 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 200 demonstrators then move through campus, smashing windows in the AMRC, 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, whose ranks have been growing since the Black Strike. 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 two gallon jugs filled with gasoline inside, 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 in a plan 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, Karl is pulled over by police and given a warning for speeding. It’s the start of the “New Year’s Gang,” which will undertake a series of fire bombings and other actions, culminating in the ANFO bombing of Sterling Hall, home of the Army Mathematics Research Center, at 3:42 a.m. on August 24, 1970. The explosion does about $2 million in damage and kills postdoctoral physics researcher Robert Fassnacht, 33, who has no connection to the AMRC.185
Photo: Atty. Edward Ben Elson in his No Hassel boutique, February 1969. Photo by L. Roger Turner, courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society Archives