Madison in the Sixties. Panty Raids
October 8, 1961 It’s just after midnight Sunday morning and more than a thousand beer-and-hormone-soaked young men are out on State Street, celebrating the football team’s victory over Indiana and delighting in a twenty-year-old German model in a tight blue dress playing toreador in the street. Suddenly a group of celebrants set up a ladder, which their leader ascends; he leads the crowd in cheers and college songs—until he suddenly shouts, “Let’s go on a panty raid!”
The crowd becomes a mob and surges toward the new Lowell Hall; the horde chants “We want panties” as a group mounts the first floor roof and breaks a window before being driven off by a broom-wielding janitor. They’re likewise thwarted at Ann Emery Hall. The mob fills State and Langdon Streets, pushing cars and even rocking an unmarked police car; some toss stones and cups of beer at the lawmen. After a large firecracker breaks a squad car radiator, police bring out (but don’t use) tear gas and fire hoses, and the crowd disperses.
Police make five arrests for disorderly conduct—two students; two locals, ages eighteen and twenty-four; and a Truax Field airman. Charges against two are eventually dropped; three forfeit bail. Five students are placed on disciplinary probation and/or suspended for the spring semester, and ordered to apologize by letter to police chief Wilbur Emery. UW officials reaffirm a 1959 policy statement that any student in a mob, regardless of what he or she does, is fully responsible for all of the mob’s actions and is subject to discipline.[i]
Oct 13-14, 1962. Beer bars, women’s dorms, and warm moonlit nights make for a bad brew the weekend of the Badgers big game with Notre Dame. On each night, about three thousand young men go on panty raids that become near riots—the worst campus disturbances since the panty raid of May 1952, when police made twenty-one arrests.
It starts at bar time, a quarter to one on Saturday morning. As the six beer bars in the lower three blocks of State Street empty and the suds-soaked crowd builds, the men’s thoughts turn to coeds, who were forced to return to their rooms by their 12:30 curfew.
The boys make their way to the new Allen Hall on the north corner of State and Frances Streets, calling for bras and panties. “We want silk!” the lusty fellows bellow, and several young women oblige, waving and dangling undergarments from their windows. Excitement builds.
Soon, a car driving through the packed intersection knocks down a boy. Then a policeman clubs a student. Flying beer bottles break windows at the Madison Inn and Allen Hall before the mob moves on to Lowell Hall, where custodian Merlin Marti, cut by flying glass from a broken door, opens the fire hose to hold the students back. Things are now out of control.
The mob blocks traffic all the way to the Capitol Square, bouncing cars and cavorting in the intersections. Students pelt police with cans and bottles, even rocks and stones. Seven people are injured, including three policemen and a fireman.
The police make thirteen arrests, including the students who roll a parked car off the end of Lake Street and into the water, pushing it thirty feet from shore. Thankfully, the Notre Dame student sleeping in the Chevy’s backseat wakes up in time to escape injury.
Early Sunday morning, after quarterback Ron Vander Kelen and All-American end Pat Richter lead the Badgers to a 17–8 victory over the Irish, it starts again. But this time police are ready, and twenty officers are on the scene by midnight. With their active use of billy clubs and the paddy wagon, property damage is down but arrests are up—thirty-four young men are taken away, mainly for getting in drunken, bloody brawls.
On Monday afternoon, the faculty committee on student conduct summarily suspends twenty students, reinstating fifteen of them the next day. A handful of students pay fines of $105, but almost all have their charges dismissed by a sympathetic Criminal and Traffic Court judge, William Buenzli.
“I can realize from my own experience in the past that this was a case of your being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the jurist says.[ii]
May 17-18, 1967. The big student demonstration this week was supposed to be against the dangerous wrong-way bus lane on University Avenue. But hours after about three thousand activists block the buses, about three hundred boisterous young men stage a combination panty raid/march to the Capitol. They rock a city bus, break a window, and block University Avenue. 25 of the bus protesters are arrested; none of the panty raid rioters are.
The next night, the panty raiders stage the worst campus disorder in several years, as another 3,000 students invade women’s dorms, smash lights on State Street and at the State Capitol, and disrupt traffic throughout downtown.
Although this second disturbance is entirely unrelated to the bus demonstration against the wong-way bus lane, the mob again rocks some city buses, breaking several windows; bus drivers retaliate by spraying fire extinguishers, which only generates greater violence.
“The people of the city are furious at the university,” says Mayor Otto Festge, declaring police will “crack [students’] heads together” if necessary to restore order. And he demands the university “obtain copies of the police arrest reports and call these students in” for discipline. Chancellor Robben Fleming, who’s already announced he’s leaving to become president of the University of Michigan, says he will neither discipline students for nonacademic offenses nor crack their heads.178
September 14, 1969 A year marked by National Guardsmen coming to campus during the Black Studies Strike in February and the three day Mifflin Street Block Party riot in May ends in a farcical anticlimax at the southeast dorms. “Take it off! Take it off!” about 200 young men from Ogg Hall holler at the women of neighboring Sellery Hall. Their chants escalate to earthier demands before the half-hour throwback event peters out. There are no arrests.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, vaccine-taking, mask-wearing WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.
Photo of the 1961 event Capital Newspapers.
[i] Bednarek, “2,000 Youths Storm U.W. Co-Ed Dorms,” WSJ, October 9, 1961; “Dismiss Charges Against 2 in Riot,” CT, October 9, 1961; “Judge Drops Charges against 2 in Riots,” WSJ, October 10, 1961; “‘Riot’ Students Face Stern Action,” WSJ, October 10, 1961; Colin McCamy, “‘Riot’ Gets Over-Blown Press,” DC, October 10, 1961; “Rioters to Appear Before Conduct Committee—Luberg,” DC, October 11, 1961; “John Kellogg, “Girl Claims Role in ‘Riot,’” DC, October 12, 1961; “5 Students Disciplined For ‘Riot’ Involvement,” DC, October 25, 1961.
[ii] “U.W. Purges 25 for ‘Panty’ Raids,” WSJ, May 21, 1952; Students Stage Near-Riot Here,” WSJ, October 13, 1962; “Arrest 15 In U.W. ‘Riot,’” CT, October 13, 1962; “13 Arrested, 7 Injured in Campus Area Riot,” WSJ, October 14, 1962; A. Lee Beaer, “47 Arrested in Riots at UW,” October 15, 1962; “20 U.W. Rioters Face Trial,” CT, October 15, 1962; “15 Pay in Court for Riots at UW,” WSJ, October 16, 1962; Dieckmann, “UW Drops 20 Held in Riots,” WSJ, October 16, 1962; Mike Gremaud, “‘U’ Re-Instates 15 Rioters,” DC, October 17, 1962; Janie Donahoe, “Two Students Freed in First ‘U’ Riot Trials,” DC, November 16, 1962; Wineke, “Eleven ‘Rioters’ Cleared; One Case Still Pending,” DC, December 6, 1962; Dieckmann, “Not ‘Offside,’ Students Told,” WSJ, December 6, 1962.