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Protests & Social Action at UW-Madison during the 20th Century

Compiled by Tyler C. Kennedy and David Null

The student body of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a rich and diverse history of activism and protest. This site does not claim to be all-inclusive, but instead attempts to provide a representative selection of student protest throughout the twentieth century, using sources from the University Archives.

The University Archives has much more material on most of these events, including the full oral histories from which the sound clips were taken. The University of Wisconsin Collection includes digital copies of the 4 volume history of the university, plus many other useful sources. The Wisconsin Historical Society Archives also has strong collections on social action.

To see several hundred more protest images click on the link at the bottom of each of these pages.

For additional information, comments, suggested additions, etc., please contact the University Archives.



1910s-1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s

May 23, 1940 Peace rally flier.


Over 800 people attend the All-University Peace Convocation. Students use the slogan "Cannon fodder age students are determined to stay out of war."
October, 1940The United League for Liberal Action protests against compulsory registration for selective service.
1944The University Club refuses to accommodate Arthur E. Burke, an African-American graduate student planning to complete his doctoral studies in English. After faculty and student protests, Burke is allowed to rent a room. Students had been involved actively in discriminatory housing issues since at least 1940.
speakerListen to Oral History Clip below.

*Professor of History Merle Curti comments on Burke and the University Club. (5:59)

December 3, 1945 Anti-conscription protest.


Approximately 40 students hold a rally against peacetime conscription on the Capitol steps.