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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

February/March 1960 A civil rights demonstration.



Students protest the refusal of several chain stores in the South to allow African-Americans to sit at lunch counters. Students picket the Woolworth store on the square, and 500 students demonstrate on Library Mall on March 3.
February 21, 1961 Over 200 students attend a hearing by the Judiciary Committee of the Wisconsin Legislative Council on whether the House Un-American Activities Committee should be retained.
March 26, 1962Flier against nuclear testing.Flier against nuclear testing.Flier against nuclear testing.



Over 300 students hold a demonstration against U.S. nuclear testing. Many onlookers heckle the students.
August, 1963 Bus departs for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.University students depart for the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” from the Memorial Union.
speakerListen to an Oral History Clip below.

*Student Carin Brania comments on civil rights. (1:30)

February, 1964George Wallace, with Carin Brania in the background.Dion Diamond and Louis Lomax.5th Annual Student Symposium is held, entitled "Discourses in Dissent." Guest speakers included civil rights activist Dion Diamond, journalist Louis Lomax, and Alabama governor George Wallace, among others.
speakerListen to an Oral History Clip below.

*Student Carin Brania comments on George Wallace. (2:43)

April 1, 196529 faculty members hold a "Teach-In" about the Vietnam conflict at the Social Sciences building, with an estimated 1500 students participating.
speakerListen to an Oral History Clip below.

*Philosophy Professor Haskell Fain comments on the first teach-in. (2:07)

May 14-16, 1966SDS draft protest flier front.SDS draft protest flier back.Sit-in at A. W. Peterson Hall.


Sit-in at A. W. Peterson Hall.








Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organize a protest against the draft test being administered in the field house on May 14. Two days later, 250 students stage a sit-in at the Peterson Building to protest the University's cooperation with the draft.



speakerListen to Oral History Clips below.

*Student Henry Haslach comments on the appeal of SDS. (1:54)


*Student Henry Haslach comments on the sit in at the Peterson Building. (2:08)

October 27, 1966Ted Kennedy on campus.

Senator Edward Kennedy appears on campus as part of then Lt. Governor Patrick Lucey's gubernatorial campaign. The visit is sponsored by the campus Young Democrats. When hecklers challenge Kennedy to explain his stance on Vietnam he challenges student Robin David to "Tell us how you would solve the problem in Vietnam." After the speech, a petition of apology to Kennedy collects over 8,000 signatures.
October, 1966 Dow Chemical Co. employment interviewing takes place on the engineering campus, sparking protests and police intervention. Dow produced napalm.
speakerListen to an Oral History Clip below.

*Administrator Emily Chervenik comments on the engineering campus protest. (1:48)

late February, 1967SDS organizes demonstrations against recruiters from the Dow Chemical Co. in Engineering, Chemistry and Commerce Buildings. Students blockade offices in Bascom Hall. This event came to be known as the first Dow riot.
speakerListen to an Oral History Clip below.

*Administrator Emily Chervenik comments on the first Dow riot. (1:54)

April, 1967SDS anti-CIA flier back.SDS anti-CIA flier front.Students protest against CIA recruiters at the chancellor’s office.
speakerListen to an Oral History Clip below.

*Administrator Emily Chervenik comments on the CIA recruitment protests. (1:39)

October 18-19, 1967Vicki Gabriner at Dow riots.
Chancellor Sewell calls in police who use tear gas to clear protestors against the Dow Chemical Co. from the Commerce Building on October 18. A general student strike is called and over 3000 students rally on Bascom Hill the following day. This event came to be known as the second Dow riot.
speakerListen to Oral History Clips below.

*Dean of Students Joseph Kauffman on lack of preparedness for the Dow riots.(1:32)

*Dean of Students Joseph Kauffman on the violence of the Dow riots. (2:28)

*Dean of Students Joseph Kauffman comments on SDS tactics during the Dow riots. (1:12)

*Administrator Emily Chervenik comments on the second Dow riots. (1:16)

*Professor of Agricultural Economics C. William Loomer comments on the use of tear gas. (0:29)

*Student David Burress comments on the second Dow riots. (1:34)

February 6, 1968 The "Crow Report" of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Role of Students in the Government of the University, which was set up to examine student involvement in university governance and recommend any need changes, is released (pdf).
speakerListen to an Oral History Clip below.

*History Professor George Mosse comments on the relationship between the riots and the Crow Committee. (2:21)

March 13, 1968 The "Mermin Report" of a very divided Ad Hoc Committee on Mode of Response to Obstruction, Interview Policy, and Related Matters" is released (part 1, part 2, part 3).
speakerListen to Oral History Clips below.

*Professor of Agricultural Economics C. William Loomer on the relationship between the Crow and Mermin Committees. (0:57)

*Professor of Agricultural Economics C. William Loomer on the Crow and Mermin Committees recommendations. (4:30)

April 5, 1968Crowd gathered on Bascom hill for MLK memorial march.



Following a rally on Bascom Hill, a huge crowd marches up State Street as part of a memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated the previous day.
May 19, 1968South Hall is firebombed; no one claims responsibility.
August 26-29, 1968Members of SDS protest at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
speakerListen to Oral History Clips below.

*Student Henry Haslach comments on his disillusionment with SDS. (3:53)

*Student James Rowen comments on joining SDS at this time. (1:59)
mid-September, 1968Freshmen organize a week of protests against compulsory ROTC orientation.
October 23, 1968Jesus Salas flier front.Jesus Salas flier back.

Jesus Salas, representing the Wisconsin Farm Workers Union (Oberos Unidos) speaks in the Great Hall of the Union about workers' rights and the grape boycott which began in 1965. The boycott successfully ends in 1969.
October 30, 1968 Milwaukee 14 flier.



Members of the Milwaukee 14, a group which destroyed 10,000 1-A draft files from the Milwaukee Selective Service offices, speak on campus.
November 20-22, 1968Students boycott Union food services in protest of the arrest of an African American non-student in the Union.
December 12, 1968Bascom Memorial Cemetery.


Students erect a cemetery on Bascom Hill as a memorial to the casualties the class of 1968 suffered in Vietnam.
February-March, 1969Black students' strike.Black students' strike.
The Black Peoples Alliance organizes a strike to demand recruitment of more minority students and faculty and creation of a black studies department. On February 12 Governor Knowles calls out the National Guard to keep campus open, and guardsmen remain on campus until February 21. On March 3, the faculty accepts the student-faculty Thiede “Report of the Committee on Studies and Instruction in Race Relations (pdf),” leading to the creation of the Department of Afro-American Studies.
speakerListen to Oral History Clips below.

*Administrator Emily Chervenik comments on the position of black students and administrators. (2:02)

*Professor of Agricultural Economics C. William Loomer comments on the University Committee meetings during the black students strike. (2:24)

*History Professor George Mosse comments on his experiences during the black students strike. (1:34)

May 3, 1969The Mifflin Street block party turns violent as police move in. Over 80 people are injured and protests continue for several days.
early October, 1969Welfare protest.


Students participate in demonstrations at the Capitol against cuts in the state welfare budget.