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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

January 2-4, 1970 The aftermath of an explosion in the Primate Lab.
On January 2, vandals cause $1,300 in damages to the Army Reserve Center on Park Street. On January 3, a firebomb causes $20,000 in damages to the Red Gym. On January 4, the Primate Lab is firebombed (photo at right). Other attacks during this week target the Dane County Selective Service Board, the ROTC building, the Racine County Selective Service Board, and the Army ammunition plant near Baraboo, Wisconsin.
February 12, 1970A student being restrained by police.2500 people march from Library Mall toward the Engineering Building to protest GE recruiters on campus. When met by police, the crowd rampages through State Street and University Avenue breaking windows.
speakerListen to Oral History Clips below.

*Student James Rowen comments on SDS and the GE protest. (2:50)

*Student James Rowen comments on the SDS offshoot "Mother Jones." (7:54)

February 19, 1970 Police arrest a student.
Over 1000 people rampage around campus breaking windows and confronting police, after five members of the Chicago Seven are convicted of crossing state lines to incite riots. The Chicago Seven had been arrested during protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
March-April, 1970 Students picketing.Lincoln statue supporting the TAA strike.The Teaching Assistants Association (TAA) calls a strike on March 15 over collective bargaining issues with the university. The strike lasts through early April, when the TAA accepts the University's contract offer. While results of the strike are mixed, TAA does win recognition and exclusive representation and bargaining rights for TAs, more job security and a clearer grievance process.
speakerListen to Oral History Clips below.

*Student Henry Haslach comments on the build-up to the TAA strike. (3:29)

*Professor of Agricultural Economics C. William Loomer comments on the status of teaching assistants before the strike. (2:48)

*Student Henry Haslach comments on the TAA leadership at the time of the strike. (2:10)

*Student Patricia Russian comments on the picket lines. (1:37)

*Student Patricia Russian comments on the injunctions issued to German Department teaching assistants. (1:54)

*History Department Chairman Morton Rothstein comments on harassment he received from students due to injunctions in his department. (2:50)

*Student David Burress comments on his feelings after the strike. (0:22)

(see the Campus Voices page on the TAA Strike)

early May, 1970A flier giving first aid instructions.Teargas in a crowd.


The killing of students protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State (OH) and Jackson State (MS) spark a week of protests and violence on campus, including several firebombings. The National Guard is again called to campus and uses tear-gas against protesters.
May, 1970 Flier announcing library workers strike.



Following bombs being found in Memorial Library, the Association of Student Library Workers strike in protest over the rising violence on campus.
July 26, 1970 The Camp McCoy Three.Free political prisoners rally flier.
The power substation, reservoir, and telephone exchange at Camp McCoy, near Sparta, Wisconsin, are damaged by explosions. Three soldiers, Tom Chase, Steve Geden, and Daniel Kreps, are accused of the bombings. Rallies are held intermittently on campus in support of the three until they are given 18 month sentences in March 1973.
August 24, 1970The aftermath of an explosion at Sterling Hall.The aftermath of an explosion at Sterling Hall.
The New Year's Gang led by Karl Armstrong and three other protestors, bombs Sterling Hall in an attempt to blow up the Army Mathematics Research Center. Robert Fassnacht, a postdoctoral fellow in physics working in the building, is killed. Over $ 2.7 million of damage is done to at least 6 buildings. The bombing marks a turning point in the protests on the Madison campus.
speakerListen to Oral History Clips below.

*Student David Burress on the Sterling Hall Bombing. (6:25)

*Student Robert Cadmus comments on the Sterling Hall bombing. (4:49)

*Student Robert Cadmus comments on the status of the Physics Department after the Sterling Hall bombing. (1:33)

(see the Campus Voices page on the Sterling Hall Bombing and library research guide on the bombing.)

November, 1970 A rally for Frank Battaglia.The contracts of English Department assistant professors David Siff, Frank Battaglia, and Irving Saposnik are not renewed. Many feel the decision is based on their close association with the student movement.
speakerListen to Oral History Clips below.

*Student Henry Haslach comments on Frank Battaglia and the NUC faculty firings. (1:06)

*Student James Rowen comments on David Siff. (1:52)

February 14, 1971An indoor anti-war rally.

The Wisconsin Student Association, United Front, and Madison Area Peace Action Council sponsor an indoor anti-war rally at the Camp Randall Memorial Building (the Shell). Over 2500 people attend and afterward attempt to march to the capitol, but most are stopped by police.
February 17, 1971 A small peace vigil.



A small silent peace vigil is held on Library Mall.
March 24, 1971Vets for Peace march on East Doty Street.


Vets for Peace In Vietnam march at the 5th Army Intelligence offices on East Doty Street.
March, 1971 Protest over scab lettuce.



Protests occur over the use of non-union lettuce at Memorial Union and local eating establishments. The protests are part of a multi-year conflict between Cesar Chavez's AFL-CIO United Farm Workers Organizing Committee and the Teamsters Union.
April 5, 1971 The annual Mifflin Street block party again turns violent with clashes between students and police.
May 5, 1971Students run from tear gas.


Students and police are involved in a melee during demonstrations marking the anniversary of the Kent State killings.
March 20, 1972Students protest the construction of State Street Mall.


An estimated 3000 students demonstrate, boycott businesses, and clash with police in a 10-hour protest over making the lower part of State Street into a mall.
April 19, 1972Police use tear-gas to disperse a crowd of approximately 1500 at the Capital protesting the escalation of bombing in North Vietnam.
April-May, 1972 Memorial Union workers on strike.

The Memorial Union Labor Organization calls a strike over minimum shift length and work week. The strike concludes with an agreement on May 27.
May 1, 1972 A pro-marijauna rally.


Students participate in a marijuana "smoke-out" and protest march sponsored by the Youth International Party (Zippies).
May 1-10, 1972 Nixon, No! Protest flier.Student strike flier.


Huge crowds of around 10,000 march from Library Mall to the Capitol to protest US mining of North Vietnamese harbors and continued bombing.
June 19-21, 1972A flier against the AMRC.



Students protest the Mathematics Research Center’s conference on population dynamics, which many see as an expansion of military related research on campus.
January 20, 1973 Around 1500 people march from campus to the Capitol on the eve of President Nixon’s 2nd inauguration, accompanied by Madison Police Chief David Couper.
March 9, 1973A flier for a rally featuring Clyde Bellecourt.


Students participate in a support rally for Native American protestors at Wounded Knee, who occupied the town from February 27 to May 8, 1973. Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of the American Indian Movement, would later speak on campus about the stand off on November 13.
March 10, 1973 International Womens' Day flyer cover.International Womens' Day flyer back.



Students participate in a rally as part of several days of events around International Women's Day.
September 11, 1973 Students participate in a protest at the headquarters of the state Work Incentive (WIN) program, which they say forces women on welfare to work for low wages rather than care for their families.
September 13, 1973Students protest U.S. intervention in Chile.Signs in the back of a class.

400 students demonstrate against US involvement in the military coup in Chile, during which President Salvador Allende died.
late September, 1973Cultural Centers protest at Camp Randall.Protesters supporting the Cultural Centers.


Students protest the closing of the Afro-American and Native American Cultural Centers and support new centers for Latinos and Asian Americans. Protests include a call for a one day boycott of classes on September 17.
October 15, 1973A guerilla theater performer.



A group of students perform guerilla theater outside the Dane County Courthouse, where a sentence mitigation hearing for Karl Armstrong begins.
September 9, 1974A protest over the pardoning of Richard Nixon.

Approximately 2000 gather to protest the pardon of former President Richard Nixon by President Gerald Ford after Nixon's resignation in the face of likely impeachment.
October 1, 1974 Take your money and run protest.Take your money and run protest.

After the First Wisconsin National Bank of Madison’s increases checking fees for people with "insufficient" balances, 75 students partake in the “Take Your Money and Run” demonstration, withdrawing their money and burning checkbooks in the bank’s lobby. In the street, students burn an effigy of the building.
February 6, 1976 March to Capitol over the Fish killings.


Protests begin over the killings of 2 Menominee tribal members on February 2 by Menominee County Sheriff Kenneth Fish, after officers responded to a domestic complaint at the home of one of the men. Demonstrations include a march to the State Capitol.
July 3-18, 1977 WSEU strike.WSEU strike.



The 24,000 member Wisconsin State Employees Union (WSEU) holds a 15 day strike, supported by students.
June, 1978 Bakke protest.

Students protest against the ruling in the Supreme Court case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The ruling established that race could not be the sole factor governing academic admissions.
November 17, 1978 Anti-Shah/Carter protest.


Around 200 students,many of whom are Iranian, protest against the Shah and US involvement in Iran.
November 16, 1979 Anti-Khomeini protest.

The Madison Committee Against the Backlash (MCOB), which supports the Iranian anti-Shah students who took over the American embassy in Tehran and are holding American diplomats hostage, holds a rally. The 600 plus attendees are fairly evenly split between MCOB supporters, and anti-Iranian protestors.
March 13, 1979Anti-nuclear literature being distributed.


At the Orpheum Theater on State Street, students hand out anti-nuclear literature at showings of The China Syndrome, a movie about safety cover-ups at a nuclear power plant.
July 13-15, 1979Pro-nuclear protesters at a Nukewatch rally.Nukewatch rally flyer.Nukewatch rally flyer.

Students hand out pro-nuclear power literature at the Capitol on the last day of a three-day series of events called Nukewatch. The event was sponsored by The Progressive magazine and the Madison Press Connection, after the Three Mile Island incident and censorship of an article in The Progressive about secrecy around the government's nuclear weapons program.