Back to Online Resources, Collections and Exhibits

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


April-May, 1980 Graffitti on Lincoln's statue.


The TAA begins what will be a five-week strike on April 1. Students and police clash in front of the Chemistry Building on April 10.
1981Students protest selective service.


Students for a Libertarian Society march on State Street and burn their selective service registration cards in an anti-draft protest.
November 20, 1981Surcharge protest.




Students protest throughout November against a $30 surcharge in tuition due to state budget cuts. A similar surcharge was instituted in fall 1980. Resident undergraduate tuition for fall 1981 was $492.50.
October 25, 1982 Violence at Eldridge Cleaver speech.

Black Panthers leader turned born again Christian Eldridge Cleaver delivers a speech sponsored by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon related Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles (CARP). Violence between CARP and Progressive Labor Party members results in 8 arrests for disorderly conduct, and Cleaver cutting his speech short.
April 21, 1983Protest against U.S. in Nicaraugua.


1000 people at the Stock Pavilion protest U.S. intervention in Central America, especially Nicaragua.
October 27-28, 1983Macho Nerds celebrate Grenada.Grenada protest flyer.



Several protests are held in response to the US invasion of Grenada. The “Macho Nerds,” a pro-Reagan group of students, celebrates the victory in Grenada.
September 21, 1984WSA sponsors a "drink-in" with 600 people at the Capitol to protest raising the drinking age to 21.
September 25, 198430 protestors disrupt CIA recruiters in Science Hall.
October 12, 1984Macho Nerds against Ferraro.


Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro appears on campus. Though the campus was heavily in favor of the Mondale/Ferraro presidential ticket, the candidate was also greeted by the pro-Reagan “Macho Nerds”.
November 15, 198430 protestors visit businesses with "destructive" investments in Central America.
late February, 1985 Anti-apartheid protests lead to cancellation of a talk by Pieter Claasen from Stellenbosch University in South Africa.
April 10, 1985Protest against CIA recruiters.Protest against CIA recruiters.



90 students protest CIA recruitment on campus and clash with police, who use mace on the crowd.
March 3, 1986Students protest against Hormel recruiters at Agriculture Hall, in sympathy with striking Hormel workers in Minnesota.
March 15, 1986Take your money and run protest.



300 people rally against Reagan's proposed aid to the Contras in Nicaragua.
early April, 1986Students take part in anti-apartheid demonstrations, including building a shantytown at the Capitol.
February 23, 1987 Students occupy the office of Acting Chancellor Bernard Cohen to protest CIA recruitment on campus. Cohen is not there; students return on the 25-26.
October 15, 1987Anti-racism protest.


275 students rally against racism on Bascom Hill.
November, 1988Slave auction protest.Slave auction protest.



The Black Student Union organizes a "Day of Outrage Against Racism" in response to a fraternity's "slave auction."
July 10, 1989Reproductive rights rally.



Around 1500 students take part in a rally to support abortion rights.