Celebrating 100 Years: A Look Back in Our Club’s History During the Unrest of the 1960s & 70s

Rotary Club of Madison-Centennial LogoAs we celebrate our 100th anniversary, our History Sub-Committee is taking a look back in our club’s rich history and is sharing highlights from the past century.  The following message is shared by committee member Jerry Thain:

A strong flavor of the very hostile reactions of many mainstream politicians and much of the general public to the demonstrations by University of Wisconsin students opposed to the escalation of the Viet Nam War and the drafting of young men to serve in it can be found in the records of program speakers to the Rotary Club of Madison during that time. The Club newsletter of October 19, 1968, reported on Governor Warren Knowles’ address on “UW-Madison Disrupters” in which strong action against those who engaged in such tactics was urged but such students were also described as a tiny minority of the student body.

The October 17, 1970, newsletter about gubernatorial candidate Pat Lucey’s talk to the Club indicated how political leaders of the day viewed the University. Lucey’s talk indicated that the state faced many problems including University unrest. He advocated that the Governor should have the power to invoke curfews and to “make it illegal even to be on the street.” He also urged changing the University’s budget to reduce funds for research and increase those for teaching.

Two weeks later, the Club newsletter of October 31, 1970, told of Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jerris Leonard saying that the “demagogues and the charlatans” engaged in “violent dissent or even the lawful dissent” should be exposed but that much of the responsibility for their conduct “must rest on the doorstep of our institutions of higher learning themselves.”

Relations between “town and gown” were at their nadir during this period at a number of major universities. In time, considerable healing of this breach occurred. This could be seen here in the action of our Club directors electing incoming University President John Weaver to membership in December 1970, even before his arrival on campus and especially in the election as Club President in 1972-73 of Michael Petrovich, Professor of Russian and Slavic History at the University. Club programs noting the improvement in relations is a topic worthy of separate consideration.


December 12, 1968: Students erect a cemetery on Bascom Hill as a memorial to the casualties the class of 1968 suffered in Vietnam.

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