A archival video montage from the day Dow protests on October 18, 1967. The video shows: Students march down Bascom Hill sidewalk with protest signs reading Bring the Troops Home Now. Pan of students with protest signs reading Get Out of Vietnam. Closeup of young man singing, zoom out to lots of young men drumming and chanting. No sound. City of Madison police walk through large crowd of students, Carillon Tower in the background. Students are yelling something at them. Mustached student being led away by a helmeted policeman. Two more students being held and led away through the crowd by two policemen. Female student dressed as clown with a “sifting & winnowing” sign taped to her being loaded into a paddywagon by police. Crowd shot showing huge numbers of students reaching far back to a line of trees, policemen in foreground. Teargas is released in front of the Commerce Building, dispersing the students. Overhead shot at hundreds of students on Bascom hill, large trees, teargas dispersing the crowd. Chaos ensues as students flee.
In Their Own Words
Former students reflect on their experiences
Fifty years ago the Dow Chemical protests brought everyday life on the UW–Madison campus to an abrupt halt. We caught up with six UW alumni, ordinary students whose lives were forever changed by that momentous day. Here’s what they had to say.
A first taste of tear gas, then anger
With hindsight, different conclusions
On the frontlines, impassioned and in danger
Out of protest, a profession
Against the war, in love with a soldier
Dressed for service, embraced by protesters
Opposition to the Vietnam War had been building on college campuses for years when, on Oct. 18, 1967, UW–Madison students amassed to protest the recruiting efforts on campus of the Dow Chemical Company. The company made napalm, a flammable gel used on the battlefield by the U.S. government.
What began as a peaceful act of civil disobedience turned violent as city police officers with riot sticks forcibly removed students from the Commerce Building (today’s Ingraham Hall), where they were blocking the Dow interviews. The clash involved thousands and injured dozens, hardened campus relationships, and became a catalyst for a new wave of emboldened pacifists.
Demonstrations against Dow had begun the prior winter, but it was the fall 1967 conflict that propelled Madison to the forefront of the national antiwar movement. It was the first protest at a major university to turn violent, and it was the first time tear gas was used to disperse a crowd on the UW–Madison campus. Protests would continue to roil UW–Madison for years to come, increasing in frequency and intensity.
Notable Quotes from protest participants
“I walked out of the Commerce Building that day and soon the awful eye-burning, nose-burning gas hit me. I ran down the hill as fast as I could, crying. Why was I gassed? I didn’t do anything but attend class. After that day, I became politically active. I was never the same person after that October day.”
— Dale Altshuler, ‘71
“I felt that the protest in the Commerce Building was a necessary action — it was something people should speak out on. I didn’t expect the police to come in with billy clubs and start breaking windows. That was a shock to me. I almost got my head beaten in.”
— Wahid Rashad, attended UW until ‘69
“That morning the demonstrators gathered peacefully in the Commerce Building. We were ordered to leave, but most remained. Then the police entered the building. They dragged some students out and beat others. I was beaten and bloodied by two policemen who dumped me outside.”
— Carl Schinasi, ‘70
“As a new student at UW, I found the anti-American flavor of the protests to be disgusting. Although I had never been political in any way before the protests, I learned that I never wanted to be anything like those who were protesting. They remain a serious stain on our country.”
— Vincent Malek, ‘71
“Suddenly there was a loud noise and the air filled with smoke — tear gas. Police suited up in riot gear and gas masks. Students running in all directions, chanting protests. Pandemonium.”
— Mary Ellen Spoerke, ‘70
“I came out of the library’s State Street entrance with my arms full of books and was hit in the small of the back by a police baton, bringing me to my knees. I crawled on my hands and knees for a whole block before I could stand up.”
— Michael Wagner, ‘71
“It was horrifying inside the Commerce Building, complete chaos. I could hear pounding, as if people’s heads were being beaten in. I don’t for the life of me know how I got out.”
— Janis Wrich, ‘68
“Our leadership in the Black Student Movement would talk with the leaders of the antiwar protests and coordinate. We would support each other’s marches and various protests. Some of our marches had 7,000 to 10,00 students.”
— Donna Jones, ‘72
“I was disturbed by the protests. The instigators of the demonstrations, the outside agitators, were very unpatriotic. I felt they were using the Vietnam War as a proxy to spread their views on socialism and Communism.”
— Andy Terpstra, ‘70
“As students, we had no weapons other than our voices and bodies to indicate our opposition to the war. The ferocity of the response by campus police to that demonstration still reverberates today.”
— Hank Flacks, ‘69