Glenn Uminowicz November 2006
In the 1960s, Elaine Crosly was marching on Washington to protest the Vietnam War in an effort to give youths in her children’s generation a chance to live peacefully. Now, in the 70s, she is living in a solar-heated home which, in not too different a way, is also an effort to give the younger generation a better life.
– Reported in the Easton Star Democrat (July 1976)
In 1976, Elaine Crosly and her husband Dick lived in a solar-heated house near Royal Oak. Designed and built by their son it was the first such house in Talbot County.
A newspaper reporter drew a connection between living in the house and Elaine’s participation in the antiwar movement in the 1960s. Connections did exist across the decades, but important differences must be noted as well. In the Seventies, the environmental, gay rights and women’s rights movements, for example, drew inspiration from the social activism of the earlier decade. Movement leaders also learned from the practical experience of the successful struggle for civil rights that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
By 1976, however, Americans’ confidence in those in authority had been shaken by the ending of the Vietnam War, economic recession, and Watergate. In the Sixties, Americans acted in consort to demand that their government address domestic or foreign policy issues. In the Seventies, people often stressed individual action instead. The emphasis on individual versus collective action marked a difference between social movements during the turbulent Sixties and those in the “Me Decade.” It marked the difference between marching on Washington and building a solar-heated private home near Royal Oak.
Continuities and differences between the Sixties and Seventies are currently topics being explored in the museum exhibit The Times They Were A Changin’ at the Historical Society of Talbot County. In the course of preparing the exhibit, museum staff discovered that the interpretations of the Sixties and Seventies offered by historians had undergone considerable change as well.
As visitors enter the exhibit, an introductory label raises the question, “Which symbol marked a decade identified by revolutionary cultural, technological and political change?” Underneath the question appears the Peace Symbol with the words “Give Peace a Chance” beneath it. Right next to the symbol of the antiwar movement appears another iconic image. Of course, it is a bright yellow Smiley Face combined with the slogan that served as a drumbeat for the Seventies generation — Have A Nice Day.
The question of which decade marked a period of truly revolutionary change is now hotly debated. It certainly did not take long for the 1960s to be anointed as the decade of major change. Less than six months into 1970, a ten-part retrospective on “The Fabulous Sixties” aired on WBAL-TV in Baltimore. Viewers reading the Eastern Shore version of TV Guide received assurance that the 1960s constituted the “most incredible decade in the history of mankind.”
It may come as a shock to children of the Sixties, but some historians now challenge the above assumption. It used to be accepted wisdom that the 1960s ushered in a period of truly revolutionary cultural, political and technological change. It was the decade of Beatlemania and Woodstock, as well as the Peace Corps and the Civil Rights Movement. Technological advances in the era ranged from the introduction of the disposable diaper to landing a man on the moon.
By contrast, early histories on the Seventies bore titles like It Seemed Like Nothing Happened. Tom Wolfe christened the 1970s the “Me Decade,” observing that Americans had launched themselves on a search for self-mastery, self-knowledge and self-actualization. All this introspection produced a decade of bad hair, bad fashion and bad music. The conduct of the Vietnam War generated bitter divisions among Americans. The nation suffered through an oil crisis, fell into a recession, and endured the disillusionment of Watergate.
Perhaps all this angst explains all of those bright yellow Smiley Face buttons. Americans truly needed to urge each other to “Have A Nice Day.”
Were the Fabulous Sixties in truth followed by the Self-Seeking Seventies? Some scholars answer with a resounding “NO!”
In the 1970s, the population shift to the Sunbelt took off, with all of its economic and political ramifications. As mentioned earlier, the decade felt the increasing impact of both the Women’s and the Environmental movements. It experienced the birth pangs of the personal computer industry and set the stage for the “Regan Revolution” of the 1980s. In short, during the 1970s, some argue that Smiley Face eclipsed the Peace Symbol as a true marker for a decade of change. The Seventies were hardly fabulous, but the impact of events during the decade remain with us today.
How did Eastern Shore people adjust to change during the Sixties and Seventies? Here are a few examples.
Unlike politics with its fixed election dates, social and cultural history cannot be easily demarcated by time period. The early Sixties, for example, retained an age of prosperity feel from the Fifties. You can see it in the high school yearbooks from the period from St. Michaels and Easton with images of clean-cut kids at the soda fountain after school.
By 1969, things had changed. Young editorial assistant Thom Stauss at the Easton Star Democrat, for example, penned a column on the growing “generation gap.” He observed, “The micro-minis, bell-bottoms, hippie haircuts, the ultra-bright rainbow colors shock the more conservative elements of the older generation, but are considered normal by today’s hip generation.”
In 1974, however, a Centreville man discovered how to be hip and still stand among the conservative elements. Under a headline that proclaimed “Fred LaMotte is no Hippie,” a reporter observed, “If your idea of meditation is a bearded hippie in a white robe pondering the essence of life, then an encounter with Fred LaMotte might jolt your senses.” At his Eastern Shore meditation center, LaMotte carried the message of the Marharishi Mahesh Yogi wearing a business suit and tie. He insisted that TM was basically a stress reduction technique for hard-working people.
In 1974, Republicans might have availed themselves of LaMotte’s services since they were under considerable stress. The congressional races that year constituted the so-called “Watergate Election.” Political analysts anticipated that voters would turn out Republican incumbents in the wake of the forced resignation of Richard Nixon.
Journalist Dickson Preston remembered that the national media descended upon the Eastern Shore. The expected defeat of young Congressman Robert E. Bauman in a Republican stronghold would serve as a bellwether for voter anger at the GOP. Preston remembered sharing a drink with a correspondent from the BBC as the returns came in. The reporter became more than a little miffed at one point in the evening because he learned that Bauman had won. Preston observed, “That did him out of 10 minutes of TV time via satellite on the next morning’s BBC news.”
In the Sixties and Seventies, Eastern Shore people experienced the generation gap, meditated in a suit and tie and bucked the national trend in politics. These and other stories can be enjoyed in the exhibit The Times They Are A Changin’ at the Historical Society of Talbot County at 25 South Washington Street in Easton. Hours are Monday through Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. For information, call (410) 822-0773.