Analysis of the ’70s Rambler

The ’70s were a fascinating time for The Rambler. Students grappled with topical subjects like the environmental movement, second wave feminism, the Vietnam War, and the energy crisis. The 1977 article “The Santa of the seventies” captures some of the worries of the time. According to the article, Santa now flew a helicopter instead of reindeers because “this way is more economical and more convenient. Because of inflation reindeer feed has skyrocketed in price. Gas is much cheaper.” In this decade, the paper also became increasingly prolific and professional. 

The feminist movement: 

In working on this project, I was surprised to find many more articles touching on the feminist movement than the civil rights movement. While we can only speculate about the source of this discrepancy, I would wager that Bush being predominantly white and majority female in the ‘60s and ‘70s played a role. 

The first article in The Rambler that referenced the feminist movement was a piece from 1970 titled “Great Bras A-Fire” (apparentally that misleading cliché about feminists burning bras got its start early). The author, Laura Smith, begins by asserting that after the 19th Amendment, when women gained the vote, the feminist movement became dormant until the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Now, as she puts it, “[W]omen are again on the warpath.” The author summarizes the concerns of the movement, from reproductive rights to childcare, writing, “There are a wide variety of women’s liberation groups. Demands range from equal employment opportunities to genderless societies and test tube babies.” The author concludes with the importance of not just defining women by their sexuality: “[F]or when we women are regarded as human beings, not as sexual objects, men will realize our potentials and allow us to fulfill them.” With this conclusion, the author swerves into a personal tone, using “we” to situate herself within the feminist cause. Despite her egalitarianism, though, her ultimate message is that women’s equality will necessarily be granted by men.

The opinion piece “On Sexism…”, from a 1974 issue of the paper, examines sexism at Bush in the context of the school’s recent switch to coeducation. The author, a Bush history teacher, takes issue with the prioritizing of boys’ sports over girls’ sports, biased faculty hiring practices, and the fact that “the school lacks a trained female counselor who could provide information about sexuality, birth control and other matters of concern to high school girls.” Despite his candor and passion, he says that his piece is “not meant to be a criticism of Bush but merely a cautionary note” about how sexism in society at large can seep into the Bush bubble. 

While there are many fascinating Rambler articles about the feminist movement, one stood out to me as particularly illuminating and even heartbreaking. The 1973 piece, bluntly titled “Male Chauvinist Pigs?”, centers on sexism in the Seattle Police Department. The unnamed author writes that the Rambler staff wanted to interview police officers and shadow them during their work. But their plan quickly hit a roadblock: “In order to ride people must be 16 or over and females must be accompanied by a male 21 years of age or older. A chaperon [sic]. These guidelines for the citizen ride program were set by Police Chief Tielsch.” Luckily, the desk sergeant at the Wallingford Precinct was willing to waive these rules for the 14 year-old students. On the day the students were supposed to go on their trip, though, the police chief decided that the female students couldn’t go. Says the writer sardonically, echoing the words of the police chief, “Policemen have no protection against females accusing them of rape while they are in their patrol cars.” We all know that sexism in the ‘70s—and indeed, even today—operated at every level, from the national to the hyper-local. And yet this short article, by giving just one example of how opportunities were denied to young women because of their sex, helps to cement that truth. 

Environmentalism:

The ‘70s saw the birth of the mainstream environmentalism movement, and this grassroots activism was reflected in the pages of The Rambler. During this period, environmental coverage was frequent, progressive, and often strident.

In the 1970 opinion piece “Roll Your Own Wheels,” the student Cissy Wolf writes that everyone should be biking for the sake of the environment. Wolf is skeptical of arguments that biking isn’t safe: “All right, it’s not safe. But then, sitting under this roof is not safe, and living in this world is not safe, and even driving a car or riding in one is not safe.” Wolf catalogs many ways for bicyclists to show their disapproval of motorists, even seeming to condone property destruction: “Other weapons against cars are big signet rings, used to slash paint from the offending vehicle (and all vehicles are offending), and using a cudgel with tacks stuck in the wrong way, to make a big CRACK when it hits the side of a car.” The uncompromising sentiment that “all vehicles are offending” perfectly sums up not only “Roll Your Own Wheels,” but many other environmentalism-focused articles from this period. 

The 1971 article “Shower Not Bathe” takes a similarly spirited tone as “Roll Your Own Wheels.” The author, Janis Nevler, admonishes us to avoid baths, and provides a whimsical—and morbid—list of things one could do with the water saved by this lifestyle adjustment: “Mix watercolors, wash windows, bathe your pet newt, drown yourself, walk your pet fish and soak newspapers for your paper mache puppet.” Nevler ends with a line that may or may not be satirical: “The bath clearly should be outlawed as an unnecessary use of water. Please feel free to take a shower, at least occasionally—but don’t take baths, for the world’s sake.” 

As we’ve seen, the environmental coverage of The Rambler could be pessimistic and even fatalistic at times. No piece better embodies this eco-nihilism than the 1976 article “World dead in 1990?” The article, which describes the UW Consultant in Futures and Education Research’s talk to a group of high school students, helps illuminate where Bush students may have been getting some of their ideas about the environment. According to the consultant, whether humanity would live to see 1990 depended on five factors: “food production, population growth, industrial growth, pollution and depletion of nonrenewable natural resources.” The author Paul Mockett concludes the article by telling us, “During the workshop everyone had a lunch of the future, sloppy Joes and soda. There was no meat in the sloppy joes. They were made from texturized vegetable protein and soy bean flour.” Overall, The Rambler’s 70s-era environmental coverage was a fascinating mix of optimistic do-gooderism and nihilistic doom-saying. Forty years later, it reads as both ahead of its time and humorously dated.

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