I’ve been working on a novel that takes place in the seventies and it has proven eye-opening in what research has uncovered,, and what it’s brought to mind. Although I am old enough to have lived through that era, I spent most of it in the U.K. , which had problems other than the ones so divisive to the United States.
Viet Nam and Watergate marked the decade, the former possibly sewing the seed of today’s divisions in our country, the latter being compared at times to the present government. But I’m not here for political proselytizing; I did not give (thus far) politics anything more than a passing mention in my book. I’ve used the seventies as background, and in so doing, have discovered quite a few interesting things.
Birth Control: Although the contraceptive pill came on the market in 1960, it wasn’t made available to all women regardless of marital status until 1972. Meanwhile, IUDs were held responsible for the deaths of seven users and removed from the market. In most people’s minds, it was ‘the pill’ that was responsible for free love and the sexual revolution.
Abortion: Roe vs Wade was decided 22 January 1973, disallowing many state and federal restrictions on abortion. More than forty years later, the arguments continue.
DNA Testing: Although DNA Testing became available in 1960, it only had 80% accuracy and could not distinguish between close relatives. It was not until 1970 that a specific enzyme was identified to improve results.
Seat Belts: Although it became law in 1968 that all vehicles except buses had to be manufactured with seat belts, it didn’t become law that you actually had to
use them until 1984—in New York. Today all states except New Hampshire have seat belt laws; eighteen states make it only a secondary offense under which the car cannot be stopped for that reason alone.
Child safety seats: Although some form of child booster seat was invented and in use as far back as 1933—allowing children to look out the window—it was not until 1971 that the government brought in safety standards, and 1979 that Tennessee was the first state to bring in laws making child safety seats compulsory.
Some Popular Children’s Toys: A stuffed Lassie dog, Peanuts character dolls, a Waltons Playhouse, Apollo Moon Rocket, Radio Flyer Wagon, Etch-a-Sketch, Charlie’s Angels dolls, Erector sets, Starship Enterprise, and the perennial favorite, Barbie dolls were popular through the decade. The Atari Home Computer system became available in 1979 at $594.95, a whopping sum at the time.
Sport: In 1973 Billie Jean King (world No. 2 female tennis player) fought fifty-five year old former champion Bobby Riggs in a match that was called ‘Battle of the Sexes.’ King won in three sets. In 1971, Muhamamed Ali won a Supreme Court decision after four years reinstating his boxing titles of which he had been stripped for refusing to be drafted on the basis of religious beliefs. He went on to win heavyweight championships in both 1974 and 1978; famous fights included the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman, and the Thrilla in Manila against Joe Frazier, both of which he won. Gymnast Nadia Comaneci won three gold meals at the Montreal Olympics with seven perfect scores.
Fashion: Best not to go there! Polyester coordinates and leisure suits remain forgotten, please. Wet-look vinyl and fake furs also made a stand. But we had flared pants, fringe, and embroidery still in use today.
Cars: the Ford Mustang, the Mercury Bobcat and the Chevette shared the road with station wagons like the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, and ‘woodies’ were a favorite.
Travel: Concorde took off in 1976, cutting transatlantic travel time to three and a half hours—if you could afford it.
More food for thought: Taking 1975 as my example, inflation was at 9.2% in the US and at 24.2% in the UK, the Dow Jones was averaging 858, interest rates were at 7.25% in the USA and 11.25% in the UK, gas was around 44¢, the average cost of a new car was $4,250 and a new house $39, 500. While the heyday of hippies in Haight-Ashbury may have passed in the sixties, despite heavy drug use and a lack of a police presence, communes were still going, most famously the Scott Street Commune and The Red Victorian, which served as both hotel and commune after 1977.
So, Viet Nam: The war had actually been going on since 1965 after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Pres. LB Johnson permission to wage war—after an attack on one of our destroyers which just happened to be out there. By 1970, Richard Nixon was president and Cambodia was in the war, Henry Kissinger was trying to negotiate a peace settlement but protests continued. Four students were killed and eight wounded by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio. In 1971, Lt. William Calley Jr. was convicted of the murder of twenty-two unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in the Mai Lai Massacre. He was released after three and a half years for a number of reasons, not least was the fact he was the only army officer singled out for the crime. In 1972, Nixon won re-election and Kissinger revealed peace talks were underway with Le Duc Tho. By 1973, a cease-fire was signed, the end of the draft was announced, and the last American troops left Viet Nam. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho won the Nobel Peace prize; Kissinger accepted and Le Duc Tho declined saying peace did not exist.
And finally, Watergate: In 1969, Richard M. Nixon was inaugurated as the President of the USA. In August, 1971, a list of his enemies was started by his White House aides. A group called the White House Plumbers was started to find information to discredit his enemies. On June 17, 1972, the Plumbers were arrested in the process of planting bugs at the Democratic National Committee
headquarters at The Watergate Hotel. On June 20, 1972, Mark Felt, Director of the FBI (J. Edgar Hoover had died in May)—previously known as ‘Deep Throat’—started giving tips to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. Later that month attempts were made to shut down the investigation of the FBI. In September, 1972, the first indictments were made and in November, Nixon was re-elected. Through 1973, televised hearings and indictments continued. In October 1973, VP Spiro Agnew resigned due to corruption as Governor of Maryland, and Gerald Ford took his place. In July of 1973, Nixon refused to hand over the White House tapes, and in November delivered his “I am not a crook’ speech. But by March, 1974, Nixon was named as a co-conspirator while the Watergate Seven were indicted; in May, impeachment hearings began, in June All the President’s Men was published, and in July the tapes were finally handed over. On August 9, 1974, Richard M. Nixon (Tricky Dick) resigned from the Presidency and Gerald Ford—unelected to the vice-presidency but holding that office—became President of the United States.
And that, folks, was the Seventies.