REVISITING THE SEVENTIES

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.

Haight Ashbury, courtesy of Arjun Sarup via Wikimedia Commons

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

1978 Chevette, photo courtesy of The Paper at The English Language Wikipedia

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.

Fashion Model Twiggy, 1970

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.

Bomber during Operation-Linebacker, Viet Nam war

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

Richard M. Nixon during campaign, photo by Oliver F. Atkins, public domain

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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24 responses to “REVISITING THE SEVENTIES

  1. Scary that part of our lives–the seventies–is now almost ancient history! Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I remember riding without seat belts and even worse, my parents turning the back of the station wagon into a play pen for us kids on long trips! I’m looking forward to your book.

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    • Yes, I remember as a child riding without seat belts and bouncing around in the back, knocking my father’s hat over his eyes as he drove! Naughty!! But I also remember tricky Dick and all that. Does History repeat itself?

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  2. Wonderful blog! Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I remember some things fondly and others… well, never mind. One thing I did like about polyester was not having to iron all the time. Another thing I remember not so fondly were the gas lines in the early 70s.

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    • Well remembered Rebecca. it was in the 70s when a gas crisis occurred and the Middle East providers put up the price, causing those lines, so that the US government brought in the 55 mph speed limits.

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  3. Thanks, Andi. I remember all of what you write about. I’ll look forward to your book! I especially remember the protests against the Vietnam war–thousands of students taking over the freeway in Seattle. A nice roundup of memories!

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  4. Very interesting post, Andi. Like reliving the 70s all over again. In 1974, I brought my first child home from the hospital. When Hubs put her in the car seat, the nurse looked astonished, saying “Aren’t you going to hold her?” Yikes! I stopped watching the news in the 70s, too depressing with body counts each night. I had a red Cougar–Mercury’s version of the Mustang. I don’t remember the Bobcat, though. What about disco? Memories. Some fun; others, like fashion, best forgotten.

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    • I’ve obviously been remiss in omitting disco maybe because I’m a country music fan Sorry! Music certainly had a lot of diverse parts back then from Elvis, the Beatles and Johnny Cash to punk rock at the end of the decade. And disco!

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  5. My mom made me use car seats before they were mandatory. I hated it, but now I realize she was right. 🙂

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  6. Hi, Andi
    loved the post. You made me think about the issues we struggled to overcome, others that we fought for: Vietnam, the fight for Roe v Wade; women’s rights. I shudder now when I think we {I] buckled my kids into flimsy infant carriers that wouldn’t protect a limp rag. Times have changed. Thanks for pointing that out.
    Veronica

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    • It’s interesting that Ken Burns, whose documentary is coming out on TV about Viet Nam, believes it was the war and issues that arose at that time that divide us now. He may be right, probably is. As for those infant carriers, when I saw the photos of the ones in use I was horrified–nothing more than a booster seat as one might encounter for a child in a restaurant.

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  7. Ah, I recall many of those things, Andi. An odd but interesting time. Thanks for the reminders!!

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  8. Thanks for the memories! Here in Canada we weren’t much affected by the Vietnam War, and our news wasn’t comprehensive then. We did, though, have an influx of draft dodgers. LOL I actually liked disco, clothing styles and all, for as long as it lasted, and remember having fun at clubs and parties. Baby car seats – we had one that hung over the front seat and dangled, and the child got to play with a small steering wheel. Shudder to think of it now.
    Good luck with your book – sounds great!

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    • That’s right-those dang car seats hung over the seat–not very likely to survive impact. And isn’t it funny how folks in the USA always turn to Canada when there’s trouble at home. Thanks for stopping by.

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  9. I can dig it. (remember that phrase?). Like you, I’m doing research of the 80s and find it’s strange living through an era and now thirty years later, saying, “Oh yeah, I remember doing that.”
    It makes me wonder if 80-yr-olds say the same thing about the 50s. And will my twenty-year-old reminisce about the ol’ Twenty-teens. (in 30 years).
    Fun post.

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  10. Thanks for the memories. I’ll soon be starting my research for a series I’ll set in the early 70s. Those years were so full, so daring, so fun, so emotional. I “know” a great deal about them, but need the facts to back up my memory. Plus, my book is concerned with one very small art community in the mountains of AZ. Good luck with your project!

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    • Glad to hear you’re going forward with that project Brenda. My book is partially set in Bolinas CA, outside of SF, where numerous poets–Brautigan, Creeley and so on–lived for a while. Luckily, I have a friend who still lives there and lived there in the 70s and was part of that scene, but of course background info and national stuff had to be researched. I’m sure your book on Jerome will be fascinating. Good luck!

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  11. I enjoyed reading your Blog, Andi. The seventies were quite the era. The music was awesome, but as you said, the baby blue polyester leisure suits are best forgotten.

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  12. Just finished a novel in process for years set in 1969-70. Such a rich time: sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, but also war protests, spiritual enlightenment, vegetarianism as a new thing. I’m happy to see some of the people say they are looking forward to your book. Although I had to write my book, I’ve been a little worried that maybe it’s a time today’s readers think better buried. Although some of it was silliness, a great deal of it is the basis of today’s progressive politics, especially for those of us who lived through it.

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    • Carolyn, it’s interesting that, in actual fact, I seem to have uncovered a number of authors currently working on books taking place in the Seventies. Until I started writing I only thought of the decade in terms of hippies, Watergate and Viet Nam, but as you have pointed out, it was so much more. Ken Burns has a documentary coming out on Viet Nam; his take is that the conflict at home over the Viet Nam War sowed the seeds of the divisions in today’s America. I’m hoping by the time my book comes out, there will be greater interest in the decade. Mine starts in 1972 and goes through to ’76. Thanks so much for your input.

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