Largely forgotten today, the UAHS countercultural scene of the late ’60s and early ’70s included protests and an underground newspaper.
The counterculture of the 1960s is well ingrained into America’s national consciousness. The peace symbol adorns the bumpers across the country. Events like Woodstock have found a spot in the popular imagination. The scene’s key figures, and the debates they had, are represented in historical films like “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” And the stereotypical hippy — peacenikish, long-haired, free-loving, tree-hugging and strung out — is a cultural trope.
But while ’60s radicals and their progressive politics are well known, few within the UAHS community are aware of UAHS’s very own anti-establishment movement. Yet against the tumultuous national backdrop of the 1960s, discontent brewed within some pockets of the student population at UAHS. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, UAHS students organized protests, rallies and demonstrations. These students campaigned for greater rights, focusing on issues both local and national. And like figures in the national countercultural scene, they faced oppression from those with power, in this case the school administration.
The budding counterculture within the walls of UAHS was supported by an underground press. In the spring of 1969, students founded The Gilded Bare, a newsletter created and distributed by students that rebelled against establishment mores and promoted the movement’s cause of freethinking and individual rights.
But these lofty ideals, while they would go on to figure prominently in the paper, were not the initial focus. Instead, the publication — and the students to whom it catered — began by focusing on a more immediately tangible issue: the dress code.
First adopted during the 1968-69 school year, the original dress code at UAHS was far more conservative than it is today. Female students could not wear pants, including jeans. Male students could not have long hair or facial hair. Graphic T-shirts were forbidden.
The dress code drew the criticism of some students, such as Bruce Mitchell, who graduated from UAHS in 1971 and served as the Gilded Bare’s editor his senior year.
“It seems like a trivial issue today,” Mitchell said. “But at the time, it was a pretty big deal.”
As Gilded Bare railed against the dress code, school officials attempted to crack down on its circulation and those who wrote for it. The publication was not allowed to be circulated on school grounds. The students shifted to distributing on the street corners surrounding the high school, just off school property.
“It was free press,” said Paul Reynolds, a Gilded Bare co-founder who graduated in 1970. “And it was outside the school premises, so they couldn’t really do anything about it.”
Above: Pages from the Gilded Bare, the UAHS underground newspaper during the late 1960s and early '70s. Some issues of the paper are archived at the Upper Arlington Public Library, and have been digitized. Photos by James Underwood '23.
Still, the suppression that the paper faced motivated the students behind it to branch out. They became more ambitious and diverse in their goals and took up topics beyond the dress code. Foremost among these topics was free speech.
“As soon as they came down hard on the newspaper, and hard on students who were involved, it shifted from the dress code to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly,” Reynolds recounted.
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In the late 60s, high schools across central Ohio, and across the country, saw a wave of student protests. In response, the Upper Arlington Board of Education proactively passed a policy on Aug. 12, 1969, stating that “disorder and disruption of school process will not be tolerated and persons attempting such actions will be held accountable.” The policy, which was left to individual building principals to implement, further enabled the school district to “seek the prosecution of those who would violate the laws” in cases of school disruption.
The policy drew criticism from some students. According to an article published in the UA News, Gilded Bare-affiliated students attended the meeting at which the policy was adopted and “said that the new policy is ‘not specific’ and asked if ‘disorder’ was considered merely physical in nature.”
The school district, on the other hand, argued that the policy was needed regardless. UA Schools superintendent Walter Heischman explained the need for such a policy to Arlingtonian a few months later.
“The administration does not fear anything from students, but it would be foolish to assume that a disturbance may never occur,” he said. “We want to be prepared for what might happen.”
Something did indeed “happen.” The controversial policy was put to the test on Oct. 2, 1969, less than two months after it was adopted, when a group of students came to school donning shirts featuring the word “Union” and an orange clenched fist. The Student Union, or Union, was a newly formed student group that advocated greater free speech rights, an open-speaker policy, a looser dress code and more.
The school administration was not pleased with Union’s shirts.
“Teachers were told to send every student wearing the t-shirt to the principal’s office,” Reynolds said.
Approximately 40 students wore the shirt, and 16 refused to remove it. Those students were locked in the teacher’s lounge, Reynolds said, as the administration went through the process of calling parents. There, the students discovered a telephone and a phonebook. They sensed an opportunity.
“We just looked up the phone numbers of the newspapers, news desks, and the TV stations,” Reynolds recalled. “And we just were all high-fiving each other and saying, ‘This is great.’”
The students watched through the window as crews from at least four Columbus-based news outlets — The Columbus Dispatch, the defunct Columbus Citizen-Journal, TV 4 (NBC) and TV 10 (CBS) — arrived on the UAHS campus to report on the detaining of the students. Those outlets published stories or ran segments on the incident, which Reynolds said gave the movement a publicity boost.
“We kind of instantly knew that we had made a really big mark relative to what would otherwise have been just an almost invisible protest,” he said.
Indeed, the incident sent ripples throughout the broader UA community, attracting both praise and criticism. For example, opposing the students’ actions were members of the UAHS Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), who in a scathing letter published in the Columbus Dispatch in October, 1969, stated that they were “ashamed of [the students] as parents, as we are of ourselves when our children disappoint society.”
For his part, the UAHS principal at the time, A. L. Guesman, criticized the students when interviewed by the Columbus Dispatch. The students who wore the Union shirts, Guesman said, were “honorable kids, but the tendency of the young is to be too caught up in rights.”
The students were officially punished for their shirts — Guesman told the Columbus Dispatch that “any unnecessary drawing or writing on” t-shirts was prohibited — but the students alleged that the decision was actually a matter of suppressing the Union.
“The reason students were dismissed was not because of any violation of the dress code or any other reason the administration may draw up in the future,” an unnamed columnist stated the next week in the Gilded Bare. “They are out to get the Union, but instead of destroying the Union, they have fortified it through their vivid imagination and convenient ignorance of the law.”
The protest was one among many that took place during this time. In the coming years, students would hold sit-ins, demonstrations and rallies throughout UAHS and the community.
Meanwhile, the Gilded Bare continued to produce issues, alternately attracting ire, curiosity and admiration.
“People were fascinated with it,” Mitchell said. “The parents dropping their kids off for school would stop the car, get out, come over, and get a copy of it. Everybody was very interested in what the underground newspaper had to say.”
Operating without a formal organizational chart (“it was definitely not formal, not organized,” Reynolds recalled) and publishing a masthead that seemed to change by the issue, the paper served as a community space for students discontent with the status quo.
“It was just a volunteer group of students that were all trying to do approximately the same thing,” Mitchell said.
The paper resonated with disaffected students and curious readers alike by finding stories that Arlingtonian — the “establishment” paper at the time — was not covering.
Writers and contributors for Gilded Bare made the contrast between the papers clear. In one letter, the publication decried Arlingtonian as a “symbol of the establishment” alongside football. In another, Mitchell called on Arlingtonian to “drop dead” in response to an article it published. And in 1970, Mitchell said at a school board meeting that Arlingtonian was “fearful of taking a stand against the administration,” according to the Columbus Citizen Journal.
The publication also continued to face censorship and suppression from school authorities, such as the inability to distribute on school grounds. The students behind the publication attempted to curtail this censorship. At a UA School Board meeting on Oct. 13, 1970, Mitchell spoke to the Board requesting that the paper be allowed to circulate on school grounds. The Board president, Margaret Postle, responded that the publication would need, among other things, a teacher-adviser.
At the meeting, Mitchell called this requirement “unfair,” saying, “no teacher wants to stick his neck out for us.”
Suppression of the Gilded Bare took other, less explicit forms as well. For example, school administrators attempted to exert pressure on parents aiding in the printing of the publication.
“We were using mimeograph during the first two years, and we would do it at somebody’s mom or dad’s office,” Mitchell recalled. “If the school administration found out where we were printing the paper, they would call the parents and try and get them to stop.”
Further, the administration targeted Gilded Bare writers for other violations, such as dress code, Reynolds said.
And at the Board’s Nov. 10, 1970, meeting, representatives for the publication complained that “school administrators refuse[d] to negotiate grievances with them” and that members of the publication had “been threatened with expulsion from academic teams,” according to a Columbus Dispatch article published the next day.
That meeting “proved very disappointing to the students who attended,” the Gilded Bare wrote.
Gilded Bare eventually fizzled out by spring of 1972, when the Norwester yearbook listed the publication as “dead.”
These events at UAHS did not unfold in a vacuum. Rather, they served as a microcosm of broader national change.
One of the core national events during this time was the Vietnam War. As more and more individuals were drafted into the war, it became a major fighting point for American activists, who advocated an abolition of the draft and the discontinuation of America’s involvement in the conflict.
One notable demonstration against the war occured on May 4, 1970, at Kent State. At that demonstration, members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed students protesting the war on campus, galvanizing the nation.
Gregory Duncan, UAHS class of 1969, was a Kent State student on campus when the guardsmen opened fire.
“When the shooting took place, we were naive enough to think, first of all — some of the people [around me] were saying there couldn’t be live ammunition in those rifles,” Duncan said. “To hear the shots — we had no idea that they were aiming at people.”
In the end, four students died and nine others were injured. The nation was galvanized; the event set off mass outrage in colleges and high schools across the country.
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Throughout this time, the dress code remained a potent issue, even as students took up other causes. One provision in the dress code — pertaining to male hair length — proved especially controversial among students. Male UAHS students in 1970 were to keep their hair “short enough and well-enough in place so as not to fall below the ears at the sides,” according to the student handbook from the time. They were further instructed to “keep the back shorter than ducktail length. Sideburns are to be no lower than the bottom of the ear.”
Discontent against this provision reached a boiling point in the fall of 1970, when Glen Ortman, then a senior, was suspended for five days after refusing to cut his hair. In response, Ortman’s parents and an attorney attended the September 8, 1970, Board of Education meeting to ask for an appeal of the decision.
“Whenever an authoritative agency uses power arbitrarily, it creates issues that need not exist,” the Ortmans’ attorney, Bruce Campbell, said at the meeting, according to UA News. “What we are considering is one man’s right to be the person he wants to be.”
In denying the request, Board President Postle cited a survey indicating broad student and parent support for the dress code.
“Actually, the community set the dress code,” Postle said, according to board minutes.
Unsatisfied with the district’s response, the Ortmans sued the district. In court records, Ortman’s attorney, argued the case on three grounds. First, he contended that Ortman’s hair was “a matter of personal style, taste and self-expression” and that it did not interfere with the educational process. Campbell argued that the school’s rules violated Ortman’s rights under the first, ninth and fourteenth amendments, as well as two provisions of the Ohio Constitution. Second, he argued that the school had “interfere[d] with his right to raise his son in accordance with his own philosophy and standards,” violating “the privacy of the parental relationship.” Finally, Campbell argued that Ortman’s suspension prevented him from getting accepted to college and therefore from earning a living.
That, Ortman’s attorney wrote, meant a “permanent impairment of his earning capacity” amounting to $220,000.
The school district, in response, laid out a slew of arguments in favor of their dress code and their decision to suspend Ortman.
The district argued that long hair on males was a safety hazard in shop and physical education classes. Further, the district contended, long-haired males were “a source of disruption and distraction in the classroom” who “antagonize[d] many other students who wear conventional haircuts.”
The district didn’t just build its defense out of pragmatic arguments of safety and academic functioning, though; it also appealed directly to the establishment culture’s standards of propriety.
“Since shoulder-length hair is not generally accepted in the professional and business community, the school is responsible for assuring that students learn to know and respect such societal standards,” the district wrote. “While shoulder-length hair may be acceptable on a rock festival sound stage, it is not proper in a school, where the maintenance of a businesslike, academic surroundings is necessary.”
On Sept. 17th, 1970, a hearing was held in which Franklin County Court of Common Pleas judge Charles Petree denied Ortman’s request for a temporary injunction allowing him to attend school with his shoulder-length hair.
“It is not fair for other students to have to put up with someone like this,” Petree said, according to the Columbus Citizen-Journal. “If a boy dresses as a girl it isn’t good for school morale. If he wants to go to school, he has to have his hair cut.”
At a second hearing on October 20, students testified for Ortman, who this time was seeking a permanent injunction. However, he once again lost.
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Despite some of the tension, students who attended UAHS during this time stress that there were and are no genuine animosities among students, and that the alumni retain a strong sense of community to this day.
And while this was a transformative and tumultuous era in American history, core hallmarks of the high school experience — school dances, pep rallies, graduation — continued as usual, as they do to this day.
Indeed, the time period saw a series of wins by the UAHS football team. For three consecutive years — 1967, 1968 and 1969 — UA held the state championship title. That winning streak, students say, united the class.
“It wasn’t like [two sides] were opposing each other; I think that’s a pretty important thing,” Reynolds said. “It was just two populations facing opposite directions.”