1967: The year of the Summer of Love at Stanford

Stanford students celebrated the counterculture hippie movement with their own be-ins, concerts and protests in the darkening shadow of the Vietnam War.  

Although the year of the Summer of Love has its roots in San Francisco – beginning with the Human Be-In event that attracted tens of thousands of people to the Polo Fields at Golden Gate Park on Jan. 14, 1967 – the launch of the radical counterculture movement was certainly felt at Stanford, where love, war, drugs, and the fight for equality were popular themes.


The previous spring, Stanford students had elected David Harris student body president. With his long hair, torn jeans and strident voice, Harris was a sharp contrast to his buttoned-down student politico predecessors. He went on to become a national figure in the anti-war movement, but his initial focus at Stanford was education. He challenged the school’s administration and inspired students to take responsibility for their own education in the broadest sense. The strain between students and the administration was documented on the annual Quad pages and throughout issues of the Stanford Daily of that year – opening the door to increased student involvement in the academic community.

Lifestyles and values, as well as ideas, were changing at dizzying speed. Students trekked up to the City on weekends to dance in the psychedelic scene of the Fillmore nightclub. Jefferson Airplane and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band played a concert in the Stanford Basketball Pavilion (now Burnham Pavilion) to raise money for the senior class. Class president Jim Binns remembers asking the crowd to “put out whatever it is you are smoking,” with no expectation they would.

“Freshman year, I didn’t know anyone who had smoked marijuana. Senior year, I didn’t know anyone who hadn’t,” remembers one ’67 grad, who didn’t want his name used. “I’m not sure the grandchildren would understand.”

The Grove Project, the first co-ed Stanford residence and one of the first in the nation, launched when a group of 12 female and 31 male students moved into the vacated Phi Delt house to “show that a university the size of Stanford can create a situation in which intellectual life and the living situation are not divorced,” said Professor Mark Mancall, director of the residential experiment.

Male and female students at Stanford’s overseas campuses in Europe had been living in the same buildings on adjacent corridors, eating meals in the same dining hall, and traveling together on three-day weekends. Back on the Farm, female students had to be in their sex-segregated dorms by 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. Female students were fighting for permission to live off campus. As part of the “OFF” movement, they staged a strike for equal rights and withheld rent payments for campus room and board… but to no avail.

On campus

Writer and psychologist Timothy Leary visited campus after the San Francisco Be-In and participated in a symposium sponsored by the Tresidder Union Board called “Frontiers of the Mind: Psychedelics.” Another speaker at the symposium was former Stanford creative writing fellow and Merry Prankster Ken Kesey, who spoke about psychedelics and the creative arts. (While a fellow under Wallace Stegner in 1960, Kesey participated in a study of mind-altering drugs and worked as an attendant in a hospital psychiatric ward, which inspired him to write his 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.)

Members of the Stanford Daily staff tuned in to LSD when they launched a multi-issue print forum titled “LSD – Who, When, Why” where professors and students evaluated tripping.

Also making appearances on campus that academic year were some of the signature voices of the day: the Grateful Dead, beat poet and Be-In veteran Gary Snyder, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Chairman Stokely Carmichael for the Black Power Festival, six-time Socialist Party candidate for president Norman Thomas, and Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke about the need to achieve economic and social equality.

These radical challenges to conventional ideas and behavior took place in the lengthening shadow of the massive buildup of American troops in Vietnam, rapidly approaching half a million men. Television news brought graphic images of jungle combat nightly into the common rooms of dorms, fraternities and Row houses.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey experienced a staged walk-out during his address at Memorial Auditorium in support of President Lyndon Johnson’s policy. Senator Mark O. Hatfield ’48 was enthusiastically received during his Distinguished Alumnus Lecture “From Farm to Forum” where he stated his objections to the war to a capacity crowd at Dinkelspiel Auditorium and a teach-in on White Plaza.

For students, particularly seniors in the draft era, they joined a fight of their own. Within months, nearly a hundred men in ROTC programs would be in uniform. Others were enlisting in officers’ candidate school after graduation. Those who actively resisted the draft faced jail. Others joined the National Guard or divinity school, but all could feel the war’s impact.  Women were exempt from the draft, but not from the anguish of worrying for their friends and loved ones.

Whatever course they chose, few students supported the war. “We all knew by then it was a mistake,” said Binns, who was commissioned – during graduation week – as a second lieutenant through Stanford’s Army ROTC.

Dark days

As the war expanded, hippie fatigue and disillusionment set in across the Bay Area. Harris remembers, “1966 was a great time, but the giant invasion of kids into San Francisco in [summer] 1967 kind of ruined it.” He called the big music hit that year, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” written by John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas and performed by Scott McKenzie, “the invitation to lost souls that turned everything negative.”

In an exhibition of Summer of Love artifacts in the Stanford Music Library to commemorate its 50th anniversary, public services librarian Ray Heigemeir writes: “The end of the Summer of Love came early. Disaffected youth, flowers in their hair, swarmed the Haight by the thousands. The ‘gentle people there’ could not sustain the influx, and the community built on peaceful coexistence, free love, and unfettered self-expression began to suffer the effects of unemployment and poverty, malnutrition, drug abuse, and crime. A funeral procession for ‘the hippie’ was held in October.”

But the influences that produced the Summer of Love persisted in the lives of Stanford students and those who would follow them. Tie-dyed shirts and communes would be left behind but, to a large extent, the counterculture became the culture.