Berkeley was known for many things before the 1960s. Among them, one would not find relaxed sexual mores. That would come later.
In 1949, Alfred Kinsey spoke to almost 10,000 students at Harmon Gym. In 1947 he had founded the Institute for Sex Research at the University of Indiana.
In 1948 he published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Shock and outrage! Nobody made the 10,000 students come hear him speak in 1949. They were interested.
Also in 1947, Berkeley saw a stunning demonstration downtown:
In August 1947, members of the Women’s Organization to War on Styles (WOWS) picketed agaiinstlonger skirts and padded hips. They were the wives of GI students at Cal. Left to right: Jackie Houser, Wanda Ames, Dorothy Inman, Terry Ligon, Ruth Van Arkel, Carrol Reynolds and Barbara Carmichael.
So that is the record for the 1940s – women in lingerie picketing and Kinsey speaking.
There was no sex in Berkeley in the 1950s.
That was a joke.
The main story related to sexuality in Berkeley in the 1950s was the panty raid.
Specifically the panty raid of May 16, 1956. A hot night. Water fights, “scanties” dangled from sorority windows, teasing. And then it got ugly. Fraternity boys went wild, breaking into sororities, busting up furniture, thousands of dollars of damage. Stories of nude girls carried out to the street, apocryphal or not, spread and found their way into Newsweek. There had been wild riots around football before, but this was the panty raid of all panty raids. Our Berkeley? Hard to imagine. Here is a good and detailed Daily Planet article about the 1956 raid.
I don’t consider the panty raid to be a cultural movement involving sex, but that’s just my take. Here is what I did find about the attitudes of our city as the 1950s bled into the 1960s:
It is from the Berkeley Review, 1961. The 1960s had started but the Sixties had not.
That would change.
In 1963, Jefferson Poland and Leo Koch founded the Sexual Freedom League in New York. The platform was simple – promote sexual activity and advocate for political reform, especially in the areas of abortion and censorship.
Koch taught biology at the University of Illinois. In 1960 he wrote a letter to the Daily Illini defending premarital sex. Shock and outrage! University President David Dodds Henry found the letter “offensive and repugnant” and fired him.
Jefferson Poland came from a different direction. As a student at Florida State University, he became active in the civil rights movement.
He is in the center of this photo.
In June 1961, the Freedom Riders challenged segregated interstate buses by traveling from Washington, D.C. to Tallahassee, Florida. After successfully completing the trip, they planned to fly home but first decided to test whether or not the group would be served in the segregated airport restaurant. As a result, 10 Freedom Riders, later known as the Tallahassee Ten, were arrested for unlawful assembly. Poland was one of them.
A year later, Poland was involved in Ban the Bomb activities.
So Koch brought First Amendment and sex cred to the organization, while Poland brought early Movement cred.
Poland was the Johnny Appleseed of the SFL movement. He moved to California and started leagues, including the Berkeley chapter in 1966.
Literature plus action:
On August 26, 1965, the League took part in a nude-in on campus.
Poland moved on, leaving the Berkeley League work to Richard Thorne. Thorne didn’t last long as the leader. He left (fled?) to Mexico, changed his name, and started a religion.
Two factions developed, a non-sex branch (of the Sexual Freedom League?) and a lots-of-sex branch led by Sam Sloan.
Sloan has written extensively about his time with the Berkeley Sexual Freedom League:
I held 42 sex parties over a period of more than a year, from September, 1966 until December, 1967. Altogether, around 1200 people attended my sex orgies.
I am the person who made the Sexual Freedom League into a nationally known organization. I wrote the article which appeared in the November, 1966 issue of Playboy Magazine entitled “The Sexual Freedom League”. However, at that time, I did not want my name or identity known, so the Playboy staff touched up the article and published it under the name of Jack Lind. In fact, it was that article which inspired me to create a real organization, because, by September, 1966, Thorne had stopped holding his sex parties and had gone to Mexico. I realized that if I wanted to attend another sex orgy, I would have to organize one myself.
The Sexual Freedom League, or the activities supported by the Sexual Freedom League, were a nice fit with the relaxed sexual mores of the counterculture that was shaking our windows and rattling our walls.
The Barb carried frequent advertisements for the League, as well as stories about the sex parties put on by the League.
Time wrote about the Berkeley SFL in early 1966.
Sexology waited a few years to weigh in.
The Berkeley SFL was all about sexual freedom, mainstream, co-opted, commercialized, or whatever. They engineered a Playboy submission for a Berkeley student, Mara Suviks.
She made it into the September 1967 issues at page 153.
If we bothered to read the caption, we were told: “Mara Loves: The Sexual Freedom League at Berkeley finds a delightful and freethinking advocate in coed Mara Suviks. BLONDE, green-eyed Mara is from all outward appearances a typical California Coed. But typical she is not. Mara’s unique combination of physical and philosophical attributes was brought to the attention of PLAYBOY’S West Coast Photographer by a Sexual Freedom Leaguer who had met Miss Suviks at a Berkeley Chapter-party and was duly impressed. We interviewed Mara between her Art and Sociology courses at Berkeley.”
There is no evidence that Mara ever attended an SFL nude party or orgy, but it made a good caption. If you read the caption.
Shit got real in early 1967. The Daily Gazette of April 25, 1967, told us:
Samuel Howard Sloan, Party host for Sexual Freedom Forum parties at 2714 Telegraph Avenue, was given 12 hours to vacate the premises by Berkeley-Albany Judge George Braun yesterday. Sloan, 22, was arrested by Berkeley police over the weekend for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and for possession of marijuana. Judge Braun ordered the bail reduced on the contributing charge to $550 from $2,200 and to $1,000 on the marijuana charge on the condition Sloan will vacate the “orgy house” across the street from willard Junior High School and if he will avoid associating with minors at any party involving alcoholic beverages.
In December, 1967, Sloan left Berkeley. He writes: “I left the San Francisco Bay Area on Christmas Eve, 1967 to attend the US Intercollegiate Chess Championship in Hoboken, New Jersey as a member of the U.C. Berkeley Chess Team.” He did not come back to Berkeley. For all intents and purposes, the Berkeley chapter of the Sexual Freedom League ceased its existence.
Sloan is gone. But Jefferson Poland is back. In 1970, he founded the Psychedelic Venus Church because, he felt, the leadership of the Sexual Freedom League was becoming too “bourgeois”.
He petitioned to change his legal name to “Jefferson Fuck Poland.”
The Court declined, but the Barb said yes and covered his continuing interactions with law enforcement happily referring to him as “Fuck.” He has since then changed his name legally. I am not all that modest, but I see no need to report his new name, as he has no ties with Berkeley. He has had legal troubles. He has come a long way.
The quest for sexual freedom and body freedom in Berkeley did not die with the death of the Berkeley Sexual Freedom League.
This leaflet advertises a nude event at People’s Park in 1972.
And then in the early 1990s was Andrew Martinez, the Naked Guy.
Martinez was arrested several times for his nudity, a physical manifestation of his strongly held beliefs about body freedom. He moved on from nudity, but mental health problems plagued him and his life ended sadly in 2006.
Berkeley saw Nude & Breast Freedom parades between 1992 and 2004.
They were small affairs, centered around People’s Park. In 2009, 2010, and 2011, nude bike rides were held in people. Again – small, well-behaved events centered around People’s Park.
The X-plicit Players were central actors in the Body Freedom movement of the 1990s and these parades. In 1990, they explained themselves as follows:
The X-plicit Players fight to stay naked and free on the streets and in the parks of Berkeley. We create performance events that invite people to go beyond their isolated bodies; to sense and join each other, creating group body.
We follow a pathway to draw out each others’ inner bodies; exposing the skin behind clothes; exposing bodies of feeling, bodies of emotion and bodies of thought behind the skin. We experience vulnerability, abandon and loving availability; we pay strong attention to each other and take great care of each other. Our experience of each other is full of magic when we expose our inner natures as well as our bodies.
We feel called out by certain individuals to create specific rituals of response and initiation. Our bodies form a group sculpture, perform links with the dead, turn into plates covered with birthday cake, mimic and mirror each other, draw sounds and specific motions from each other, and speak to each other in the new gestures of freshly re-invented language.
Not only does magic flow between us, but magic emerges from each natural setting. Nature’s forces come pouring through sunlight, breezes, and the motion and stillness of leaves, grasses and trees, to escort us into ecstatic states. Our inner states keep changing as sun and wind change, and we move in pace with those changes, until we look and seem slow like turtles, or wildly giddy like birds.
In performance, we develop our standards of loving and states of attunement, so we can then perform public rituals that bring a larger community into higher states. We often repeat performances to advance into new states of group body; with each performance, some of us become more familiar while others join the magic for the first time.
That’s a lot of words to explain why they like to take their clothes off. Here are some newspaper clippings over the 1990s:
They have recently published “Militant Nude Revolution” by Martinez online.
We have seen naked protests several times over the years. Body freedom was not the issue, but a way to attract attention to other causes.
In 2005, we saw the Breasts Not Bombs protest.
In 2006, students stripped to protest the University’s use of sweatshops to produce University apparel.
In 2007, protestors stripped to protest plans by the University to cut down a grove of 20th century oaks near Memorial Stadium.
And then there are the random acts of nudity that persist. When the How Berkeley Can You Be? parade was going, there was often a nude contingent.
This is one photo of nude paraders that may not offend the pious eye, but it offends something else.
If this was the good idea they chose, what did the bad ideas that they discarded look like?
Berkeley students are all about body freedom.
Cal students have an annual nude romp.
And in the spring Berkeley High seniors streak through campus.
Moscow-born Oxana Chornenky, known to the world as Gypsy Taub, carries the torch for body freedom. She lives in Berkeley, but most of her body freedom work and arrests for public nudity have taken place in San Francisco, where in late 2013 she was arrested after a nude wedding ceremony.
I took the photos to show my friend before hitting the PUBLISH button. He was lost, and I do mean lost, listening to theremin music Gabby had sent him. The topic here yanked him from his reveries. He glanced through them and then stopped, staring off into space.
“I don’t wanna talk about it”
Okay. But what about the post?