Earlier this summer, Madison Public Library and University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives collaborated to gather stories from attendees of the Madison Reunion. This event invited alumni from the 1960s to come and share their memories, stories, and reflections of their time on campus. One of those alums took the opportunity to share her memories of “empowerment and urgency,” reflecting on today’s social atmosphere.
Joan Lowery, class of 1972, chose to come to Madison in an effort to “see what the real U.S. was like.” Raised in the Bronx, Lowery sought a new environment. Having met some Madison students while working for the VISTA program in Northern Minnesota, Joan was intrigued. She remembered, “there was something about the way they expressed themselves, or thought, and I thought, “That’s where I want to go!”
A theater major, Joan also worked as a waitress at a restaurant on State Street where she found the opportunity cultivate change. Lowery’s boss, the owner of the restaurant, disrespected and sexually harassed herself and the other staff. In response, they organized Madison Independent Workers Union (MIWU) - Madison’s first local waitstaff union.
The union, limited in scope though it was, successfully fought for improved conditions and employer accountability. Throughout the 1970s, MIWU brought lawsuits against local restaurants and went on strike in protest of working conditions.
Joan, on campus again for the reunion weekend, recollected: “It was a very powerful lesson for those of us who were very young and had grown up in this atmosphere of empowerment and standing up for your rights.” This alumnus looked back on her actions to take control of her conditions, empowered and affected by it for the rest of her life.
About the Madison Reunion & Living History Project
Madison Public Library partnered with folks from University Archives and the Wisconsin Historical Society to host a story gathering station in the Union during June 14-16, 2018. Reunion attendees signed up for a time slot to come and share a story from the relevant time period (1960s) in Madison.
The stories collected during the event will be included in the Living History Project.
Featured photo information: Joan Lowery at Memorial Union on June 14, 2018.
Additional Photo: Storybooth set-up at Madison Reunion Conference. Memorial Union, June 14, 2018.