1966 Yearbook Project

In 1966, the United States was fully immersed in the Vietnam War. Anti-war protests were taking place all across the country. 1966 was also a year for race riots, mini skirts, marijuana, LSD, and psychedelic rock.

During that year, Grinnell, Iowa, was just beginning to feel the effects of this seismic shift in society. Grinnell College was a year or two away from all-out war protests and involvement in the then-still-mostly-underground drug culture.

The 1966 Grinnell College yearbook staff covered that year in stunning black-and-white photos. Photographers Henry Wilhelm, John Phillips, and others captured student life and academics at Grinnell and produced a yearbook with very few words – and, by today’s standards, very little controversy.

But the book WAS controversial. The college administration refused to publish the book. It was not until 20 years later, in 1986, when Wilhelm and fellow Grinnell alumnus Tom Lannom went to then-college president George Drake with a box of photographs and a request to finally print the 1966 yearbook.

Drake writes, “I was stunned by the beauty of the photography as well as the evidence of strong editorial judgment. Grinnell College 1966 is the best college annual I have ever experienced.”

The yearbook is now on exhibit in the Faulkoner Gallery in Grinnell’s Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. Complete pages of the yearbook are on display in their original size, running around the perimeter of the gallery. And 100 photos have been scanned, digitally remastered, and enlarged for the show.

As an old “yearbook geek,” I have a deep appreciation for the process of putting together a year in the life of a college. I think the yearbook is one of the most important historical documents a university can produce – and I think it’s a real shame that most colleges have quit publishing them due to rising costs.

This 1966 Grinnell yearbook is noteworthy not just because of its curious past but also because of the quality of its photography. These photographers captured so much more than a single year – they captured individual stories. After viewing this exhibit, I feel as though I know some of these people. I wish I HAD known them.

Not only is the photography exceptional, but the stark, simple design of the yearbook is outstanding. The type blocks are simple, the lines clean. The remastered digital photos enlarged to poster size for the exhibit contain the grain of the original black-and-white film, and that only adds to their appeal. (Read about the yearbook’s photographers here – each went on to a successful career in photography and/or journalism.)

I highly recommend a visit to Grinnell to view this exhibit. The 1966 Yearbook Project is on display in the Falconer Gallery through June 3. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., with evening hours (until 8 p.m.) on Thursdays and Fridays.

A companion exhibit is on display at the Burling Library adjacent to the Bucksbaum Center. “There’s Something Happening Here” tells the story of Grinnell’s activism from the years 1969 through 1973. The exhibit, located on the library’s lower level, contains photographs, newspaper clippings, signs, posters, artwork, and other artifacts. Don’t expect a museum-caliber exhibit from this one because it’s not. But if you’re on campus, it’s worth a stop. (Drugs! Nudity! Peace signs! What’s not to love about that?)

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