ASUW president Thom Gunn gets a haircut for peace on September 10, 1968.

  • By Greg Lange and Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 1552
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On September 10, 1968, ASUW (Associated Students of the University of Washington) president Thom Gunn has his locks shorn to "come clean for Gene" McCarthy.

Gunn had been elected ASUW president in part for his sense of humor. After his election he had jumped into Frosh Pond to "wash off the politics" (Crowley, 110). But the politics of the time swept him up along with everyone else.

Why He Cut His Hair

The political context was as follows:

  • On November 30, 1967, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy (1916-2005), an outspoken critic of U. S. involvement in the war in Vietnam, announced that he would run for president of the United States. Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) was the incumbent president.
  • On February 29, 1968, New York Democratic Senator Robert Kennedy (1925-1968) and Republican Jacob Javits spoke out against the Vietnam War.
  • On March 12, 1968, in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, McCarthy received 42 percent of the vote against Johnson. In the Republican primary, Richard Milhous Nixon received 80 percent of the vote. Nixon had run against John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) in 1960 and lost, and against Democrat California Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown in 1962 and lost. He had then "retired" from politics.
  • On March 16, 1968, Robert Kennedy announced that he would run for president of the United States. He stated that he was running because "disastrous, divisive policies" in Vietnam could only be changed by a change in administration.
  • On March 16, 1968, President Johnson (called LBJ) announced that he would send an additional 35,000 to 50,000 troops to Vietnam.
  • On March 31, 1968, President Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election as president of the United States. He stated, "I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your president." He stated that there was "a division in the American house," and that he was withdrawing his candidacy for the sake of national unity. At the time a Gallup Poll gave LBJ an approval rating of 26 percent of the American people. LBJ's withdrawal left three Democrats in the field: Robert Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, and possibly Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey (1911-1978).
  • On April 4, 1968, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was assassinated. There were riots in American cities and President Johnson ordered troops to Chicago.
  • On April 27, 1968, Vice President Hubert Humphrey announced that he would run for president.
  • On May 28, 1968, Eugene McCarthy defeated Robert Kennedy in the Oregon primary.
  • On June 4, 1968, minutes after declaring victory in the California primary, Robert Kennedy was shot. He died the next day.
  • On August 8, 1968, at Miami Beach, Florida, Republicans nominated Richard M. Nixon as the Republican candidate for president.
  • On August 10, 1968, Senator George McGovern, a Democrat from South Dakota, announced that he would run for President.
  • On August 29, 1968, at the Democratic Convention, Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey as the Democratic presidential candidate. The Democratic Convention conducted its business in Chicago in the midst of nationally televised riots involving protesters and police.
  • On September 17, 1968, the right-wing American Independent Party nominated George Wallace for president.
  • On November 5, 1968, Richard Nixon won the election by 50,000 votes. With 95 percent of the vote counted, Nixon had 29,726,409 votes; Humphrey got 29,677,152 votes; and Wallace got nearly 10,000,000 votes.

As for Thom Gunn, after his ASUW presidency, he started a short-lived newspaper, The Seattle Flag, wrote articles, worked as a talk-show host, worked in the campaigns for Jimmy Carter and for Charles Royer, moved to Whidbey Island and opened a restaurant with his wife, and in 1982 ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for state Legislature, claiming that although he felt critical of Ronald Reagan, he ran as a Republican because the district that includes Whidbey Island doesn't elect Democrats.


Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 260; Chronicle of the 20th Century ed. by Clifton Daniel (Mount Kisco, NY: Chronicle Publications, 1987), 978-982, 984, 986-988, 992; Chronicle of America ed. by John W. Kirshon (Mount Kisco, NY: Chronicle Publications, n.d. [ca. 1989]), 817-823; "A Tale of Two Leaders," The Seattle Times: Pacific Northwest Magazine, June 16, 1985, 6-10.

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