The History Of The Hippie Cultural Movement

Hippie, also spelled hippy, member, during the 1960s and 1970s, of a countercultural movement that rejected the mores of mainstream American life. The movement originated on college campuses in the United States, although it spread to other countries, including Canada and Britain. The name derived from “hip,” a term applied to the Beats of the 1950s, such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who were generally considered to be the precursors of hippies. Although the movement arose in part as opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (1955–75), hippies were often not directly engaged in politics, as opposed to their activist counterparts known as “Yippies” (Youth International Party).

Hippies felt alienated from middle-class society, which they saw as dominated by materialism and repression, and they developed their own distinctive lifestyle. They favoured long hair and casual, often unconventional, dress, sometimes in “psychedelic” colours. Many males grew beards, and both men and women wore sandals and beads. Long flowing granny dresses were popular with women, and rimless granny glasses with both men and women. Hippies commonly took up communal or cooperative living arrangements, and they often adopted vegetarian diets based on unprocessed foods and practiced holistic medicine. For many The Whole Earth Catalog, which first appeared in 1968, became a source for the necessities of life. Hippies tended to be dropouts from society, forgoing regular jobs and careers, although some developed small businesses that catered to other hippies.

Hippies advocated nonviolence and love, a popular phrase being “Make love, not war,” for which they were sometimes called “flower children.” They promoted openness and tolerance as alternatives to the restrictions and regimentation they saw in middle-class society. Hippies often practiced open sexual relationships and lived in various types of family groups. They commonly sought spiritual guidance from sources outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, particularly Buddhism and other Eastern religions, and sometimes in various combinations. Astrology was popular, and the period was often referred to as the Age of Aquarius. Hippies promoted the recreational use of hallucinogenic drugs, particularly marijuana and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), in so-called head trips, justifying the practice as a way of expanding consciousness.

The History Of The Hippie Cultural Movement

Both folk and rock music were an integral part of hippie culture. Singers such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and groups such as the Beatles, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Rolling Stones were among those most closely identified with the movement. The musical Hair, a celebration of the hippie lifestyle, opened on Broadway in 1968, and the film Easy Rider, which reflected hippie values and aesthetics, appeared in 1969. The novelist Ken Kesey was one of the best-known literary spokesmen for the movement, but he became equally famous for the bus tours he made with a group called the Merry Pranksters.

Public gatherings—part music festivals, sometimes protests, often simply excuses for celebrations of life—were an important part of the hippie movement. The first “be-in,” called the Gathering of the Tribes, was held in San Francisco in 1967. A three-day music festival known as Woodstock, held in rural New York state in 1969, drew an estimated 400,000–500,000 people and became virtually synonymous with the movement. Hippies participated in a number of teach-ins at colleges and universities in which opposition to the Vietnam War was explained, and they took part in antiwar protests and marches. They joined other protesters in the “moratorium”—a nationwide demonstration—against the war in 1969. They were involved in the development of the environmental movement. The first Earth Day was held in 1970.

By the mid-1970s the movement had waned, and by the 1980s hippies had given way to a new generation of young people who were intent on making careers for themselves in business and who came to be known as yuppies (young urban professionals). Nonetheless, hippies continued to have an influence on the wider culture, seen, for example, in more relaxed attitudes toward sex, in the new concern for the environment, and in a widespread lessening of formality.

Nonetheless, the hippies were an important vehicle for British youth culture. They gave expression to attitudes and values that reached well beyond their immediate circle. They seemed to represent ‘freedom’. Their hair and clothes contrasted with the short-back-and sides or permed bouffants of their parents; their music prized improvisation and self-expression; their morality was defined by liberal tolerance.

The hippy ethos gave rise to the free music festivals movement and to the first Glastonbury festival. The UK may not have had its Woodstock, but it had the Isle of Wight festival in the same year, when a reported 150,000 fans heard Bob Dylan, The Who, Free and many others. 

Hippy attitudes also inspired, and were inspired by, the growth of independent magazine publishing, in the form of International TimesOzGandalf’s GardenZigZag and many more. It was these that articulated what it meant to be a ‘hippy’. 

It was an identity for which clothes were key. The adoption of kaftans, floral dresses, flared trousers and cheese cloth blouses helped to found commercial ventures like London’s Carnaby Street and the King’s Road.

It gave impetus to, and provided an audience for, a new generation of bands and musicians – Pink Floyd, The Incredible String Band, Quintessence, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, among many others, particularly from the West Coast of the US.  Rock stars – such as Mick Jagger and John Lennon – dressed as hippies and gave voice to its ideas and attitudes. 

None of this happened simply as the product of consumer demand or subcultural invention. There were a number of key supporting factors and institutions.

The Pirate Radio stations, which began broadcasting in 1964, were vital to disseminating the music, and to giving it its subversive, alternative character. John Peel, and his show on Radio London, The Perfumed Garden, was an arbiter of hippy musical taste. When the Pirate stations were outlawed by the Labour government in 1967, the newly created BBC Radio 1 was to help continue the hippy sensibility, recruiting Peel to host Top Gear

Supporting these broadcasts were independent record shops like One Stop, later to be joined by Richard Branson’s Virgin mail order company, and venues such as the UFO. 

The film industry too gave flesh to hippy culture, with movies such Lindsay Anderson’s If and  Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider.

The music industry was a key player, of course, setting up labels specifically to host hippy musicians, such as Dandelion and Harvest, both, it should be noted, part of larger mainstream corporations.

And then there were the drugs. It is hard to imagine hippy culture without marijuana and LSD. Each, in their different ways, gave form to the lifestyle and its associated attitudes. Another, legal drug was also vitally important to hippy culture: the contraception pill.

The expansion of higher education was crucial to providing people willing and able to become hippies, to act as an audience to its stars, and to become the entrepreneurs for the new art and culture. The 1960s saw the founding of the universities of Warwick, Sussex, York, Kent, Lancaster, Essex and East Anglia. While students remained a very small proportion of their age group, they were heavily over represented among hippies. 

The police and the justice system also contributed to the rise of hippies. They began the decade prosecuting Lady Chatterley’s Lover for obscenity and ended it doing the same to Oz and its Schoolkids issue. Inbetween, they arrested and imprisoned (briefly) Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on drug offences. Such interventions served to mark the boundaries between ‘straight society’ and hippies.

Discernible through all this was a unifying philosophy, or attitude. The hippies appeared to reject the work ethic and morality of their parents’ generation. The experimentalism, whether in drugs or art or fashion, was symptomatic of a rejection of conventional wisdom. Their espousal of love and peace was a rejection of Cold War diplomacy and Mutually Assured Destruction.   

But for all the apparent change, much remained the same. While the sixties saw the rise of the women’s liberation movement, women themselves have spoken bitterly of how little the era of ‘free love’ benefited them. Men’s freedom was often at the cost of women’s. And many of those who articulated the hippy dream of self-sufficiency went on to make a fortune from it. Richard Branson is now worth $4 billion.

The History Of The Hippie Cultural Movement

Myths about hippies

MYTH NO. 1 Hippies were a phenomenon of the 1960s.

“When people in the early 2000s think about the 1960s, they might think first about the ‘hippies,’ ” suggests the widely used online educational company Gale. Likewise, the Princeton Review’s SAT guidebook prompts students: “Think about the 1960s. What comes to mind? Maybe it’s the Beatles, dancing hippies, and Vietnam.” Hippies might be the most famous symbol of the 1960s; after all, they emerged in the middle of that decade.

But they didn’t really hit their stride until the early 1970s, when their numbers and influence peaked. The hippies’ drug subculture in the 1960s became youth pop culture in the ’70s; issues of the stoner magazine High Times, founded in 1974, sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Rock-and-roll, once seen as a frivolous hobby for teenagers, became a serious artform and publications such as Rolling Stone became national tastemakers. And a quick perusal of nearly any high school yearbook well into the late ’70s shows that long hair became standard for teenage boys across the country. Even some of the male teachers had shaggy cuts. Google Books’ Ngram Viewer reveals the trajectory of America’s fascination with the counterculture: The frequency of the term “hippies” peaked in books in 1971 and stayed above 1967 levels until 1977.

MYTH NO. 2 Hippies lived only in coastal cities or rural communes.

It’s easy to imagine hippies clustering in California’s Bay Area or among the Ivy League campuses of the Eastern Seaboard. In Scott MacFarlane’s “The Hippie Narrative ,” for example, the author points out that Norman Mailer distinguished between “more visionary West Coast” hippies and “practical East Coast” hippies, with not a thought given to those who might have resided somewhere in between. Likewise, “The American Promise,” a high school history textbook , states that “hippie enclaves sprouted in low-rent districts of coastal cities and in rural communities.”

But hippies lived all over the United States, even in small and mid-size cities in the South and Midwest. The earliest flowering of hippie culture took place in coastal cities such as San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, but head shops — purveyors of psychedelic posters, black lightbulbs and rolling papers — were popping up by 1967 in such cities as Atlanta, Cleveland and Omaha, as well as Austin, Ann Arbor and other college towns. Almost every city had a neighborhood or public place where hippies came together. Washington’s hippies hung out on Dupont Circle, while Baltimore’s gathered at that city’s Washington Monument.

Meanwhile, countercultural newspapers were launched all over the country. To name just a few examples, Middle Earth appeared in Iowa City, Iowa; Chinook in Denver; Kudzu in Jackson, Miss.; and the improbably named Protean Radish in Chapel Hill, N.C.

MYTH NO. 3 Hippies were the ones protesting in the streets.

In the popular imagination, hippies with flowers in their hair were at the heart of the antiwar movement. The tumultuous political climate conjures images of “spoiled hippies protesting the Vietnam War,” as journalist Tom Jokinen put it in Hazlitt , or “hippies protesting the war in Vietnam,” as writer Robyn Price Pierre wrote in the Atlantic.

It’s true that some countercultural groups, most notably the Yippies and the White Panther Party, blended radical politics with the hippie lifestyle. But antiwar protesters and hippies were usually two distinct groups . Hippies, often known as “freaks,” prioritized spiritual enlightenment, community building, and, of course, sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. Activists, often known as “politicos,” opted for more traditional forms of left-wing political organizing.

Many hippies were indifferent or even opposed to activists’ political organizing, public meetings and marching. Writer, LSD enthusiast and “Merry Prankster” Ken Kesey shocked the audience at an antiwar event at the University of California at Berkeley in 1965 by declaring: “You’re not going to stop this war with this rally, by marching. . . . They’ve been having wars for 10,000 years, and you’re not going to stop it this way.”

Rather than marching or protesting, hippies hoped to change America by seceding from established political, social and cultural institutions, not by reforming them. No one expressed this sentiment more memorably than LSD guru Timothy Leary when he exhorted young Americans to “Turn on, tune in, drop out ” — meaning, in essence, to get high, disregard popular norms, quit bothering with mainstream society, and look inward for peace and wisdom.

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