The story behind Make Love Not War

This badge is believed to be the first time the famous slogan Make Love Not War ever appeared in print. Its designer was a young activist in Chicago whose group was behind what went on to become the phrase that epitomised a decade

This badge is believed to be the first time the famous slogan Make Love Not War ever appeared in print. Its designer was a young activist in Chicago whose group was behind what went on to become the phrase that epitomised a decade

Several people have laid claim to the slogan ‘Make love not war’. Wikipedia notes that American ‘cultural critic’, and folklorist the late Gershon Legman has laid claim to it but there is little corroborating evidence. A more substantial claim was made by one Diane Newell Meyer who was a student at the University of Oregon in 1965, the year in which the slogan first appeared.

In an August 2010 piece in Oregon’s Mail Tribune newspaper (above), Meyer says she wrote ‘Let’s make love not war’ on an envelope and pinned it to her sweater before attending a rally in April 1965. “It just popped into my head – I remember I started giggling when I wrote it,” Meyer, now 67, said. “I know I hadn’t read it anywhere before. There is no way to prove it but I think I’m the person who invented the phrase.” Meyer was photographed wearing her envelope and the picture appeared in the local paper as well as being distributed nationwide by Associated Press, ensuring that plenty of others would have seen it. A New York Times report of the rally also noted, somewhat creepily, that “A pert co-ed decorated her sweater with a card that carried the sensible entreaty ‘Let’s make love, not war’.”

Proof of authorship? Not so says artist, writer and designer Penelope Rosemont (above). “We think we invented it here in Chicago.” Rosemont was, along with her husband Franklin, a key member of the activist scene in the city at the time. The pair founded the Chicago Surrealist Group and spent all their lives campaigning for the causes they believed in (Franklin died in 2009).

Their endeavours at the time centered on the Solidarity Bookshop. “In March 1965,” Rosemont says “we wanted to do a button. The slogan we thought of first was the old Fellowship of Reconciliation [the interfaith peace movement founded in 1915] slogan ‘Make Peace, Not War’ but it seemed too tame for the 60s. Several of us together at Solidarity Bookshop – myself, Franklin, [activist, printer and editor] Bernard Marszalek and [activist and artist] Tor Faegre – thought about this and what we came up with finally was ‘Make Love, Not War’. The button [shown top] was printed at a shop above Krocks & Brentano’s Bookstore on Wabash Avenue. Bernard was working at the bookstore at that time. I helped design it. I remember doing the curved type by hand around the CND peace sign.”

The buttons were first distributed at a Mother’s Day Peace march but the Rosemonts and their friends made sure that it, and its message soon spread. “We sold the button through our magazine, the Rebel Worker, and a lot at the Mole Hole, a button shop in the Wells Street area which at that time was a big destination for young people,” Rosemont says. “It was owned by Earl Siegel who was a founder of Chicago’s underground newspaper the Seed [cover shown above]. People wandered up and down Wells Street all weekend, going into head shops, buying oddball trinkets or books on Malcolm X, trying to buy LSD. One of our good friends, Lester Dore, also worked on the Seed and got the slogan into his weird 60s graphics. We also sold them at demos in Chicago, New York and distributed them to other radical bookstores all over the country.” The Rosemonts’ circle also included people working at Second City, the improv comedy club that became world famous, the Chicago Tribune, the Black Panthers and the legendary broadcaster Studs Terkel. “I guess for people who didn’t have the internet we did have a complex net of connections,” Rosemont says.

All of which makes a compelling case for Chicago not just as the birthplace of ‘Make Love Not War’ but also explains how the simple, cheeky phrase spread from a Chicago bookshop to placards around the world. Even if Rosemont’s group was just one of several likeminded authors of the phrase, it was they who appear to have done most to popularise its use.

The full story of Make Love Not War and the other slogans in our top 20 was published in the February 2012 issue of Creative Review.

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