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Composite of Underground Newspaper Collection

Images of the Underground

Underground Newspapers of the 1960s and 1970s

In 1974 the Wisconsin Historical Society Press published Undergrounds: A Union List of Alternative Periodicals in Libraries of the United States and Canada in an edition of about 750 copies. The work of a graduate student and later Society librarian, James Danky, the book was based on the Society's collection of underground, today's alternative, newspapers, which bloomed in the 1960s in the U.S. and Canada but had mostly come to an end by the mid-1970s. The Society has one of the largest collections of underground newspapers in the nation, a selection of which are featured in this month's image gallery.

Underground presses are independently published and distributed newspapers and periodicals most commonly associated with the countercultural movements of the 1960s. The L.A. Free Press is widely considered the first true underground paper. Begun in 1964, it marked a new type of journalism that gave activists otherwise denied access to the mainstream press, a voice and means to spread their messages. Events and organizations active in important social movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s were reflected in the underground press. Topics included women's liberation, radical workers, science and technology, prison life, and communitarianism. Many of these papers rejected the rigid black and white columns of the mainstream press, too, creating distinctive and often colorful designs to grab the attention of readers. The Underground Press Syndicate was created to share and disseminate content among member publications. The surge in underground presses was short-lived, however, and by 1973, many of these papers had folded.

The covers featured in this image gallery are those included in Danky's book. As Danky compiled the bibliographic entries, there was a sense that it had to be illustrated so covers were selected from the tens of thousands of issues. The covers were deacidified and mounted on boards, which reduced but did not eliminate their origins on acidic newsprint. Most of the Society's large collection of underground periodicals is on microfilm and available for interlibrary loan, as well as being searchable in the Library Catalog (formerly MadCat).

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