Penn and the Peace Movement

Penn and the Peace Movement
Photo credit: University Archives

During the height of the Vietnam War, Penn students, faculty and administration held strong (and often conflicting) views of America's military involvement.

Campus activities such as teach-ins led by faculty members, student demonstrations and anti-war petition drives became frequent occurrences between 1967 and the early 1970s.

This photo, taken in November of 1969, shows students preparing for an anti-war demonstration on College Green. Today, you can find a permanent sculpture of the peace sign standing next to Van Pelt Library. At the time, much of the student discontentment was fostered by the University’s reluctance to take an institutional stand against the war. The Trustees declined to engage Penn in questions of national policy, and the University Faculty Senate decided it was “inadvisable” to pass a resolution that would have “committed the faculty to condemn military involvement in Vietnam.”

That did not stop students from voicing their dissent through newspaper editorials, placards and a special demonstration in 1969 called the “Vietnam Commencement,” billed as honoring “those seniors and graduates who will refuse induction.” By 1970 even Penn President Gaylord P. Harnwell voiced his personal opposition to the war, lending his name to an appeal to President Nixon to withdraw American troops, signed by 79 leading college officials. The war did not end until 1975.

For more information on this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at

Originally published on January 7, 2010