The Height of Hippiedom

Ruth Marner ’86 caught my attention in your Spring 2020 issue with her longing to experience Grinnell’s campus at the height of hippiedom. I believe I witnessed the beginning from my office window during New Student Days in the fall of 1960.

As I looked out from my window in ARH, I saw a young man with long hair perched in a tree and strumming a guitar. He turned out to be Terry Bisson ’64, who later transferred from Grinnell. Terry, if anyone, uniquely deserves to be considered “Grinnell’s first hippie.” In a matter of days he was joined (but not in that tree) by a group of like-minded students, including Pete Cohon, Gretchen Geyer [Harris], George Wallace, and Ken Schiff, all class of ’64. Cohon, later known by his professional name, Peter Coyote, became the gifted movie actor and voice of Ken Burns television specials. But Terry Bisson — he and Coyote have remained good friends to this day — has done remarkable work as a writer of science fiction stories. Cohon was the most forceful of that crew, but Bisson was somehow more the key embodiment of the so-called “hippie” phenomenon.

This group, I’m confident, were the first of the “Grinnell hippies.” Their arrival in that fall of 1960 was transformational. From the first, they stood out. They represented change and entered into the trajectory of agitation that distinguished college life through the ’60s and early ’70s.

Author Info: 
James Kissane ’52, Professor Emeritus of English
Athens, GA
United States