Think of Vermont, and it may conjure images of bucolic hills dotted with fabled hamlets inhabited by eccentric intellectuals, passionate liberals, earth mothers and artists. This predominantly liberal-leaningtoward-radical state was not long ago staunchly republican, with a social fabric vastly different than that of today. Yet, many elements of Vermont’s traditional agrarian roots remain. Tolerance of opposing opinions, neighbor helping neighbor, a disdain for idle gossip and a love of the land are all hallmarks of the Vermont way of life. Vermonters are by and large good listeners, and will eschew the obvious for a more studied view of things, in politics and in life.
The 1960s brought great change to Vermont, both demographically and politically. Phil Hoff was elected as the first Democratic governor since 1853. In 1965, the federal government ruled that Vermont must reapportion its representation within the state legislature. No longer would the legislature be comprised of one representative from each town; instead, the legislative body would be elected based on districting and population. The ruling was met with fierce opposition, particularly from smaller towns, but the federal mandate was compulsory, and reapportionment was signed into law.
What the new law meant for Vermont in 1965 was a sizeable shift in the voting power of once-settled farm communities, in favor of larger towns and the academically inclined city of Burlington. At the same time, construction of the interstate highway, connecting Vermont with points north and south, prompted a dramatic influx of politically radical thinkers and flower children, coming primarily from the cities; many of whom formed communes celebrating free living (in all senses of the term), and built a life close to the land.
At Bennington Museum, the comprehensive exhibition “Fields of Change: 1960s Vermont” brings to life social changes and norms of the period for those not yet familiar, while creating a living testimonial for those who were there. Drawing from a vast archive of illustrations, photographs, posters, galleys and print, “Fields of Change” honors the multifaceted complexity of the times, while applying a vibrant, sometimes humorous immediacy to the events and mores which shaped Vermont’s more recent cultural past.
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