Communism, Atheism, and the Birth of a T-Shirt

How an unlikely combination produced Reed's iconic fashion statement.

By Carol Yost ’67 | January 14, 2020

When I was accepted in 1963 as a student at Reed College, with a scholarship and loan, I was excited. It was a prestigious school. Coming from Albuquerque, New Mexico, in an ancient and beautiful but quiet setting, I thought this would be something new—although years before I had traveled around the world with members of my family.

Life there, however, was more than new—it was a shock. Reed appeared to be something like a hippie school, where students studied very hard and often shone in classes, but also experimented with pot and LSD, had on-campus affairs, and opposed the war in Vietnam. This was just when the Sexual Revolution was beginning, and I thought it started at Reed. My fellow students didn't like the fact that I wore makeup and set my hair every night. Even more, although some students belonged to various religions, very many of them had grown up with a resentment of religion, and looked with horror at the fact that I attended the local Methodist church.

As the granddaughter of a Methodist minister, it seemed natural to me. I also came from a Republican family, very conservative. I was upset about the free sex, which I had been taught was wrong. The one thing my fellow students sold me on was the opposition to the Vietnam War, and I was very proud to march, with my "proper" dress, hair, and makeup, carrying a sign, alongside my sweatshirt-and-jeans-clad colleagues. I would show those Portlanders, who had a conservative background just like mine, that not everybody who opposed the war was a hippie.

I still was made fun of for my religion in particular. The story spread that I decided to come to Reed after my mother and I went to church and prayed about it; this was stuff for jokes. One time, however, it was joked about in a way that felt good to me. A fellow student, Phil Pincus ’69, a lively person, once said to me while gesticulating wildly, "Oh, Carol!" He said another Reedie had spilled Coca Cola all over his shirt, pants, and shoes. "Oh, Phil," I exclaimed, "what should we do to him?!" "Well," Phil intoned, "I think you should pray-y-y for him," drawing the word out. I loved it. 

Then I decided to go over the top with a dramatic personal statement. In the milder weather, I started coming into the Commons for Sunday dinner (a tradition with the Commons even though most students weren't religious, and many came from a Jewish background) wearing my off-white, very short lace chemise dress, with white crocheted gloves, white pillbox hat and veil, white clutch purse, flesh-colored stockings, and white shoes. Obviously I'd been at church. Others, who had probably just gotten up, wore mostly old sweatshirts and jeans, with untamed hair. No one said anything. Brotherly love, however, was not my motivation. I wanted to show off my slender figure and my religion, both, and shame those Reedies who disapproved of religion. What we all really needed to do was try to understand each other.

One of my favorite times was the annual college community Passover seder, to which all were welcome, when a small group of students and faculty played the family, and read from the book indicating the order of the seder. Students waited on fellow students at tables in a large side room; the person who waited on my table one year was Catholic. Commons cooked kosher food. I think we all loved the experience. (Incidentally, that's how I came to care for matzoh.)

In fact, despite all the mishaps, I had friends at Reed, and many good times; I remember them with gratitude to this day.

Well, Reed got to have quite a reputation in conservative Portland. The college had no slogan, but Portlanders thought it was "Communism, Atheism, and Free Love." I remember being on a bus once, asking the driver whether or not he stopped at Reed College. “Yeah. Wish I didn’t,” he muttered.

The Reed faculty and administration no doubt had varying viewpoints, but the college was noted for encouraging free thought and lively debate. The student body also was very affected by the great issues of the ’60s, some of which remain relevant to this day. Among the students generally there was a strong tilt to the left, and an objection to many traditional values.

Reed's sweatshirt design then was the most beautiful I've ever seen. It had a design in white on a solid color; there was a variety of gorgeous colors to choose from. It had just a small, elegant griffin on the upper left, with "Reed College," in perfect Gothic script, gently curving above and below it. The griffin was in a medallion with a simple circular frame around it—but right where you'd expect to see a Latin slogan or a few words like "Courage, Persistence, Dedication to Truth," within the frame around the medallion, there was nothing.

My roommate one year, Maurine Ness ’67, thought that Reed might as well have the slogan Portlanders had crafted for it. She contacted Mr. Al's Man Shop, Reed's local sweatshirt-maker, with the idea. He created a whole batch of shirts with the original Reed design, but with one addition—within the frame of the medallion, in Gothic script just like that of our college name, evenly spaced around the griffin, were the words: Communism, Atheism, Free Love.

If you looked at the overall drift of viewpoints on campus, there seemed to be a lot of truth to the slogan, although of course not everybody would have been represented by it. As a person who believed in none of these things, I felt perfectly suited to be the main salesperson. And everyone wanted one of these sweatshirts. Sales were brisk. I think we sold them at cost. Then we all left for winter break.

Back home in Albuquerque, I got a call from Mark G. Loeb ’65, student body president. He spoke to me about the shirts. "Am I in trouble?" I gasped. "Oh, nobody's in trouble, Carol," Mark said kindly. But the shirts were libelous. We could keep the ones we had, but couldn't sell any more, and were asked not to wear them.

They're collector’s items now. I still have mine. I believe I recall a departing Reed president receiving one as a final gift, and, of course, he cheerfully accepted it.

The late Mark Gordon Loeb, a literature major, went on to be a popular and influential rabbi in Maryland. He promoted many liberal causes such as a ban on capital punishment, and was honored for his advocacy of interfaith dialogue.

Editor's note: The history of our infamous unofficial tongue-in-cheek motto dates back to Reed's earliest days, as described in an excellent piece by John Sheehy ’82, "What's communism, atheism, and free love got to do with it?" I am happy to report that the Reed Bookstore still stocks the t-shirt.

Tags: Reed History