The famous words likely were borne by Ashland resident
Diane Newell Meyer doesn't recall what prompted her to come up with the slogan that spring day more than 45 years ago.
But she remembers grabbing an envelope and writing boldly on the back, "Let's make love, not war!" She attached it to her sweater before attending an April 23, 1965, largely anti-war rally at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where she was a student.
"It just popped into my head — I remember I started giggling when I wrote it," says Meyer, now 67 and living in Ashland. "I know I hadn't read it anywhere before.
"There is no way to prove it but I think I'm the person who invented the phrase. I haven't been able to find it anywhere else before that time."
Nor has Medford historian Ben Truwe, who has done an exhaustive search of publications nationwide to see whether the term was used prior to the U of O event. He is convinced the phrase originated with her.
"She is absolutely the first one — I've checked everywhere," Truwe says. "It does not appear anywhere before the New York Times article."
He was referring to a lengthy article by writer Mitchel Levitas in the May 9, 1965, edition of The New York Times Magazine. Levitas attended and wrote about the all-night debate that drew some 3,000 feisty students, politicians and educators to the Erb Memorial Student Union.
"A pert coed decorated her sweater with a card that carried the sensible entreaty: 'Let's make love, not war,' " wrote Levitas at the outset of his article, which drew a national audience.
Although The Times did not identify Meyer, she and her slogan made the April 25, 1965, edition of the Sunday Eugene Register-Guard newspaper.
The paper's legendary photographer Wayne Eastburn, now 78 and retired in Eugene, recalls the event at the university.
"I remember seeing her sign and taking the picture," he says, adding he shot it because he hadn't seen the slogan before at earlier war protests he had covered. Eastburn retired in 2008 after 45 years at the paper.
"I'm sure I sent that picture out on AP back then," he says, noting The Associated Press would have distributed it nationally.
"But that event wasn't heated like a lot of them, just some cat calls and things like that," he adds. "There were some protests at the university that got real heated. I remember being tear-gassed on two different occasions."
In the Times article, Levitas noted that U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse, D-Ore., warmed up the event with his fiery words. The former dean of the U of O law school was the first to speak and spent 90 minutes blistering those supporting the war.
"If words were bullets, he would have defeated the administration single-handed," Levitas wrote.
In fact, only Morse and fellow Democrat Sen. Ernest Gruening of Alaska voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on Aug. 7, 1964. Named after a confrontation between U.S. and North Vietnamese ships in that area, the act authorized President Lyndon Johnson to take military action in Vietnam without a declaration of war. The conflict would claim more than 58,000 American lives, as well as countless Vietnamese lives.
Hailing from Portland, Meyer was 22 years old in 1965 and keenly interested in politics and the war. She would earn a bachelor's degree in anthropology in Eugene and later a master's degree in environmental studies at what is now Southern Oregon University in Ashland.
"I was paying attention to everything, so I just gravitated to those events," she says. "I wasn't a hippie."
Like most young people, she was looking for answers to hard questions.
"The battle over the Vietnam war was drawn along generational lines," she recalls. "My dad was a (Barry) Goldwater Republican. My uncle had been a master sergeant in the Army. That made for interesting honing of your tools at family reunions."
Suffice it to say her father and uncle were not wearing the same slogan she wore.
In any case, the slogan did go national by May 1965 when activists Penelope and Franklin Rosemont printed thousands of "Make Love, Not War" buttons in Chicago and distributed them at a Mother's Day peace march.
"I can't prove it but I think I came up with it," Meyer reiterates, adding she is happy that it did find a place in the cultural lexicon.
But Meyer, who is quick to observe she hasn't mellowed politically, jokes that she has one small regret: She didn't get any royalties.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.