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The Daily
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1959: Youths run wild in the streets of Madison
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With almost no serious violent crime in 1959 (no murders, only one manslaughter), Madison's major public safety issue involved gangs of young toughs in nylon jackets on State Street.

"It is probable that the average Madison citizen thinks of State Street as the focal point for Madison's teenage delinquent youth," a Youth Commission report stated. "State Street has long been the object for official concern by at least several of Madison's agencies."

The Commission sponsored the Madison Delinquent Prevention Study, and sent former grad student Bernard Stombras to spend six months hanging around the gangs - distinct groups with their own insignia and rules. On May 23, 1959, he delivered his confidential report, marked "Not For Release - For Committee Use Only."

Stombras, identified only as "the detached worker," pegged most gang members as having an emotional maturity level of about 13 years old, with a penchant for threatening violence. Sex, he said, was "certainly not an all-pervading subject to this group," coming in third behind underage drinking and fighting.

"But when sex is discussed it is frequently in homosexual terms and about various homosexual propositions," Stombras continued. "This is always done in an insulting or kidding fashion with some free-floating anxiety evidenced when it is discussed."

The report said these youths "do not have high regard for the virtue of virginity, and feel that if you are going to play around with sex it is rather silly to pet and go part of the way when it's much less frustrating to go all the way. Their sex education is miserable, and many examples could be given substantiating this."

Stombras named the Uptowners as the city's leading gang. He reported that "petty thievery is seemingly condoned, but it doesn't appear that the group itself was formed to plan any aggressive acts in the community."


Stu Levitan is a radio host, labor arbitrator and author of Madison: The Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, Vol. 1 (UW Press, 2006).

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