The newsletter of the Naturist Education Foundation and the Naturist Action Committee.
Volume 1, Number 8. August 2020.
In 1952, an Oshkosh high school senior named Lee Baxandall was named Outstanding Wisconsin Teenager for his work in organizing area youth while a member of the Boy Scouts of America. Scouting remained important to Lee well into his adult life. He was an Eagle Scout, and he went on to receive the prestigious Golden Palm Award in 1955. He helped to supervise the Twin Lakes Reservation, where he expanded the nature studies program and occasionally put on magic shows for the Scouts. Years of Scouting helped to hone Lee’s leadership skills. It also introduced him to an activity that would later prove to be very important in his life: skinny dipping.
Lee Baxandall entered the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall of
1953, following in the footsteps of his father Raymond, who had graduated
from the University in 1924. Upon graduation, Raymond began working
for the Dean W. Greer Company, which produced and printed educational
materials. He became a partner and eventually took ownership in
March 1956, renaming it The Baxandall Company. Lee inherited the
company from his father in 1970, and it later became a critical site for
the free beaches movement, serving as the Free Beaches Document Center
beginning in 1976. The first edition of Free Beaches newspaper was
published in June of that year. Lee also published Green
Mountain Quarterly out of The Baxandall Company, beginning in
November 1975, with the magazine’s somewhat controversial Green
Mountain Quarterly: The Skinny Dipping Issue reaching readers in
August 1976. Green Mountain Quarterly became the template
for Clothed With The Sun, and later Nude & Natural.
Like his father, Lee served on the editorial staff of The Octopus, a UW-Madison satirical student magazine that was published from 1920 to 1959. Briefly resurrected in the late eighties, it’s sometimes cited as an influence for another famous Wisconsin humor publication, The Onion, which UW-Madison students Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson founded in 1988.
Interestingly, the theme of the November 1923 issue of The Octopus, edited by Raymond Baxandall, is “physical culture,” a term that American nudist pioneer Kurt Barthel would use six years later when he organized the American League for Physical Culture, the first nudist organization in the United States.
For the February 1954 issue of The Octopus, Lee wrote an essay entitled “One Whole Generation of Jelly Fish.” The story depicts the Lincoln statue that sits atop the university’s Bascom Hill as a walking, talking, thinking fellow that eyes the young coeds while fondly recalling an incident in 1893 when six of “his favorite” students unbolted the statue and sent him toppling down the hill. “In the old days, the students had had more life in them. A generation of jellyfish they were now.” Lee’s anthropomorphized Lincoln statue goes on to complain, “The best they had done in recent years was to daub him red on May Day.”
Was this humorous essay a bit of foreshadowing to Lee’s later years of activism, his admiration for Franz Kafka, Wilhelm Reicht, Bertolt Brecht, admiration which was often fleshed out in passionate essays in progressive journals like The Drama Review, Liberation and Studies on the Left, alongside such writers as Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman? Certainly by his senior year, Baxandall had developed a strong interest in the works of German playwright Bertolt Brecht. The November 1, 1957 Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reported “The successful two-night run of The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the University of Wisconsin’s Play Circle Theater… has been attributed to Lee Baxandall, son of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Baxandall.” Eight years later, Lee translated The Mother by Bertolt Brecht for Grove Press.
As a UW-Madison senior in 1957, Lee Baxandall penned an article in New Ideas called “Why Johnny Doesn’t Think” in which he asserts, “We are taught to memorize, rather than think. Our thinking is done for us; we are spoon-fed our knowledge and opinions in thrice-weekly installments.” He goes on to say, “Many professors are lazy, dogmatic and even a bit frightened; they would rather be aped than chance being made a monkey of.”
Lee graduated from UW-Madison with a baccalaureate in 1957 and a master's degree just one year later, and was recognized by the university for being a member of the Phi Eta Sigma and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies, the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, Cadet Sergeant First Class of the campus ROTC, as well as editor of both New Ideas and The Octopus.
Lee Baxandall’s passion for writing and social activism would continue to grow and evolve in the coming years, as would his passion for skinny dipping.
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Assembled and published for NEF and NAC by Doug Hickok, Doug.Hickok@NaturistEducation.org.