As the 1960s drew to a close and the world had just seen the first man take his steps on the moon, a new tumultuous era was beginning. From a major American political scandal to the break-up of the Beatles, the 1970s was filled with big events, making the decade one to remember.

Along with iconic movies such as Grease and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory hitting our screens, the 1970s saw punk and disco dominate the music scene and the world mourned the death of the King of Rock n’ Roll. If you’re interested in exploring genuine newspaper articles from this eventful decade, take a look at our 1970 newspapers in our archive. 

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The End of the Swinging Sixties

Naturally, the beginning of the 1970s meant the Swinging Sixties had come to an end. The 1960s earned this nickname from the youth-driven cultural revolution that emerged in the UK, in which art, music and fashion flourished. The Swinging Sixties was characterised by the Beatles, the miniskirt in fashion, the mob subculture and, in terms of politics, the anti-nuclear movement.

London was at the centre of the Swinging Sixties, with the Who and the Kinks popularised as “London sound,” and Carnaby Street became an iconic shopping area. The decade also brought about a change in values, allowing young people greater freedom, less responsibilities and changes in sexual and social politics. This revolution largely impacted young, middle class people, with many other social groups not participating in these cultural migrations. 

Many conservatives in the United States began to respond to the turbulence of the 1960s by embracing conservative populism, glorifying political conservatism and traditional family roles, which the 1960s had tried to move away from. 

The Vietnam War and the Anti-War Movement

important events of the 1970s

The Washington Post front page, Sunday, April 25, 1971

The Vietnam War was an ongoing controversial battle for the United States, with soldiers fighting in the fields and protests breaking out at home. By the 1970s, many Americans had begun to resent their nation’s involvement in the war, with many travelling to protest such as the April 1971 demonstration in Washington D.C. 

The anti-war movement grew throughout the United States, with protestors opposing the war on both economic and moral grounds. The public became more aware of the ongoing casualties and growing costs, believing that the war had gone beyond national interest and was restricting Vietnamese independence. 

On January 27, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords, which brought direct American involvement in the war to an end. In 1975, the Vietnam War came to an end. 

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End of the Civil Rights Movement

While the classical Civil Rights Movement took place during the 1960s and the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, activists continued to fight for equality throughout the 1970s. The death of Malcolm X in 1964 and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 ushered in a new era of activism, and the 1970s is often referred to as the beginning of the post-civil rights movement era. 

During the 1970s, African American activists made great progress in business, academia and politics. Here are a few standout civil rights moments from the decade: 

  • The Supreme Court case Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education took place in 1971, which upheld the right of students to take part in bussing to achieve integration.
  • Shirley Crisholm was the first African American candidate in a major party for President, and she was the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972.
  • Black History Month was founded in 1976 by Professor Carter Woodson.  

important events of the 1970s

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, changing the leadership of the movement in the 1970s.
Image: Flickr

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The Gay Liberation Movement 

The Gay Liberation Movement flourished in the 1970s, fighting for equal rights for LGBTQ people and the decriminalisation of homosexuality. 

In 1969, the Stonewall riots took place, during which members of the LGBTQ community fought against a police raid that began at the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar, in New York City. The Inn was raided by police officers attempting to clear the area of “sexual deviants.” The riots are considered to have ignited the gay rights movement in the United States, just in time for a new decade. 

The movement achieved immense gains throughout the decade, especially in light of the profound negative stigma attached to homosexuality at the time. Although Canada, England and Wales had decriminalised homosexuality, the United States was yet to do so, with the American Psychiatric Association only removing homosexuality from its psychiatric disorder list in 1973. Many people became more open about their sexuality, even though same-sex marriage would not become legal in all American states until 2015. 

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The Watergate Scandal 

The Watergate scandal was a major political scandal that took place in the United States and was one of the most important events of the 1970s. The scandal was made public after five burglars were arrested at the Watergate office-apartment-complex on June 17, 1972, and led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. 

It was discovered that these burglars were spying on the Democratic Party, whose headquarters were in the Watergate complex. Their first break-in proved successful, but the second time they were arrested. Richard Nixon was re-elected President in November 1972 and denied any involvement in the break-ins and his staff tried hard to cover up the incident. 

However, it was later uncovered that President Nixon had been involved, with two Washington Post reporters receiving leaked information from an anonymous source named Deep Throat. President Nixon and some of his staff were aware and involved in the break-in, and Nixon had used the CIA to stop FBI agents investigating. Initially there was no proof of his involvement, but then investigators found out that Nixon taped all of his conversations in the Oval Office, which the Supreme Court managed to get hold of. 

With the discovery of the tapes, President Nixon had no choice but to resign as President, making him the first American President to do so. His criminal charges were pardoned by the succeeding President, Gerald Ford, but many of the government officials involved had to spend time in jail.

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The Cold War

Throughout the 1970s, the Cold War between the capitalist West and the communist East was ongoing. Although historians debate the start and the end of the Cold War, the war is often considered to have begun at the end of the Second World War in 1945, and have ended in 1991. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963 and the humiliating Vietnam War, the United States, the Soviet Union and China all attempted to make an effort to improve relations and reduce tension. 

In 1972, SALT I was signed by United States President Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union. The agreement set a limit on how many Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles each country was allowed to have, but did not put a limit on the creation of nuclear weapons. 

However, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 led to an increase in tensions once again, with the United States supporting the Mujahideen of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union were hoping to establish a Communist government in Afghanistan, and the United States did not approve of the intervention. 

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Roe v. Wade 

In 1973, the United States saw groundbreaking legislative change following the Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade, increasing women’s reproductive rights. By a vote of 7 to 2, it was ruled by the court justices that the government did not have the power to prevent abortions. In other words, the court case legalised abortion in the United States. 

This ruling came following Norma McCorvey’s challenging of the criminal abortion laws in Texas, which prohibited abortion by deeming it unconstitutional, except in instances where the mother’s life might be in danger. McCorvey was under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” and was 25 years old at the time of the case. The judgement of the court came from the decision that the right to terminate a pregnancy falls under the freedom of personal choice in family matters, which is protected by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. 

important events of the 1970s

Norma McCorvey and her lawyer protesting to keep abortion legal on the steps of the Supreme Court in 1989.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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The First Female Prime Minister of the UK 

The UK saw its first female Prime Minister at the end of the decade. Margaret Thatcher resided in 10 Downing Street from 1979 to 1990, making her the longest serving Prime Minister since 1827. She was also the only Prime Minister of the 20th century to win three consecutive terms. 

Ted Bundy

In more shocking news of the 1970s, Ted Bundy was a prolific serial killer who confessed to 30 homicides across 7 states in America between 1974 and 1978. Bundy targeted young women and girls, committing kidnapping, rape and murder, and the actual number of his victims remains unknown. 

Many people struggled to believe Ted Bundy was really a serial killer due to his seemingly charming personality, handsome appearance, and law school background. Bundy did not fit the mould of the typical serial killer stereotype, and this did not go unnoticed by the public and journalists. His Florida trial in 1979 was the first to ever be nationally televised in the United States and interestingly, Ted Bundy made the decision to handle most of his own defence. 

To find out how the press reported on Ted Bundy’s trial in 1979, take a look at our newspaper analysis all about the Ted Bundy murders.

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The Break Up of the Beatles 

The Beatles are considered the most influential rock band of all time. Their split changed the music scene at the start of the 1970s and traumatised fans all around the world, after achieving unparalleled fame throughout the 1960s. The Beatles’ break up was sparked by a number of factors, including the death of their manager, Brian Epstein, in 1967, the domineering role of Paul McCartney, the strain that Beatlemania had put on the group, the use of heroin by John Lennon along with his relationship with Yoko Ono, as well as managerial disputes. 

During the second half of the band’s career, it was clear that the members were beginning to express individual styles, causing arguments about the direction of their music. After Lennon informed his fellow band members privately that he wanted to leave the band in 1969, it was on 10 April 1970 that Paul McCartney stated he was no longer working with the band in a press release. McCartney’s statement worsened relations between him and the rest of the band, and sparked a widespread media reaction. Due to legal reasons, the official split-up of the band was not finalised until 1974. 

The Beatles were a pioneering band in so many ways. They were central to the development of 1960s counterculture, as well as the recognition of popular music as an art form. They revolutionised areas of the music industry and were considered leaders of the youth and sociocultural movements of the decade, making their split a significant ‘end-of-an-era’ in music. 

important events of the 1970s

The Beatles in 1964
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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The Emergence of Punk and Disco 

What were the 1970s like in terms of music? The 1970s is remembered for the insurgence of punk and disco, two musical forms that ended up defining the decade. The two genres brought on a clash of cultures, both of them thriving in their own way and creating two popular, opposing styles. As well as this, the emergence of punk and disco represented a clash in race and class. 

Bands such as the Ramones, the Smiths and the Clash were prominent in the rise of punk music, a more aggressive, no-apology form of rock music. Disco music was popularised through artists such as Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, and KC and the Sunshine Band, taking influences from blues and R’n’B to create a new sound that would get people dancing. Disco was also at the foundation of Saturday Night Fever, a 1977 film featuring music from the Bee Gees and many other artists from the disco era. 

The “Battle of the Sexes” Tennis Match 

In 1973, the world watched a highly publicised tennis match take place between the former number one ranked men’s player Bobby Riggs, and the women’s top player Billie Jean King. Riggs, aged 55 at the time, was a self-proclaimed chauvinist, frequently boasting that he could defeat any female tennis player and that women weren’t able to handle the pressures of a tennis game. 

The tennis match was televised, with a huge 50 million viewers and was watched in person by more than 30,000 spectators. The game was one of the most watched sporting events in history and it was the first tennis match to be viewed by so many people. 

Billie Jean King was herself a strong advocate of gender equality and her game against Bobby Riggs put her fight in the limelight. In the end, King defeated Riggs in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, and achieved the $100,000 prize. While the game was so important in King’s career, the importance of the game went beyond tennis, with it being an opportunity for women to prove themselves as equal to men in sport. 

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The Death of Elvis Presley 

In one of the most shocking 1970s events, the death of the King of Rock n’ Roll on August 16, 1977 propelled the world into mourning. At the young age of 42, Elvis Presley fans all over the world couldn’t believe they were saying goodbye to their idol so suddenly. His unexpected death made front-page headline news all around the world, especially since he had recently been performing before his death and showed no signs of major health problems.

At the time of his death, Elvis Presley was resting between shows at his mansion in Graceland, and he was found lying face down on the floor. After being pronounced dead after a speedy ambulance trip to the hospital, a doctor performs an autopsy to try and find the cause of death. They discovered Elvis was very ill with diabetes, but he had no signs of having suffered from a stroke, lung disease or heart disease. The actual cause of death still remains a mystery, with some people having a hard time believing Elvis had really died. Some people thought he was still alive and in hiding, and others contested the way he passed away. 

The death of Elvis ended his era of rock n’ roll but his legacy is unparalleled. Elvis influenced so many up and coming musicians, including the Beatles, and had a great impact in pushing rock music to a prominent position within American culture. 

important events of the 1970s

Elvis Presley, performing his hit Jailhouse Rock in 1957
Image: Flickr

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