report to the principal’s office before she came back to class. He had spent the previous day
warning students about the ban on wearing armbands. She reported to the office where, in the
principal’s absence, the assistant principal, Mr. Wiladsen, asked that she hand over the armband
to him. At that point, her tiny bit of courage ran out and she took off the armband. She returned to
math class but, at the classroom door, she was called a second time to the office, this time by Vera
Tarmann, the Girls’ Advisor, to learn that she was suspended for breaking the rule against
At the same time, at Roosevelt High School, Chris Eckhardt was being suspended for
wearing a black armband.
Mary Beth’s brother, John, wore his armband to North High School on December 17, 1965.
He was asked to remove his armband. When the principal said, “I would ask you to take off the
armband, but you are not going to do that,” John got the courage to say, “You’re right. I am not
going to take it off.” A total of five students were suspended: John, Mary Beth, Chris Eckhardt,
Bruce Clark, and Chris Singer. Hope and Paul Tinker, in fifth and second grades, wore armbands
the same day that Mary Beth did, but they were not suspended.
Des Moines newspapers supported the students. The Des Moines Register published a letter
from a Lieutenant Corporal in the Marines, saying that young people have a right to express their
values. The Des Moines Register’s editorial board supported the students’ actions. The Quaker
community stood with the students as well. John received support from his classmates; a member
of the football team stood up for him, telling students who were heckling John about the armband,
“Guys, we have our rights in this country. John has a right to express his view.”
But the Tinker family also experienced actions that were not supportive. Red paint was
thrown at their home and car. One person wrote in a letter that she “wanted to vomit” when she
saw Mary Beth’s photograph in the paper. On Christmas Eve, the family received a bomb threat.
And Mary Beth received a telephone call from a woman who threatened to kill her. Other students
were harassed as well, including the boys at Roosevelt, who were threatened by the gym teacher
during class and attacked off school grounds by students the day that they wore the armbands.
But by the time the five students returned to school following Christmas vacation, the
ACLU of Iowa had entered the case on behalf of Mary Beth, John, and Chris Eckhardt. On the
advice of their attorney, Dan Johnston, the students did not wear the armbands when they returned
to school, but decided to wear black clothing for the remainder of the school year to continue their
The attorney and the students, along with their families, attended the January meeting of
the school board, where Dr. Tinker, Mary Beth’s and John’s mother, told the members that she
and Reverend Tinker did not raise their children to be defiant, but they supported the ways they
expressed their opinions about their government’s actions in Vietnam. The ACLU argued that
students have the right to wear buttons, medals and armbands as symbolic speech, protected under
the First Amendment. Although their attorney also argued that other students had been allowed
symbolic speech in the Des Moines schools, the School Board voted to continue the ban.
Following the meeting, the ACLU filed for an injunction restraining the school officials
from enforcing the ban. The federal district court dismissed the complaint for an injunction and
ruled that the school officials acted out of a reasonable fear that wearing armbands would create a
disruption at school.5 The Eight Circuit affirmed.6 During the same year, 1966, a decision by the
Fifth Circuit, Burnside v. Byars, held that school officials in Mississippi could not prohibit students
5 Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 258 F.Supp. 971, 973 (S.D. Iowa 1966), rev’d, 393 U.S. 503.
6 Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 383 F.2d 988 (8th Cir. 1967), rev’d, 393 U.S. 503.