A 1978 movie classic undoubtedly inspired the party in your question, Julie. I’m referring to Animal House, and more specifically the film’s, shall we say “epic,” scene in which members of the notorious Delta House host a toga party. The movie had a tremendous influence on the social scene of college campuses across the U.S. in the late-1970s, and it didn’t take long for UW-Madison to catch on. On September 30, 1978, approximately 10,000 toga-clad UW students gathered near Lot 60 on the west side of campus for the UW’s first official toga party, sponsored by the Wisconsin Student Association and Sigma Alpha Mu.
The party garnered much media attention, according to the 1979 Wisconsin Badger, with 60 Minutes and members of TV networks ABC and CBS covering the event. Though I was unable to locate a copy of the magazine you’re remembering, I believe a 1978 issue of Newsweek covered the Badger toga party as part of a report on the toga craze sweeping the nation.
In contrast to the stigma surrounding such parties, the UW event was reportedly well organized and ran smoothly. Several competitions were held during the day, with proceeds donated to the American Heart Fund. But the party wasn’t without its antics. The Badger reported that “one enthusiastic Roman climbed up the tent’s center pole and removed his toga, much to the amusement of the crowd.”
I’m just thankful Lot 60 was chosen over Bascom Hill.