This is the first time researching a post in my “Hidden Figures of Drug History” series has legitimately pissed me off. Usually, when I’m trying to learn more about someone like Joan Ganz Cooney, Lenore Kandel or Kitty McNeil, the fantastically-nicknamed “Babbling Bodhisattva,” my research takes me to enlightening places, where I can locate the influential impact these unacknowledged women have made on America’s long history with intoxicant use.
But over the past few days, as I tried to learn more about the mysterious Melissa Cargill, I became enormously upset about how overshadowed this talented chemist was by her larger-than-life partner, Augustus Owsley “Bear” Stanley III, the man “responsible” for the purest LSD in San Francisco in the 1960s, as well as the Grateful Dead’s famous “Wall of Sound.”
But was Owsley really the one manning the beakers? Or was it Cargill all along?
In 1963, Los Angeles County distributed through the public school system 200,000 copies of a stylishly designed, wide-format brochure printed on heavy paper. It featured illustrations by a Walt Disney artist and a dire message: Your kid might be on drugs.
Targeted at parents of teen-agers, “Darkness on Your Doorstep” used thick margins, modern typefaces, and crisp copywriting to present key information about illegal drugs. Illustrations and photographic compositions mostly depicted a young male desperately trying to cope with or escape from drug addiction. While exonerating the youthful drug user on one hand, the text urged parents to suspect and report him on the other. “Taking dope is different from other bad behavior,” it read. “Once a person becomes an addict, he can’t control his habit. His habit controls him.”
Editor’s Note: Today we add another post to our ongoing Hidden Figures of Drug History series, which highlights the historic roles women have played in drug and alcohol culture in the United States. Note that next week Points will be taking off on Tuesday to celebrate Christmas, but we’ll be back on Thursday and throughout the rest of the year with more great content. Happy holidays to you and yours from your friends at Points!
In his introduction to the collected San Francisco Oracle archives, Oracle editor Allen Cohen described Kitty McNeil, better known as the paper’s “Babbling Bodhisattva,” as “a suburban housewife, theosophist of the Alice Bailey variety, a psychic, and a lover of LSD and hippies.”
McNeil had first introduced herself to Cohen when she wrote the paper a lengthy reply to a question Oracle columnist Carl Helbing, the “Gossiping Guru,” had reprinted in an earlier edition. Helbing, an artist and astrologer who lived in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood (along with most of the Oracle‘s staff), asked readers, “Who then can tell us further of Him who was born on February 5, 1962, when 7 planets were in Aquarius?”
McNeil’s response, according to Cohen, was “a joint meditation on the inner planes with all the world’s adepts providing the spiritual energy and will needed to bring about the birth of the next avatar.”
Pretty heavy stuff for a “suburban housewife,” even if she was a psychic and a lover of LSD. “Of course,” Cohen wrote, “we made her a columnist.”
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Seth Blumenthal. In it, he surveys how schools, parents, and Congress responded to increased drug use in the 20th century through anti-drug abuse education initiatives.
In the opening scene of the 1936 cult classic Reefer Madness, Dr. Alfred Carrol speaks to a parents’ group about preventing the “marijuana menace” that threatened their children. Haranguing the terrified mothers and fathers during the meeting, Carrol explains that this “frightful assassin of youth” could be stamped out with “compulsory education on the subject of narcotics in general, but marijuana in particular.” Carrol argued that “enlightenment” was the path to eliminating this “scourge.” However, the focus on educating parents to “Tell your Children,” the title of Carrol’s talk and one of Reefer Madness’s other titles, proved more popular than mandated public school education. In fact, it would be decades before Americans felt comfortable teaching young people about narcotics in the classroom. This revealing debate about drug prevention and the tactics to stop drug abuse became a pivotal concern in communities across America, especially after drug use increased after WWII. This brief survey of congressional hearings and debates about anti-drug abuse education in the 1950s and 1960s shows that this topic became a lightning rod for larger arguments about the role of the state in local communities and the classroom, but also indicates the controversies and debates that can be fleshed out as I target sources and archives for this project on the history of public drug education programs in post-WWII America. 
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Dr. Chris Elcock, an adjunct professor at the Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3 in Lyon, France, whom you might remember from his article on the early years of cannabis activism published last month. Today he discusses the use of LSD in New York City in the 1960s and its effect on the city’s culture. Enjoy!
Eight years ago I developed a keen interest in the social history of psychedelic drug use and ended up starting a PhD thesis on the history of LSD use in New York City. I based my project on the premises that New York had been somewhat ignored in the scholarship and in the popular mind. When you think of LSD, you think of the West Coast in the 1960s and its colorful Haight-Ashbury scene. San Francisco certainly had a long tradition of tolerance toward Bohemians and eccentrics and it seemed quite natural that such a psychedelic scene should have blossomed there. But what about the Big Apple? As one the most influential metropolises in the entire world, surely the use of mind-altering drugs would have led to the development of a very complex scene indeed.
Editor’s Note: As a working mother of an active toddler, I don’t have a lot of time to keep up with popular culture. But a few months ago my husband and I finally watched Hidden Figures.The movieis well done, and it got me thinking. First of all, is there anything Janelle Monae can’t do? And second, what if we applied this same idea – revealing the hidden and important roles of women – to our own field of drug and alcohol history?
And voila – Hidden Figures of Drug History was born. Today’s post is the first installment, in which we discuss Lenore Kandel, a too-often ignored leader of the counterculture and Beat movements. Enjoy!
“When a society is afraid of its poets, it is afraid of itself. A society afraid of itself stands as another definition of hell.” – Lenore Kandel
Kandel, who died in San Francisco in 2009 at the age of 77 from complications of lung cancer, was an uncommon woman in both the Beat and hippie countercultures. A peer and a participant rather than a girlfriend or a muse, Kandel was one of the strongest, most poetic, and perhaps the most frankly sexual voice of the female experience of San Francisco in the 1960s. Though she published only two books of poetry during her lifetime and was virtually unheard of for nearly thirty years preceding her death, her small body of work attracted both critical and popular acclaim, as well as wide-ranging legal ramifications. Nonetheless, a thorough understanding of the artistic movement of the 1960s is simply incomplete without considering her poetic, political, and psychedelic contributions. Lenore Kandel was a pioneer, challenging conventions in the realms of female artistry, literature, and the fight against censorship. The countercultural canon is incomplete without her.
Editor’s Note: Points prides itself on offering historically-informed analyses of modern phenomena, and there is perhaps no better phenomenon for our collective eyes than AMC’s overwhelmingly popular series Mad Men. As the show begins the second half of its last season, Points managing editors Claire Clark and myself, as well as contributing editors Mike Durfee and Kyle Bridge, offer our thoughts on how intoxicants are being used in the series, what they mean to the characters, and what modern viewers can read into their use.
We bring you the first part of our roundtable on Mad Men today, and look forward to another at the season’s close. – EBD