John Carter Brown Library: Drugs from the Colonies– the New American Medicine Chest

Last week, just moments after Matt Crawford posted his guest blog on Doing Early Modern Drugs,  Points got word of a fantastic new exhibit at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, R.I. that speaks directly to some of the issues Matt was raising– and will continue to raise as his series continues over the next couple of weeks.  “Drugs from the Colonies– the New American Medicine Chest” will be on display at the JCB through December 22nd of this year, and should not be missed.

Digby, Nouveaux Remedes et Rares Secrets,1676

From the exhibition catalogue, prepared by Curator of European Books, Dennis Landis: “European physicians, healers, apothecaries, and others who prepared and administered drugs for medical purposes worked for centuries with a treasury of materia medica that was familiar from ancient times, drawing on minerals, plant products, and other biological resources from European and nearby African and Asian sources. The discovery of the New World opened a new pharmacopoeia available to those healers. At the same time, global expansion brought with it an intercontinental exchange of disease. While Old World diseases were proving disastrous for indigenous American populations, the medical knowledge of native healers was gradually entering the consciousness of European physicians, influencing the treatments of traditional maladies known throughout the World. The exhibit includes botanical and pharmacological writing and illustration that resulted from this intersection of worlds, and features manuscripts and printed books that focus on the curative powers of drugs from the New World, chronicle the remedies developed for both Old and New World diseases, and include illustrations of the new flora and fauna that were advocated for medicinal purposes.”

The abortifacient Caesalpinia pulcherrima, as documented by Maria Merian, Suriname, 1719

Those not traveling to Little Rhody between now and year’s end can satisfy their curiosity with the fantastic online version of the exhibit.  While it may lack the Benjaminian “aura” that makes viewing early modern documents (and hanging out in special collections libraries more generally) so heady, it is a state of the art production.  Easy to navigate sections treat “The Transformation of Medicine,” “The First Aid Kit,” “Venereal Disease, Coughs, and Phlegm,“Pleasure Drugs with Healthful Claims,” “Alimentary, My Dear,” and “Women’s Health, Self-Help, and a Way to Wellness.”  Within each, a brief commentary introduces the relevant issues.  Images of selected documents follow (in thumbnail on the main page, but they enlarge beautifully), each accompanied by a curatorial note that provides information on the artist/author and the circumstances in which the document was produced.

If you’re a drugs historian from the Northeast and you’ve ever had trouble explaining to your family what it is that you work on and why, and you plan to be home over the Thanksgiving or Winter Break, you should prioritize dragging your kin out to see this exhibit– skip the pumpkin pie and football game!  The compelling images and clear, readable text make the complex issues underlying the “disturbance pharmacopeias” of the contact period crystal clear.  For the same reasons, the exhibit would also make a fantastic teaching tool.  Finally, for those of you following the American Historical Association’s discussion of the need to train doctoral students for jobs that actually exist, here is a compelling example of the power of “digital humanities”: smart, stimulating, and useful– remarkably like drugs themselves.

Jan van der Straet, Nova Reperta, ca. 1600


“Stars Don’t Fall”: Felicia G., Marty Mann, and Other Women of the Early Alcoholics Anonymous Movement, Part II

Editor’s note: We’re pleased to present the second part of Amanda Smith’s three-part series: “‘Stars Don’t Fall’: Felicia G., Marty Mann, and Other Women of the Early Alcoholics Anonymous Movement.”  New readers may wish to check out Part One first.  Points readers interested in learning more about Marty Mann or Blythewood should also take a look at this post by Ron Roizen.   For more on gender and the early history of Alcoholics Anonymous, consider this post by Michelle McClellan.  Of course, readers can always use the subject tags to identify still more relevant Points posts.  As before, our thanks to Amanda Smith for sharing her work here.

“I’ve got a dame here with a name I can’t pronounce,” Bill W. told someone whose number he dialed on Felicia G.’s behalf at the end of the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting she ever attended, in Hell’s Kitchen in 1943.   When he hung up, he told her he had arranged for her to meet someone named Marty.  “Aha, he’s passing the buck,” Felicia, who had come largely to humor her psychiatrist, suspected inwardly.  “Now comes the questionnaire.”

“I felt like a gangster’s moll about to be interviewed by the Salvation Army,” Countess Felicia Gizycka later remembered of her arrival at the address Bill W. had given her.  To her surprise, however, she found herself welcomed into what turned out to be a tasteful Midtown Manhattan apartment filled with books and artwork, by a woman named Priscilla who told her that the Marty whom Bill W. had put her in touch with was on her way.  Although Felicia’s father had been a Polish count, and her mother was a Chicago Tribune heiress and the publisher of Washington Times-Herald, the most widely read newspaper in the nation’s capital, her life had been derailed by alcohol.  Over the previous decade she had demolished almost all of her personal relationships.  By 1943, she was twice divorced.  She had lost custody of her daughter.  Several months earlier, she had (to use her own phrase) “divorced” her mercurial mother, and renounced the substantial tax-free allowance she had accepted from her family throughout her adulthood.  Now, in reduced circumstances, smelling of “booze and ancient sweat,” with her matted hair and threadbare clothing, her leg crudely bandaged after a recent fall, Felicia was surprised to find that like Priscilla, Marty, once she arrived, was welcoming, genteel and well-groomed:


Felicia, herself genteel and well-groomed

“She was attractive; she was like the friends I once had.  Indeed, she had known my cousin in Chicago.”  Without asking Felicia to explain herself or account for her condition, without asking anything at all, Marty “went right into her own story, which was much worse than mine. I couldn’t believe my ears. I tried to interrupt. She wouldn’t let me.”

If this new acquaintance reminded Felicia of former friends who had fallen away, she had even more in common with Felicia herself.  A native of Chicago the same age as Felicia, Mrs. Marty Mann was a “tall, smart-looking blonde” who had married briefly and unsuitably in the late 1920s.  Though her marriage had ended within a year, her incipient alcoholism had progressed unchecked long afterwards.  “Years of drinking and general hijinks had cut her off from old friends.  She too had gone to cheap bars to drink,” Felicia learned, amazed; “With more physical courage than I had possessed, she had twice tried to take her life.”  Marty only began to consider seeking help after learning that she had been heaved bodily down the gangplank of the Queen Mary upon docking in New York Harbor in December 1936; her only hazy memory of the four-day transatlantic crossing had been of Edward VIII’s abdication speech.  Unable to control her drinking, she had been unemployed for three years in the late 1930s during which she began the detoxification process, first on the locked-down neurological ward of Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan and later at Blythewood Sanitarium in Greenwich, Connecticut.  Returning to Manhattan in 1939 after more than a year of in-patient treatment, she became Alcoholics Anonymous’ first woman member when she began attending small meetings on Sutton Place.  Then Marty took up her life in recovery. Continue reading →

Doing Early Modern Drugs

Editor’s Note: Points today welcomes the first in a series of guest posts by Matthew Crawford, Assistant Professor of the History of Science and Technology at Kent State University.  A historian of the early modern Atlantic World, he is at work on a book tentatively titled “A Cure for Empire: An American Wonder Drug, Enlightenment Science, and European Imperialism, 1750-1850.” Over the next few weeks, Crawford will draw Points readers deep into his area of specialization, the history of cinchona, the tree bark from which quinine is derived.  Today, however, he offers an overview of the changing pharmacopeias of the contact period and suggests some ways that drugs might help us think about modernity.

The centuries after Christopher Columbus’ encounter with the Americas must have been an exciting time for all kinds of drug users in the early modern world. As noted several decades ago by environmental historian Alfred Crosby, the encounter between Europe, the Americas and Africa after 1450 resulted in the intentional and unintentional movement and exchange of flora and fauna on a massive scale – a phenomenon that Crosby called the Columbian Exchange. One result of this process – in addition to the environmental and biological changes outlined by Crosby – was the expansion and enrichment of both European and American pharmacopoeias.

Cataloging the Global Pharmacopoeia: Leonhart Fuchs, De Historia Stirpium, 1542

As geographer Robert Voeks has suggested, the “disturbance pharmacopoeias” that result from cross-cultural contact and exchange often make use of a broader variety of plant materials than the pharmacopoeias of the original cultures. Along with Crosby’s Columbian Exchange, there emerged what we might call a Columbian Drug Trade as well. During the early modern period in Europe, physicians, pharmacists, patients and other drug users gradually had access to many novel drugs including cacao, tobacco, ipecac, guaiacum, and, later, cinchona bark, which we now know contains the anti-malarial alkaloid, quinine. As other historians have noted, if we’re looking for the roots of the modern global drug trade, the early modern Atlantic World is a good place to look. Continue reading →

“Stars Don’t Fall”: Felicia G., Marty Mann, and Other Women of the Early Alcoholics Anonymous Movement, Part I

Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to bring Points readers a short series of posts from Amanda Smith, author of the recently-released Newspaper Titan: The Infamous Life and Monumental Times of Cissy Patterson (Knopf, 2011).  This historical exploration of the life of famed newspaper editor Cissy Patterson has earned Amanda plenty of positive press of her own (see, for example, Richard Norton Smith’s review in the Weekly Standard, here).  Newspaper Titan touches upon the drinking life of Patterson’s daughter Felicia, who then encountered Alcoholics Anonymous in 1943.  In this three-part series, Amanda focuses more directly on Felicia’s story; Part I, below, follows the road to her initial encounter with Bill W.

In 1943, at the age of thirty-eight, Countess Felicia Gizycka “divorced” her mother, the

Cissy and Felicia

Felicia and Cissy : happier times?

notorious Washington, DC, newspaper publisher and Chicago Tribune heiress, Cissy Patterson. Falling into old habits on that decisive wartime evening during one of Felicia’s rare visits home, mother and daughter left the dinner table “in the middle of the night, both of us drunk as skunks,” to continue drinking and bickering in the living room.  When Cissy began toying with Felicia by proposing to favor others in her will, and taunting her daughter for her personal failings as she had done many times over the years, Felicia finally exploded. “God damn you and may you roast in Hell.  If there is a Hell.  You’ve already made my life one long Hell from the time I was a baby, you stupid bitch! . . . And you can take all your Goddamn fucking money and stuff it!”

Legal Battle over Felicia

A Toddler, Notorious Already

Felicia had lived in luxury up to that point, but in other regards her life had not been an easy one.  As a toddler, she had become a pawn in the sensational international custody battle that followed the violent end of her parents’ marriage in 1908.  Her father, a volatile, hard-drinking Polish aristocrat, kidnapped her and held her for ransom when she was two; only after President Taft and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia intervened did Count Gizycki finally return Felicia, then almost four, to her mother.  Although Cissy had fought hard to bring her child safely home to the United States, she was a critical, unpredictable mother. One particularly nasty mother-daughter “knock-down drag-out fight, which included hair pulling and clothing tearing” persuaded Felicia to run away from home in 1924, at the age of eighteen.

To outward appearances, Felicia and Cissy reconciled six months later, but only after Felicia allowed herself to be corralled into a loveless marriage she hoped would end her mother’s authority over her.  But marriage and motherhood held little interest for her, particularly after she began to realize her dreams of becoming a writer — and discovered, at the height of Prohibition, that “if I had a drink or two, I could relax and dance, laugh, joke.  And feel popular.  Feel accepted.”  Following her first divorce, a failed love affair prompted Felicia to “get dead drunk that very night, and stay drunk for a month.”  Instead, the binge would last a decade.   Continue reading →

Ken Burns and Me– Charles Ambler’s Brief Career as a Talking Head

Let me admit it up front.  It was an indirect connection.  My local public TV station in El Paso, KCOS, decided to produce a short piece on “Prohibition on the Border” that would be tacked on to the third segment of Ken Burns’s documentary on Prohibition.  Judging from the relatively small number of comments along the lines of “hey I saw you on TV last night,” I’m guessing that not that many local viewers made it to the end of the third night.  I certainly didn’t.  But I set the record button so that I would be sure not to miss my own insightful commentary.

I found myself strangely reluctant to watch.  Finally, several nights later, battling insomnia, I fast-forwarded through the eminent historians (although it seemed to me some odd choices?) recruited by Burns to get to the really significant stuff—me.  After about 30 seconds I’d had enough and put off watching it all the way through for several more days.  Bad camera angle. Creepy voice.  Aging professor.  Hair loss.  Too painful.

Charles Ambler, Expert on Drugs

Continue reading →

Washington State’s Prop. 1183: The Iowa Dustup and Trends Thereafter

This is the second of two Points posts on Prop. 1183; the first is here.

Arguably the best available historical evidence on the consumption effects following a U.S. state’s privatization of distilled spirits sales derives from Iowa’s experience in the 1980s.  In March, 1987 Iowa abandoned its retail (though not its wholesale) monopoly on spirits sales.  This change followed Iowa’s earlier abandonment of retail and wholesale monopolies on bottled wine in 1985, which was preceded in 1981 by licensing some wine sales to grocery stores, drug stores, and other consumer outlets.  Harold A. Mulford and colleagues depicted the sweeping scope of these events in a 1992 Journal of Studies on Alcohol article.  “This shift from a state monopoly to a private distribution system,” they wrote,

constituted the most abrupt and dramatic increase in alcohol availability that any state has experienced since the repeal of Prohibition (Holder, 1988). Not only did the number of outlets rapidly increase from approximately 200 state stores to approximately 800 private off-premise wine outlets and 400 spirits outlets, but also wine and spirits were brought within arm’s reach of nearly all grocery and convenience store shoppers.  Sunday sales were legalized, hours of sales were extended, advertising was allowed and purchases could be made on credit terms.

No monopoly state had abandoned its control over retail liquor sales before, although a number had abandoned monopolies on wine sales in earlier years. 

What happened after liquor’s privatization in Iowa? Continue reading →

From the Hindsfoot Foundation: AA History Resources

Editor’s Note: Points readers who enjoyed Ernie Kurtz’s post of a few weeks back, which talked about the challenges and subtleties of “AA History,” may be interested in the following announcement from Glenn Chesnut, moderator of the AA History Lovers listerv and founder of the Hindsfoot Foundation, “a not-for-profit organization founded in 1993 for the publication of materials on the history and theory of alcoholism treatment and the moral and spiritual dimensions of recovery.” 

Psalms 18: 32:33

As its regular visitors know, the Hindsfoot site is an amazing trove of high-quality primary and secondary sources– reproductions of essential documents and images plus original, thorough, and carefully-sourced writings by a range of scholars, including Chesnut himself, Professor Emeritus of History and Religious Studies at Indiana University, South Bend.  Hindsfoot’s considerable riches are compounded by the addition of the materials discussed below.

From the AA History Lovers Listserv:

Bishop of Books, 1999

Ernie Kurtz has very graciously allowed the articles in his book The Collected Ernie Kurtz to be made available online for anyone who wishes to download and read them.  The volume contains twelve never-before published articles by the master of AA history, published in 1999 by The Bishop of Books and reprinted in June 2008 by Hindsfoot (ISBN 978-0- 595-52099-2).

FOUR OF THESE ESSAYS are now available for downloading (the other eight will be posted as soon as they are formatted for the internet):

Ernie is one of the most important figures of the second generation of AA writers and thinkers. In him we see the intersection between (on the one hand) traditional AA thought and the convictions of someone who has always remained at heart a committed Catholic and a deeply conservative religious thinker and (from the other side) the world of twentieth century existentialism and the great American intellectual ferment of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

For those who need their resources vetted by “real” intellectuals, David Foster Wallace owned The Collected Ernie Kurtz and annotated it heavily, as Points pointed out last spring– Ed.

"Acceptance is usally more a matter of fatigue than anything else." --Infinite Jest