Chris Finan is the author of the books Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior (Hill & Wang, 2002), From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America (Beacon Press, 2008), and Drunks: An American History (Beacon, 2017). He currently serves as Executive Director for the National Coalition Against Censorship and was previously President of American Booksellers for Free Expression. Finan received his PhD. in American History from Columbia University in 1992 and has been involved in anti-censorship efforts for the past 35 years. He lives in Brooklyn.
Editor’s Note: This conference summary is brought to you by David Korostyshevsky, a doctoral student in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. He traveled to Dwight, Illinois, in mid-July to attend the ADHS off-year “I’ve Been to Dwight” conference, and has provided this account of his time there. Thanks David!
On July 14-18, 2016, a group of international alcohol and drug historians descended upon the village of Dwight, Illinois, for an ADHS off-year conference. Conference organizers selected Dwight because 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Keeley Institute.
Founded by Leslie E. Keeley in 1879 (and operating until 1966), the Keeley Institute offered treatment options to patients with addiction, usually alcoholism, including Keeley’s Gold Cure. “I’ve Been to Dwight,” the conference title, references “a catchphrase” former Keeley Institute patients “used to explain their sobriety.”
To make it easier to read, this summary is organized thematically. You can see the full conference program here.
There are about a half-dozen Little Free Libraries in my Washington, D.C., neighborhood, where the “take a book, leave a book” ethos lives in elaborate little houses that people post in their front lawns. I love them, and examine each one closely as I pass by on the dog’s daily walks. It’s always interesting to see what shows up, which books languish for days or weeks, and which books call out to me, begging to be brought home.
A few weeks ago, while Bruno investigated some nearby grass, I came across a tattered paperback in the Little Free Library near an elementary school. Its cover was folded and its spine repeatedly creased, to the point where it was almost difficult to read the title. It was obviously, at one point at least, a well-loved book. But it was the title that stopped me and forced me to slip the book into my pocket: Eating Right to Live Sober, by Katherine Ketcham and L. Ann Mueller, M.D.
Eating Right to live Sober was published in 1983, during a moment that James R. Milam, Ph.D., author of Under the Influence (co-written with Ketcham) and cofounder of Milam Recovery Center, called a “turning point in the history of alcoholism.” It was in the early 1980s that Milam saw alcoholism shedding its skin as a purely psychiatric disease, when it was beginning to be understood as a mental and physical condition. This meant that new treatments, ones that were more holistically attuned, were necessary to treat its expanding definition. “Everyone who understands alcoholism as a disease also needs to know what to do about it,” Milam explained in his introduction. Ketcham and Mueller’s book was “valid core material to build on.”
(Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by contributing editor Mat Savelli, a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.)
Yugoslavia had a problem with alcoholism.
Or at the very least, that’s what the country’s psychiatrists generally thought. During the Communist era (from the end of the WWII through to the country’s collapse in 1991), leading Yugoslav physicians routinely warned about the population’s rapid descent into widespread alcoholism.
Year after year, the statistics on drinking seemed to grow. Yugoslavs were consuming more and were beginning to drink heavily at a younger age. Even more problematically, excessive drinking seemed to be spreading to new populations, with women and the country’s substantial Muslim population increasingly taking to booze.
Editor’s Note: Points is thrilled to present our final roundtable on the television series that has given drug and alcohol historians the most to discuss over the past seven years: Mad Men. Claire Clark, Amy Long and I present our thoughts on the series finale, which aired on Sunday, May 17, and its meaning and repercussions for ADHS scholars.
Alcohol and drugs historians have long lamented the archival limitations of studying past substance users. Substance users typically enter the historical record through retrospective oral histories, the archives of hospitals or prisons, or popular books and media. All these sources have shortcomings: oral histories are riddled with the errors of human memory, institutional archives are usually limited to clinical and criminal records, and popular culture is distorted by sensationalism or artistry. As Bob Beach, Miriam Kingsberg, and Joe Gabriel have argued on Points’ pages, finding the “user’s perspective” is historically difficult.
I’d like to introduce researchers to another point of access to the past: Robert Straus’s Escape from Custody: A Study of Alcoholism as Reflected in the Life Record of a Homeless Man (Harper & Row, 1974), a classic text that offers a uniquely detailed portrait of one man’s chronic alcohol use in mid-twentieth century America.
NOTE: Today’s post is by Points contributing editor Michelle McClellan.
A recent piece in The New York Times about the wine-drinking habits of powerful female characters on television made me recall wine coolers, sweet blends of wine and fruit flavors that were packaged like soda and beer in bottles for individual consumption. Some readers may be too young to remember them—they were most popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. Looking back now, I realize that for those of us of a certain age, they could serve as a gateway drug, and not just because of their sweet, almost Kool-Aid-like flavors. For young women who were too naïve and uncertain to know what wine or beer or cocktail to ask for, yet well beyond the era when we would expect or want a man to order for us, wine coolers were an easy and at that time at least, socially acceptable alternative—which is no doubt what the manufacturers intended. By all accounts, women’s drinking has gotten more serious since then, and in more ways than one.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Points is delighted to welcome past guest contributor, Jessica Diller Kovler (check out her previous post here). Kovler is part of the History of Science program at Harvard University and currently teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the City University of New York. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, and Discover magazines.
Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand for the past month, you’ve undoubtedly thought of the recent Ebola outbreak. Even if you have a background in public health, you would probably avoid the New York bowling alley visited by Dr. Craig Spencer (even though the City shut it down the day the news of his illness hit the papers). You’re probably using extra Purell, even though we’re relatively knowledgeable about the pathogen’s mode of transmission.
News reporters have scrambled to assemble our patient zero. Even our most liberal friends are arguing for shutting down the borders. We are blaming and looking for answers.
As my grandfather would ask at our Passover Seder: “Manishtana?” (What has changed?) As a social historian, I wonder what makes the societal response to Ebola any different than our collective response to the Black Death, typhoid, polio, and HIV? In the past few weeks, people have compared the response to Ebola to the first cholera pandemic of the early-19th century, the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, the polio epidemic of the first half of the 20th century, and AIDS in the early 1980s. Perhaps, as some have argued, there is a formulaic narrative in how we respond to outbreak of disease. But does this narrative also apply to epidemics involving alcohol abuse (or, in the case of the disease I’m about to describe, suspected alcohol abuse)?
From 1915 to 1927, a mysterious illness befell millions worldwide. Its symptoms were wide-ranging—no two patients presented exactly the same—and the illness left many of its survivors in a catatonic, semi-conscious state. Those who “awakened” were left with Parkinsonism, psychiatric sequelae, and severe behavior disturbance. Almost as quickly as Encephalitis Lethargica appeared in 1915, it seemingly vanished 12 years later. Thousands around the world, however, lived long past 1927, imprisoned—some for decades—in their own bodies. The lack of attention to this disorder beyond its peak, has, in recent years, earned the disease the moniker “The Forgotten Epidemic.” (Perhaps you’ve heard of the disease thanks to the 1990 Oscar-nominated film, Awakenings, starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro, based on the work of Oliver Sacks.)
Yet the history of Encephalitis Lethargica is more than the tale of a forgotten epidemic. It is an illness narrative evoking shifting socio-medical paradigms in the second half of the 20th century that is uniquely tied to the sociomedical response to alcoholism.
Editors Note: This post is from Contributing Editor Michelle McClellan.
In May 1976, more than fifty people—celebrities and professionals from various fields—announced at a carefully staged press conference that they had recovered from alcoholism. The event had been organized by the National Council on Alcoholism (today the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) as part of its annual conference. In 1944, Margaret “Marty” Mann had disclosed her own drinking problem and founded the NCA to persuade Americans to regard alcoholism as a public health matter. On that May day more than thirty years later, actors, politicians, journalists, sports figures, physicians, lawyers, pilots, clergymen, even an astronaut and an “Indian chief” (Sylvester Tinker of the Osage Nation) participated in “Operation Understanding.” Arrayed in alphabetical order on risers in a hotel ballroom in Washington, D.C., each person stood, announced his or her name, and then added, “I am an alcoholic.” Consistent with the mission of the NCA, the event planners hoped to reduce the stigma associated with alcoholism, demonstrate that alcoholics come from all backgrounds, and encourage those who struggled with their drinking to seek help.
(Click on the image for enlarged version)
Editor’s Note: This post is from contributing editor Michelle McClellan.
In my last post I reflected on the complicated backstory of feminism, intoxication, and vulnerability, specifically in relation to campus culture today and efforts to prevent sexual assault. I speculated whether there could be such a thing as “damp feminism,” a way to allow, even encourage, women’s pleasure while still accommodating gender-specific risks. I’m not sure exactly what this would look like but I want to keep thinking about it and welcome readers’ thoughts. Here, I muse on what seem to me to be several important factors: the complicated developments of the 1970s, including the women’s health movement; feminist resistance to essentialist thinking; and the role of advocates.