Hidden Figures of Drug History: Kitty McNeil, “The Babbling Bodhisattva”

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!

Screenshot 2018-12-19 10.15.55In 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.”

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Hidden Figures of Drug History: Lenore Kandel (1932-2009)

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 movie is 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.

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