Probably Not Secrecy, Based on the Minutes of a 1942 Meeting

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is provided by alcohol scholar Ron Roizen and was originally available on his blog. The author would like to thank Paul Roman, Tom Babor, Gabor Kelemen, and anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier draft.

Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies, Summer Seminar, 1943

A single, seemingly inconsequential document has shed a little new light on an old mystery.

But first, a little background.


In 1993 I presented a paper at the Alcohol and Temperance History Group’s international conference in London, Ontario, Canada (Roizen, 1993).  The paper’s full title was, “Paradigm Sidetracked:  Explaining Early Resistance to the Alcoholism Paradigm at Yale’s Laboratory of Applied Physiology, 1940-1944.”  I saw it as a continuation of the historical story I’d recounted in my dissertation, completed just two years earlier (Roizen, 1991).  My dissertation had taken the early history of the “modern alcoholism movement” and the so-called “new scientific approach to alcohol” from Repeal (in 1933) to what I regarded as a pivotal historical moment in 1939.  What particularly interested me about the new Yale-based alcohol science group, in the following 1940-1944 period, was its preference for a quite different paradigm, namely an “alcohol problems” paradigm, over an “alcoholism” paradigm.  That same preference, I argued in my paper, revealed how fragile and open-ended paradigmatic evolution was in the alcohol social arena in this period.   The post-Repeal ascendancy of the alcoholism paradigm, as Yale’s experience from 1940-1944 showed, was anything but a foregone and ineluctable historical inevitability.  This was meaty stuff for my larger project – namely, my attempt at a sociological reconstruction of the development of a new scientific specialty around alcohol in the U.S. in the aftermath of Repeal.

Guido R. Rahr, Yale Class of 1925 photo

In the course of researching my “Paradigm Sidetracked” paper I delved a little into the longstanding mystery surrounding the Yale alcohol group’s sources of funding support.  The issue wasn’t central to my investigation, but – and in due course – it would take on added significance in a special way, which significance I’ll briefly discuss in the concluding section of this report.  In any case, I got very lucky.  My query about the group’s funding to the Yale University Library resulted in a welcome reply letter from library staff member Susan Brady, enclosing four illuminating documents.   These were four letters written in 1943 (see L-1, L-2, L-3, & L-4), the substance of which included revelatory discussions of two salient subjects: (a) the handling of outside donations to the Yale alcohol group’s then-new Summer School of Alcohol Studies and (b) the generosity of one Guido R. Rahr.  Rahr, these letters showed, was a generous backer of the Summer School and other enterprises at Yale’s alcohol group.  L-2, from Rahr to Haggard, revealed that Rahr was supporting the School at a rate of $5,000 per month for three months — summing to $15,000 (or about $208,000 in 2016 dollars).  These amounts, wrote Rahr, would “…completely cover the work which you are undertaking.”  L-3, from Haggard to Yale University Secretary Carl Lohmann, noted that Rahr had supplied substantial contributions in the past for the support of the alcohol group’s periodical, the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol (QJSA), which commenced publication in 1940.

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