Stories of Synanon, Part One

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Jordan Mylet. Mylet is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of California, San Diego. This is the first of a series of oral histories Mylet is working on with former members of Synanon. More will run on Points in the future. 

When Synanon is remembered at all today, it is as a “vindictive” and “violent cult,” whose methods still lie at the heart of destructive “tough love” programs for recovering drug addicts and problem teens. These exposés detail how Charles (“Chuck”) Dederich, who founded the group for alcoholics and addicts in 1958, forced his followers to shave their heads, switch romantic partners, and verbally abuse one another in a form of attack therapy called the “Synanon Game”—all of which, depending on your perspective, is one hundred percent true.

Nonetheless, supporters of Synanon throughout the 1950s and 1960s—among them senators and congressmen, famous movie stars and authors, renowned criminologists and psychologists, corporate leaders, and civil rights groups—would have been shocked by the way Synanon has been both forgotten and vilified. By the early 1970s, the organization had expanded to tens of thousands of members (including “dope fiends” and non-using “squares,” in Synanon lingo), partnered with state governments to manage semi-autonomous Synanon prison wings, produced a jazz LP, and donated truckloads of food and supplies to the United Farm Workers and Black Panthers. 

This summer, I interviewed one of the organization’s earliest members as part of an ongoing oral history project to capture the complexity of the Synanon story. Lena Lindsay moved into Synanon House in December 1959, when the group was operating out of an abandoned National Guard armory on the beach in Los Angeles. Much attention had been paid to drug addiction in California during the years before Lindsay joined Synanon. State lawmakers, responding to public outcry, introduced hundreds of narcotics bills, many of which recommended the first mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. In the mid-1950s, Camarillo State Hospital began publicizing its facilities to addicts, while the state’s Department of Corrections initiated plans to build facilities specifically for narcotics violators. Community resources for people struggling with drug addiction were basically nonexistent. 

Screenshot 2019-11-26 at 8.39.27 AM
Synanon House, circa 1962

In this interview, Lindsay describes her experiences in and out of California institutions in the 1950s and her life in Synanon until she left in 1974, disillusioned and frustrated by the changes that Dederich was making in the organization. 

Read more

Call for Papers: “A New Social History of Pharmacy & Pharmaceuticals”

Symposium and Special issues of Pharmacy in HistoryThe Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, and Canadian Bulletin of Medical History

The aim of this Call for Papers and ensuing special issues is to generate a discussion related to the underexplored social history of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals. This 2-day interdisciplinary symposium will stimulate/connect new scholarship as well as place a spotlight on emerging trends in the studies of pharmaceuticals, drugs, and alcohol more broadly.

Pharmacies are important social, political, and economic spaces. And many of the products sold within pharmacies (or apothecaries) exist at the intersection of legitimacy and illegitimacy, domestic and international markets, and medicine and recreation. Candy and cannabis, alcohol and cigarettes, in addition to multiple lifestyle products, are sold in pharmacies in the U.S. as well as abroad. Of course, these goods are in addition to other prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

Screenshot 2019-11-21 at 6.53.42 AM

Read more

The Upjohn Pharmacy in Disneyland

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Stephen Hall, curator of the History of Pharmacy Museum at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy. In it, Hall tells the fascinating history of a special exhibit at the original Disneyland. 

In the summer of 1955, Disneyland opened its doors to the public for the first time. As tens of thousands of wide-eyed visitors entered the Magic Kingdom on opening day, one of the first sights they saw was a small, unassuming apothecary shop at the corner of Main and Center Streets. This was the Upjohn Pharmacy, a company-sponsored store that told the tale of the drug industry then and now.

Screenshot 2019-11-18 at 5.50.56 PM

The Upjohn Pharmacy came to be through a string of fortuitous circumstances. Jack Gauntlett, The Upjohn Company’s advertising manager, recognized Disneyland’s unprecedented potential for brand promotion, and he approached the director of the company, Donald Gilmore, with the idea for the store. Unbeknownst to Gauntlett, Gilmore was close friends and part-time neighbors with Walt Disney (both men owned homes at the Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs, California). Disney had been seeking corporate sponsorship as a means to help him fund his theme park, and with an existing connection to the head of The Upjohn Company, the groundwork for the Upjohn Pharmacy was laid.

Read more

Points Bookshelf: “Dignity,” by Chris Arnade

Editor’s Note:  Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University. As part of our Points Bookshelf series, he reviews Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America (Sentinel, 2019). 

Screenshot 2019-11-14 at 8.36.59 AMChris Arnade was an unlikely candidate to write Dignity, an intimate portrait of the ignored communities dotting America’s landscape. His professional adulthood has leapfrogged from elite institution to elite institution: first, getting a Ph.D. in physics from John Hopkins University, then planting himself in Wall Street, at the nexus of wealth and power, working as an early “quant” (a trader)—popularized on-screen in films like The Big Short—for the next several decades.

Tired of staring at screens, reducing complexity down to data points, he expanded his routine walks around safe New York neighborhoods into those considered dangerous, beginning with Hunts Point in the Bronx. Arnade assumed he would find, as numerous colleagues suggested, violence, crime, and prostitution. What he did not expect was to be welcomed. A curiosity at first, Arnade, a white guy carrying a camera, lessened concerns when asked what he was doing there by saying that he was hanging out and taking photos. People wanted him to snap their picture, while others wanted a chance to tell their life stories. Surprised, he discovered self-sustaining tight-knit communities which produced vibrant street art, as well as places filled with fascinating people, like the man he met who worked with pigeons. 

Read more

SHAD Interview: “The Making of a Hero: Maria Legrain (1863–1945), a French ‘Temperance Apostle,'” with Victoria Afanasyeva

Editor’s Note: Today marks our last interview with an author from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Victoria Afanasyeva, a doctoral student at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. She is the author of “The Making of a Hero: Maria Legrain (1863–1945), a French ‘Temperance Apostle.'” 

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

Screenshot 2019-11-12 at 8.13.04 AM
Victoria Afanasyeva

I’m a Russian girl passionate about the French language and the archives. I started learning French when I was 15 and continued in the Kaluga State University, in my hometown. After finishing my studies, I started to work as a university French teacher and in parallel, I entered the French University College in Moscow to expand my horizons in sociology and history. Thanks to my history teacher, who was very invested and encouraging, I fell in love with archives papers and investigation process. I got a scholarship to come in France to finish my Master 2 degree in history, with a study project about Frenchwomen in the temperance movement during the Belle Époque. And today, I’m on the last line of my PhD dissertation about the history of Frenchwomen engaged in the temperance movement since 1835 until 2013. 

What got you interested in alcohol (and its history)?

In 2013, I was in my hometown library, thinking about a subject for Master 1 degree. I was looking through annual directories of Kaluga of the last 19th century when I found advertising for French alcohol. Literally amazed at the quantity and quality of wines and cognacs imported in my small city, which had about 50,000 people at this period, I thought that it would be interesting to analyze the evolution of the alcohol question in my region. 

One year later, I was looking for a scholarship project. Alcohol history in wine-drinking France attracted me, then I became particularly interested in the temperance movement. There were meager mentions about temperance women – especially about Maria Legrain – in academic studies (Nourrisson, Prestwich, Dargelos, Fillaut), whereas on-line archives revealed important and unexamined female activity.

Read more

Points Interview: “Radical Actions: Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Women’s Temperance Activism in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Australia,” with Maggie Brady

Editor’s Note: Today we finish our special three-post extravaganza of author interviews from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Dr. Maggie Brady, an honorary associate professor at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at Australian National University. She discusses her article, “Radical Actions: Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Women’s Temperance Activism in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Australia.”

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

Screenshot 2019-11-08 09.18.57
Dr. Maggie Brady

I was born in Bristol, England, from which I escaped to London and an office job at the BBC. After various explorations (traveling and working in southern Africa; working as a teacher; migrating to Australia) and after hearing an inspiring lecturer, I discovered anthropology. Fortuitously at the time I was a research assistant in a medical school’s psychiatry department in Adelaide, where I ended up participating in field work for a research project on juvenile ‘delinquency’ (as it was called then) and volatile solvent use (gasoline sniffing) among young Aboriginal people in a remote settlement on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain in South Australia. At the time youths were sniffing leaded petrol and developing lead encephalopathy along with other health and social problems. The work with the medical team there enabled me to forge relationships with the Aboriginal community and subsequently I was able to pursue my own research project for a higher degree in anthropology. I learned so much in those first few years of ‘immersion’, even though I did not realise it at the time. Perhaps that’s what fieldwork of this sort is all about.  

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

Living in that particular community – of Aboriginal people who had been displaced from their land by atomic testing in the 1950s – I could not ignore their history, and the social distress manifesting in widespread gas sniffing among the young, and damaging, ‘heroic’ levels of drinking among the adults, particularly men.  Fifty percent of deaths in the community were alcohol-related. So, apart from engaging with the present situation (measuring alcohol-related harms, helping the community to restrict local supplies), I became interested in when this had all started. When and under what circumstances did these desert people first encounter strong drink? How did they respond? How did they describe it? What drug substances did they know prior to the arrival of Europeans? Did they know of fermentation? Did its absence protect them from ‘white man’s poison’ or make them more vulnerable to it? What was it about their history and social organisation that meant community members found it so difficult to intervene in alcohol abuse or sniffing among their own kin networks?    

Read more

Points Interview: “‘The Fatal Gaze of This Moral Basilisk: The Salvation Army’s War on Drink in Victorian Britain,” with Steven Spencer

Editor’s Note: This week we continue with a special three-post extravaganza of author interviews from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Steven Spencer, author of “‘The Fatal Gaze of This Moral Basilisk’: The Salvation Army’s War on Drink in Victorian Britain,” director of the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre in London, and an Honorary Fellow in the School of History, Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester.

Screenshot 2019-11-05 at 9.42.18 AM
Steven Spencer (Photo  ©Alistair Kerr, Creative Mongrel)

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

After completing an MA in history, I trained as an archivist at University College London in 2006-2008 and had worked in a range of archives before I came to work for The Salvation Army in 2009. I’m the Director of The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, where we hold archives, objects and books relating to the history of The Salvation Army from its origins in the 1860s (and even earlier!) up to the present day. As the International Heritage Centre we hold material on The Salvation Army all over the world. 

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

My interest in the history of the temperance movement is relatively recent. The Salvation Army was invited by the University of Preston’s Demon Drink project to give a paper at their “Radical Temperance” conference in 2018. I presented a paper on the history of The Salvation Army’s stance on alcohol and my colleague gave a paper on The Salvation Army’s contemporary work in addressing alcoholism and continued commitment to abstinence from alcohol.

I must confess that up until this point, I hadn’t given much thought to the wider temperance movement but, as I began the research for my paper, I was absolutely fascinated by its scope and scale in the UK and USA in the C19th and early C20th. Temperance has been considered one of the most significant social campaigns of the period and became a mainstream political issue, culminating of course with prohibition in the USA. I also became aware of the absence of research on The Salvation Army’s total abstinence stance or on its role in the wider temperance movement.

Read more

Points Interview: “‘A Good Advertisement for Teetotalers’: Polar Explorers and Debates over the Health Effects of Alcohol, 1875–1904,” with Edward Armston-Sheret

Editor’s Note: This week we continue with a special three-post extravaganza of author interviews from the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. The current issue deals with the topic of radical temperance–the act of not drinking alcohol in booze-soaked eras. Today we hear from Edward Armston-Sheret, a historical geography PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author of “’A Good Advertisement for Teetotalers’: Polar Explorers and Debates over the Health Effects of Alcohol, 1875–1904.”

Tell readers a little bit about yourself. 

Screenshot 2019-11-04 at 8.48.02 AM
Edward Armston-Sheret

I am a PhD student in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway, University of London. My research focuses on nineteenth-century British explorers and how they used their bodies in the field and represented them to domestic audiences.

 What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

When reading explorers’ accounts, I kept finding them use and talk about alcohol and drugs in ways that seemed totally alien to me. For instance, several polar explores talk about feeding their hypothermic ponies bottles of brandy or whiskey to warm them up (there is photo evidence—Google it!). This showed the degree to which some explorers genuinely thought that alcohol had warming qualities and sparked my curiosity in the subject. 

Screenshot 2019-11-04 at 8.44.23 AM
As Armston-Sheret’s research shows, it’s probably not wise to actually force your pony to drink alcohol. 

Read more