Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from new contributing editor Peder Clark. Dr. Clark is a historian of modern Britain, with research interests in drugs, subcultures, health, everyday life, and visual culture. He completed his PhD in 2019 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and he is currently a Research Associate at the University of Strathclyde.
Cultural historian Mike Jay wrote an article last year which asked ‘why is psychedelic culture dominated by privileged white men?’ It’s a question worth answering, and one that Erika Dyck’s recent series on women in the history of psychedelic plant medicines for the Chacruna Institute does a fine job of addressing. As Dyck points out in her introduction, one doesn’t even need to look far to find female pioneers. Many of the “great men” of psychedelics, from Jean-Paul Sartre to Alexander Shulgin, were introduced to, or aided and abetted in their use of psychoactive substances by their wives and partners. In highlighting women such as Simone De Beauvoir or Ann Shulgin, Dyck’s introduction is redolent of Kate Zambreno’s polemical essay Heroines, which rages at the silencing, exclusion and neglect of “the wives and mistresses of modernism.” All writers themselves, women such as Vivienne Eliot, Jane Bowles and Zelda Fitzgerald have had their work side-lined, both deliberately and negligently, by the oversize literary reputations of their male partners.