Elizabeth Bass, The G-Woman at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics – Part 1

Editor’s Note: In the first of two posts which offer new additions to former ‘Points’ feature ‘Hidden Figures of Drug HistoryBob Beach explores the colorful career of Elizabeth Bass prior to her role as a G-Man within the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

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Criminalizing Addiction in Motherhood: A Modern Phenomenon

The third post in this three-part series on Drugs, Women, and Families is based on the valuable research of Jamie Feyko, who during my drug law seminar investigated how pregnant women with substance use disorders are treated in the United States. In short, they are blamed, villainized, and punished. The trend toward criminally charging pregnant women who use drugs with crimes began in the 1980s and has been growing ever since. Feyko’s review of major cases reveals the extent to which politics and racism drive this phenomenon. But she also contextualizes this history within a set of cultural assumptions about motherhood and pregnancy that leave many women with few options for treatment and care. 

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A Tale of Two Clauses: Due Process in Racialized Reproductive Freedom

For Women’s History Month, I’m so pleased to celebrate three women who have each, through their original work, taught me important lessons about the history of drug control. This second post in my series on Drugs, Women, and Families summarizes an exceptional research paper written by Lydia Wendel during my seminar in drug law last year. She identified two very different constitutional and legislative histories that defined reproductive freedom: one path for white women and another path for all other, or BIPOC, women. The U.S. Constitution’s “due process of law” clause appears twice, commanding both federal and state governments to provide it to all citizens. Wendel’s remarkable insight into how these words have worked to protect the rights of some women while forsaking others gave me a deeper understanding of this difficult and vital aspect of constitutional law. She arrives at a chilling conclusion: that these two constitutional paths are now converging to the detriment of overall reproductive freedom for all women in the United States.

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The Real War on Families: U.S. Child Welfare Law in the Shadow of Drug Prohibition

This post is the first in a three-part series on laws related to drugs, women, and families, written in observation of Women’s History Month. The series is based on original research conducted by three talented women who graced my historical seminar in law at Ohio State University during autumn 2021. 

Today’s post summarizes the excellent work of Karen Augenstein. As she writes, the inherent value of family is deeply rooted in U.S. law; yet in legislating drug control over the past 50 years, “the importance of family was forgotten in favor of punishing those with substance abuse issues in the worst way possible: taking away their children.” The paper covers three major acts of Congress (in 1974, 1980, and 1997) that form the basis of child welfare law. These laws prescribed punishments for parental drug use that led to unprecedented rates of family separation and an “explosion of the foster care system,” while parental incarceration resulted in “harsh, impossible requirements for reunification.”  

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The Instruments of Darkness Tell Us Truths: A History of Heather Edney & The Santa Cruz Needle Exchange

Editor’s Note: Today’s post in honor of Women’s History Month comes from Greg Ellis. Ellis and Heather Edney are currently writing an insider’s account about Edney’s early pioneering needle exchange work in Santa Cruz during the AIDS epidemic prior to the advent of protease inhibitors. Edney’s innovative ideas about harm reduction flourished in a male-dominated field and changed the face of modern healthcare and recovery. The memoir will be an imprint of Anthology Press.

junkphood - How to Spot a Coke OD
How to Spot a Coke OD, from the “Coked-Up Puffs” edition of junkphood, artwork by Brooke Lober, 1995. Image courtesy of Heather Edney

But ‘tis strange and oftentimes, to
win us to our harm, the instruments
of darkness tell us truths, win us with
honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.

—Macbeth act 1, sc. 3, l. 124-8

There is a simple principle in the field of harm reduction that drug users are the experts on using drugs. But what exactly does that mean? Strong governmental and institutional pressures to uphold systemic standards and anti-drug laws frequently foster mistrust between drug users and social service providers.

In her soon-to-be-published memoir and harm reduction manifesto, titled Sucking Dick for Syringes, long-time harm reduction activist Heather Edney recounts the history that led her to bridge the divide from the shooting gallery to the boardroom. Edney, who was instrumental in building the pioneering Santa Cruz Needle Exchange Program (SCNEP) in the 1990s, writes about the intersection of drugs, sex, and running an illegal syringe exchange. Her innovative risk reduction modalities ultimately created some of the most revolutionary and lasting changes during the infancy of the field. Her ideas and techniques have saved countless limbs from infection and loss, prevented unknown numbers of seroconversions, and introduced the concept of holistic healthcare to marginalized and criminalized populations.

Heather Edney operated in the world of drugs for much of her young life before landing in Santa Cruz, California, at the age of 19—where she learned about the fledgling needle exchange program run by a dedicated group of volunteers. Edney employed the skill set developed from a childhood of sexual trauma and familial dysfunction, quickly rising to a leadership position and ultimately creating an internationally renowned needle exchange model.

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The Way Back Machine—Marsha Rosenbaum: Women on Heroin at 40

Editor’s Note: In conjunction with Women’s History Month, this is the first installment in “The Way Back Machine,” a series of interviews with key theorists and practitioners of alcohol and drugs research, treatment, and recovery among women and communities of color during the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Through these interviews, Points co-founder and Managing Editor Emerita Trysh Travis works out some of the theoretical issues she articulated almost ten years ago in “Feminist Anti-Addiction Discourse: Towards A Research Agenda.”

Women on Heroin Cover
Cover of Women on Heroin by Marsha Rosenbaum.

When Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy #1” in 1971, the assumed abuser was male—probably a man of color, possibly a poor white man, but almost certainly a man. Women were known to use and abuse narcotics, but their numbers were small. As a result, theories of narcotics use, and the policy prescriptions that sprang from them, rarely paid attention to the woman user. Medical sociologist Marsha Rosenbaum set out to correct that problem with Women on Heroin (WOH), a field-defining study published forty years ago by Rutgers University Press.

Now retired, Rosenbaum went on to a long career as a researcher with the Institute for Scientific Analysis in San Francisco, where much of her work continued to focus on gender and narcotic use, especially the possibilities of methadone. She served as the Director for the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance from 1995-2008, where she took early and courageous stands in favor of harm reduction, marijuana legalization, and honest, science-based drug education for teens.

I caught up with Rosenbaum recently to celebrate the anniversary of WOH and discuss what lessons it might offer to feminist drug historians—including historians of the current opioid crisis.

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Zada, Gloria, and the Sisters: Excerpts from A Conversation with Dr. Metta Lou Henderson

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of Points posts during March in honor of Women’s History Month. Today’s article comes from American Institute of the History of Pharmacy Board Member Melissa Murer Corrigan, BPharm, FAPhA, FASHP. Murer Corrigan is the founding Executive Director/CEO of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Iowa College of Pharmacy. Passionate about leadership and encouraging more women leaders, she also is host of the MelisRxScripts podcast. 

Sister Pharmacist Mercy Hospital Chicago 1898
Sister Mary Ignatius Feeney in the Drug Room at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital in 1898. Sister Pharmacists helped to pioneer the specialty of hospital pharmacy. Image Courtesy of Metta Lou Henderson.

During March 2021, we celebrate Women’s History Month and recognize the significant contributions of women in history and society. I think it’s also a great time to learn more about the outstanding women who’ve played key leadership roles in pharmacy and health care. On my podcast MelisRxScripts, I strive to interview women leaders of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

I recently talked with Metta Lou Henderson, PhD, a research pioneer in the history of women in pharmacy. Women’s History Month is the perfect opportunity to share some highlights from our chat. In 2009, Metta Lou donated the Metta Lou Henderson Women in Pharmacy Collection to the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, and in 2015 she was elected the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) honorary president for her lifelong commitment as a scholar and advocate for the profession of pharmacy. Metta Lou also is the author of American Women Pharmacists: Contributions to the Profession.

Metta Lou is retired from Ohio Northern University and has had a long, accomplished and significant career in pharmacy. Here are some thoughts from Metta Lou on other women pioneers in pharmacy such as pharmacy educator Zada Cooper, pharmacy organization leader Gloria Francke, and Catholic nuns who helped pioneer hospital pharmacy.

This interview has been edited slightly for readability and space limitations. If you enjoy what you read please check out the full interview in Episode 17: “Take Risks and Make it Work” With Metta Lou Henderson at MelisRxScripts.

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“…In Preference to a Better Qualified Woman”: Remembering Nellie Wakeman—Pharmacy Pioneer and Women’s Rights Activist


Editor’s Note: T
his is the first in a series of Points posts during March in honor of Women’s History Month. Today’s article comes from Managing Editor Greg Bond, Assistant Director of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy and the Senior Editor of History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals.

“Whenever a woman comes into competition with a man she must not only be as good but considerably better than the man who wants the same job,” explained Nellie Wakeman in a 1937 article about “Women in Pharmacy” for the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. Wakeman, who in 1913 had become the first (known) woman in the United States to receive a PhD in pharmacy, lamented that “even then the chances are about ten to one that it will be given to the man.”

Wakeman was the first—and at that time still the only—woman on the pharmacy faculty at the University of Wisconsin, and she described the employment situation in terms that may still be all too familiar for many women in the workplace today:

“And if the woman does get it, her salary will probably be less than that paid to men for the same work; moreover, arrangements are sometimes made that whatever of honor or credit accrues to the position will be directed to some male superior or colleague.” [1]

Throughout her long teaching career at the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy from 1913 through 1946, Wakeman battled discrimination but was both a role model and a fierce advocate for women in pharmacy. In the male-dominated professions of pharmacy and academia, she routinely earned praise for her research, writing, and teaching, and she created a lasting legacy by encouraging her female students to pursue pharmaceutical and graduate education despite the prejudices of the era.

Nellie Wakeman Through the Years
Nellie Wakeman through the years: in 1903, 1908, and 1939. Image courtesy of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy.

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