The Way Back Machine—Jim Baumohl, Advocate for Research about Drugs, Alcohol, Poverty, and Homelessness

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth 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.”

Most historians of alcohol and drugs know Jim Baumohl for two classic articles that examine alcohol institutions and policy history: “Inebriety, Doctors, and the State” (1987, with Robin Room) and “Building Systems to Manage Inebriates: The Divergent Paths of California and Massachusetts, 1891–1920” (1994, with Sarah Tracy). Few, however, are familiar with his rich body of work on poverty and homelessness—a polymorphous collection of research articles, white papers, and agency reports that basically map the US government’s failure to adequately imagine (much less implement) solutions to those issues in the post-Great Society era.

Currently Professor Emeritus of Social Work at Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, Baumohl began his career in the most direct of “direct service” jobs, doing street outreach with runaway youth in Berkeley during the early 1970s. With Henry Miller (no, not that Henry Miller!), he authored Down and Out in Berkeley: An Overview of a Study of Street People (1974) while earning an MSW in Berkeley’s Social Welfare program.

He worked as an itinerant researcher, consultant, and tenant organizer while completing his PhD, which culminated in his dissertation “Dashaways and Doctors: The Treatment of Habitual Drunkards in San Francisco from the Gold Rush to Prohibition.” This field-defining monograph reveals the degree to which innovations in alcohol services generally attributed to the vague forces of “medicalization” and “the Progressive era” were intimately tied to the culture and politics of specific states. Baumohl is now at work on a suite of articles that look at California’s management of alcohol and other drugs—and of the people who used them excessively—from statehood in 1850 to the closure of the California State Narcotic Hospital in 1941.

Like many of the folks featured in The Way Back Machine series, Jim Baumohl’s life during the 1970s and ‘80s featured a mix of political, intellectual, and research work. The rapidly shifting policy landscape created a set of conditions that invited creative, big-picture thinking as well as a strange mix of unabashed idealism and self-preserving sarcasm. All of these were on brilliant display when Points Managing Editor Emeritus Trysh Travis sat down with Jim for a two-part interview.

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Dropping the Facade

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.  

When I went to college (the first time), I left my home in Central New York to attend a Franciscan College near Albany, the state capital. With a scholarship in hand—and a career in the medical field on my horizon—I was confident in my ability to succeed in the classroom. Being away from home for the first time, however, forced me to confront a much bigger fear: negotiating a safe, healthy, and productive college social life. My biggest worries were alcohol and drugs.

Nancy Reagan
Nancy Reagan revealing. the inevitable consequences….

Fearful of parental reprisals, school sanctions, and, of course, a life of crime and addiction—all lessons that had been reiterated ad nauseum during the “Just Say No!” era, I had sworn off all substances during high school. But, facing college and the culture of college drinking made me rethink that approach. I decided that I was going to have to try alcohol at some point, and I didn’t want it to be my first week on campus. So, a week before my arrival, I had my first alcohol experience with a friend at a different college.

I really enjoyed myself.

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Review: The Rossi Murder and the Unwritten Law in 1916’s Wallace, Idaho

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is by Katherine Aiken, a professor emerita of history at the University of Idaho with an emphasis in social and cultural history, women, and labor. She is the author of Idaho’s Bunker Hill: The Rise and Fall of a Great Mining Company, 1885-1981

The combination of a salacious adultery story; a murder in front of eyewitnesses; and a circus-like trial is a recipe for an exciting tale. This is indeed true of the 1916 Rossi murder that is the subject of Ron Roizen’s book, The Rossi Murder: And the Unwritten Law in 1916’s Wallace, Idaho (2021). Herman J. Rossi was a Wallace, Idaho, community leader, serving at various times as the mayor of Wallace and as a member of the Idaho legislature.

In 1906, he married Mabel Rice, fifteen years his junior. Rossi soon discovered that, instead of the ingenue he expected, Mabel, in fact, struggled with an alcohol addiction. Although Rossi apparently doted on his young wife, prominent Wallace women declined to associate with Mabel due to her alleged drinking. Rossi believed that alcoholism was a disease, and he sought treatment for his wife on several occasions—but never found a permanent cure.

In late June 1916, Rossi returned from a political trip to the state capitol to find his wife had spent three days—much of it in bed—with a local musician and alleged bootlegger, Clarence Dahlquist. Rossi pulled his wife from her bed; slapped her; tore off her nightgown and threatened to throw her naked into the street. Next, he went to the kitchen and drank two cups of black coffee and then walked down the street to the Samuels Hotel lobby where he confronted Dahlquist and shot him. Dahlquist died the next morning.

Aiken Review Rossi Murder Title Card

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Addiction Lives Interview: Moira Plant

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of the “Addiction Lives” interview project, a print and online collaboration between the Society for the Study of Addiction and the journal Addiction.

Society for the Study of Addiction logo

Today’s featured interview is with Professor Moira Plant.

Dr. Plant is Emeritus Professor of Alcohol Studies at the University of West of England in Bristol, UK, and Adjunct Professor at Curtin University Perth Australia. Her main research interests include women, alcohol, and mental health; drinking in pregnancy; and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. She has published on these and related subjects in peer reviewed journals and books. Dr. Plant was the UK lead on the Gender Alcohol and Culture: An International Project (GENACIS) which now includes more than 40 countries worldwide. She has acted as consultant to the World Health Organization, the UK and other governments, the Centre for Addiction Research & Education Scotland (CARES) and is a UK consultant to the US Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (CIFASD). Dr. Plant is a psychotherapist and trains and supervises counselors.

In this 2018 interview, Professor Virginia Berridge interviews Dr. Plant about her experiences working in alcohol clinical and research settings.

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Call for Contributors: Routledge Handbook of Drugs and Literature

Editor’s Note: Points is pleased to highlight for our readers this call for contributors for the proposed Routledge Handbook of Drugs and Literature. Thanks to the Editors Kate Gaudet and Jay Williams for passing the information along!

We are seeking scholars of literature and drugs to contribute to the proposed Routledge Handbook of Drugs and Literature. The book will provide “a comprehensive, must-have survey of a core sub-discipline” and will be a resource for students and scholars who are seeking to work in this field. According to the proposed publisher, “The main goal of each handbook is to survey a topic or area of the field, explaining why the issue or area is important, and critically discussing the leading views in the area.”

cfp Handbooks Drugs and Literature

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Review of A Drunkard’s Defense

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

In A Drunkard’s Defense: Alcohol, Murder, and Medical Jurisprudence in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Massachusetts Press, 2021), Michele Rotunda has written a significant contribution about the history of alcohol consumption that will appeal to students of numerous fields, most notably scholars engaged in legal, medical, and cultural studies. Drawing from an impressive array of primary sources, Rotunda’s taut narrative, tracing the complex evolution of juridical precedents beginning in the colonial era that established the culpability of defendants accused of often gruesome crimes while intoxicated, is revelatory.

Rotunda’s extensive use of court documents, in particular, illuminates in exquisite detail the highly contested nature of judicial concepts like intention and responsibility, and how they considerably influenced verdicts in cases of alcohol-induced criminality. Did murder commissioned under the influence of alcohol constitute a deliberate, voluntary, and premeditated crime? If not, was the accused nevertheless at fault for willfully partaking in a vice that could disorder the mind and facilitate the perpetration of murder—an idea resting on deeply entrenched beliefs in American society about the immorality of drunken indulgence that knowingly caused mental derangement? Or, as physicians who were increasingly concerned with the physiology and psychology of intoxication proclaimed, was the impetus for murderous behavior exhibited by defendants vastly more complicated, requiring nuanced diagnoses that only practitioners’ scientific expertise and empiricism could provide?

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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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Profiting for Prescription: Medicinal Alcohol During Prohibition

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University.

James E. Pepper Whiskey Ad
James E. Pepper Whisky ad from the late nineteenth century. Source: James E. Pepper Distilling Company.

Whenever Prohibition reenters the zeitgeist through pop culture like the recent cable TV series Boardwalk Empire or through a historical anniversary, it seems inevitable that someone will produce an “isn’t this ridiculous” style article about the “bizarre” practice of prescribing medicinal alcohol. On the surface, the entire debate about prescription alcohol often seems illegitimate and merely a loophole that doctors and patients used to skirt enforcement of the Volstead Act.

As medical historians have pointed out, though, prescription alcohol is not merely arcane trivia.  It represented an early skirmish between an aggressive government and the collective efforts of the American Medical Association to assert its rights to distance medicine from politics.  

In reality, the status of medicinal alcohol resulted from negotiations between the state and organized medicine over the power to prescribe. Medicine already had enough prestige to weaponize laws against rival professions. Even critics of the AMA like pharmacist Henry Rowland Strong understood that it was seen “as a graceless and indelicate thing to criticize the medical profession,” and, he argued, the “political schemers in the high places of organized medicine” were always “quick to take advantage of this sentiment.” Strong feared that medicine would overtake pharmacy, and he warned:

No sooner is [the doctor] attacked for his greed for power and his unscrupulous methods of attaining it than he hastens to hide behind the skirts of the profession at large—the sentimental and picturesque ideal of the profession that the public cherishes in its heart—waxing eloquent about the sacredness of the calling, reciting its long list of honorable men and achievements, and setting forth its noble and disinterested aims.”

Critics feared that giving organized medicine the power to decide what medicines people could use would, in the words of Strong, “be tantamount to the establishment of a State system of medicine.”

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