Why Meths Drinkers?

For a long time now, my most widely viewed post has been the one I wrote almost 10 years ago about methylated spirits. I had heard a paper at an Alcohol and Drug History Society conference about people in Britain in the 1950s and 60s who became addicted to methylated spirits.

About two years, I had a sudden and brief uptick in views, and they were all of that original post. You can read about that here. On April 3 of this month, I had 1,151 views of which 1,120 were of the original post on methylated spirits. I believe this huge increase was due to a Call The Midwife episode which aired that Sunday and was about a meths drinker who was nearing the end of his life.

The episode described the symptoms of prolonged drinking of methylated spirits. They include rotting flesh, ulcers, gastritis, and gangrene. The show was preaching tolerance and understanding, even love, for the homeless, many of whom were meths drinkers.

For a few days following the episode, I had many more than usual views and visitors. By this week it is settling down, but I still am having slightly increased viewership. I really don’t understand why this is my most popular post, but I guess it is a topic that interests a lot of people.

Many years ago, prior to writing the post on methylated spirits, my most popular post was one I did on seeing a production of Mary Poppins in Israel. I also never understood why that was so popular. There is no accounting for what people will be interested in and try to seek more information about on the Internet.

Of course, posting this will probably lead to another temporary uptick in views. Maybe I should  find a way to stick the term “methylated spirits” in all my posts.

 

https://www.pbs.org/show/call-midwife/

 

See google console for past 28 days

Women and the State Department

Madeleine Albright died March 23rd of this year.[1] She was the first of only three women to serve as Secretary of State, which is the senior most cabinet position. Prior to Albright achieving that rank, Lucy Wilson Benson, who served as Under Secretary from 1977 to 1980, was the most prominent woman in the state department.

For my book Dames, Dishes, and Degrees I researched Benson’s life. Lucy Wilson Benson was born in New York City and graduated from Smith College in 1949; she also received a Master’s of Arts in history from the school. The same year she graduated, she married Bruce Benson, an Amherst College physics professor.[2] While in college she participated in state politics, working for the election of Representative Edward Boland (Dem.). In 1951, living in Amherst, Massachusetts, she went to register as a Democrat. A perplexed town official informed her that was illegal, and that no Amherst college professor had ever been a Democrat.[3]

Despite such discouragement, Lucy did register as Democrat, becoming involved in her local League of Women Voters.[4] In the post-World War II period, many women in a similar position to Lucy joined the League. League memebrship increased forty-four percent from 1950 to 1957, when it stood at 128,000.[5]

A sizable portion of the local membership came from University of Massachusetts faculty wives.[6] Some joined the League in opposition, consciously or not, to the faculty wives clubs  on their campuses while other women participated in both organizations. Lucy Benson recalled that in the 1950s women, most probably members of the Ladies of Amherst, that school’s faculty wives club, went grocery shopping adorned with hat and gloves. She did not.

Lucy Wilson Benson, Amherst College faculty wife, was the president of the National League of Women Voters from 1968 to 1974. She commuted to Washington and spent three days there every week. After serving as national president, she was Governor Michael Dukakis’ Secretary of Human Services. She then served as Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology in the Jimmy Carter administration. At that time, she was the highest-ranking female to serve in the State Department.[7] Asked about her position, Lucy said, “Don’t ask what it feels like to be a woman under secretary of state, because I don’t know. I do know what it is like to be an under secretary of state, however.”[8]

Despite her prominence, when Lucy Wilson Benson died last year, The New York Times did not publish her obituary. Her husband Bruce, who spent his whole career at Amherst College predeceased her. Despite never having held a national position, the paper, in 1990, recognized his demise.[9]

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/23/us/madeleine-albright-dead.html

[2] Jonathan Thrope, “Benson Paves the Way for Working Women”, Amherst Student, Issue no. 7, October, 19, 2007.

[3] “Amherst Women on the move, 1959-2000”, panel discussion, East Lecture Hall, Hampshire College, March 6, 2009.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Eugenia Kaledin, Kaledin, Mothers and more, American women in the 1950s. Boston:1984, passim.

[6] Personal communication with Georgiana Foster, undated.

[7] Jonathan Thorpe, “Benson Paves.”

[8] “WASHINGTON TALK: WOMEN IN GOVERNMENT; Tales of the Pioneers,” New York Times, November 13, 1987.

[9] “Bruce B. Benson, 68, A Professor of Physics,” The New York Times, March 10, 1990.

 

Taxes and Inflation

Two things I read recently reminded me of the central argument of my dissertation and Brewing Battles. At the beginning of the month, I read a review of Roger Lowenstein’s new book Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War. Eric Foner wrote the review. Eric is a very prominent historian and was my dissertation sponsor.

The other thing I read was from a newsletter I get from the New York Times DealBook. DealBook which is about business and economic news had a post that Roger Lowenstein wrote discussing inflation and how war can affect the economic climate of the country.

Both Eric’s review and Lowenstein post talked about the need of the north to finance the war which resulted in a myriad of taxes being a placed on a variety of objects and activities. Many years ago, I discovered that Salmon P. Chase, Treasury Secretary, and the Lincoln administration established taxes on alcohol and tobacco as well as creating an income tax. Although Congress repealed almost all the other taxes from following the end of the war, the Internal Revenue taxes on liquor and tobacco remained. These taxes provided over 50% of the federal government’s revenue until the enactment of the Internal Revenue tax in 1913.

What follows is an excerpt from Chapter Two of Brewing Battles that describe the efforts by Chase and the Lincoln administration to finance the war.

“From the moment Southern troops fired on Fort Sumter the Federal government required large sums of money to finance the Civil War. A Special Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress (July­–August 1861) attempted to meet this need by increasing certain customs duties, imposing a direct tax of $20 million on the States, and instituting an income tax.[1]

It soon became clear that these measures alone could not relieve the country’s financial burdens. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was hoping to raise $85 million and sent a bill to the Thirty-Seventh Congress. Congress, which reconvened on December 2, 1861, reviewed his request for a small increase in the income tax and excise taxes on manufactured goods. Distilled spirits, malt liquors, cotton, tobacco, carriages, yachts, billiard tables, gross receipts of railroads, steam boats and ferries, and playing cards all became taxable items. Signed by President Lincoln July 1, 1862, the measure became effective the following month.[2] By the 1870s Congress had repealed most of the excise taxes; the liquor tax, however, has remained in effect until today. The Internal Revenue Act of 1862 marked the entrance of the federal government into the affairs of the liquor industry; it has never left.

The federal government did not regard the liquor industry as an ordinary business. Alcohol was more than a manufactured item — officials saw drinking as a luxurious, even evil, habit that deserved a heavy tax. Ignoring the mixed history of ante-bellum attempts at taxation, collection, and sumptuary legislation, Civil War legislators assumed that an excise on distilled and fermented beverages would raise a large amount of much needed revenue.

Civil War legislation of 1862 established the federal system of taxation of alcoholic beverages. At that time, the government instituted excise taxes on liquor, tobacco, and other items as well as imposing an income tax. Most of these Civil War taxes were short lived; the liquor and tobacco taxes were permanent. Until the imposition of the federal income tax in 1913, liquor taxes generated a significant portion of the nation’s internal revenue and played an important part in maintaining the economic health of the country.

Taxation provided the context for an explicit relationship between the state and industry, a pattern that would become more common later in the century. For the liquor industry as a whole the relationship did not develop smoothly. Throughout the nineteenth century, mismanagement and politicization of the Bureau of Internal Revenue led to fraud and corruption. The government did not seek and could not maintain regulatory power over the liquor industry. Although several individuals devoted themselves to reform efforts, officials failed to develop or maintain long range plans for efficient tax collection. Within this context, the brewing industry developed a good working relationship with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and was able to hold the line on tax increases”

[1] U.S. Department, Internal Revenue Service, History of the Internal Revenue Service 1791-1929, prepared under the direction of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, (Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1930), 2.

[2] Ibid., 3; Charles A. Jellison, Fessenden of Maine: Civil War Senator (Syracuse, N.Y: Syracuse University Press, 1962), 149; Leonard P. Curry, Blueprint for Modern America: Non-Military Legislation of the First Civil War Congress (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968), 149–181; Bray Hammond, Sovereignty and an Empty Purse: Banks and Politics in the Civil War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 52; Charles Estee, The Excise Tax Law (New York: Fitch, Estee, 1863), passim.

©All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce without the permission of the author. Amy Mittelman, 2022.

 

Pregnancy and Academia

The March 16th edition of Inside Higher Ed’s Daily News Update contained a story with the headline, “A Win for Academic Mothers”. Evdokia Nikolova, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, Austin sued the school because the administration denied her tenure. Nikolova believes she didn’t receive tenure in the engineering school because she is a woman and was pregnant at the time of the decision.

A federal jury agreed with her and awarded her a million dollars for past pain and suffering, two million in further damages and another $50,000 for back pay and benefits. The four page article goes on to detail the points that both Nikolova and UT Austin made at the trial.

A few points that Nikolova’s legal team made stood out to me. An expert witness discussed the conflict between the ideal mother and the ideal academic scientist. A science professor must show complete devotion to their research, writing and teaching while a mother is supposed to do the same while caring for and raising her children. There are probably not enough hours in the day for the ideal women to do both jobs at the same time.

We often assume that misogyny and sexism are the most prevalent during the hiring phase. This usually means that white men are privileged over everyone else in getting higher. Nikolova’s case showed that such privilege becomes even more pronounced when colleges have to uh decide on promotions and other financial rewards for any given professor.

The most damning aspect of Nikolova’s case against UT Austin were the following statistics. In her engineering department there are 53 tenured faculty members but. only four are women. Since 2014 UT Austin began considering hiring Nikolova to the present, 9 male assistant professors got tenure while the two women who also went up for tenure did not receive it.

Nikolova’s case made me think about some of the women I discuss in my manuscript Dames, Dishes and Degrees. Arthur Schlesinger, a tenured professor at Harvard University, told Constance Green that she cannot pursue a graduate degree in history because she was a mother of three who lived in Holyoke. He didn’t think she would be able to make the trip and do the work. Green later went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for her pioneering urban history of Washington DC.

A generation, after Constance Green, Miriam Slater did manage to have a successful academic career at Hampshire college. At the beginning of her educational journey when she was an older student returning to school at Douglass College, she became pregnant. Her female professor and mentor assumed Miriam’s pregnancy was the end of her aspirations for an academic career. Miriam proved this professor and many misogynistic men wrong.

Nikolova story reminds me of an experience I had when I was attempting to gain academic employment. I went for an interview for an assistant professor tenure track position at Wesleyan University. It was going OK when the white male professor interviewing me asked if I thought I would be having any distractions in the coming year. I had no idea what he was talking about, and I tried to answer the best I could. After the interview ended, I realized he want to find out if he was pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Asking me this in a direct and easily understandable way would have been illegal.

I didn’t get the job. I don’t know if my failure to provide an answer to his ambiguous question made any difference in the decision. Years later the misogyny embedded in that interview is still stunning. In researching and writing Dames, Dishes and Degrees, I realized that I, as well as society, have many misplaced assumptions about how much things have changed for women since the 60s and 70s.While it is true that many women have made tremendous strides in in professional employment, Nikolova’s case indicates that misogyny and the patriarchy are still alive and well.

Beer Roundup

I haven’t written about beer or even the liquor industry in general in quite a while and today seemed like a good day to get back to what was the original theme of this blog. I’ve decided to highlight two articles I have recently received that touch on some of the themes that I have discussed in previous posts.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, June 2020, an African American brewer Marcus Baskerville, co-founder and head brewer of San Antonio’s Weathered Souls Brewery created the Black is Beautiful campaign ”to bring awareness to the injustices that many people of color face daily”. Black is Beautiful is a collaborative effort among many brewers to raise funds to combat police violence against people of color. You can read my post about that here.

Recently, also in an attempt to increase diversity in the overwhelmingly white craft brewing industry, Haymarket Brewing in Chicago invited six black owned beer business to collaborate on a beer, Chicago Uncommon, which they will tap this Sunday, Super Bowl Sunday. You can read more about this here.

Not only is craft brewing a very white industry, 93 percent, but it is also mostly male, 75 percent. Julia Herz was, for many years, the craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, the trade association for craft and home brewers. Last year, because of budget cuts due to Covid, she lost her job.

Now she is returning to the association, and her goal is to expand the population that participates in craft beer and home brewing. “Beer has no gender and anyone who is a legal drinking adult who wants to brew is legally allowed to brew. I want to emphasize that the club of homebrewers is open to all walks of life.” You can read more about Julia Herz and her goals for increased diversity in brewing here.

Murder She Wrote

I recently finished watching all 264 episodes of Murder She Wrote. I started doing this because I often have insomnia and watch television to fall asleep. At 11 pm, after the prime-time programming of the Hallmark Movies and Mystery channel ends, they show several of the one-hour episodes of the show. Don’t judge me for my viewing habits but eventually I succumbed and started watching Murder She Wrote episodes to fall asleep. It often worked and then I got interested enough that using Peacock, which I get as part of my Xfinity account for the Internet, my landline phone and TV, I was able to watch all the episodes.

Murder She Wrote originally aired on broadcast TV from 1984 to 1996. In 1984 I was 30 years old and by 1996 I had a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old. I was busy and didn’t have time to watch that much TV. I did not watch Murder She Wrote during its original broadcast run. I’m pretty sure I thought she was an old lady and was not particularly interested.

Now of course I am an old lady myself and this is probably one reason why I find Murder She Wrote more appealing. Jessica Fletcher, the main character played by Angela Lansbury, is a widow and a very independent woman. She has begun a second career as a mystery writer following teaching high school English. The fact that she does this when the actress herself was 59 when the show started and 71when it ended is inspirational. It provides a role model for middle aged women beginning second or third acts.

Another aspect of Jessica Fletcher’s independence is that she solves the mysteries on her own with little or no help from anyone else especially men. Many of the Hallmark mysteries that currently air in prime time involve female amateur detectives, but they always have a male romantic interest who help them solve the crimes. Jessica Fletcher did not really have a romantic interest although William Windom played her best friend. Curious and inquisitive, if she gets herself into a jam while trying to solve a murder, she gets herself out of it, usually with no help from anyone. This independence solidifies her being a feminist role model.

I have also enjoyed watching the episodes because I got to see the technological changes that occurred during the twelve-year time span of the series. In the beginning she wrote everything on a typewriter. There were basically Rotary phones and a few wall phones. By the end there were computers and large cell phones. Seeing in real time the rapid technological changes that occurred from the 80s to the 90s is compelling.

This is not a technological change but the clothes that JB Fletcher wore evolved. In the beginning she presented as a pedestrian Maine native, flannels and jeans. Because Cabot Cove, Maine could not be the scene of weekly murders, the show took its’ heroine to many different domestic and international locales. Jessica Fletcher also lived in New York City for a while. Her clothes became increasingly sophisticated but were not high couture or sexy. No stiletto heels or low-cut gowns.

Despite the typewriters and Rotary phones most of the episodes do not seem dated. One area that does not reflect current sensibilities is the show’s treatment of Native Americans. For one thing the show calls this ethnic group Indians and for another it plays very stereotypical flute music anytime a Native American character appears. Once again viewing in real time we get a sense of how things have changed although of course we have so much more to do to redress the harms and mistreatment of Native Americans.

Because I can be compulsive, once I had seen a lot of the episodes I decided to see if there were any books that Angela Lansbury or her fictional character Jessica Fletcher had written. Angela Lansbury wrote a how to how to live your life better book, Angela Lansbury’s Positive Moves: My Personal Plan for Fitness and Well-Being (1990). I read and enjoyed it. The book contains mostly common-sense advice about staying active, doing things you enjoy and watching what you eat. Probably she has taken her own advice because she is still alive at the age of 96.

If you ever need to feel asleep or want to see an independent middle-aged woman doing exciting things, tune in to Murder She wrote.

 

 

 

Ecology

As you know, I attend writing groups that Nerissa Nields leads. On Wednesday she read a prompt that included a Paul Ehrlich quote to the effect that ecology is the subversive science. As soon as I heard that, my mind filled with complicating thoughts.

In 1970 I was a junior in high school and I attended the first Earth Day. My thoughts about the ecology movement or environmentalism as we call it more recently have not really changed in that time. The problem I have always had with the ecology movement is that it is by and large not a political one.

Much of the burden of fixing the planet or not damaging the planet any further falls, as is always the case in America, on individuals. Be a better recycler, compost, don’t use plastic bags, don’t buy disposable water bottles. These are all things that individuals are supposed to be responsible for and supposed to do to be a good citizen. I do these things and have for years but I am not sure it makes any difference.

Where is the part where the government does something? What is the role of the government? Once you start asking that question you get to politics. Until there is a political will to change how the country consumes fossil fuels, to direct people away from eating meat and towards vegetarianism or veganism by what appears in the grocery stores, we really won’t get through ecological change or repair.

The issue becomes even more complicated because of the intransigence of the current Republican Party. For over 30 years Republicans have tried to wish away environmental change, have denied global warming. In the current Trump Republican Party, they don’t even believe in evolution and really don’t understand how a woman conceives a baby so why are they going to do anything about climate change? To get true environmental change, we must confront power.

Smoking


Any practicing nurse in Massachusetts has to renew his or her license every two years. As part of the license renewal process every nurse has to have done 15 hours of continuing education credits otherwise known as CEU’s. Before I retired it was very easy for me to acquire those 15 hours because of trainings and in service workshops that the agency I worked for provided.

This year the renewal process snuck up on me and I had to figure how to meet the CEUs requirement. There are places online that allow you to fulfill the requirements by reading scholarly articles on various topics and then filling out a questionnaire. One of the essays I chose was about tobacco and smoking cessation.

I found the article informative. Something that stood out is that young people are continuing to become smokers. This is concerning because once you have the habit it is very hard to break it. Reading the essay about tobacco reminded me that in 2009 I had written a blog post about the liquor industry facing new regulations that the Obama administration had passed. I am reposting it below.

The interesting thing about the original post was that I discussed how tobacco’s fortunes had fallen while brewers and distillers were enjoying a great deal of public support. Public health advocates were not gaining much traction in their attempts to convince the public to drink less.

Society approval of the liquor industry, particularly beer, has only continued to increase in the 13 years since I posted about those tobacco regulations. Not only did the liquor industry get a tax break from the Trump legislation but most municipalities are thrilled to have a craft brewery in their town or city.

Neither the article I read for my CEUs or the blog post from 2009 talk about marijuana, but marijuana has also gained in public approval as many states including Massachusetts where I live now have recreational sale of THC.

Tobacco Legislation

6/16/2009

Last week, Congress passed, and President Obama signed legislation that greatly enhances federal regulation of the tobacco industry. As a historian, I generally think change happens slowly but the rapidity with which American society has transformed from cultural acceptance, even approval of smoking, to a completely negative view is startling.

When I was growing up, my parents and almost all the adults I knew smoked. As a teenager and young adult smoking was both everywhere – bars, restaurants, public events, and arenas – and heavily advertised on television. In the forty-five years since the Surgeon General’s report on the harm smoking causes, there has been a warning label, a ban on television advertising, the creation of smoke-free indoor space and, recently, smoke-free outdoor spaces.

The newspaper stories discussing the pending legislation use the term “addiction” to describe the practice of smoking. This also represents significant change. For much of American history, society has characterized nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol as legal, primarily harmless habits. Alcohol was usually the most problematic of the three. Now, nicotine, although legal, falls under the broad category of psychoactive, addictive substances, similar in their effects on the body.

Moralists have always viewed smoking as undesirable behavior. This attitude kept women from smoking for many years. When smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke became a public health issue, the battle lines changed. If alcohol use and or abuse ever became predominantly a public health issue rather than one of individual choice or morality, brewers and distillers could face more of an uphill battle to maintain the legitimacy of their industry.

 

Book Review: Death in a Tenured Position

As part of my summer reading which you can find about here and here, I finished Death in a Tenured Position by Amanda Cross. Cross was the pseudonym of Carolyn Heilbrun, feminist and noted scholar. Heilbrun taught, as a full professor, at Columbia University for many years. She was also a faculty wife. Her husband,  James Heilbrun, was an economics professor Fordham University. You can find out more about Carolyn Heilbrun here.

I read it because it took place at the Radcliffe Institute which I am writing about in my current chapter. Another book that I read this summer was The Equivalents which is a study of some of the women who were in the first group at the Radcliffe Institute. You can read my review of it here.

As Amanda Cross, Heilbrun wrote fourteen Kate Fansler mysteries from 1964 to 2002. I read several of them when they first came out. I’ve also read Heilbrun’s Writing Women’s Life which is excellent. If I had enough room, I would write about her in my book. Unfortunately, she doesn’t quite fit and I’m running out of room.

I enjoyed reading the book. It was entertaining enough that I also read her collected stories which has several Kate Fansler stories in it. I had some mixed feelings about Death in a Tenured Position. In a way it represented the bad aspects of second wave feminism which many people claim was only about white cis gendered middle-class women’s goals and aspirations and did not include women of color or poor women. Kate Fansler, a professor like Carolyn Heilbrun, is a privileged person and her opinions about lesbians, working class feminists, and other groups seem dated.

Peoria Beer

When we were dealing with the flood in our basement because of tropical storm Ida, many of my files were damaged. We were able to save the files that pertain to my current book on faculty wives. Two other file drawers were also wet. Most of those files were either materials from nursing school or from Brewing Battles. Nothing smells worse than wet paper so we threw most of it out.

One thing we saved was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) catalog about breweries in Peoria, Illinois. This was very interesting to me because I think of that area of the country as being a distilling center. Whenever I have a question about brewing or distilling that I can’t answer from my own knowledge base or from Brewing Battles, I turn to the indispensable Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industry, by William Downard. This is a phenomenal source but since Downard compiled it in 1980, it needs to be updated with new entries for craft beer and micro distilling.

Downard has an entry about Peoria distilling but nothing about Peoria brewing. Chicago, the largest city in Illinois, did have a substantial brewing industry but was never a center of brewing like Milwaukee or New York.

One of the breweries described in the WPA document is Gibbs which existed in Peoria from 1881 to 1954. John M. Gipps, Willis H. Ballance and Leslie Robinson were the incorporators. Each owned one-third of the corporation amount of $150,000. Eventually Ballance owned the brewery. He died in 1913. His son, Willis H Balance, Junior ran the brewery from 1912 to Prohibition. The company’s most well-known beer was Amberlin.

During prohibition, the company manufactured, among other things, non-alcoholic beverages, chemicals, and Illuminating gas. After Repeal, the company re-incorporated. In 1954, Canadian Ace Brewing of Chicago purchased Gibbs and moved the brewing of Amberlin to Chicago. You can read more about Gibbs here. It was fun to learn about Gibbs and in the future, I may write more posts about Peoria breweries.

Information for this post came from  the Peoria Historical Society as did the photograph. You can find out more about them here.

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