Women have always been underrepresented in both mainstream and psychedelic history. And that is incorrect, because women were also active in science. They didn’t always have the space and opportunities, but they worked with what they had. This also allowed women to spread new knowledge about the special properties of psychedelics.
Extraordinary women in psychedelic history
For centuries, men have been at the forefront of all facets of society. Women were given a subordinate role and it was not really accepted if they had scientific interests. But in recent decades, women have increasingly made their voices heard, in regular as well as psychedelic research. And that, of course, is wonderful. But in the past, there were still women who dived into psychedelics despite the vehement opposition of men.
In the past, women could not really engage in research on their own. They hardly got a chance to do that. Most of the women listed below are the wives of male scientists. But we can be clear: without the help of their female partners, the men could never have gotten this far in their scientific investigations. So now the women may be put in the spotlight. Meet these enterprising ladies!
1. Laura Huxley
Laura Huxley was married to the famous writer and psychonaut Aldous Huxley. She lived from 1911 to 2007. Laura was a writer, therapist, teacher and a talented musician. Yet she is mostly remembered for undertaking LSD trips with Huxley. In doing so, they enjoyed listening to Bach.
Laura wrote several self-help books, likely inspired by her psychedelic travels, including You Are Not The Target. She founded an organization called “Children, our ultimate investment,” in response to the many sufferings of people around the world. She also founded two more high schools. Aldous developed throat cancer and would eventually die from it. As he lay on his deathbed, Laura gave him his last dose of LSD. He died calmly during his last trip, and according to Laura, it was one of the most beautiful dying processes a person could go through.
2. Mabel Dodge Luhan
In 1897, Mabel Dodge Luhan was born in Buffalo, New York. She would become one of the women who would make a name for themselves in psychedelic history. She was known as an eccentric woman who knew her way around higher social circles. She was an only child and was born to wealthy parents who gave her everything she needed. However, she was emotionally and spiritually neglected. With this great loss, it is no wonder she went in search of other worlds.
She was the first woman to record a trip with peyote. Mabel attended a party in 1914 where anthropologist Raymond Harrington carried a psychedelic cactus. Mabel demanded that they all try the cactus right away.
Remarkably, she describes not only her hallucinations, but also the social interactions and power relations she observes during the ceremony. Later accounts often emphasize only the inner observations of the person tripping. Therefore, Mabel’s report is an exception. It was the time when the americans became increasingly interested in drugs and fought against them more and more fanatically. Mabel eventually ended up in Mexico and tried peyote more often. She died in 1962.
3. Betty Eisner
Betty Eisner was an American psychologist; she lived from 1915 to 2004. She is best known for her research on psychedelics in combination with psychotherapy. She was one of the few independent women scientists in the 1950s and 1960s. Betty was the first psychologist to research the potential of LSD in alcohol addiction. Throughout her career, she continued to show an interest in psychedelics.
In addition to LSD, she also used mescaline and stimulants such as methylphenidate (the substance also found in Ritalin) and a mix of gases called Carbogen. She tried all kinds of new techniques that could help make psychotherapy more effective, not just psychedelics, other forms of work as well. Her contributions have greatly influenced the development of psychotherapy.
4. Rose Hoffer
Abram Hoffer also researched the effects of LSD on alcoholism. His wife was Rose Hoffer. Along with her, he used LSD himself in the 1950s, along with Humphry Osmond and his wife Jane, with whom they worked together. They did this to become more familiar with and understand the effects of the drug. Rose indicated that it made her nauseous, and then the other participants confessed the same. The fact that she came out for this gave others the push to admit it as well. As small as this contribution is, it was important.
5. Maria Sabina
Maria Sabina Magdalena Garcia can be considered one of the most important women in psychedelic history. She is the person who made psychedelics known in the West. Born in Mexico in 1894, she was an experienced practicing shaman. Mary was the first to allow Westerners to attend her sacred mushroom ceremonies. She contributed to the growing popularity of magic mushrooms in the West, even though that was not her intention. Famous stars, such as Bob Dylan and John Lennon also participated in her ceremonies.
These ceremonies were called Veladas and were designed to open the mind and communicate with the sacred. An American author, Wasson, participated in a ritual and wrote a book about it. He also disclosed Sabina’s whereabouts, after which she was inundated with youths who also wanted to use magic mushrooms. Sabina wasn’t too keen on this and noted: “Before this, no one used the “children” (magic mushrooms) to just get in touch with God. They were only used for healing.”
Unfortunately, this had very undesirable consequences for Mary and the village where she lived. The police mistook her for a drug dealer, and the quiet village turned into a tourist attraction. The residents blamed Maria, she was exiled, her house was burned down and she even ended up in jail. Fortunately, calm eventually returned and the army made sure that foreign hippies could no longer enter the village. Either way, Maria introduced the Western world to the powers of psilocybin.
Sometimes the role of women is subtle, sometimes it is more evident. But no matter how you look at it, women have also made their mark on the spread and knowledge of psychedelics.