Erika Dyck
Professor of medical history

What about Mrs Psychedelic? A historical look at women and psychedelics

We are familiar with some of the major historical figures in the history of psychedelics, but the role of women, particularly as investigators and leaders in this history has often been muted. The emphasis on male contributions is partly reflective of a 1950s context, where men tended to be the main income earners, but this feature downplays the role of women, and undermines some of the major contributions to psychedelic research that emerged because women, particularly wives, participated directly in the research environment. Many of the well-known early experimenters had their first experiences with their wives. Some husbands even admitted that they were initially anxious about trying LSD, and wanted to share the experience with the person they trusted most. Wives helped write up experiential reports, not just using a typewriter, but at times coached their husbands or friends in how to articulate an experience that routinely defied simple explanations. This paper will examine some of the early experiments from the 1950s and consider the role played by women and how their participation has shaped our historical understanding of gender and psychedelics.

Erika Dyck is a Professor and SSHRC Canada Research Chair in Medical History. She is the author of Psychedelic Psychiatry: LSD from Clinic to Campus (Johns Hopkins, 2008; University of Manitoba Press, 2011); and Facing Eugenics: Reproduction, Sterilization and the Politics of Choice (University of Toronto, 2013), which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s award for Canadian non-fiction; and Managing Madness: the Weyburn Mental Hospital and the Transformation of Psychiatric Care in Canada (University of Manitoba Press, 2017), which won the Canadian Historical Association Prize for best book in Prairie History; and is a co-editor of Psychedelic Prophets: The Letters of Aldous Huxley and Humphry Osmond (McGill Queens, 2018), which was a finalist for the Association of American Publishers’ PROSE awards for Excellence in Clinical Psychology.