Wolf in Sheep's Clothing - turn of the century progressivism, feminism and cannabis

In 1905, women attending the university of Chicago grew tired of a tradition that had been reserved exclusively for men. So they organized, took action and partnered with a “marihuana den” to offer support to the women athletes that were representing the University.

The tradition of wearing a “letter-man” jacket was a privilege originally reserved for men. Only male athletes playing on the football, baseball and track and field teams had access to the maroon colored sweaters donning the logo “C” that represented the University. This would change in the Spring.

Professor Frederic Starr was developing a problematic reputation at the University of Chicago when he was presented with an opportunity he could not resist. To purchase “letter-man” jackets for the women athletes of the University, fundraisers organized a variety show that included a beauty contest, a carnival of games and a replica of the Loop-the-Loop roller-coaster found at Coney Island. The most memorable experience of the event, however, was Professor Starr’s marihuana den for “dope” smokers. The den lured curious individuals to the event and bolsterest ticket sales for the event and provided Professor Starr with a set of test subjects.

Newspapers throughout the Midwestern United States and the Greater Lakes Region covered the event, praising Professor Starr for his efforts. According to the Chanute Blade, “Dr. Starr’s latest discovery, the wonderful Mexican jag producer, which may revolutionize the present methods of intoxication received a thorough tryout… The party was the professor’s first opportunity to test effectively the virtues or vices of marihuana whose ‘tanglefoot’ properties he revealed to science two weeks ago.”

The first professor of cannabis, Professor Starr isn’t exactly the icon of progressivism we would hope him to be. Professor Starr was a controversial anthropologist who had become known for his chauvinism. He had gone on record several times, preaching that the influence of women promoted barbarism in children. Professor Starr was also an anachronistic thorn in the side of the University. He was a reminder of the racist methodologies that had become a staple of anthropology and the Academy during the 19th century. He was everything that progressive era universities were trying to leave behind.

Professor Starr was a sensationalist who leveraged every opportunity he could. And for a brief moment, he was quite unfortunately the voice of authority for all things cannabis related. Yet, he was not an ally. Professor Starr promoted the virtue of cannabis, while at the same time, fictionalized narratives about superhuman strength, visions of animals being attacked by devils, and Mexican soldiers slaughtering entire villages in the middle of the night… all because they smoked cannabis. Power comes easy when you control the narrative. Professor Starr was aware of this and exploited it to his advantage. In cornering the markets of knowledge he was able to monopolize and take ownership of the cannabis science and culture of his contemporaries.

I write about Professor Starr to remind myself that the hypocrisy, chauvinism and racism that often plague the cannabis industry are nothing new. That there have been many wolves in sheep’s clothing, opportunists willing to say or sell anything in hopes of finding an easy meal in the cannabis industry. I write about Professor Starr as a cautionary tale, warning operators of the detrimental impact that the industry will face if we don’t take efforts to hold ourselves more accountable… more discerning of the information, science, knowledge, politics and culture that we create ourselves. Because, many of the methodologies introduced and followed by industry leaders support negative agendas that aren’t often visible upon first glance.

The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) - 20 March, 1903, Monday

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