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Education: Higher Education

Seeking Pleasure, Managing Moods: User’ Experiences with Psychoactive Drugs

Class 1. Middle Class Women and Morphine; Working Class Men and Heroin


In the second half nineteenth century, a burgeoning pharmaceutical industry brought to market a profusion of new drugs, including new psychoactives like heroin, cocaine, and barbiturates. In the same period, the emergence of new urban amusement scenes that included drinking, dancing, pool playing, and the sniffing of heroin and cocaine aroused middle class reformers’ concern. This period saw the passage of the first laws that attempted to confine certain drugs to medical use and to ban any use of selected other drugs. This class focuses on the people who struggled to manage their lives in part through consumption of medicines and of illicit drugs. Clips from the film version of Long Day’s Journey into Night shown in class can prompt students to analyze the intense surveillance of one’s own or a family member’s behavior when concerns about drug use, or resumed use, arise.

Class Resources
  • Acker, Caroline Jean. “Portrait of an Addicted Family.” In Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000, edited by Sarah W. Tracy and Caroline Jean Acker. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004, pp. 165-81.
  • “Heroin Addiction and Urban Vice Reform.” In Creating the American Junkie: Addiction Research in the Classic Era of Narcotic Control. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002, pp. 13-42.
  • Oliver, F. E., MD. “The Use and Abuse of Opium.” Massachusetts State Board of Health, Third Annual Report. Boston: Wright and Potter, State Printers, 1872, pp. 162-77.
  • O’Neill, Eugene. Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Produced by Ely Landau; directed by Sidney Lumet. 1956. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962. Film.
  • Pearce, Bailey. “The Heroin Habit.” The New Republic 6 (April 22, 1916): 314-16.

Discussion Questions
  1. How did physicians contribute to the prevalence of morphine use in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the U.S.? In what ways does Mary Tyrone’s situation in Long Day’s Journey Into Night reflect medical practice at this time? In what ways does F. E. Oliver’s report to the Massachusetts board of health help us understand physician practice and patterns of opiate use in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?
  2. Describe the world that a young man like Daniel Hood (from Acker, “Heroin Addiction”) grew up in. What opportunities did he perceive? Which ones did he take advantage of? In what ways were drugs a part of the world he inhabited? What kinds of choices did he make and what kinds of consequences did those choices have for him? How does Pearce Bailey’s article “The Heroin Habit” help you understand the world Daniel Hood lived in?
  3. How do James, Jamie, and Edmund Tyrone express their anxieties about the possibility that Mary Tyrone has resumed morphine use? How do you compare their fears regarding her morphine use to their own frequent heavy drinking of alcohol? How does Mary frame her own life and how does that life form a context for her use of morphine?
  4. Compare the fictional Tyrones with the real-life Schmidts and Zauberins, whose experiences are described in “Portrait of an Addicted Family.” What similarities and differences do you see? How does each family balance its members’ desire for respectability and links to the world of vice?
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