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The Women Who Brought You LSD

Though you wouldn't know it from most retrospectives, many of LSD's earliest advocates — stretching all the way back to the 1940s — were women. They didn’t run labs or spawn cults of personality, as several of LSD's more celebrated "early adopters" did, but they aided the experiments and sustained the communities that made the drug a phenomenon. Below, meet a handful of women who shaped the course of hallucinogenic history.

SUSI RAMSTEIN: THE OBSERVER Harold M. Lambert/Getty Images SUSI RAMSTEIN: THE OBSERVER First things first: This isn’t actually a picture of Susi Ramstein, about whom precious little is known. Ramstein was a lab assistant to Albert Hofmann, the scientist who synthesized LSD, and she monitored him through his first voluntary ingestion of the drug on April 19, 1943. Hofmann was the first person to experience LSD’s effects, but Ramstein was the first person to observe them. On June 12 of that year, as part of another experiment, she became the first woman to take LSD, testing it a total of three times. Unfortunately, the lab where she and Hofmann worked has never released her reports, leaving us to wonder what her sober, arguably more scientific perspective might add to our understanding of the first acid trip. CLARE BOOTHE LUCE: THE AMBASSADOR Hulton Archive/Getty Images CLARE BOOTHE LUCE: THE AMBASSADOR A successful author and politician who consulted with presidents and was married to the biggest magazine magnate of the 20th century, Clare Boothe Luce was also a fan of LSD. She took it for the first time in 1958, was impressed with its therapeutic effects, and convinced her conservative husband Henry not only to try the drug, but to run lengthy features about it in TIME and LIFE, two magazines that he published and that millions of Americans read. Years before Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey, Clare Boothe Luce spread the gospel of LSD far and wide. BETSY DRAKE: THE ACTRESS John Springer Collection/Corbis via Getty Images BETSY DRAKE: THE ACTRESS By the time she started taking LSD in the late 1950s, Betsy Drake had appeared in six Hollywood films and had written a screenplay for a seventh. But her marriage to the actor Cary Grant was on the rocks, and she was unhappy enough to try a new therapy under the supervision of Mortimer Hartman at the Psychiatric Institute of Beverly Hills. The sessions inspired Drake to start a new career in mental health, and she persuaded several of her friends in Hollywood — most of them women who, like her, were far less happy than they seemed — to try LSD. She even got Grant in on the act: He visited the Psychiatric Institute to find out what Drake was saying about him in therapy, and ended up becoming one of Hartman’s patients. LAURA HUXLEY: THE THERAPIST Paul Harris/Getty Images LAURA HUXLEY: THE THERAPIST A gifted violinist who played Carnegie Hall as a teenager, Laura Huxley was working as a filmmaker and therapist in Los Angeles when she met and then married Aldous Huxley, the author of “Brave New World” and “The Doors of Perception.” The Huxleys experimented together with LSD and psilocybin — which they preferred to call hallucinogens, not drugs — while listening to Bach, exploring the outdoors, and writing. In 1963, Laura published a popular self-help book called "You Are Not the Target." Later that year, as Aldous was battling cancer, the Huxleys took LSD together to ease his passing. PEGGY HITCHCOCK: THE PATRON Slim Aarons/Getty Images PEGGY HITCHCOCK: THE PATRON What the Medici were to Michelangelo, the Hitchcocks were to Timothy Leary. The descendants of prominent banker and former treasury secretary Andrew Mellon, Peggy Hitchcock and her brothers were raised in the lap of luxury, and they were heirs to a vast fortune, some of which they used to support Leary after Peggy tried LSD with him in 1962. They let Leary move into an old family mansion in Millbrook, New York, where he finished writing his book “The Psychedelic Experience,” and where he and his acolytes explored the possibilities of LSD, hosting the likes of poet Allen Ginsberg and jazz musician Charles Mingus. For five years, from 1963 to 1968, the Hitchcocks' house may well have been the center of the psychedelic universe. NENA VON SCHLEBRUGGE: THE MODEL John Rawlings/Conde Nast via Getty Images NENA VON SCHLEBRUGGE: THE MODEL A fashion model who’d graced the pages of Vogue, Nena von Schlebrügge met Timothy Leary through friends, and she met LSD through Leary. She fell in love with both, and married Leary at Millbrook in 1964. The wedding was a minor cultural event: Leary biographer Robert Greenfield described it as a “phantasmagoric, magical mystery tour, the first real big coming-out party for all the A-list, jet-set, high-fashion beautiful people from New York who had recently discovered LSD.” Charles Mingus performed, and the filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker documented the proceedings for his film “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.” The marriage didn't survive their Indian honeymoon. ROSEMARY WOODRUFF: THE FUGITIVE John Bulmer/Getty Images ROSEMARY WOODRUFF: THE FUGITIVE A member of the Millbrook community, Woodruff co-edited Timothy Leary's 1966 book "Psychedelic Prayers" and helped him plan workshops up and down the East Coast. Woodruff married Leary in 1967, and three years later — with Leary serving time in California on drug charges — she and the Weather Underground broke him out. Woodruff and Leary fled the country together, first to Algeria and then to Switzerland. They split up in 1971, but she remained abroad until 1980, and stayed underground until 1993, when her record was cleared. Later in life, she lectured about the 1960s at the University of California, Santa Cruz. GRACE SLICK: THE VOICE Michael Ochs Archives GRACE SLICK: THE VOICE "White Rabbit," the spacey, bassy rock song by San Francisco's Jefferson Airplane, has to rank high on any list of LSD anthems. Slick actually started writing it before she joined the Airplane, but the band's psychedelic sound provided the perfect backing for her soaring vibrato. When Grace Slick said to "feed your head," people listened.