Read the 1953 Harvard Crimson coverage of groundbreaking Yale alcohol study


In preparing a longer post about E. M. Jellinek and the Jellinek curve (to come soon), I came across an article titled “Yale Center of Alcohol Studies Investigates Drinking Habits of Carefree Undergraduates” from the Harvard Crimson, published November 21, 1953, and made available on the Crimson’s website.  The subject of the article is a ground breaking study of college drinking behavior, and it begins, quite hilariously, like this:

The carpet of glass covering the Old Campus and the general alcoholic haze emanating from the fraternity area notwithstanding, Yale is the only university in the United States where everybody asked the location of the Center of Alcohol Studies gives the same directions.

At any other school the inquirer would get a different answer every time he asked the question, but at Yale he is invariably sent to a reconverted mansion on Hillhouse Ayenue, right across the street from the home of President A. Whitney Griswold.

The Yale Center of Alcohol Studies sits unobtrusively without any identification–squat but spacious like a bottle of Ballantine’s scotch. Undoubtedly built in the 19th century, its four stories have mahogany-toned woodwork and a faded coat of yellow paint, which partially conceals stone, stucco, or something.

All the ribbing from Harvard aside, the Yale Center of Alcohol Studies, which developed in the 1930s and 40s as an offshoot of the Yale Laboratory of Applied Physiology and Biodymanics, was incredibly important in the study of alcoholism.  The center was the first interdisciplinary academic center devoted to the study of alcohol and it’s effect on society. It moved to Rutgers University in 1962, where it still operates today. As this article notes, one of it’s associate directors invented one of the first breathalyzers:

Its associate director, Leon A. Greenberg, invented the Alcometer, a portable automatic laboratory which determines the amount of alcohol a person has consumed. The police can now easily distinguish between the man who should be prosecuted for drunkenness and the man who appears to be inebriated but is actually suffering from sober shock and should be rushed to the hospital.

The main subject of this particular article, however, is a major multi-year survey of college drinking habits. The article’s author, Richard A. Burgheim, mentions it’s comparison to the Kinsey Report:

After discussing social feelings about college drinking, the report moved into a study of “Beliefs about Drinking and Sexual Behavior,” which prompted one columnist to label the book a “Booze Kinsey.” But its sales fall far below Kinsey’s records, thus indicating that society is more curious about its neighbors’ bedrooms than its barrooms.

The study’s major conclusion, according to the article, was that college imbibing habits, despite concerns were not particularly different from post-college habits, and that, according to one of the authors, “The prevalence of wild drinking in college is just a myth, and I hope we’re burying it forover[sic].”

The Yale study surveyed 27 colleges and universities, and the Crimson was sure to point out that it might not be representative of the Ivy League:

The book purposely listed and discussed the total findings of the 27 colleges studied, without breaking them down into the different types of institutions. In the fuzzy mind of the reader there lay west of the Ivy League a vast Beer Belt, where drinking behavior bore little resemblance to that in his habitat.

He knew that he had read the definitive work on drinking in American colleges; yet he felt although the report included the Ivy League minority, that its composite findings had little relevance to these New England deviants and dissenters.

This state school graduate from the Midwest, who went to graduate school in Boston, is rolling her eyes.

The final sentences of the essay are:

But there was still something else troubling the reader. It seemed that making a science out of drinking, as they do at Yale, took almost all the fun out of it–if anything could.

Quality journalism from the Crimson. You can read the full article here.


Related interesting links:

A couple years back, Gizmodo did an excellent history of the breathalyzer, check it out here.

Points blog has some interesting photos from Yale’s first Summer School of Alcohol Studies here.

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