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Finding Aid to the Brownie Mary Collection, 1981-2001, SFH 379
SFH 379  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Custodial History
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Contents
  • Materials Transferred
  • Arrangement
  • Processed by

  • Title: Brownie Mary Collection
    Date (inclusive): 1981-2001
    Collection Identifier: SFH 379
    Creator: Rathbun, Mary (Mary Jane), 1922-1999
    Physical Description: 3 boxes, 2 oversized flat boxes, 1 framed art piece (2.1 cubic feet)
    Contributing Institution: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
    100 Larkin Street
    San Francisco, CA, 94102
    (415) 557-4400
    Abstract: Contains news clippings, flyers, and brochures about Rathbun, the cannabis brownies she served to people with AIDS and other serious illnesses, and the medical marijuana legalization movement; awards, some photographs, and items including her signature vest.
    Physical Location: The collection is stored on site.
    Language of Materials: Collection materials are in English.


    The collection is available for use during San Francisco History Center hours, with photographs available during Photo Desk hours. Collections that are stored off site should be requested 48 hours in advance.

    Publication Rights

    All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the City Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the San Francisco Public Library as the owner of the physical items.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Brownie Mary Collection (SFH 379), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

    Custodial History

    Collection received in 3 accessions, from 2000 to 2001. Bulk of collection was collected by Mary Rathbun, turned over to Beth Moore, and donated by Karen Masonheimer. Shirt and vest, framed proclamation, oversized photograph, and carved wooden keepsake box with trinkets donated by Larry W. Bittner as executor of the estate of Mary Rathbun. Charcoal portrait and stuffed bear donated by Beverly Baber.

    Biographical Note

    Mary Jane Rathbun, popularly known as Brownie Mary, was a medical marijuana activist. Born in 1922, she arrived in San Francisco from Minnesota in the late 1940s. She was briefly married and had a daughter who died in a vehicle accident in 1974. She worked as a waitress and began a side cottage business of selling cannabis brownies, baking them in her kitchen, posting flyers for "magically delicious...original recipe brownies," and selling them from a basket in her Castro neighborhood. Rathbun was described as grandmotherly, and she wore a marijuana-themed vest and pendant. With no grandchildren of her own, she called the patients with AIDS that she befriended her "adopted kids." She was twice arrested in San Francisco for possession, receiving community service. This led to volunteering with the Shanti Project, launching her career as an AIDS activist. She volunteered with and delivered her special brownies to San Francisco General Hospital's Ward 86, the AIDS outpatient clinic. Rathbun was arrested a third time in Sonoma County in 1992; the charges were dropped.
    In 1991, San Franciscan's passed Proposition P, which urged state lawmakers to legalize use of medical marijuana. California voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, in 1996. Rathbun appeared on the cover of Newsweek (Nov. 1,1993), and she co-wrote a book with Dennis Peron, founder of the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. In 1997, she and Peron were honored as Grand Marshals of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. Mayor Willie L. Brown proclaimed May 2, 1999 as Brownie Mary Day, honoring her for her years of compassionate care of people suffering from illness. Rathbun died of a heart attack at age 77 in 1999.

    Scope and Contents

    Collection has news clippings, flyers, and brochures about Rathbun, her cannabis brownies, and the medical marijuana legalization movement; awards, some photographs, and items including her signature vest. A copy of her cookbook and some handwritten cookie recipes are included; the brownie recipe is not included. Records of the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club are not included.

    Materials Transferred

    Handmade book, Death Experience, by Penny King, 1981, (autographed by author, #2 of 5), added to library catalog.


    Organized alphabetically.

    Processed by

    Tami J. Suzuki

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Rathbun, Mary (Mary Jane), 1922-1999 -- Archives
    Cooking (Marijuana)
    Marijuana -- Law and Legislation -- California
    Marijuana -- Law and Legislation-- California -- San Francisco
    Marijuana -- Therapeutic use -- Recipes