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Early Alcoholics Anonymous in Baltimore
brief history of AA in Baltimore; how it started and the
problems of growth. This is from a few records and the recollections
of some of the old timers involved. APRIL, 1975
16, 1940 Jim
B. of Philadelphia had contacted an old friend, Jim R.,
who had been sober for four years alter a religious recovery
at Keswick Colony in New Jersey. Jim R. had been working
with two other alcoholics without success, so he was very
glad to have "AA" help as outlined by Jim B. Hence,
the first "AA" meeting was held at Jim R.'s home
on St. Paul St. on June 16, 1940.
22, 1940 THE
SECOND "AA" meeting was held in the office of
a Mr. P. (a lawyer whose brother needed help). Present
were: Jim B. (Philadelphia), Jim R., Fred M., Norman B.,
Mac S., Mr. P. The meetings continued in a board room
in the Munsey Building on Fayette St. for about three months.
1, 1940 They
moved to a basement room in the Altamount Hotel. The wives
and "AA" girls would furnish coffee and sandwiches
after the meeting where the custom of social fellowship
was continued. During this period new members arrived
and some of those were: Henry M. (October 27), Anita H.
(November 13), Bill S., A. C. E., Bill B., Ray N., Hal H.,
C. E.. Paul K. As World War II approached, the Hotel Altamount
was being used for draftees and the "AA'' quarters
were needed so it became necessary to find a new location.
1941 -- 857 N. Eutaw St. It was at
this location that the small Baltimore group found an old
mail-order house in a somewhat dilapidated condition. With
but $6.00 in the treasury, four members of the group signed
a two-year lease at $45.00 per month and the group pitched
in to make a meeting place. A couple of sobering-up painters
and some amateur carpenters removed shelving and painted
walls. An employer (who was so tickled that one of his men
got sober) gave fifty chairs. So, "AA" was in
business with a good meeting place.
--(Attraction rather than Promotion) Baltimore Sunday Sun
article and picture of "AA" Group (from the rear
by Harrison Johnston. Article attached.
25, 1941 -- Baltimore News American article
by Louis Azrael. Article attached.
1941 -- Saturday Evening Post -- Jack Alexander.
one can see here we have publicity on both a local and national
basis and the debt owed by sober drunks to the media in
incalculable. The old timers in the Baltimore group say
that as each bit of news came out, the phones would start
ringing and the "AA's" were like firemen -- always
ready to go. The group grew, about 50 members in October,
1941 .They had no traditions and as they say, they tried
everything. Sometimes they asked the judge to "lock
him up until he got sober. The Salvation Army would provide
a bed at times. Members sometimes helped the newcomers find
a job. They tried buying meal tickets, but this didn't work
because the drunks would sell the tickets for booze and
on and on. But, the "AA" message of hope and survival
was carried on.
wives of "AA" as well as the "AA" girls
started the Saturday Night SC social. This was a feed and
social time and the drunks had something to do on Saturday
night. They liked it and Baltimore "AA" pays tribute
to these ladies who gave of their love, understanding, and
time to help make alcoholics feel wanted and worthwhile.
VISITS AND HELP FROM WASHINGTON AND PHILADELPHIA A A'S Sometime
in the "early forties" Bill W. visited Henry M.
and by arrangement talked with several groups of doctors
and shared his experiences with them, and this helped. He
also was the principle speaker at the meeting attended by
Louis Azrael of the Baltimore News American, A A'S from
Washington and Philadelphia came to Baltimore many times
to help the new group to grow and mature.
War II Rationing As the war years went on, the 857 Group
felt the effects of gas rationing and some of the suburban
members began to think about another group. So after much
alcoholic thinking the second group was started.
-- APRIL 12, 1945 The
first meeting was held in the study of an Episcopal Clergyman
in Towson with seven people in attendance. Shortly thereafter,
a room was rented above a store on York Road in Towson.
In June of 1945 they held their first public "AA"
meeting. Attending were a judge, probation officer, two
clergymen and a doctor. Late in 1945, the group found
new quarters in a basement room in an apartment building.
It was felt that more room was needed as well as to get
away from the noise of streetcars and traffic that had bothered
them at the old location. The new location was at
212 Washington Ave., Towson, Md. just a block from the Police
Station. This group has remained here since and will be
30 years old in April, 1975. For many years the Towson group
has averaged 40 members and from it have grown many other
groups as members leave to help start "AA" in
Intergroup Office was started August, 1945. This was located
in the "Bromo-Seltzer Tower" in downtown Baltimore
and drew many comments from the press and radio. As "AA"
grew in the Baltimore area so did the Intergroup Council
until today where we find over six hundred "AA"
meetings each week and approximately 12,000 members.
from The Baltimore Sunday Sun, February 16. 1941 John Barleycorns
Victims Seek Strength In Unity -- Harrison Johnston The
story of "Alcoholics Anonymous," which now includes
a Baltimore group, is the story, in the words of one of
its members, of a "bunch of drunks trying to help one
another stop drinking.
This may sound like
the scenario for a Mack Sennett comedy, but it isn't. For
members of "Alcoholics Anonymous," and thousands
like them, escape from under the thumb of alcohol is the
most important and difficult of life's problems. And medicine,
while it has finally come to recognize alcoholism as a disease
rather than a moral delinquency, has yet to devise a permanent
cure, or even an effective preventive.
Last year, for example,
almost seventeen per cent of the total first admissions
to Maryland hospitals were because of alcoholism. Every
year some 56,000 persons are added to the vast number of
chronic alcoholics in the United States, variously estimated
as high as 900,000. Every year in this country fifteen of
every 100,000 persons dies while confined in institutions
because of chronic alcoholism. Medicine has so far been
hard put to lower these figures; at best its "cures,"
in the opinion of most informed specialists, are merely
periodic "refreshers" which enable a man to keep
Group Comes In This
failure on the part of medicine has become the starting
point for "Alcoholics Anonymous," a sort of psycho-religious
movement with faith in divine assistance and the practice
of public confession and group contact between continuing
and reformed delinquents -- in this case, continuing and
reformed (or "dry") alcoholics.
meet regularly as a group twice a week - once in a semi-formal
"business" meeting, once in a completely informal
and spontaneous social gathering -- without benefit of alcohol.
They base their hopes of success on a mystical belief in
aid from without themselves (all else having failed), from
God, "as we understand Him," and on constant association
with other alcoholics who can understand and help them and
whom they in turn can understand and try to help. They may
thereby draw upon the companionship of other alcoholics,
men and women like themselves with whom they alone are psychologically
able to discuss their difficulties, and try to lose themselves
in the rehabilitation of others even less controlled than
they, a proven form of uplift characteristic of all group
organizations, the church itself not least among them.
From out this mixture,
without any recourse whatsoever to medicine, "Alcoholics
Anonymous" claims complete success -- with no relapses
- with about fifty per cent of its members (always supposing
them to be sincere in their efforts to stop; and eventual
success -- after occasional relapses -- with an additional
twenty-five per cent.
by New Yorker "Alcoholics
Anonymous" was founded five years ago by a New York
broker who had lost two fortunes largely because of alcoholism.
After money and medicine failed to effect a "cure,"
the financier, a widely read man, thought to seek aid from
the omnipotent, whatever or whoever that might be, and formulated
twelve "suggested steps" for the turning over
of the alcoholics' problem to God. These still serve the
"Alcoholics Anonymous" as a Sort of creed. With
a handful of other alcoholics he then established in New
York the first group of "Alcoholics Anonymous."
With the publication
shortly afterward of a book of case histories of alcoholics,
also called "Alcoholics Anonymous," on which a
mid-Western physician collaborated with the New York broker,
the movement began to spread. Today it includes some 2,000
members and fifty groups, located as far south as Texas,
as far west as San Francisco. Growth in the mid-West, under
the motivation of the collaborating physician, has been
especially rapid and the Cleveland group is the largest
in the country. The New York group, which might logically
be expected to be the largest. is kept down by existence
of surrounding, smaller groups, in the Oranges and on Long
In Baltimore Group The
Baltimore group was founded only eight months ago, in June,
1940, and now numbers about forty members, of whom five
are women. It may be contacted through Box 155 at the Baltimore
Post Office. Most of its members are married, most of them
are middle-aged. One is a youngster of 22. On the whole,
they are a well-groomed, not unprosperous looking lot, few
of whom display noticeable scars of battle.
The founding fathers
of the Baltimore group were three, one of whom shortly fell
by the way. One of the founders and one of the men who have
joined since had been "dry" for fairly long- periods
prior to entering "Alcoholics Anonymous"; all
of the others came in as very active alcoholics, as they
themselves are the first to admit.
Not all of them, of course, here or elsewhere, are sincere.
As one doctor who has worked very closely and enthusiastically
with the local group points out, there are some false-faces
among them. The groups in two distant cities, for example,
were originally founded by a sharper who hoped to chisel
his way to a small fortune and a woman neurotic who simply
desired to bask in the reflected publicity.
Still Short Not
all of them have been able to walk the extremely narrow
and difficult path laid out for them without an occasional
false step. but as far as the members themselves know (and
they know pretty well by virtue of constant individual and
family contacts) slips have been relatively few. Over the
Christmas holidays only three of the then thirty-five members
succumbed to !he old lure. Since June only four members
altogether, two men and two women. are known to have slipped,
and some of them only once.
In the case of the Baltimore
group, of course, such a record is discounted by the fact
that most of its members have belonged only four or five
months or less, a period guaranteed, for example, by most
of the profession al "cures." At the same time,
the members feel they can take legitimate pride in their
record over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. New Year's
Eve, incidentally, most of them spent in a group at a member's
house in Mount Washington with intoxicants nowhere to be
found. And they say they enjoyed it.
Members come to "Alcoholics
Anonymous" in a number of different ways. A few are
sent by their ministers, others are brought in by friends
and old drinking companions who are already members. A number
have been referred by several doctors interested in the
movement, including the head of one of the professional
"cures" and Dr. George H. Preston, of the State
Health Department, with whom Alcoholics Anonymous has an
informal working agreement. He recommends alcoholics to
them and they in turn are privileged to send alcoholics
to one of the State hospitals to have them "defogged,"
their systems cleared of alcohol.
Several have come directly
from the State institutions at Cambridge and Spring Grove.
One was in jail for striking his father with a bottle. His
wife asked the "Alcoholics Anonymous" to go see
him. Another, a girl, was tricked into at tending her first
meeting by being told she was going on a bind date.
Jobs A Problem When
alcoholics join "Alcoholics Anonymous" they are
frequently out of a job. Getting them back to work is one
of the first, end most important, things the group attempts
to do. Today, "early every member has a job, Some ten
of them have obtained them directly as the result of efforts
of other members. Four of these are doing clerical work
at national defense establishments, one at a salary of over
$300 a month. Another, the young man who was in jail when
"Alcoholics Anonymous" first contacted him, is
doing steel work.
Among the others, a
number have improved upon positions to which they were barely
able to hold on heretofore. One has had two step-ups; another
who went to the office every day expecting to be fired has
had a raise and offers of four other positions in three
weeks, and has gained twenty pounds in the process. Another
has got back his old job --that of a whisky salesman --
and it isn't bothering him, at least not much.
The ''formal" Wednesday
evening meetings are held in the clubroom of an uptown hotel.
There are no dues, no initiation fees. A hat is passed at
each meeting and each member contributes as he can afford;
new members often out of a job and broke, some times can
afford nothing and that's just the way "Alcoholics
Anonymous" want it to be. The organization of groups
throughout the country is a loose one. The foundation in
New York is financed by a small endowment and the sale of
The meetings are formal
only to the extent of having a chairman -chosen by rotation
each week -- and a permanent secretary. Otherwise their
atmosphere is one of pleasant. almost light-hearted fellowship.
Wives, husbands, friends, even interested strangers are
welcome, for despite !he name "Anonymous" one
of the basic principles of the movement is that its members
have nothing to hide. Admission of their difficulties is
a first requisite. Some of the Baltimore group even objected
to having the accompanying photograph taken from the rear
-- for fear it might encourage people to believe they were
afraid to have their identity known.
could be farther from the truth. Except and quite naturally,
among the very new members, there is no embarrassment. At
each meeting several members tell the group, and whoever
else may be present, about their difficulties with alcohol
and what "Alcoholics Anonymous" is meaning for
them. This, of course, is a sort of spiritual catharsis
and is basic in the psycho-religious idea upon which the
movement is based.
There is no softening
of terminology, no shelter behind pleasant euphemisms. One
member describes the group as "not bad looking for
a bunch of drunks," and as a matter of fact they are
not. Such words and phrases as "bender," "debauch,
""in the gutter' '"gin mill" and "horrible
drunk" sprinkle their talks and conversation. Sometimes
one almost feels they are carrying this sort of thing to
One of the Baltimore
group's unsolved problems is what to do with alcoholics
who wander in from out of town. Other cities with larger
and older groups have clubhouses for just this purpose,
or arrangements with such organizations as the Salvation
Army. The Baltimore group hopes to be able, eventually,
to do the same.
are not prohibitionists. They simply admit an allergy. For
those who can control their drinking, they think it is all
right. But for themselves and others like them, no.
from The Baltimore News American. October 25. 1941
EX-DRUNKARDS LEAD THE DRUNKARDS -- Louis Azrael "
I'm a drunkard,'' said the middle-aged, dignified gentleman
who has a responsible place in a big business organization.
Then he corrected himself. "At least, I was until recently.
In that correction lies
a fascinating story. He told me part of it and, as a result,
I attended a few nights ago, one of the weekly meeting of
Except for myself, every
other man in the room (and some of the women) knew pink
elephant from purple giraffes, knew roaring sprees and jittery
hangovers from personal experience. Most of them had, at
one time or another, taken ineffectual "cures."
The business or professional careers of many had been ruined
or seriously injured by drink.
Also present at the
meeting were the wives, and in one case, the mother, of
some of the men.
never have suspected anything like that, to look at the
gathering. There were no ragged, bleary-eyed bums. There
were serious, friendly, well-dressed, alert looking people.
Some of them bore names which are well known in Baltimore.
And they merely talked.
A young man arose and, to my astonishment, I recognized
him as one who when I first knew him, was one of the outstanding
members of a Johns Hopkins University graduating class.
In simple, straightforward
language, he told how his mother and his wife (both of whom
were present) had used every device they knew to break his
addiction to alcohol; how his business career had been ruined,
and how he had come across "Alcoholics Anonymous."
He hasn't had a drink in four months. He is re-establishing
his business successfully.
He talked with none
of the evangelical fervor of a revivalist. He indulged in
no mock heroics. He talked like a friendly person who knew
something which could be helpful to others.
Some of the others,
with whom I spoke later, had been off liquor for a year
or more. The chief speaker of the evening was a New York
broker named William G. Wilson, who founded "Alcoholics
Anonymous" six years ago. He too spoke in the same
is their secret? It is, as they explained it to me,
amazingly simple; amazingly sensible. Six years ago several
souses reached the depths of alcoholic degradation. Sanitariums
hadn't helped them. Psychiatrists hadn't helped them. So,
in a sober period. they decided to help each other.
One of the things that
psychiatrists usually recommend to drunkards is to find
some hobby; to get some new interest which will occupy their
minds and energies. Well, these men adopted a new interest.
They became interested in helping drunkards.
It was a hobby with
a special fascination for them. They knew, better than any
other persons could, how much they accomplished for those
they helped. Because they knew the problems, the mental
tricks, the rationalizations that drunkards use, they were
able to give help which others couldn't give.
Furthermore, they could
appeal to drunkards where doctors, physicians or clergymen
couldn't. After they sat around with a drunkard for a while,
exchanged stories about sprees and jamborees, about efforts
to stop drinking, etc, there was a mutuality of interest
which other types of persons couldn't achieve.
And the important thing
is that whether these men helped the other drunkards or
not, they were helping themselves. They had because of what
they were trying to do, an incentive to stay sober. And
their minds, and their spare time, were taken up with an
activity which was overpoweringly interesting and important
that group, "Alcoholics Anonymous'' developed until
it now includes about 1,500 persons in about twenty cities.
The Baltimore group is only a few months old.
The plan is much more
elaborate then I have indicated. Through experience, they
have worked out a definite technique. They try to have men,
when seeking to rid themselves of alcoholic habits place
reliance in a Superior Being though it doesn't matter what
they call Him or how they approach Him. They try to teach
victims to be honest with themselves and with others. In
fact, Wilson and some others have written a long book about
their experiences and solutions.
They get together every
week just to be sociable and to talk things out. Any one
of them knows that, when the craving for drink assails him,
he can phone a member of the group, who will be glad to
come to him immediately and try to help him.
There are no dues. There
are no officers.
What I saw when I attended
the meeting was merely a group of persons who had been through,
or were still going through, a horrible experience and were
trying to help each other.
And they're succeeding.
At least two thirds of those who have joined them, they
told me, no longer take a drink.
from The Baltimore Sun
Are Worth Saving -- Editorial June 4, 1974 A
large part of the problem undoubtedly is that most of us
are able casually to dismiss the alcoholic as a skid-row
character, a ne'er-do-well who is scarcely worth saving.
Such misconceptions can be dispelled quickly by attending
a few meetings of recovered alcoholics in various programs
such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Many of the members of these
programs tell frightening stories of their descent into
degradation through alcohol -- and heartening, inspiring
stories of their recovery once they made the decision to
stop drinking. As it turns out, many of these recovered
alcoholics - although by no means all ---had become skid-row
bums of the stereotyped variety. But what is startling is
that so many of them had been among the most respected members
of society before they made the descent.
A Los Angeles man who
had been an eye surgeon before his drinking became debilitating
told how he spent years huddled in doorways in filthy, worn
clothes attempting to cadge a few coins from passersby so
he could buy a bottle of wine -- and then he described how
he made the decision he could no longer drink and survive,
and laboriously made his climb back to his former position.
Among recovered alcoholics
in the Baltimore-Washington area are artists, successful
businessmen, editors high government officials, at least
one United States Senator, many lawyers and thousands of
respectable workingmen. One universal characteristic of
the recovered drunks is that they are well-dressed, clean
and responsible. Whether their stations be high or low,
they are useful members of society.
This, then, is the overwhelming
practical message of Miss Rohzon's articles: To let alcoholism
programs slip into neglect is to consign untold numbers
of potentially useful citizens to continued degradation
and, often, death and insanity; while to maintain effective
programs hr to rescue them and, eventually, to convert them
into taxpaying citizens. The practical message happens to
coincide with the humane one.
© All Rights Reserved 1999-2006 Baltimore Intergroup
Council of Alcoholics Anonymous