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Anonymous Comes to Philadelphia
by Jim B.
September 1st 1946
it happened. The writer came to Philadelphia on a new job
February 13th, 1940, having been dry in the original New
York Group for about two years. Being in a new city, he
knew he had to have other alcoholics to work and play with.
On February 17th he contacted Charlie B., whom he had met
once, some two years before, at a New York AA meeting. This
was the first contact. The same Charlie read over the new
AA book, which had been published nine months before, and
then and there we decided to start an AA group in Philadelphia.
At this time there were only three other established AA
Groups in the country - Akron, New York, and Cleveland.
next step was to see two of Charlies potential Oxford
Group prospects, Bayard B. and Edmund P. They were all for
trying it out. In the meantime, the New York office sent
us an inquiry from one George S., who also became enthusiastic.
Then the writer, Jim B., went to a Keswick meeting at 69th
Street and hooked one of their converts, McCready H., who
agreed to go along for the ride. This was our nucleus -
each a completely different type of individual but all sincere.
Founders: Chas B., Bayard B., Jim B., McCready H., Ed P.,
Fitz M., George S.
had our first organization meeting at McCready Hustons
room at 2209 Delancy Street, Thursday February 28th, 1940.
Present were Charlie B., Bayard B., McCready H., Edmund
P., George S., Jim B., and a visiting AA member from the
New York Group, Fritz M. Of these seven, six have maintained
their recovery from alcoholism.
this February 28th meeting, we agreed to have our first
Open Meeting at George S.s home on the following Thursday
night and to invite the families of those involved, as well
as Bill W., AA co-founder, from New York. Between these
two meetings, an accidental encounter in a bookstore where
the writer was trying to place copies of the new AA book,
resulted in our introduction to Dr. A. Wiese Hammer who
immediately caught fire and asked to become our Medical
Advisor. Dr. Hammer and Dr. Saul, his associate, were the
first medical men in the country to allow their names to
be used publicly by AA. This was done in the article in
the Saturday Evening Post, March 1st, 1941.
first Open Meeting of the Philadelphia Group of Alcoholics
Anonymous was held at George S.s house on Thursday
March 6, 1940, those present being Charlie B., Mr. and Mrs.
Bayard B., Mr. and Mrs. Jim B., Dr. and Mrs. A. Wiese Hammer,
Mrs. Metzger, Mr. And Mrs. Edmund P., Mr. And Mrs. Gordon
MacD. and Mr. And Mrs. Herbert D. of East Orange, N.J.,
Fitz M. and Mr. and Mrs. Bill W. from New York.
night we talked AA informally, with Bill W. as the center
of attraction. Coffee and doughnuts were served by Mrs.
George S. We passed the hat the first night, being determined
to be on our own from the start, and collected $17.50. We
ended the meeting with the Lords Prayer about 12:30
a.m. - everyone being very happy with this new fellowship.
following Thursday evening, all of us AAs were invited
to Dr. Hammers home. There was one new prospect, George
B., as well as Jim Ashbrook, a non-alcoholic who immediately
became a great friend and worker for A.A.
third Thursday Open Meeting was held at Bayard B.s
home, where Dr. Hammer first introduced us to Dr. C. Dudley
Saul, who also asked to be allowed to act as Medical Adviser.
fifth meeting, April 3rd 1940, was the first one really
open to the City of Philadelphia, and was held at St. Lukes
Hospital. This was arranged by Doctors Hammer and Saul.
About thirty attended, including families. At this meeting
we decided to have a committee of three, to be changed monthly,
who would handle all AA activities of the Group. The first
committee was composed of Bergner, Bowie and Burwell, (hence
the three B's) with Burwell acting as Secretary and Treasurer.
Philadelphia AAs first publicity came on April 1,
1940 in the Philadelphia Record.
April 1940, we convinced Dr. Wm. Turnbill, Superintendent
of Philadelphia General Hospital that we could help him
with some of his alcoholic patients and at the same time
he would be helping us.
April 10th we made our first Saturday afternoon visit to
the Psychopathic Ward to visit the alcoholics. On this trip
we lassoed two of our best AA workers, Art McMasters and
Bud Monihan. At the same time, we convinced Dr. Stauffer,
Chief Phychiatrist, that we had something we both could
use. Since this date, AA has never missed a Saturday visit
to Philadelphia General Hospital. We estimate that at least
150 of our present members, both men and women, first had
contact with AA while confined at this hospital during one
of our visits.
September 1940 we made our first visit to the House of Correction
at Holmesburg. Our first convert here was Jack D., who came
in a couple of weeks later and has remained dry and very
active in AA ever since.
the fall of 1940 we concluded that a clubhouse would greatly
help our AA fellowship which now numbered about 75, including
three girls; so in November 1940 we opened our first clubhouse
at 2036 Sansom Street. This was a store property about 18
x 60 feet, with two floors, rent $60.00 a month. Our first
steward was Bill We., who had recently become a member.
At that time there was only one other AA clubhouse in existence
- in New York. However, we went a step further than they
by adding a lunch counter service and staying open from
8:00 AM to 1:00 AM daily. This is why Philadelphia claims
to have the first complete AA Clubhouse.
plan for financing all these activities was for each of
us who had been dry two months to pledge a weekly contribution.
These were placed in small plain envelopes with name and
date written in, and put in the hat at the Open Meetings
at St. Lukes. No contributions were to be over $1.00
a week. This plan was worked out by our Treasurer, Johnny
L. Most of our original furniture and equipment was donated
by members and friends and was not in too good condition.
Mmes. Bowie, Burwell, David, Hammer, Lewis, Sauland Kearns
were those who did most of the work and saw that we got
what we needed.
December 28th, 1940 we had our first monthly business meeting
(another first for Philadelphia) and at that this meeting
it was decided to hold a closed weekly meeting for AA members
and prospects. These were to be held each Monday night at
the clubhouse and were to be supplemented by the regular
open Thursday meetings at St. Lukes for families and
friends. These Monday closed meetings have continued without
a break since. It was also decided at this first business
meeting that we would help Major Baggs at the Salvation
Army Rehabilitation Center by having a group of AAs
visit there and hold weekly meetings with their alcoholic
prospects. Dick G. was the first AA to come out of this
left the clubhouse at Sansom Street in May 1941 for larger
and more elaborate quarters at 1537 Pine Street. There we
were flooded with AA prospects as a result of the Saturday
Evening Post article. Our active membership at this time
was about 125, with about five active girls, the most solid
being Fanny L.
carried on at the Pine Street Clubhouse with about the same
activities, continuing our open meetings at St. Lukes
Hospital until November 1942 when we switched these to a
more central spot at Crozier Hall, 1420 Chestnut Street.
The open meetings were held there until July 1943.
15th 1943 we took over the Alpha Chi Rho Fraternity House
at 219 s. 36th Street, adjoining the campus of the University
of Pennsylvania. This arrangement was made at a monthly
rental of $175 with two months free rent though Jim A.,
our then Secretary, who was also president of the fraternity.
AA landed at 36th Street with an active membership of about
250 and exactly $50.00 in the bank.
we moved the club to 36th Street we found that in these
new, well-furnished quarters out type of membership greatly
improved, and we started to get many men and women who had
not hit bottom as hard as some of us older members.
continue with our real work, we decided when we moved into
the new Clubhouse to form a House Management Committee who
would handle the financial and administrative affairs of
the club, but who were to leave all AA meetings and actual
AA work to the Monthly Operating Committee which had been
so effective. No member could serve on this Management Committee
who had not been dry at least a year. This plan worked out
very satisfactory. AA remained at 219 South 36th Street
until April 1, 1946, when the fraternity cancelled our lease
in order to return the building to the university students.
the time we occupied the 36th Street Clubhouse, we held
our closed Monday meetings at the club and our open meetings
on Thursdays either at the club or across the street at
the University of Pennsylvania Christian Association.
April 1945 Bob Moorman and the writer made arrangements
with Dr. Wilson, Superintendent of Episcopal Hospital, whereby
they would give us four beds for the hospitalization of
AA prospects for de-fogging. Treatment was to be administered
by Dr. J. H. Arnett at a cost of $10 a day including medical
fees and no visitors were permitted to patients except A.A.
members. A $500 Hospital fund was created by voluntary subscription,
as a revolving fund to assist the newly organized Hospital
Committee headed by George Roberts. These funds were used
to assist likely prospects that were unable to pay for hospitalization.
The plan worked out very well and we estimate that about
50% of those hospitalized under this plan became active
new activities got underway during 1945 while we were at
the 36th Street Clubhouse. In April we also decided it was
imperative to have a full-time secretary, so Helen Snyder
was employed as a paid secretary. In September 1945, the
Womens Group, then numbering about twenty-five, began
to hold a closed monthly meeting for women alcoholics and
prospects only. These meetings continued and have proved
to most successful, both in bringing new women into the
group and creating closer cooperation with the Womens
November 1945 a third weekly Clubhouse meeting was inaugurated
on Sunday afternoons from three to four, especially for
new people and night workers. This meeting was initiated
by Ed McG.
to our tremendous growth and the responsibilities that our
expansion was putting on the Management Committee, in January
1946 the members voted to incorporate. This we did, as Alcoholics
Anonymous of Philadelphia (a non-profit corporation) and
a complete new set of by- laws was enacted. The first officers
elected were Bill J., President; Jack H., Vice President;
Pat R., Treasurer and Johnny MacD., Secretary. It was also
voted to change the name of Management Committee
to Board of Directors. This Board was to be
composed of one representative of each neighborhood group
and was to serve for six months while the corporation officers
were to serve for one year. This Board and office control
all AA finances and club administration, while the monthly
Operating Committees continue in control of AA meetings
March 1946 we purchased our first Clubhouse at 4021 Walnut
Street for $27,500, from the Philadelphia Fidelity Trust,
who immediately gave us a first mortgage of $15,000. The
remaining $12,500 was raised by popular donation through
our own membership only, with practically nobody giving
over $100.00. However, due to OPA (Government war-time)
regulations we could not get immediate occupancy of the
new Clubhouse, so on April 1, 1946 we moved into temporary
quarters in the ballroom of the Covington Hotel, 37th and
Ludlow Streets. Our membership was now around 600.
are continuing at the Covington with our open Thursday meetings
and all other club activities, but the meetings have grown
so large that at present we are looking around for a more
capacious place to hold these.
of the most satisfactory developments of our growth in Philadelphia
has been the establishment of neighborhood groups. The first
of these was started in March 1945 in Jenkintown by George
R. and Warren C. and since then others have sprung up in
Camden, N.J., Ardmore, 69th St, Frankford, Germantown, Central
City, and Roxborough. All these groups have their own closed
weekly meetings, usually on Monday, and are a great help
in making closer contact with the new people from their
respective sections. All remain an integral part of the
Main Group, attend the weekly open meeting at the club and
contribute to the support of the Clubhouse. At the present
time, the monthly Operating Committees are composed of one
member from each of these neighborhood groups, including
the Womens Groups and Young Peoples Group (of
which more later) and each Thursday the open meeting is
sponsored by a different local group with the Committee
member from that group presiding. Each Operating Committee
member serves for one month only and cannot serve again
for several months, and it was the writers opinion
that this monthly changing of committee personnel has been
the secret of the cooperation and success of the Philadelphia
Young Peoples Group, which was started around February
1946 by Bates McL. and Art L., both under thirty, is one
of the most encouraging things ever to happen in AA. These
two members decided that AA was not doing too good a job
with younger prospects so they started a weekly Monday meeting
of their own, to be made up of only members under 35. They
are doing a remarkably fine job, and with the ever-increasing
number of younger people who come to AA for help, we feel
that these younger members are just the answer to the problem
of educating the alcoholic to understand his problem before
he has suffered too much. The Young Peoples Group,
which numbers a few ladies also, are solving the problem
of a substitute for their social drinking, by organizing
picnics, parties and other social activities as well as
their AA group therapy.
saw the establishment, on June 20th, of the first private
Alcoholic Clinic for the education and treatment of alcoholism.
This was established, as a separate annex by St. Lukes
Hospital and is located across the street from the hospital
at 1242 North 8th Street. This Clinic was the realization
of the efforts of two of AAs best Philadelphia friends
and medical advisers, Dr. C. Dudly Saul and Dr. C. Nelson
Davis, with the latter in full charge. Johnny L., one of
our oldest members (in point of sobriety) acts as business
manager. The present capacity of the clinic is 18 beds and
they are now handling over 50 alcoholic patients a month.
The average stay is five days and the cost is $10 a day
plus $15 for medical services. AA in Philadelphia is cooperating
wholeheartedly with this clinic and all the patients there
are advised to investigate and join AA. Dr. Davis holds
an informal forum on alcoholism each morning which is attended
by past and present clinic patients, as well as members
of the public who are interested.