| print this
AA’s First Five Years
W., wife of AA’s co-founder, Bill W., recalls the time in
AA when there were few members and no Big Book.
Grapevine, Inc, January 1967
the early days of AA things were really different. For five
years there was no Big Book. The only way to communicate
with other people was to go and tell them, so that’s what
we did. Of course, all of the meetings were held in people’s
homes, the homes of those who were lucky enough to have
them. Anybody who had one made it wide open to whomever
the boys brought in. Our houses, Dr. Bob’s in Akron and
ours in Brooklyn, were just filled with drunks, either drinking,
or stopped temporarily, or well on the way to real sobriety.
AA was quite different in those days for many reasons. One
was that there were no people in AA except those who had
gone to the very bottom. Only these would listen to the
story that one drunk was telling another. When AA first
started, before there was a book, it was more anonymous
than it is now, because even the Fellowship was without
a name. AA didn’t have a name until the book was written.
Before that it was just a bunch of drunks trying to help
each other, a bunch of nameless drunks. They had to be worked
with over and over; families and everybody did what they
could to help.
were many, many sad things that happened, many very humorous
things, and inspirational things, too.
are coming to mind right now. Bill, as you know, came from
Vermont and someone sent him some maple syrup from there.
It came in a whiskey bottle. One of the boys saw this attractive
container in the kitchen and he was so drunk at the time
that he gulped the whole bottle of syrup, thinking it was
had a rule that no one could come into the house when he
was drinking. One night one of the boys came home drunk.
We wouldn’t let him in so he pried open the coal chute and
slid into the cellar. Since he was very fat it was surprising
that he could slide down it, yet somehow he made it. But
this same fat man did get stuck one night in the washtubs.
He lived in the basement apartment. Old city houses used
to have stationary tubs in the kitchen. He thought he’d
try to take a bath in one. But after getting in he couldn’t
get out so one of us (and I think it was I) had to pull
were many other things…a man committed suicide in our house
after having pawned our dress clothes, left over from more
prosperous days. These included Bill’s dress suit and my
precious evening cape. We have never owned such articles
was always thrilling. The families were included in all
of the meetings; wives and parents (there weren’t many alcoholic
women then), and the children came too. The children were
vitally interested in everything that went on. They would
inquire about all the members and want to know how they
were. They’d learn the Twelve Steps and really try to live
by them. I don’t think youngsters can be too young to be
thrilled by the AA program and be helped by it.
of the first women who came in was the ex-wife of a friend
of Bill’s. She had been in Bellevue and had come from there
to our house. At that time there was a wonderful man - I
think he was the fourth or fifth AA - who was trying to
start a group in Washington, D.C. This woman went down to
help him and she stayed sober for quite a long time. Then
she married a man they were trying to bring onto the program.
He really didn’t go along with the idea himself and used
to say to her every once in a while, “Florence, you look
so thirsty.” And so she did something about that, Florence
disappeared. Everybody looked for her everywhere and couldn’t
find her. After a couple of weeks they found her in the
that time each group used to visit every other group. New
York members would go to New Jersey or Greenwich, Philadelphia
or Washington or even Cleveland or Akron. Those were the
groups I recall were in existence in the first five years.
anybody had a car a bunch of us would pile in and we’d go
wherever we knew there was a meeting. Families were just
as much a part of AA as the alcoholics and we did feel we
after a while the AA’s thought that they should have an
occasional meeting - at least one every week - of just alcoholics
so that they could really get down to business. When this
occurred the wives thought they’d meet together, too, at
the same time. At first these little gatherings of wives
didn’t have any particular purpose. Sometimes we’d play
bridge and sometimes we’d gossip about our husbands.
a few of us began to see that we really needed the AA program
just as much as the alcoholics. The famous case of my throwing
a shoe at Bill started me wondering about myself and realizing
that I needed to live by the Twelve Steps just as much as
he did. He was getting way ahead of me. I always thought
of myself as being the moral mentor in the house, but Bill,
who never was a mentor, was certainly growing spiritually
while I was standing still. Or perhaps there is no standing
still - if I wasn’t going ahead, I must be going backwards.
decided I’d better live by the Twelve Steps. Annie S. and
a number of other people had come to the same conclusion.
So, whenever we visited another group, we would tell the
wives and families how we found that we, too, needed to
live by the Twelve Steps of AA. Little groups of wives and
families all over the country began to feel the same need
for something to help overcome their frustrations and help
them become integrated human beings again.
the way Al-Anon started. We followed the AA program in every
principle. I want to thank AA’s so very much for showing
us the way. Without your leading us we would still be the
unhappy folks we were.
our meetings we tell our own experiences just as AA’s do.
We tell how we came to find that we needed Al-Anon and what
Al-Anon has done for us. And we seek to help other families
that were, or are, having the same sort of experience.
1950 Bill traveled all over Canada and the United States
to see how AA’s would react to the idea of a general conference
for Alcoholics Anonymous, and in doing so he discovered
quite a few types of groups of the family of alcoholics.
He thought that they should have a Central Office here in
New York, just as AA did, so that they could be unified
in their use of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions -
a place where inquiries could be received, literature prepared
and the public informed so that those in need would know
where to turn.
good friend and I started a small office in Bedford Hills.
By then AA had had eighty-seven inquiries from wives or
groups who wished to register. As AA was not equipped to
handle the families of alcoholics it handed over this list
to us and we wrote to them. Fifty groups responded and were
registered with us. That was in '51. Today (1967) there
are over 3,000 Al-Anon groups.
numerical potential of Al-Anon is greater than AA’s because
it is composed not only of mates of alcoholics, but children,
parents and other relatives and friends. It is estimated
that five people are seriously affected by one alcoholic.
we have barely scratched the surface, the future is bright,
thanks to you AA’s for your wonderful example and inspiration.
© The A.A. Grapevine,
Inc., August 1953
practicing our Traditions, The AA Grapevine, Inc. has neither
endorsed nor are they affiliated with Silkworth.net.
The Grapevine®, and AA Grapevine® are registered
trademarks of The AA Grapevine, Inc.
W. Grapevine index | Grapevine