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Fragment of History and a Tribute
By Bill W.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., May 1957
A. Wiese Hammer, seventy-seven, and a Fellow of the American
College of Surgeons, died at Philadelphia December 27th,
simple account of the passing of one of Americas finest
surgeons stirs memories that will always be bright in the
annals of Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. A. Wiese Hammer was
one of the best friends that AA will ever have.
Several of Philadelphias old time members have written
up the full story of Dr. Hammer and his benefactions. And
here is the substance of what they had to say:
It was February, 1940. Jim, a New York AA, had just moved
to Philadelphia and he was trying to get a local bookstore
to carry the book Alcoholics Anonymous in their
store. The bookstores manager protested that his customers
could have no possible interest in the book Alcoholics
Anonymous. As for himself, he couldnt care less.
Overhearing this turndown, a lady standing nearby got into
the act. She said she had sent Alcoholics Anonymous
to her alcoholic nephew in Los Angeles. To the astonishment
of the whole family, the problem boy had sobered up instanter
and he had stayed that way for some three months. This was
unheard of. Nevertheless, the bookstore manager remained
But when Helen Hammer heard of Jims attempt to start
the group at Philadelphia, her delight was boundless. She
immediately led Jim and one of his new prospects to her
Dr. Hammer in all that he undertook was a huge enthusiast.
This full-blooded ruddy-faced man had a mighty zest for
living which poured out of him right around the clock. And
this joyous contagion he could spread to just about everybody
he met. The moment he heard Jims story about AA his
good work for our society began at once. As we shall see,
it was not confined to Philadelphia only; Dr. Hammer went
to bat for us nationally at a time when AA had great need
for this kind of good friend.
Here is what Dr. Hammer did: opened his home to all AA members
- secured the Philadelphia Group its first meeting rooms
- introduced us to Dr. Stouffer, another great friend-to-be,
who was then Chief Psychiatrist at the Philadelphia General
Hospital - secured us treatment and visiting privileges
there - had AAs speak before the County Medical Society
- along with his good wife, Helen, attended nearly every
AA meeting for years - gave free medical and surgical aid
to every AA who wanted it - visited other cities to talk
about AA and paid the expenses of the Philadelphia members
he took along - offered to buy the Philadelphia Group its
first clubhouse (which had to be declined) - saw that his
friend, Judge Curtis Bok, owner of the Saturday Evening
Post, became interested in AA - and finally induced the
Judge to assign Jack Alexander to do the famous article
in 1941 that made our fellowship a national institution.
This is only an abbreviated list of Dr. Hammers good
works for our society. Doubtless hundreds of his benefactions
will never be known, except to those individual sufferers
to whom he was so notably kind.
Then, too, I find it impossible to write about Dr. Hammer
without the happy recollection of Dr. Dudley Saul, another
noted Philadelphia physician who constantly vied with Dr.
Hammer in good works for us drunks.
To our intense astonishment - and always to our great benefit
- these two great gentlemen fiercely competed with each
other to figure out something bigger and better they could
do for Alcoholics Anonymous. This is a great story in itself
which Im going to tell one of these days. How could
AA in its infancy ever have survived without friends such
as these - these Philadelphia physicians who worked shoulder
to shoulder with Drs. Tiebout and Silkworth at New York?
To Helen Hammer I send AAs deepest sympathy and gratitude.
And I often wonder what her memories of our early days must
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., May 1957
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