Groups in the U.S.: How They Began and How They Grew,
East Central and Northeast Regions
As Bill W. recounted his own experiences and feelings at the St. Louis Convention, he was moved by the presence there of the great nonalcoholic friends who had made possible the Alcoholic Foundation and the Big Book, but he enjoyed even more the gathering of so many of the pioneers of Alcoholics Anonymous from many parts of the United States. He probably knew most of them personally through his travels, through the two previous Conventions held in Cleveland, and through the first four General Service Conferences where some of them served as delegates. And he obviously relished spinning the stories of how they had received the A.A. message and how they had carried it to others.
Bill reminisced about how A.A. began and how it spread until, in 1955, it had grown to 7,000 groups. He conveyed the miracle, but he did not attempt to write history. A.A. concerns itself with spiritual principles and pays little attention to facts and figures, dates and numbers. However, thanks to a new interest in archives and origins, which came later, it is now possible to flesh out those fragmentary reminiscences and record some of the fascinating annals.
Each of A.A.’s 35,000 groups in the U.S. has a history and these histories collectively become the history of a city, state or region. All these histories cannot be told in a book this size, much less in a single chapter. But perhaps we can chronicle in a general way how A.A. took root in various parts of the country, how it branched and bore fruit.
EAST CENTRAL REGION
Akron, Cleveland and Ohio
After Bill and Dr. Bob met in Akron, Bill remained on and they began to carry their message of recovery to others. As their numbers slowly grew, they met together, usually as families. Bill wrote Lois, “Scarcely an evening passed that someone’s home did not shelter a little gathering of men and women, happy in their release and constantly thinking how they might present their discovery to some newcomer. In addition to these casual get togethers, it became customary to set apart one night a week for a meeting to be attended by anyone or everyone interested in a spiritual way of life.” This was the Wednesday night meeting of the Oxford Group at T. Henry and Clarace Williams’.
“The alcoholic squad,” as some called it in later years, continued to meet at the Williams’ for about four years, but there was a growing sense of separateness between the alcoholics and the other local Oxford Groupers. In late 1939, the alcoholics broke away. They met at Dr. Bob’s house for a few weeks but needed more room, so in January 1940, they began meeting at King School.
As the news of hope for the alcoholic spread by word of mouth, drunks from other places were attracted to Akron to be hospitalized by Dr. Bob and to learn from the small group there. Among the earliest Clevelanders were Clarence S. and his wife, Dorothy, who soon were bringing a number of men down every week to the Wednesday meetings. Many of them were Catholics who were uncomfortable with the religious aspects of the Oxford Group meetings. They began talking about having their own meetings in Cleveland, built around the Big Book and the Steps. The opportunity came when Abby (also known as Al) C., a patent lawyer from Cleveland, was hospitalized in Akron and began to attend meetings there. He and his wife Grace offered their big house and on May 11, 1939, the group began meeting there.
Although there were hard feelings over the split, a contingent of Akronites – including Dr. Bob – traveled to Cleveland for the first meeting and continued their support afterward. Clarence wrote Hank P. in New York that the people in the new group were “intensely interested and are out working” to dig up drunks. He reported they had “an ideal hospital setup and an alcoholic physician in attendance” (which Dr. Bob had helped arrange). “We have the experience of New York and Akron before us to guide us, and we feel that we are now on a good footing.”
The members of the new Cleveland group were uncertain what to call themselves and discussed several suggested names. “None of them seemed fitting,” remembered Abby C., “so we began to refer to ourselves ‘as Alcoholics Anonymous” after the title of the Big Book.
(On this tenuous fact Clarence S. based a lifelong claim that he was, in reality, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. He became perhaps the most controversial character in A.A. He turned against Bill and aroused the Cleveland contingent to accuse Bill and Dr. Bob of “getting rich” off the Big Book and the generosity of Mr. Rockefeller – which they had to disprove with a certified audit of their financial affairs. Clarence tried to organize a nationwide revolt against the Conference idea and threatened, unsuccessfully, to secede. He criticized Bill and the “New York office” vitriolically at every opportunity. Bill steadfastly refused to hold a grudge against him and in their correspondence “used soft words to turn away wrath.” Much later, when they met at the International Convention in Toronto, they actually spent several hours together, reminiscing. However, Clarence, a popular speaker on the Steps and the recovery program, continued to raise hackles wherever he appeared by calling press conferences in which he was photographed full face with his full name, holding the Big Book which he claimed he wrote, and identifying himself as the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. He asserted he was not bound by A.A.’s Traditions because they were written later—and written by Bill. Clarence S. moved to Florida in retirement, where he remained extremely active until his death in 1984.
In October, 1939, the Cleveland Plain Dealer carried a series of five articles which, in the words of Bill, “ushered in a new period for A.A. – the mass production of sobriety.” When the publicity hit, the Cleveland group was deluged with calls and inquiries. The newspaper switchboard passed along literally hundreds of pleas for help, and A.A.’s New York office, whose address had been given in the newspaper, forwarded still more names. Dorothy recalls, “Our phone never quit ringing. . .People had to be seen that day, and we had only about 13 people we could send out on Twelfth Step calls. They would [each] start out with five or six or eight calls to be made every evening. How they ever did it, I don’t know. But they made those calls.” Deaconess Hospital, where the A.A. arrangement had been made, was inadequate and great numbers were put into several other Cleveland hospitals. A scheme of personal sponsorship had to be devised to meet the sudden flood of new people. Brand-new A.A.’s, sober only a month or even a week, had to sponsor alcoholics still drying up in the hospitals. The newly published Big Book was an invaluable aid, and Ruth H. in the New York office was shipping them out 10 or 15 at a time to Dorothy S. Other homes besides Abby G.’s were thrown open for meetings. First, that of a nonalcoholic financier, T.E. Borton; then one in the Lakewood section which became the Orchard Grove Group; and a third, the Lee Road Group. Within about two weeks, the Cleveland membership had grown from 15 to 100.
In the glare of the publicity, the new phenomenon captured the interest of clergymen, doctors and nurses, and social agencies. In November, Dr. Dilworth Lupton, a noted Protestant clergyman, preached about A.A., and his sermon prompted still more newspaper publicity.
Bill wrote later, “We oldtimers in New York and Akron regarded this fantastic phenomenon with deep misgivings. Had it not taken us four whole years, littered with countless failures, to produce even 100 good recoveries? Yet there in Cleveland we saw about 20 members, not very experienced themselves, suddenly confronted by hundreds of newcomers. . .How could they possibly manage? We did not know.
“But a year later, we know, for by then Cleveland had about 30 groups and several hundred members. . .The Cleveland pioneers had proved three essential things: the value of personal sponsorship; the worth of the A.A. book in indoctrinating newcomers; and finally, the tremendous fact that A.A., when the word really got around, could now soundly grow to great size.”
The three original groups quickly outgrew members’ homes. “At the last meeting we held [at Abby G.’s house] people were standing up all over the living room, dining room, sitting on the stairs, standing in the kitchen,” recalled Clarence S. The Borton Group moved to the Alcazar Hotel, and later to Christ Church in Shaker Heights. The parent groups also spawned others. Bill H., of the Borton group formed the SouthEast group in ’42. Dale T. left Borton to start the Shaker group. J.T.C., Harold S. and Stan Z., who had continued to attend the Akron meeting, decided in ’42 to form the Arcade group. And so it went.
In February 1945, a Central Office was established, and in June of that year Cleveland hosted a 10th Anniversary Convention, the forerunner of the International Conventions, though it was not called that. Actually, 2,500 attended from 36 states, Canada and Mexico. Dr. Bob and Bill were the main speakers. Five years later, the first International Convention was also held in Cleveland. By then Cleveland had over 60 groups and nearly 3,000 members. But Cleveland A.A.’s did not need conventions to socialize. Events of the ’40’s included A.A. boxing matches, barber shop quartet singing, dances, picnics and minstrel shows.
The Plain Dealer articles and the Cleveland phenomenon were responsible for helping A.A. get started in many towns and cities throughout Ohio—and even far beyond its borders. People from Cleveland started groups in Indiana, Kentucky, western New York State, Illinois and even California.
In Ashtabula, Ohio, 45 miles from Cleveland, an alcoholic read the articles and told his wife, “I’m going to Cleveland to find out what this A.A. is about.” He called ahead, probably to Dorothy S., and arrived by train, to be met by five members. They talked to him over lunch (for which he had no appetite) and he stayed away from the bars until he reached home again. The next day he returned to check into Cleveland Hospital, where he was mightily impressed by his A.A. visitors. On his release, he continued to go to Cleveland for meetings, while his home town friends waited expectantly for him to relapse. But he didn’t, and soon Twelve Stepped his nephew. Then they both went to Cleveland for their A.A. until they were able to recruit others and to start a group in Ashtabula in 1940.
Duke P. tells of the beginning of an A.A. group in Toledo in the same year. Duke was a star salesman for a large company, and his boss, an extraordinarily understanding and compassionate man, was worried about his drinking. After Duke had wrecked a company car while drunk, he was called in with his wife Katie for a conference. The boss had read a newspaper interview with Rollie H., a famous baseball player, who had sobered up in Akron and gave A.A. the credit. He told Duke about it and said, “I think this A.A. will appeal to you because it’s psychologically sound and religiously sane. A couple of men will come to see you. Do anything they say. If they want you to go to Akron and spend a weekend with them, go ahead. We’ll pay the bill.”
The men who came were Charles “C.J.” K. and Eddie B., both of them graduates of the state insane asylum at Toledo, the only place alcoholics could be treated in those days. There, in the summer of 1939, they had been shown a multilithed copy of the Big Book. They were so impressed they got themselves released and went to live in separate quarters in Akron. Both from wealthy families, Eddie was the beneficiary of a spendthrift trust, and C.J.’s father was paying his living expenses as long as he stayed out of Toledo. When they took Duke back with them to Akron, Katie asked herself tearfully, “What kind of sucker are you to send your husband down to spend a weekend in Akron with two strangers who are alumni of an insane asylum?”
In Akron, Duke was admitted to City Hospital where he was called on by a number of A.A.’s—including Dr. Bob. “He just radiated charm, love and confidence—all the things I didn’t have. He said, ‘Duke, everything’s going to be all right.’ And I knew it was.” The Toledo man also went to an A.A. meeting in Akron. On Monday, he and Katie went to Youngstown to meet Neil K. who invited them to his home for dinner. Katie again dissolved into tears, wailing, “What can I talk to that woman [Neil’s wife] about? We don’t know these people.” “We’ve got to,” replied her husband. “We don’t do things like that,” said Katie, “We’ve never been introduced.” Duke said, “This is a new way of life.” And, of course, they had a delightful dinner with several A.A. members and their wives, with whom they were on a first-name basis within five minutes.
Duke and Katie, along with other A.A.’s from Toledo, Youngstown and other Ohio towns, traveled to Akron on Wednesday nights to attend the King Street meeting. But in September 1940, the Toledo members started their own group. Thirteen people (eight of them alcoholics) gathered at the home of Ruth T., a well-to-do woman who had sobered up in Akron the year before—one of the first women in A.A. Uncertain as to whether the separation would work, they kept in close touch with Dr. Bob in Akron and sought his counsel when problems arose. According to Duke, he would pray about it and say, “Keep it on a spiritual basis. If you keep principles above personalities and you’re active and sharing your program with other people, it will work out.”
The Toledo Group met at Ruth T.’s beautiful house on the river until the following January and then hired a hall for $10 a month. They also arranged for hospitalization of their prospects at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital! Toledo had its version of the Cleveland experience when the Toledo Blade ran a series of three articles on A.A. in February 1941 bearing the address of the service office in New York. The Blade was swamped with calls which it passed along, and lists of names were sent by New York also. A month later the Jack Alexander article appeared in the Saturday Evening Post and the flood of names increased. The original group grew so big that more groups had to be created with better geographical distribution. By 1955, there were 16 groups.
In Columbus, Ohio, Rev. Floyd Faust, nonalcoholic pastor of the Christian Church, had an early-morning daily radio show to “help people find a spiritual way of living. . . and surmount problems…in their daily lives…” A parishioner, Bob Fullerton, showed him an article in a medical journal on. Alcoholics Anonymous. “I wrote to all ten contacts [listed in the article], praying for an answer from one. To my surprise, I received an answer from all ten!” said Faust. One of them, Clarence Charles A., drove all the way from Cleveland to meet, by appointment, with Rev. Faust and “six individuals with alcohol problems,” at the church’s booth at the Ohio State Fair. The minister began announcing on his radio program that there was “help for anyone who had a drinking problem.. . if they wanted help”—and on November 13, 1941, “C.C.” A. made another trip to lead the first meeting of the Columbus group of A.A. at the YMCA.
By January 1942, the group had over 20 members and was meeting at Woodman Hall. A month later, the Central group split off, meeting at the Odd Fellows Hall. In August, the Olentangy group, later called the Columbus North group, was formed in the suburbs. In the northwest area, the Tri-Village group began. In 1947, Columbus listed 12 groups and in 1949 the Poindexter group was established for black alcoholics. It was to become one of the largest Columbus groups with both black and white members.
A.A. spread from Columbus to many other towns in that part of Ohio. Sam A. from Newark tired of driving to attend meetings in Columbus and formed the Moundbuilders group in October 1942. Sam G. moved from Columbus to Zanesville in ’44 and started the Y Bridge group. These were followed by Mt. Vernon and Marion in ’44 and Coshocton in ’45.
Dayton started its first group in June 1941, with 15 alcoholics meeting on Wednesday nights. Cincinnati saw its first meeting the same year. Ruth M., a nurse in a private drying-out facility for drunks, read the Jack Alexander article and traveled at her own expense both the New York and to Akron to learn more about A.A. And on May 7, 1941, she gathered a dozen alcoholics and held a meeting in a rented parlor at the Metropole Hotel. It is said that Ruth M. was fired from her job because of this and left town. But the group continued to meet. Arrangements were made for hospitalization of drunks at the Good Samaritan Hospital. By the spring of ’42, there were 30 members who moved to space previously occupied by a tavern in a basement on Hammond Street. As the group continued to grow, another meeting began in an office building downtown. The next year, clubrooms were acquired in a building at 405 Oak Street. By 1947 there were four groups.
When the General Service Structure was established, the number of groups in Ohio justified dividing it into four Conference areas (two of which include parts of adjoining states). In 1955, the state as a whole had 315 groups with 7,538 members – making it the third largest A.A. state in the U.S. In A.A.’s and Ohio’s 50th year, it had 1,684 registered groups with a membership of over 34,300—still the fourth largest among the states.
Chicago and Illinois
In 1937, a lonely alcoholic from Chicago named Earl T. traveled to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, to visit his father. He arrived sick, depressed and paralyzed with fears. His father had heard reports of the strange new organization in nearby Akron that was helping drunks recover. He took his son to meet Dr. Bob. Earl joined the Akron group and clung to it for several weeks before he had to return to Chicago. Before he departed, Dr. Bob took him through his moral inventory and asked if he would like to have these defects of character removed. “Without much thought, I said, ‘Yes, I would,’ Earl recalled. “And then he asked me to get down on my knees at the desk with him, and we both prayed aloud to have these defects removed.”
For months Earl worked tirelessly and utterly without success to find an alcoholic who would respond to his message. Meanwhile, he went to Akron every two months for a meeting in order to maintain his own sobriety. He would report his lack of success in working with others to Dr. Bob, who would tell him that when the time was right and Earl was right, it would work out providentially. “Which it did,” said Earl, for in August 1938 he managed to help a prospect get sober. A year later, another alcoholic recovered independently in Akron and returned to Chicago. This was an attractive woman, Sylvia K., who had caused some consternation among the Akron A.A.’s and their wives, who were glad to see Sylvia go back. Earl summed up, “It took two years, without the [Big] Book, before we had six people.” But on September 20, 1939, the first Chicago A.A. meeting was held at Sylvia’s apartment on Central Street, in Evanston. Eight people were present, four men and four women, two of whom were nonalcoholics.
Only a few weeks later, Earl wrote Bill in New York that they had four doctors and a hospital very much interested in working with them. “At the present time,” he continued, “we have ten rummies—three women and seven men—in the group, all working hard on eight new prospects. Several of these have come through you from the Liberty article.” As the meetings grew, the group had to move to downtown Chicago.
Helped by her nonalcoholic secretary, Grace Cultice, Sylvia set up a phone service in her home. When the Saturday Evening Post article broke in 1941, they rented a one-room office at 121 N. Dearborn in the downtown Loop, from which Grace directed a stream of prospects to A.A. This is believed to be the first organized A.A. central office anywhere. Many groups within several hundred miles trace their origin to the work of the Chicago Central Office. (See Chap. 20) The deluge of newcomers caused to Tuesday night open meeting to split up into ten neighborhood groups for more intimate work on the recovery program. This was the origin of a distinctive organization of A.A. in Chicago which soon spread to other cities in the East Central states; that is, a large weekly open speaker meeting supplemented by many small closed meetings (sometimes called “squads”) which are not allowed to grow beyond a limited size before again splitting.
By June 1941, the Tuesday night meeting was drawing 250 and was moved to the Central YMCA. Three years later, attendance had nearly tripled, so the meeting was again moved, this time to the Engineering Building, 205 W. Wacker Drive; and two years later, to 32 W. Randolph in order to accommodate crowds now running from 1,200 to 1,500. The growth continued, so that on Chicago A.A.’s tenth anniversary, there were 146 groups with an estimated 3,700 members. It was at last necessary to decentralize the Tuesday Open Meeting into several clones.
The growth also led to the need for regular communication among the groups. This was accomplished by the publication of a newsletter, Here’s How, which soon achieved wider circulation and has continued to the present.
When the General Service Conference structure was created in 1950, Bill W. came to Chicago to help them set up their service committee. Because of the already strong Central Office, the service committee was combined with it—i.e., both entities shared the same officers, the same treasury, etc.—a local structure which is unique in the U.S. But it has worked.
Although growing pains attended the spread of A.A. almost everywhere, they were especially severe and long lasting in Chicago. According to Condrad 0., who lived through it, it began when Earl T. was appointed in 1952 to a paid job as liaison between the Chicago Central Office and the Mayor’s office and other alcoholism agencies. Despite the affection and respect in which Earl was held, some members and groups—particularly in the Western suburbs—viewed this move as professionalism and a breach of anonymity. What rankled them more than anything, according to Conrad, was that “there had been no discussion, no reference to the groups for their consideration and approval. In a short time, about 150 groups seceded from central Chicago and formed their own Intergroup.” This schism continued for twenty years. The Chicago service committee, being synonymous with the central office, excluded the 150 dissident groups from the election of the delegate to the General Service Conference. The Western Intergroup countered by electing its own delegate. So the Conference Admissions Committee voted that neither would be seated until Chicago A.A. straightened out its problems.
“In time,” says Conrad, “the initial problem was lost in the mists of antiquity, but there was lots of animosity.” However, there were also people on both sides who were working to achieve unity; Conrad singles out Rudy E. and Milton C. A breakthrough came when downtown contingent invited the Intergroup contingent to take part in the election of the delegate (which was done by district chairman, not GSR’S). And, by strange coincidence, an Intergroup man, George G., was elected delegate. The schism continued under its own momentum for several more years, with each office publishing its own directory. Finally common sense and a desire to help the still-suffering alcoholic prevailed, and the Central Office, without fanfare, began listing Western suburban groups in its directory. Subsequently, the Intergroup steering committee decided there was no more need for separation and voted to dissolve the Intergroup. They closed out the treasury and sent a check for $1,200 to the Central Office! A committee from downtown then came out to Forest Park to meet with a suburban committee. Conrad, one of the latter, remembers Norm A., who said, “Let’s consider the things that bind us together, not the things that divide us.” The first move was to discontinue the Intergroup directory. Later, agreement was reached on restructuring A.A. throughout the city and its environs so it would be easier for the newcomer to locate groups, and on cooperation in hospital and prison work. One of the meetings to accomplish these things was held in Conrad 0.’s house; Norm A., Doug D. and Bruce W. were among those present.
In A.A. ‘5 50th year—and Chicago A.A.’s 46th—there were 3,200 groups in the Chicago area, with an estimated 75,000 members. An All-Chicago Open Meeting held that year at the University of Illinois Pavilion had 7,000 in attendance.
The first group in Illinois outside the Chicago area was formed in Peoria in ’43. This was followed in ’44 by Bloomington, East St.Louis, Eldorado, Rockford and Sterling; and in ’45 by
Decatur and Springfield. By 1985, number of groups outside of the Chicago totaled 1,036.
Milwaukee and Southern Wisconsin
Dr. Gilbert “Gib” K., a dentist, was the first alcoholic in Milwaukee to write the service office in New York for help. The date was October 23, 1940. He was put in touch with the groups in Madison, Wisconsin, and Chicago. Within three or four months, Gib had gathered three more members and began holding meetings in his home. Spouses were usually included, together with members from Madison and Chicago, for support. On April 30, 1941, a meeting open to the public was held at the Plankinton Hotel with about 50 in attendance including out-of-towners. A visit by Bill W. and Lois, with Bobbie B. from the New York office, gave the Milwaukee group a shot in the arm in October 1942. By January 1943, there were 25 members with at least one year’s sobriety.
George S., a man of small stature and dynamic energy, came out of the County Hospital in November 1944 and contacted Gib K. and Paul F. George had been active in A.A. in Dayton, Ohio, five years earlier, but he had suffered three long bouts with alcohol in the interim. Almost immediately, he started another group with four or five members, and a third group began at nearly the same time. George sums up the situation a year later as follows. A weekly open meeting (following the Chicago pattern) was held on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. at the Odd Fellows Hall on 10th Street, with each group taking its turn as host. This was preceded by a Beginners’ Meeting at 7 p.m. to which Judge Harvey Neelen referred alcoholics who came before him. An Alano Club had been formed with an active membership of A.A.’s, and an A.A. Central Office was opened at 1012 N. 3rd St. with a full-time secretary. The first meeting for inmates of the Wisconsin State Prison was arranged in December 1946. By this time, there were about 40 groups in Milwaukee with a membership variously estimated from 300 to 600.
Bill W. and Lois paid a return visit to Milwaukee in November 1948, primarily to see Gib K. who was near death from cancer. The local A.A.’s also arranged an evening open meeting on a few hours’ notice. Over 500 people turned out for it. George S. tells of two memorable incidents during the brief visit: “Bill visited Group 7, and no one recognized him. The subject of the evening was the 12th Step, and a young man in his second year of sobriety asked how he could get into 12th Step work. Bill raised his hand and asked him, ‘Do you have a doctor? Do you go to church? Do you have any contacts in hospitals? How about your lawyer?’ When the young man answered yes to these questions, Bill suggested, ‘Most of them knew you as a practicing alcoholic. Why don’t you go to each one and tell them you’ve now found sobriety and would be happy to help them at anytime with someone with the problem?’ And he added, “It’ll add to your peace of mind to do so, too.'”
“Lois was taken to St. Michael’s Hospital, the alcoholism unit, to visit a woman patient. Lois talked a while with the girl—Anna May H., I believe it was—and then started to leave. When she reached the door, she turned, took off a small corsage from her suit jacket, and pinned it on the girl’s nightgown. ‘You know, my dear, it’s as easy to kick yourself up as it is to keep kicking yourself down!’ Then she left. The girl smiled and never looked back.”
George himself sought Bill’s advice on a decision he was wrestling with—whether or not to go into the field of alcoholism on a full-time basis, as he was already heavily involved as a volunteer. Bill, who was staying at George’s home, waited until the morning of his departure to answer. Over breakfast, he said, “George, I don’t think there is much of a choice. Someone must begin to spearhead the dreams we have of working with the public to make the 1lot of the alcoholic a better one.” George did make the decision and has been an outstanding figure in the field ever since. However, he also continued active in A.A., serving as the delegate from Southern Wisconsin on Panel 1 of the General Service Conference.
Northern Wisconsin/Upper Peninsula of Michigan
The first contact the A.A. office in New York had with Green Bay, Wisconsin, was a letter received in 1940 from a businessman seeking help for one of his salesman, a Frank T. He was referred to the brand-new service office in Chicago as the nearest contact. A few months later, Frank T. wrote to New York to order a Big Book. He was able to report in 1944 that Green Bay had a group of 12 members. The following year, an open meeting was held at the Beaumont Hotel with 47 A.A.’s present. By 1955, the Green Bay groups met at the “706 Club”, a former church building, six nights a week. Five years later, the club moved to a new building on Oneida St. and changed its name to the “218 Club” but remained the meeting place for most of the groups.
In Oshkosh, a nonalcoholic priest, Father Rule, founded the first A.A. group, in 1943. First called the Market Street Group, it later became the Otter St. Group, and other groups formed as the Fellowship grew.
When the Conference structure was established, Northern Wisconsin was coupled with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to comprise one area, recognizing that these territories had more in common with each other than with the lower areas of their respective states. They were lands of lakes and forests and relatively sparse populations in widely scattered towns. They were settled partly by Scandinavian immigrants who felt at home in this kind of northland — and who also had a high rate of alcoholism. From many of the towns, drunks came to Green Bay for hospitalization and were exposed to meetings there before returning home to found local groups. A.A. spread to other towns through conventional Twelfth Stepping. By whatever means, A.A. began in the following towns in the years indicated:
1945 Sheboygan, Wis.
1947 New London, Menominee and Manitowoc, Wis.
1948 Chassell, Mich., started by Art S., an A.A. from Chicago; and Ishperning, Mich.
1949 Gillett and Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
1950 Stevens Point and Wautoma, Wis.
1951 Escanaba, Mich.
1953 Oconto, Wis., where one family had 4 members,spanning 3 generations; and Oneida, Wis., where the Hobart Group was the first American Indian group.
1956 Chilton, Wis.
1958 Waupaca, Wis.
1959 Iron Mt. and Bessemer, Mich.
1960 Iron River, Wig.
1961 Algoma, Wig.
1962 Kaukauna, Wis., and Republic, Mich.
1966 Wisconsin Rapids, Wig.
And since then, too many others to list.
In the early ’50s, George C. of Green Bay founded an area newsletter, The Now & Then, which has continued to the present time.
In 1955, the Conference area consisted of 52 groups with an estimated 700 members. By A.A.’s 50th year – and the area’s 44th – there were over 500 groups reporting about 7,500 members.
Indianapolis and Indiana
Doherty S. of Indianapolis had been dry on his own for three years, but it was a lonely struggle. In the spring of 1940, he read about A.A. in Liberty magazine and wrote to the address given there, the A.A. office in New York. His inquiry was passed along to Cleveland, where it was given to Irwin M., one of the most famous of the early traveling salesmen who carried the Big Book and the A.A. message of recovery along with their samples. Irwin M., who sold venetian blinds, weighed 250 pounds and was as full of energy and gusto as he was short on caution and discretion as he ran down his list of A.A. prospects. He turned out to be exactly what Doherty S. needed. Doherty started out immediately to emulate his sponsor.
“J.D.” H., another well-known A.A. salesman from Akron, said that Doherty S. “was responsible for more groups in Indiana than anybody. He’d get a loner from one town together with another one for Sunday breakfast. I went up there Saturday nights and spent half the night getting there. It was a lousy trip, changing trains and all. [After breakfast] I’d get out of there about noon to get home. It took about ten or twelve hours to get 100 miles. But it was an interesting experience.”
“J.D.” H. moved from Akron to Evansville, Indiana, and held the first A.A. meeting there in May, 1940. Two years later, Earl 0. from Vincennes was hospitalized in Evansville and contacted the A.A. group there. Returning to Vincennes, he enlisted five other alcoholics in the program. They drove back and forth to Evansville until August 1944, when they got a group of their own going. Earl 0. and the Vincennes group are credited with spawning groups in Washington and Bicknell.
In Indianapolis, Doherty held meetings in his home until they grew too large and had to move. In the mid – ’40s, at least four groups were formed that remain today: the 20-40 Group, the Home Group, the Speedway Group, and the Myerson Group. Breakfast meetings which also started in the mid-’40s at the Warner Hotel were held there until 1971. A telephone answering service started in January 1943, and in the late ’40s the Central Office began operation.
The pioneer in Fort Wayne was “C.L.” B., whose wife had ordered a Big Book for him after reading the Jack Alexander article. After being forcibly sobered up at the Keeley Institute, he read it and tried to interest others in the program, without success. Then, on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941, “C.L.” and three of his prospects attended the Sunday morning breakfast in Indianapolis. Returning to Ft. Wayne, they instituted a similar gathering there, which grew into a regular A.A. group. Many groups in northwest Indiana trace their beginnings to the Ft.Wayne group.
A.A. in South Bend owes its start to “J.C.” C., who had gotten sober in Chicago in 1941. Two years later, a South Bend man, Charles K., sought help, and the two of them held the first meeting at the C.’s apartment in August ’43. Chicago members pitched in to help the new group get started. Soon afterward, the Elkhart group began as the result of South Bend’s example; and Goshen got organized under Elkhart sponsorship.
Jack B., a lone member in Union City, and Bob H., a loner in Dunkirk were put in contact with each other through the New York office in September ’46. They decided to start a group in Muncie, a larger and mutually convenient town. The first year, they held their meetings at the Muncie Mission, which failed to attract any prospects other than transients. So they moved to the YMCA, where, in about a year the group had outgrown its space.
By 1955, Indiana had 116 groups with about 1,600 members. In A.A.’s 50th year—and Indiana’s 45th—the state included two Conference areas, Northern and Southern, which together had 685 groups with an estimated membership of nearly 12,000.
New York City
After Bill W. met Dr. Bob, and had stayed on in Akron to help gather the first little group of recovered alcoholics, he returned to New York on August 26, 1935. “By the time I got home,” he said, “I was endowed with a little more humility, a little more understanding, and considerably more experience. Very slowly a group began to take shape.” Bill sought out alcoholics in the Oxford Group, at the Calvary Mission, and most fruitfully at Towns Hospital. The first “success” was Hank P., who lived in Teaneck, N.J.; the second, Fitz M. from Cumberstone, Maryland.
As Bill had attended Oxford Groups meetings both before he went to Akron and while he was there, it was only natural he and his new recruits should continue to attend. Indeed, their sobriety depended on their practicing the Oxford Group principles. However, Lois had opened their house to alcoholics—as many as five would sometimes be living there at one time—so in the fall they began holding separate meetings for the alcoholics at their home at 182 Clinton Street, Brooklyn Heights. “In spite of much failure,” Bill said, “a really solid group finally developed.” Besides Hank and Fitz, who traveled in for the meetings, it included Brooke B., Bill R., Ernest M., Herb D., Ebby T. and others.
The alcoholic group continued to attend Oxford Group meetings for nearly two years, but there were signs that a split was inevitable. The alcoholics “would not stand for the aggressive evangelism of the O.G.’s. They would not accept…’team guidance’ for their personal lives. It was too authoritarian…” The “absolutes” were too hard to swallow all at once. And because of the stigma of their disease the alcoholics wanted to be anonymous. The Oxford Groups, on the other hand, were increasingly dazzled with prominent names, and were moving subtly away from intimate group sharing and toward large, well publicized gatherings attended by hundreds or even thousands. Furthermore, the New York O.G.’s disapproved of the alcoholics’ concentrating on their own problem to the exclusion of other group concerns and criticized them for meeting separately. So, in the middle of 1937, Bill and his friends broke away, though he acknowledged that “our debt to them is immense.”
At the end of April 1939, Bill and Lois were forced to move from the Clinton Street house. For the next two years, they were to live as vagabonds, dependent on the hospitality and generosity of A.A. friends. This was also the end of the meeting on Clinton Street, but by then, as Lois remembered, “at least a dozen A.A. groups had evolved in the metropolitan area.” One of the first places where Lois and Bill found temporary quarters was at Green Pond near Montclair and South Orange, New Jersey, so meetings began there. The Tuesday meeting moved from Brooklyn to Bert T.’s tailor shop in Manhattan. Also in Manhattan, at 72nd Street and Riverside Drive, Leonard and Helga H. had opened their apartment to a weekly meeting. Another meeting was going in Flatbush, Brooklyn. And soon, another meeting was held in a loft on the West Side of Manhattan.
By 1939, the original group which had met at Bert T.’s was meeting in Steinway Hall, and the following year, when the Old 24th Street Clubhouse opened, it began meeting there. In April 1944, it adopted the name Manhattan Group. It moved at the end of that year to the Cosmopolitan Club, 405 West 41st Street, where, in December 1946, it organized itself into a “clearing house” for A.A. services in New York, the predecessor to the New York Intergroup. The Manhattan Group met at several other locations through the years, but since WHEN has met WHERE and is known for its multiple meetings on WHAT NIGHT: (DESCRIBE)
Members living in Greenwich Village in 1941 found the Manhattan Group meetings inconvenient, so they began meeting in members’ apartments in their own neighborhood. In 1959, the Greenwich Village Group was so large it began meeting in a big room at St. Luke’s Church, where it has remained. West Side A.A.’s formed the Chelsea Group in 1946 and the Riverside Group in 1947, and the two decided to merge, becoming the Chelsea Riverside Group. On the East Side, the Lenox Hill Group first met in the late ’40’s.
There were 47 groups in Manhattan by 1956, when the Gramercy Group began. It met at St. George’s Church, 207 E. 16th Street, and from the start it claimed 60 active members, though its meetings drew many more. In 1960, it moved to the Church of the Epiphany on East 22nd St.( NOW?)
The original Bronx Group began meeting on Wednesdays at 518 Willis Avenue in 1944. Joe H., who worked as a doorman at a famous night club on 52nd Street, was a colorful early member; as was Wes I., who was to become director of High Watch Farm. The South Bronx Group was formed two years later. Although it had only 16 members at the time, a crowd of 600 came to their 1st Anniversary celebration!
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn—in addition to the group in Flatbush that Lois remembered—a group had begun meeting in the early ’40’s at the St. George Hotel. Sometimes called the “Cold water Group,” it was so-called because the hotel wouldn’t let them make their own coffee, so the only refreshment was cold water. Groups followed: Bay Ridge, ’45; and an offshoot, Sunset, ’49; Stuyvesant about the same time; Brooklyn Central, ’56; and literally hundreds more.
A group was started on Staten Island in 1945.
A.A. spread outward on Long Island very early. The first meeting in Forest Hills was in 1941 with about ten persons present. This group then helped form the first Flushing group March 4, 1943. By June ’47, Flushing had 35 members meeting at the Good Citizens League Hall. Forest Hills members also organized the first meeting in Hempstead in ’43, but by June of the next year the group had 63 local members.
The North Shore group in Manhasset was one of the largest and most active groups on Long Island from its beginning in February ’45. Within a year, attendance at its weekly meetings averaged 90 to 100. Today, with several meetings a week at the Congregational Church, the level of A.A. activity remains high. The pastor of the church observes, “The parking lot is more crowded on A.A. meeting nights than it is on Sunday.” In Malverne, the first meeting was April 29, ’48, at the home of Lois F., with 12 present.
Farther out in Suffolk County, the first group was in Huntington. It began January 4, 1946. It was followed by two more the same year: Amityville in August and Sayville in December. The next year, groups began in Southampton (at the Red Cross Building on Main St.) and in Riverhead, which soon merged with Southampton. The meeting moved in ’59 to the Methodist Church.
Also during the 1940’s, A.A. spread rapidly through Westchester County to the north as groups began in Mt. Vernon, Yonkers, New Rochelle, Bronxville, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Chappaqua, elham, Rye, Scarsdale, Tarrytown, White Plains and Peekskill. White Plains organized a group in 1941, and by the end of the decade had nearly 100 members meeting at the Community Church. The Mt. Vernon group began in ’44, and helped start the Yonkers group in ’45.
In the early ’50’s, A.A. continued to spread northward to Bedford Hills, Bedford-Poundridge and Yorktown.
In western New York, Rochester was an early center for A.A. activity. The first meeting was held some time in March 1942 in the apartment of one of the members, on South Goodman St. At the same time, Dr. Kirby Collier read about A.A. and brought it to the attention of six of his alcoholic patients. They met with the others and formed the Seneca group which met for the first time on April 27 at the Seneca Hotel. Although twelfth-step calls were hard to make in the war years due to gas rationing, the Rochester members persisted by bus or on foot. In the late ’40’s, an old-timer practically wore out his old red Hudson car making A.A. calls, running recruits to and from Ward 3CX (for alcoholic men) or Ward 4CX (for alcoholic women) at the County Hospital. The requirement for a patient to get on these wards was that a sober member bring the patient to the ward and take him or her from the ward. By February ’46, the Seneca group had 200 members and split into the Cumberland, Christ Church and Academy groups. Later that year there were meetings seven days a week in Rochester.
Rochester was the site of the first New York State A.A. conference on January 24, 1948, with Bill W. as the main speaker. As the members gawked at him, Bill said, “Don’t look for the halo!” A nonalcoholic guest at that meeting was Dr. John L. “Dr.Jack” Norris, escorted by the man he called his “A.A. sponsor,” Burt M. Dr. Jack, associate medical director of Eastman Kodak, had been introduced to the disease of alcoholism when Dr. Edmond Fauver of the University of Rochester and Dr. William Sawyer, Dr. Jack’s boss, persuaded him to accept the chairmanship of a committee called the Allied Forces, which was trying to get a mental health, drug and alcohol clinic off the ground. At that time, he had been treating a valued supervisor at Kodak for a nervous condition, stomach trouble and other complaints. Dr. Jack had no inkling the man’s real problem was alcohol until he was told by one of his visiting nurses, followed by a phone call from an anonymous A.A. member who had been trying to help the man—whose name was Burt M. After some continued difficulties, Burt became a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous and insisted on taking the doctor to A.A. meetings, including two at which Bill spoke.
Dr. Jack was deeply impressed with what he saw at A.A. and, with Burt’s help, began to make real progress in helping Kodak employees with alcoholism by sending them to A.A. “So, when people said, ‘This thing is hopeless’, I knew it wasn’t,” he recalls. Dr. Jack also joined with Dr. Kirby Collier and Dr. Clarence P. to form the Medical Society on the problems of alcohol, which was responsible for getting the County Hospital to admit alcoholics, as described above. With this background, Dr. Jack was also impressed to meet Bill W. And when Bill phoned him in the fall of 1950 and asked if he would become a trustee of A.A., Dr. Jack agreed.
By 1950, A.A. in Rochester totaled at least 500 members. This remarkable growth was due in part to awareness and knowledge of the disease in the community. In the mid ’40’s. Dr. Edwin Fauver brought Marty M. to town to speak, which set the stage. Then Dr. Norris took the lead.
As early as March 1940, the New York service office received a letter from a woman in Binghamton asking for help for her husband, Harold. Later, Harold wrote, saying the Big Book had helped him when he read it at the Veterans’ Hospital at Bath, N.Y. He continued to correspond as a lone member until November 1941, when Ted B. returned to’ Binghamton from Cleveland where he had gone to get sober in the Cleveland group. Ruth Hock in New York put the two men in touch with each other, and they put an ad in the newspaper. The ad turned up three prospects, but no solid members at first. Bobbie B. suggested by letter that Ted look up Dr. Collier in Rochester, which he did. It was now wartime, and Ted B. went into the army. Harold W., who now signed himself “Harry”, continued the group and at the end of the war had 12 members.
A.A. spread to Ithaca in May 1946. The Rochester group and Dr. Collier helped start the Syracuse group. (NEED INFO ON SYRACUSE) In Buffalo, the first group was formed in November ’41; in Olean, February ’48.
Because of its size and A.A. population, New York State embraces four Conference Areas. The state as a whole had 302 groups with nearly 7,000 members by 1955. In A.A.’s 50th year – and New York’s as well – there were 2,262 registered groups with an estimated 45,000 members.
Philadelphia and Pennsylvania
Jim B., one of the first dozen members of A.A. (see story #6 in the Big Book) is best known as the person who insisted that the word God in the Big Book be qualified with the phrase “as we understand him.” He was also the founder of A.A. in Philadelphia. Jim had been sober about two years in the New York group meeting at Bill and Lois’s house when he went to Philadelphia on February 13, 1940, to start a “very good new position.” He said, “I quickly found I would need a few fellow alcoholics around me if I was to stay sober.”
He began by contacting Charlie B., an Oxford Grouper whom he had met at a New York meeting. Together they contacted George S.1 whose letter of inquiry was forwarded from the New York office. A desperately sick alcoholic, George had sobered up on his own the year before after reading the article “Alcoholics and God” in Liberty magazine The group had its first meeting on February 28, 1940, at the home of Mccready H. Also present, in addition to the above, were two prospects from Charlie’s Oxford Group, Bayard B. and Edmund P.
Immediately afterward, a fateful encounter took place in a bookstore where Jim B. was trying to place copies of the newly published Alcoholics Anonymous. A Dr. A. Wiese Hammer happened also to be in the store and became curious about A.A. After questioning Jim, his curiosity turned to avid interest and he asked to become their medical adviser. He also involved an associate, Dr. C. Dudley Saul.
Bill W. met the two medical men when he came to Philadelphia to attend the next meeting of the fledgling group on March 6. And the following month, April 3, a public meeting of A.A. was held at St. Luke’s Hospital, arranged by Drs. Hammer and Saul. Thirty people attended. The doctors and the A.A. members also persuaded John F. Stouffer, head of Philadelphia General Hospital that they had something that could be of use to alcoholics. And from that time until the hospital’s closing in the late ’70s, A.A. took meetings into PCH every Saturday.
However, the “coincidental” encounter in the book store was even more fateful for A.A. as a whole, for, in the words of Bill W., “it was Dr. Hammer’s friendship with Mr. Curtis Bok, owner of the Saturday Evening Post , that led to the publication in 1941 of Jack Alexander’s article.”
In the fall of ’40, Philadelphia A.A. had 75 members, including three women, and decided to establish a clubhouse at 2036 Samson Street. By the next spring, there were 125 members including five women—and then the floods came with the publication of the Jack Alexander article. Within two years, the club had taken over a fraternity house near the University of Pennsylvania, where the A.A. meetings were held. This, in turn, helped attract higher-bottom prospects. And in March ’46, the clubhouse moved again to still larger quarters at 4021 Walnut St.
Neighborhood and suburban groups had started by 1945 in Jenkintown, Ardmore, 69th St., Frankford, Germantown, Central City, Roxborough, and nearby Camden, N.J. Members from Philadelphia started the Upper Darby group in ’45; within a year, it had 60 members and had opened clubrooms.
Also in June 1945 Lieutenant Yvelin “Yev” C. (later to become administrative head of the National Council on Alcoholism under Marty M.; and Director on the A.A. Grapevine Board) was sent to Allentown to terminate a war materiel contract. He wrote back to Philadelphia, where he had been attending A.A., and asked for an Allentown contact. He was sent the name of Julias P., who had also attended some Philadelphia meetings. They agreed to try to start a group. Julias contacted several clergymen and doctors, and they advertised in the paper and obtained a post office box. Their first recruit was “Doc” N., a dentist; followed by Joe MacL.; Shep, a merchandising executive; Wesley M., whom Yev found panhandling on the street; Mark L., an executive with the power company; and Charlie M. They began meeting at the home of Julias’ parents and soon rented a room at the Traylor Hotel. A well-known executive of the leading corporation in nearby Bethlehem was persuaded by Yev to attend the Allentown meeting—but only if he could arrive after dark, sneak up the hotel stairs, and be assured the meeting was definitely closed. After his first meeting, “the Colonel,” as he was nicknamed, became an enthusiastic participant. Yev arranged for Philadelphia members to speak at the weekly Allentown meetings, which they did throughout the winter, without fail. When Lt. G. returned to Philadelphia at the end of the year, the Allentown group had 17 solid members.
“The Colonel” then opened his home in Bethlehem for a beginners’ meeting. This developed into a regular A.A. meeting. In the same area, the Easton group started in 1947.
The Harrisburg group had a struggle getting under way. It was founded in March 1941 by a Roger B., who had found A.A. in Philadelphia and was moved to Harrisburg for several months. He contacted hospitals and reached out to find other alcoholics. His first recruit was James T., a journalist. By the following year, the group numbered eight to ten and had weekly meetings. In 1943 Harrisburg had a Mid-City group which called itself “the only meeting between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh,” but it is not known if this is the same or a successor group. In any event, the “Harrisburg group” was flourishing in 1947 with 50 members. In 1950, it listed 100 members. Other groups were formed thereafter: in ’53, Hill group; ’58, 19th St. group; ’60, Westshore group; ’68, Bailey St. group; ’71, New Chance Study group; ’74, Brothers & Sisters, Lakeside Desire, and 21st St. groups.
A.A. in Reading was started after George L., who was having family problems due to his drinking, read a letter in the lovelorn column in the newspaper by a man who said his family problems ended after joining A.A. George L., who commuted to Philadelphia, began attending A.A. there twice weekly. Soon he sought out another Reading alcoholic and began holding meetings in his home in 1943. The following year, the group had grown so they needed to rent a room at 613 Penn St. Public meetings in ’45 and ’47 at the Rajah Temple, advertised by newspaper and radio, brought additional members, including the first woman. After another move, the group settled at 26 No. 6th St. where it has remained. In this location, a bar is on the first floor, an A.A. office on the second, and the group meeting room on the third. Growth of Reading A.A. was helped by the opening in 1960 of Chit-Chat Farms, which became one of the better known treatment centers.
December 13, 1940 was the date of the first A.A. meeting in Pittsburgh in room 152 at the Henry Hotel. It had been arranged by two nonalcoholics, Tim O’Leary and Attorney David Janavitz, both of whom had alcoholic employees. Alcoholics at the first meeting were: Si H., Howell J., Jake H., Arch K. and Jim K. Earl Y in ’41, the group moved to the downtown YMCA on Wood St., which they soon had to be vacated because the YMCA space was needed for servicemen in wartime. The group had to move a half-dozen more times in its first several years.
The Mt. Lebanon and Dormont groups in Pittsburgh owed their origins to the South Hills group, sometimes known as the “Souse Hills” group because of its slippery beginnings. It started in 1942 with five people and grew to over 30 after a few months, about 20 of whom continued to drink while attending meetings regularly. According to Eph S., one of the founders, “On one occasion, when none of the non-drinkers showed, the evening ended at a bar where everyone got stinko.” Eph also remembers they arranged a trip to Akron to attend Founders’ Day, took along a bottle as it was a long trip – and never made it. Not surprisingly, the group dwindled to four members – four sober members, that is – before it began to grow again on a sounder basis. It finally became so large it split into the Mt.Lebanon and Dormont groups.
The growth of Alcoholics Anonymous in Pennsylvania was aided by the large size of the state and also, perhaps, by the development of an unusually strong service structure in the eastern part. Although there were only 192 groups with 3,319 members in 1955, it had increased to nearly 1,300 groups with 24,000 members by 1985.
Baltimore and Maryland
A.A. in Baltimore started when Jim B., visiting from Philadelphia, met Jim R. on June 16, 1940, at the latter’s house on St.Paul Street. Jim R. had been sober for two years, after a religious recovery at Keswick Colony in New Jersey. He had even been working with two other alcoholics without success. Jim B. told him about A.A. and urged him to start a local group.
The first meeting as a group was held only six days later in the office of a Mr. Penny, a lawyer who was interested in A.A. because of an alcoholic brother. Present were Jim R., Jim B. from Philadelphia, Fred M., Norman B., Mac S. and Mr. Penny. The group continued meeting weekly, often with wives along. They moved to a basement room at the Altamont Hotel in October and six months later to rented space at 857 N. Eutaw. Very early, they obtained the cooperation of Baltimore judges who would hold a drunk until a member could arrive to take over. Also, the Salvation Army cooperated by providing beds and food for drunks while A.A. members worked on them. And they were given help constantly by visiting A.A.’s from Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
The Baltimore Sun paper ran an article on the young group in February ’41, including a photo from the rear. The next month the Jack Alexander article added its impetus to rapid growth. The first suburban meeting was held in ’45, mainly because of gas rationing, in Towson. Radio station WFBR began donating 15 minutes a week in 1948, in which two or three A.A.’s would tell their stories. The program continued until 1957, with as many as 25 calls coming in at the end of each night’s program.
Fitz M. was living in Cumberstone, on the Chesapeake Shore of Maryland, when he came to New York in 1936, sobered up at Towns Hospital, and met Bill W. Returning home, he started reaching out to alcoholics. Bill and Lois visited Fitz frequently, attracted by the peace and quiet of the area. Bill even made some of the notes for the Big Book there. However, the first A.A. group in Cumberland (near Cumberstone) did not form until 1947.
By 1955, Maryland had 52 groups and 945 members. In 1985, it had 766 groups with a membership of over 13,000.
Wilmington and Delaware
Jim B. was also instrumental in starting A.A. in Wilmington, Delaware. And, as might be expected, its beginning was tied in with the DuPont Company, a dominant factor in Wilmington life. Dr. George Gehrmann, medical director, had been struggling for 18 years to deal with alcoholism within the company when, in 1943, he heard about A.A. and went to a meeting in Philadelphia to observe. There he met Jim B., who spent considerable time talking to him. When Dr. Gehrrnann returned to Wilmington that night, he was loaded down with eight Big Books and a supply of pamphlets.
Meanwhile, Dave H., an employee of Remington Arms, a DuPont subsidiary in Bridgeport, Connecticut, had attended the Oxford Group for his alcoholism and had sobered up in A.A. He had then worked with the Remington Arms management to help other alcoholic employees. As the war drew to a close, the Remington Arms work force was cut back and Dave M. was laid off. He contacted DuPont in Wilmington to suggest that the A.A. approach which had been successful at their subsidiary in Bridgeport might be tried at the parent company. DuPont replied there was no alcoholism problem there. So when Dave heard of Dr. Gehrmann’s visit to A.A. in Philadelphia, he immediately contacted him and so impressed the doctor with his enthusiasm that he was hired by DuPont in January1944.
With the support of five members from Philadelphia, the first A.A. meeting in Wilmington was held January 14, 1944.
At first apprehensive lest its public image be affected, DuPont eventually gave the program its full support. Dave also visited the Episcopal Bishop, Arthur McKinstry, who put him in touch with a Father Tucker, a Roman Catholic. Both churchmen gave A.A. considerable help. Through Dr. Gehrmann, the local medical profession cooperated by referring alcoholic patients. Judge Nielson of Family Court also made referrals.
And Wilmington A.A. grew. Soon there were meetings four nights a week. The group called the roll every Friday, and if a member was missing, the secretary sent a post card, “We miss you. (signed) The Group.” In June ’44, the first public meeting was held at the Academy of Music, attended by 72 people. In September, the first meeting at the Delaware State Hospital was begun. And on February 22, 1945, the group celebrated its first anniversary with a big meeting at the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel DuPont! Marty M. from New York, and Dr. Munz, a local clergyman who had greatly helped A.A., were the speakers.
The need was felt for an all-women’s group was felt in ’49, so an advertisement was placed in the local paper and 40 showed up for the first meeting. An A.A. group was started by Bill H. in Dover in ’46. But after five years, as members moved away without new members being found, it disbanded. Soon afterward, Marge N., an A.A. from Alexandria, Virginia, moved to Dover and was dismayed to find no meeting. She immediately went to work to get things started again, and eventually three other groups grew from the revived Dover group. In Lower Delaware, a group began in Laurel in ’47. Eventually, other groups started in Georgetown, Rehobeth and Seaford.
In A.A.’s 50th year, Delaware reported over 100 groups with more than 1,600 members.
Fitz M., one of Bill W.’s earliest successes out of Towns Hospital in 1935, lived in Cumberstone, Maryland. Strongly religious as well as an “impractical, lovable dreamer”, he became a devoted friend of Bill and Lois. So he spent a great deal of time in New York, always making the long trip to attend the early A.A. meetings at their Brooklyn house. In 1939, Fitz moved to Washington, D.C.
As the southernmost outpost of A.A. at that time, he was sent all inquiries from the South. One of the first of these was Hardin C., from Washington, whom Fitz immediately contacted, and they began meeting at Hardin’s apartment. They soon recruited more “Boys of ’39”, including Ned F., who also had gotten sober in New York; a retired Navy Commander from California; and others. Their first woman, Dorothy H. joined the next year.
Jim B. from Philadelphia gave a lot of help to the Washington A.A.’s. Since he considered the weekly meetings at Philadelphia General Hospital to be a keystone in the success of the group in that city, he urged the D.C. group to work with the alcoholics at Gallinger Hospital. Jim also introduced the custom of serving coffee and doughnuts at meetings. And the D.C. members got a replay of the discussion that had taken place between Jim B. and Fitz M. over the references to God in the Big Book: Jim emphasizing the psychological approach and Fitz emphasizing the religious.
The professional community cooperated with the Washington group from the early days. Gallinger Hospital even issued special privilege cards to A.A. members to facilitate their Twelfth Step work at any hour. In May 1940, The Washington Evening Star published a favorable article about A.A. by Bob Erwin, a non-alcoholic reporter, giving the group its first public exposure. The article mentioned a “colored group” in Arlington, which apparently went out of existence soon after. (The Washington Colored Group was founded in April ’45 by Jimmy S. It later changed its name to the Cosmopolitan Group to convey the fact that it was “a group for all people, all races; it doesn’t matter who you are.”) The Star article was a big help in bringing people to A.A., and by the end of the year the group numbered 70.
Fitz M. died in 1943, but Washington A.A. was firmly established by then. They began having annual banquets that year. The following year, 600 people crowded the auditorium at Central High School for a large, public meeting. Shortly after the war, new groups began forming around the D.C. area; in 1955, there were nine groups with over 400 members. Growth gained momentum in the succeeding decades until, in 1985, there were 135 groups with a reported 4,500 members, representing the full diversity of the nation’s capital. As the black population increased, many predominantly black groups emerged, and in 1983 the first black A.A. trustee, Garrett T., from Washington, was elected to represent the Northeast Region. The Foxhall group became something of a high-bottom showcase for visitors to the city. A strong segment of Hispanic groups grew up. It is also a center for gay groups in A.A.
Washington A.A. has benefited from strong A.A. leadership and well-known personalities within the Fellowship. John W., a delegate on Panel WHICH and an outstanding Northeast Regional Trustee 1975-79, was a key chairman of the A.A. World Services Board and a wise and influential member of important Board committees during his term. Hal M., a delegate, headed the alcoholism program in the U.S. State Department. As such, he traveled to embassies and consulates throughout the world to help foreign service officers with drinking problems, and so became one of the best known Americans to A.A.’s in other countries. “Buck” D., a dedicated old-timer known for his tough sponsorship, was the person to whom the sobriety (and the anonymity) of famous government figures was entrusted. Richard “Sandy” B. was one of the best-known speakers in A.A., in constant demand at A.A. get-togethers including the 45th International Convention in New Orleans in 1980 where he spoke at the opening meeting on Friday night. Sandy is also known for his weekly explanations of the Twelve Steps to alcoholic patients at Washington’s Psychiatric Institute, which, in tape form, are widely used elsewhere.
Boston and Eastern Massachusetts
At the St. Louis Convention, Bill W. called the Boston Group “that wonderful nucleus from which so much of A.A. in New England later stemmed.” He went on to say that, heartbreakingly, its founder, Paddy K., “could never get sober himself and finally died of alcoholism. He was just too sick to make it. Slip followed slip, but he came back each time to carry A.A.’s message, at which he was amazingly successful…” Paddy was in touch with Bill and Ruth Hock as early as 1939, trying to get a group started. He held some kind of A.A. meeting Wednesday, November 13, 1940, but the first regular meeting of the Boston Group was on the first Wednesday in March 1941 at the office of Dr. Lawrence M. Hatlestad, 115 Newbury Street.
Dr. Hatlestad, a nonalcoholic, was assistant secretary of the Jacoby Club of Boston. Their letterhead carries the line, “A Club For Men To Help Themselves By Helping Others.” He wrote the A.A. office in June 1940 that he had read “your splendid book Alcoholics Anonymous” and declared “You have come upon something of real merit.” He pointed out that his club had similar goals and that some of the members were alcoholics and had quit drinking. And he said he was anxious to contact A.A.’s in Boston.
After the Saturday Evening Post article appeared, Ruth Hock prepared a list of 31 inquiries from the Boston area to be contacted. When she couldn’t locate Paddy, she sent the list to Dr. Hatlestad. When Paddy reappeared, he found that Dr. Hatlestad had Twelfth Stepped some of the prospects and, incidentally, taken them on as private patients. Paddy also wrote that the doctor was soliciting contributions and implying a connection with A.A. On May 12, he wired New York to ask Bill to come to Boston and straighten out the matter. Bill did so a week or two later, and the group moved to quarters of their own at 123 Newbury St.
Jack D., a Federal police sergeant at the Boston Navy Yard, was one of those who had written to New York after the Jack Alexander article appeared. When he was told there was no A.A. group in Boston as yet, he immediately headed down to New York to talk with Bill, who Twelfth Stepped him and sent him back to look up Paddy. Jack recalls being at the first Boston Group meeting where besides himself, Paddy and the doctor those present were Bert C., Judge Paul C., John M., “Mal” C., and Eric K. Shortly thereafter came Jennie B., their first woman member.
Besides the effect of the Jack Alexander article on A.A.’s early growth in Boston, Jack D. mentions the publicity given to Rollie H., the Cleveland Indians’ catcher who had recovered in A.A. and who attended meetings when his team was in Boston. Similarly, a Boston Braves pitcher, Nate A., got sober in ’43 and attended the Boston Group.
Bill W. returned to speak at the group’s first anniversary, when it had 40 members. Soon, offshoots were formed. When the secretary of the Boston Group, Madeline B., moved to Worcester in ’42, the first group began there. The following year, members living in Quincy formed the South Shore Group. A year later, the same thing happened in Dorchester. By 1945, informal luncheon meetings were being held to discuss the need for a Central Office, started later that year. The founding groups included Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Dorchester, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Lynn, Mattapan, Newton, South Shore, Uphams Corner and Woburn. When the Waltham Group began November 1, 1947, its secretary acknowledged the help and support of groups from Weston, Brighton, Newtonville, Watertown and Maynard whose members had more sobriety than those in Waltham.
Greater Boston A.A. seems to have had support from the church in its early days. Archbishop Cushing spoke at the first anniversary of the Dorchester Group, and Fr. John Ford, S.J., a nationally recognized theologian at Weston College occasionally dropped in at the Waltham meetings.
Thirty miles east of Cape Cod “as the fish swims”, on Nantucket island, a lone member in August 1947 invited any A.A.’s visiting there to contact him. He says he has told the police and the local newspaper about A.A. and his presence on the island;, and hopes to start a group. Today, there are A.A. meetings every day of the week on Nantucket. A solid corps of members maintain their sobriety and enjoy socializing through the winter months, and their ranks swell with A.A. tourists in the summer.
Judge William O’Hearn of North Adams, Mass., may have been the first judge in the country to recognize the efficacy of A.A. and refer drunks to meetings. In the middle ’40’s he said that classifying drunkenness as a crime does nothing to bring about rehabilitation. “I had little faith in A.A. when it was first organized,” he said, “but I have watched the growth and know of its splendid accomplishments. I feel that today it offers the greatest opportunity in overcoming this terrible curse.”
Boston had the distinction of electing the very first delegate to be chosen for the first General Service Conference in 1951. At a meeting at the Hotel Bradford on January 14, the names of seven committeemen were placed in a hat, from which Bill W. drew the name of Bob G. Subsequently, Eastern Massachusetts contributed more than its share of trustees representing the Northeast Region. They were, in succession: Frank R., from Lowell (’66-’69); Bill C., from Boston (’69-’72); and Junior A. from Needham Heights (’72-’75).
In A.A.’s 50th year—and Boston’s 45th—Eastern Massachusetts had 840 groups reporting over 24,000 members!
In A.A.’s 50th year, Western Massachusetts had 144 groups reporting over 2,800 members.
The per-capital consumption of alcohol in Vermont has always been high, so it has had more than its share of alcoholics. However, in the Green Mountain State, as in other areas with sparse populations in widely dispersed towns, the growth of A.A. was slow and difficult. Rev. Charles Jones, in Burlington, had become so concerned over the problem drinkers that, in 1940, he traveled to England with an alcoholic he was trying to help, in order to attend the Oxford Group. He found it “too dogmatic,” but on his return, he took another drunk, Had C. to New York to attend an A.A. meeting. He met Bill w. either than or later, for he continued to take sick fellows down to New York over the next several years to be hospitalized and to talk to Bill. And at least once, he was able to get four A.A.’s from New Jersey to come up and put on meetings in Burlington and Montpelier.
The first group in Vermont began meeting in 1944—at first in private homes and soon thereafter in the Congregational Church in Burlington. It had seven members including Had C., Dick P. and a Doc C., who had sent away for a Big Book and had been sober on his own for nearly a year. The following spring, at the suggestion of Charlie W., a newcomer, the group placed an ad about A.A. on the comic strip page of the local paper on the theory that “drunks will read the funnies when they can’t read anything else.” Also, a public meeting was held to which professional people were invited to hear Dr. Dudley Saul of Philadelphia speak on alcoholism. In 1946 the group numbered 14 and was meeting in the Old Fire House in the North End of Burlington. Wives were invited to help with refreshments and these were social occasions before and after the meetings. Arrangements were made at Mary Fletcher Hospital for two beds to be reserved to hospitalize hard-core drunks.
The first woman member, Connie F., joined in 1947. By then, other groups had started in Fairlee, Windsor, Rutland, Montpelier, St. Johnsbury and Bethel. By 1955 there were 20 groups reporting 337 members in the state. In October 1960, Bill W. came to Burlington to speak at a large meeting celebrating A.A.’s 20th Anniversary. Because Vermont attracts hordes or tourists, many of its meetings include more visitors than is common elsewhere. For example, for more than 20 years a group has met Saturday nights at the Chapel in the Snow atop Stratton Mountain, a famous ski resort. Although the meeting is supported by residents from nearby Manchester, Dorset, South Londonderry, etc., it provides an A.A. haven for numbers of sober skiers as well.
By A.A.’s 50th year, Vermont had 142 groups with 2,245 members and Burlington provided satellite housing for some of the 50,000 attending the International Convention in Montreal.
A.A. groups began meeting in Manchester and Portsmouth, N.H., in 1946, and a year later in Concord. By ’49, there were 12 meetings in the state; by ’55, 20 groups. The first New Hampshire Convention was held at the Eastern Slopes Inn in North Conway in 1966. In A.A.’s 50th year, New Hampshire groups had grown to 264 with a membership of nearly 3,600.
Jim M. of Newport, Maine, was drinking badly. He took a geographic cure to Brooklyn, New York, to live with his sister, but his drinking only got worse. In desperation, he wrote a letter to the Kings County Hospital, and they referred him to A.A. This was in 1942, and Jim M. attended the Fellowship for two years in New York before returning to Newport in 1944. Meanwhile, Clint W. had written from Maine to the New York office of A.A., who referred him to Chan R., who had gotten sober in A.A. in Florida. Thus, four men met on October 6, 1944, at Chan’s house in Cape Elizabeth in the first A.A. meeting in Maine.
A.A. started in both Bangor and Portland in 1946—the seeds from which most of the other groups in Maine sprang. Jim U. in Bangor had read the Jack Alexander article, but continued to drink for four more years. In August 1945, he went to Boston seeking help from A.A., and on his return, stayed sober until New Year’s Eve. He landed back in Boston, where they stressed the importance of working with other alcoholics. So, back in Bangor, Jim. U. Twelfth Stepped Clarence D., and together, with the help of the Big Book, they held Bangor’s first meeting in Jim’s service station on January 7, 1946. Within a few weeks they had five more members. Jim M. from Newport joined the group and soon started a group in Newport as well. In July the group, with help from A.A.s in Boston, held a dinner meeting open to the press. By September, there were 25 members in a rented meeting room.
In Portland, Henry P. wrote the New York office for help in December 1945. He was told of an Ed M. who had moved to Portland from Brooklyn. They got together and started an A.A. group in January ’46. With the help of a full page article on the group in the Portland Sunday Telegram, they soon grew to about 30 members.
Members from Bangor and Portland tried to start a group in Ellsworth, but were met with negative attitudes on the part of local citizens. All doors were closed until they found a friend in Father McDonough, pastor of St.Joseph’s Catholic Church, who offered them a room in the church basement as a meeting place.
Bill W. visited Maine on April 15, 1950, to talk at the A.A. Conference in Brewer (CHK), when there were 30 groups with more than 600 members. By 1985, they had grown to 261 groups with over 4,250 members.
Jack Q. of Providence traveled to Boston to get sober and continued to attend meetings there. But in 1945 he began a meeting in his own city with the help of Jack D. of Boston and a member named John who had come to A.A. in Akron. These three and one or two newcomers from Providence met first on March 29 in the lobby of the Hotel Biltmore and continued there until they were asked to leave. The Round Top restaurant then offered them a meeting place in the fall of ’45, so the group became known as the Round Top group. The Providence Journal ran a prominent, illustrated feature article on the group on October 7, entitled “It Takes a Drunk to Help a Drunk.”
A second Providence group, the East Side group, was started in July 1946. At about the same time, Westerly had its first A.A. meeting. By 1955, there were 19 groups in Rhode Island and a large Anniversay Meeting drew over 300 people. In A.A.’s 50th year, the state had 160 groups with more than 2,600 members.
In November 1941, an Albany man whose name is not known wrote the office in New York and was sent A.A. literature and the names of contacts in Cohoes and Hudson Falls. However, the first meeting of the Albany Group was held Sunday, March 7, 1943, with four members present. It had grown to 12 within a year, and was meeting at the Dewitt Clinton Hotel. The Albany Group also was often attended by members from Syracuse, Fulton, Rome, Utica, Schenectady, Troy, Glens Falls and Kingston.
By July 1945, the group claimed 30 members. There was also an Albany P.O. box for A.A. and a telephone answering service. A second group began in 1946, meeting Wednesday nights at the Joseph Henry Memorial Building. The Fellowship grew rapidly during the ’50s and afterward, and by 1985 Albany listed 42 groups, with many more meetings than that each week.
In Glens Falls, a group started in 1939, meeting in members’ homes. They soon moved to the Queensbury Hotel, followed by the Episcopal Parish House on Glen St., which they left to go to a room over Boxers Drug Store on Warren Street. Today they are back at the Parish House. Glens Falls members helped A.A. spread to Hudson Falls, Warrensburg, Chestertown and Corinth.
The present Pot 0′ Gold Group in Hudson actually originated in the village of Valatie, New York. Several Hudson A.A.’s on example, for more than 20 years a group has met Saturday nights at the Chapel in the Snow atop Stratton Mountain, a famous ski resort. Although the meeting is supported by residents from nearby Manchester, Dorset, South Londonderry, etc., it provides an A.A. haven for numbers of sober skiers as well.
A traveling salesman placed a early copy of the Big Book in the Kingston public library. A high school student, son of a minister, happened on the volume, read it, and showed it to his father. The minister, in turn, gave it to a drunk in his church, Cliff V., who had come to him with his drinking problem. Cliff’s wife wrote the New York office of A.A., and Ruth Hock arranged for her husband to be Twelve Stepped by two members of the Larchmont Group. The Kingston alcoholic then carried the message to a local doctor and three others, including a woman. In September 1941 they began meeting regularly in the doctor’s office in the evening. As they acquired other members, they moved to the Benedictine Hospital and in 1946 to the YMCA. They became known as the Original Kingston Group when, in 1953, the Tri-bridge Group was started.
The first Schenectady meetings were held in the Van Curler Hotel in the ’40s. The Schenectady Clubhouse Group was then formed, which eventually held several daytime and evening meetings each week. Also in the ’40s, A.A. spread to Utica, Rome, Troy and Saratoga; in the ’50s, to New Paltz and Woodstock; in the ’60s, to Cobleskill, Middleburg, Plattsburg, Lake Placid and other towns.
Because of their proximity, Berkshkire County, Massachusetts, and the extreme southern part of Vermont, are a part of this Area. In the Berkshires are the following towns, among others:
Great Barrington, where a group formed in 1955 after a Ray A. sent an inquiry to the New York office.
Stockbridge, first meeting at Alice R.’s in Rattlesnake Road
North Adams, first meeting at Dr. M’s on Church St., then Richmond Hotel.
Adams, First meeting in the old Plunkett mansion.
At hoosick Falls, Vermont, Win R., a lone member in 1946, grew tired of traveling to Glens Falls meetings and started a group in his home. In Bennington, Paul B., an enthusiastic A.A. who traveled for business, brought back new ideas and sharing from the meetings he attended in faraway cities. The group grew fast, with A.A.’s from Massachusetts and New York towns attending regularly. They met first in private homes but soon moved to a succession of larger quarters, ending up at the McCullough Library in North Bennington.
The beginning of A.A. in Greenwich, Connecticut, is traced back to Marty M., an attractive debutante and young society matron in the ’20s. She had attended the best boarding schools, married and lived in London in high style. By 32 years of age, she had slid into desperate alcoholism—though at the time, she attributed her bizarre behavior to imagined mental problems and was committed to Blythewood Sanitarium in Greenwich. The medical director there was Dr. Harry Tiebout, who had been sent an advance multilith copy of the Big Book for review. He gave it to Marty to read.
At first she refused, and then read just enough to argue with Dr. Tiebout that these people were fanatics. She didn’t believe in God and “couldn’t stand all those capital C’s” in the book. After a few weeks, however, Marty found herself in an emotional crisis that filled her with fury. In her rage, she literally “saw red”, but then her eyes fell on the line in the book lying open on her bed. It read, “We cannot live with anger.”
“The walls crumpled and the light streamed in,” Marty recalled later. She was convinced. Shortly afterward, Dr. Tiebout encouraged her to venture into New York by train and attend her first A.A. meeting. She was met at Grand Central Terminal by Horace “Popsie” M., who took her to dinner and then escorted her by subway over to the meeting at Bill and Lois’s house in Brooklyn. When she returned home to Blythewood late that night, she reported to her close friend and fellow alcoholic, Grennie the now-famous statement, “We aren’t alone any more.”
Almost immediately, backed by Dr. Tiebout, Marty and Grennie began holding meetings on the sanitarium grounds. The time was May 1939, which led Bill to say at the St.Louis Convention that “some folks think this [was) A.A.’s Group #3.” Actually, it seems a dead-heat tie with Clarence S.’s Cleveland Group. Marty M. was the first woman to achieve lasting sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous and went on to found the National Council on Alcoholism. She was an active member of A.A. all her days, and only a few weeks after drawing tremendous crowds as an honored speaker at the 45th Anniversary International Convention in New Orleans in 1980, she died.
The Greenwich Group grew slowly and numbered 15 when Bill W. spoke at a public meeting put on by the group on October 2, 1942. By that time, the group was meeting at the Second Congregational Church at the top of Putnam Avenue. Art. S., sober 39 years in 1985, remembers that when he moved to Greenwich in 1946, “In addition to [the above) open speaker meeting on Fridays, there was a closed meeting on Monday evening at the YMCA and another on Wednesday evening at St.Mary’s Church on Greenwich Avenue. Art also attended a Tuesday night meeting started by Maher M. in Old Greenwich.
Greenwich A.A. differed from that in other places in two ways. Perhaps because it was founded by a woman, there were always a large percentage of women there. And organizationally, it long remained a single group with many meetings, rather than splitting into separate groups. By the very early ’60s, a meeting had begun on Sunday afternoons at St.Paul’s Episcopal Church in Riverside; another on Saturday night at the Presbyterian Church; still another at St.Barnabas’ on Tuesdays; and a beginners’ meeting at the “Y”. Among the active members remembered from those days were Stewart and Lil J., George B., Barbara 0., Jack C., Franklyn V., Polly M. and Polly S., Ad T., Charlie E., Ted B., John S., Harry W., Margaret B. and Mary A.
By the late ’60s, the number of meetings had so proliferated that the “mother group” could no longer care for her chicks. Reluctantly, it was decided to separate into independent groups with a coordinating committee to serve them, plan the annual anniversary meetings, publish meeting lists – and man the volunteer A.A. answering service set up in 1975. Greenwich A.A. grew explosively in the ’70s, spurred in part by the addition of an Alcoholism Recovery Unit at the Greenwich Hospital.
In A.A.’s 50th year—and Greenwich’s 46th—the town had 32 meetings a week.
Elsewhere in Connecticut, a group formed in New Haven in March 1941 and hatched other groups in surrounding towns. Alex P., who lived in Westport but attended New Haven, handled inquiries in his vicinity. Soon a group started there. In October 1941, the New Haven sent a “team” over to Bridgeport to start a group in that city. Folks from Fairfield, Southport, Stratford, Milford, Shelton and Trumbull started by attending New Haven and then began their own meetings.
A.A. in Hartford had two founding members, both of whom had their last drinks on Memorial Day 1941 but did not meet until the end of that year! Hal S. from the Shaker Heights, Ohio, Group, came to Hartford to take an insurance company course. He inquired of a doctor if he knew of any drunks, but the doctor did not. His nurse, however, gave Hal the name of Harold “Red” W. Hal called him that evening, but he was “indisposed.” They got together a few days later, and Red had his last drink on May 30.
At the same time, Harold H., a salesman and periodic drunk, had read the Saturday Evening Post piece, but was put off by the “God business” and resigned himself to remaining a drunk. Not long afterward, he was in a hospital, battered and facing police charges. On his release, he went to a party on May 30, where he ran into an old drinking Buddy, Brad P. Brad wasn’t drinking, having sobered up in the Scarsdale, New York, Group. He asked Harold if he wanted to die a drunk. Having seen a man die in the D.T.’s, Harold answered no. He never took another drink.
Harold and Red met not long afterward, and by December they counted ten recruits between them and held Hartford’s first A.A. meeting. For about nine months, they met in various homes. In September 1942, they had a buffet supper at the Blue Plate Restaurant in West Hartford. A Mr. and Mrs. Gengas, who owned the restaurant, became interested in their unusual patrons and offered a banquet room as a regular meeting place on Monday nights. Thus, Hartford’s mother group became known as the Blue Plate Group. One of its pioneer members was Bob M. Bill W. spoke at the group’s first public meeting celebrating its first anniversary in 1943.
Though there is no record, it is believed Norwalk had a small A.A. group as early as 1940. One of them, a man named Les, got drunk. He went into the woods with a gun, vowing to commit suicide. His terrified wife called the A.A.’s, who searched the woods for him and eventually rescued him. Out of sheer relief, all except one got drunk! The one who stayed sober was John B., who lived in New Canaan. With the Norwalk Group temporarily dissolved, John started holding meetings in his house—with a May S. as an early member. Eventually, the Norwalk members, including Les, sobered up and resumed meeting. From that point, both groups grew separately.
In 1955, Connecticut had 50 groups with 1,083 members. In A.A.’s 50th year – and Connecticut’s 46th – it had 876 groups reporting a membership of over 18,000.
As related earlier, A.A. began very early in New Jersey, as a result of Bill and Lois living there temporarily after the foreclosure of their Brooklyn: home. About seven alcoholics from the Oranges and Montclair were attending the meeting in New York City, held at that time at Steinway Hall. The wife of one of these members elected to invite them to gather at their home in Montclair on weekends in the late spring of 1939. This gave two of the members they idea of arranging a room at the South Orange Community House for regular meetings which began in the fall of that year. The membership was then about 12.
Lack of public interest was discouraging and growth was painfully slow in the period that followed. When the group reached about 20, they moved to a room in Newark in a dance studio on Washington St. Then, in March 1941, the appearance of the Saturday Evening Post article caused the membership to jump to 80 almost overnight. Inevitably administrative problems and bickering arose. The Newark meeting place was too small, and a nonalcoholic friend secured the G.A.R. Hall in Bloomfield, paid the rent for a year and presented it to the group. They had to move again at the end of that time, this time to the Roseville building. A second group, called The New Men, took over the G.A.R. Hall. By the spring of 1942, there were 125 members and growing pains were rampant. Besides the South Orange group (meeting in Newark, Bloomfield, etc.) other groups formed in Morristown, Englewood, Montclair, Fairlawn and elsewhere by 1942.
In South Jersey, the first groups were in Collingswood and Camden, about 1944, as offshoots of nearby Philadelphia.
As the population of New Jersey swelled in the post-war years, so did the A.A. population, and groups proliferated. By 1955, they numbered 115 with 2,281 members. By 1985, however, the Garden State had 1,122 registered groups with 22,260 members.