Groups in the U.S.:
How They Began and How They Grew
West Central and Pacific Regions
Minneapolis/St. Paul and Southern Minnesota
Pat C., father of A.A. in Minneapolis and a succession of other towns in the surrounding area (and to serve later as A.A. Trustee 1959-63), was one of those pioneers singled out for mention by Bill at the St.Louis Convention. Certainly, few members have been more beloved nor left a stronger legacy of recovery. Born in 1897 of an alcoholic father and an invalid mother, Pat C. was raised by relatives. After serving in the Navy in World War I, he became a salesman—and a drunk. He was fired from jobs in Chicago and Detroit, and after coming to Minneapolis, he went through a string of jobs and a string of firings, ending up on skid row.
Told that the Oxford Groups had helped alcoholics in New York, Pat went to a local meeting—in borrowed clothes, to look presentable—but couldn’t stomach their religious slant. Finally, August 9, 1940, he wrote a letter to the Alcoholic Foundation in New York. He told them he had run across the book Alcoholics Anonymous in the public library (actually, he had taken it out on a borrowed library card and a borrowed 10-cent fee) and continued, “The genuine desire to unshackle is there, but… it will require somebody to lean on who knows what I am up against…The old physique won’t hold out much longer, so if there is anyone around who feels charitably inclined, I’m their meat.” The letter was signed, “Cynically yours.” The reply from New York told him there were no A.A. members in Minneapolis, but they hoped he would somehow get in touch with “our strong A.A. membership in Chicago.”
On November 9, two of those Chicago A.A.’s, Chandler F. and Bill L., came to Minneapolis for a football game. They had been given Pat C.’s name and looked him up, but found him drunk and down-and-out. Then one of A.A.’s miracles occurred. A blizzard dropped a 27-inch snowfall that stranded the two Chicago visitors for four days – four days to work on Pat, who might otherwise never have recovered! Pat sobered up November 11, 1940, and remained sober until his death from cancer May 15, 1965.
He wrote New York in March 1941 that he was still alone after several failures with others, and he ordered 100 reprints of the Saturday Evening Post article. Within a few days, he began to receive mail forwarded from New York as a result of that article, and Minneapolis A.A. began to grow. The first recruits were Ray McI., a barber, and George W., an attorney, followed shortly by Norvy M., a musician, and many others. A big boost was given by a prominent columnist of the Star Journal Cedric Adams. He wrote a follow – up column in 1943, which said, “Two years ago, this corner carried a simple announcement that A.A. was being launched in this area. From an initial membership of three, the group has grown to more than two hundred.”
The first meeting place was found in April 1941 but within two months they had to move to larger space at 200 East Franklin. By October, a club had been formed at 19th and Park Ave., and A.A. activity in the city and the vicinity was coordinated from there. There was a lot to do. A group had formed in St. Paul (see below), and Pat was helping lone members in Hibbing and Duluth, as well as in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Minneapolis was also the contact point for prospects in Fargo, North Dakota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Omaha, Nebraska; and Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa.
Pat C. married Helga Thompson in September of that eventful year, and it was said, “Without her constant love and support, it is highly problematical whether Pat could have succeeded in helping his fellow alcoholics as he did.” In October, Bill W. paid the first of three visits to Minneapolis A.A.; his talk was attended by 100 men and 8 women. The Alano Society in March 1942 purchased the property at 2218 First Avenue South, and “2218” became the fountainhead of A.A. development in Minneapolis and other upper Midwest towns. To this day, hundreds or even thousands of A.A. meetings there are characteristically held in clubhouses, with groups split up into squads, after the Chicago pattern. Of Minneapolis, Bill said, “There is no more club-minded [A.A.] than this. The A.A. life of the town still gathers around that pioneering monument (2218).”
The first Minneapolis group to split off from the original 2218″ group was under the leadership of Barry L. and Ed W. and became known as the Nicollet Group. The year was 1944, which saw the beginnings of many new groups throughout Minnesota; in fact, by the end of 1946, no less than 120 towns in the state had a functioning A.A. group or a lone member! And the program had spread to the surrounding states and over the northern border into Manitoba, Canada.
Co-founder Dr. Bob visited the Twin Cities in June 1944. About the same time, a newsletter, the Hi and Dry, began publication, a valuable means of communication among the groups and loners of the region. And two years later, a Midwest Council on Alcoholism was formed. Its Board consisted of representatives from 11 A.A. groups who then drafted Pat C. to head the organization. The Council apparently functioned as a kind of central office for the smaller A.A. groups in the region, and also engaged in some educational and information activities. (It should be remembered that this was before the Traditions existed.) Similarly, one of the first treatment centers for alcoholics, Pioneer House, was established in 1948, and Pat C. was asked to be the director. After making a trip to New York to consult Bill W., who encouraged him, Pat accepted. The program at Pioneer House was heavily A.A.-oriented, and it became the first treatment center to utilize clergy to hear the 5th Step not only of patients but of other A.A.’s in the region.
In the Twin City of St.Paul, the initial A.A. meeting was held May 6, 1941, in the home of Dr. Glenn Clark, a nonalcoholic professor at Macalester College. Dr. Clark had read the Saturday Evening Post article and was intent on helping a friend. A local story in the Pioneer Press a few weeks later helped boost the membership to 15, including the first woman.
One of the readers of the newspaper had a friend, Henry T., an alcoholic, whom he encouraged to try this new A.A. He even obtained an A.A. pamphlet which he stuffed into Henry’s pocket, but Henry said “it was for the birds.” By mid-September, however, Henry was one of those birds: bankrupt in every area of his life and strongly suicidal. He found the scorned pamphlet, and read and reread it. The next morning he called for help, and two members Twelve Stepped him and invited him to a meeting. Henry went to the appointed place, but couldn’t muster up nerve to go in, so he walked around the block – twice. On his second time around, one of the two A.A. men approached him and said, “Oh, you got here on time!” Henry T. went on to achieve success in every area of his life, including A.A. He often wondered what would have happened if the two A.A. men had not shown up outside the meeting place right when they did, to meet him face-to-face.
Henry T. recalls that when he joined, A.A. was meeting at the YMCA. Clubrooms were then rented in the Endicott building, and by January 1942, the group had grown to 30. In late May 1944, more than 100 men and women celebrated the third anniversary of St.Paul A.A. At the fifth anniversary banquet, some 400 were present, including visitors from Wisconsin, North and South Dakota and Iowa as well as Minnesota. An Alano Club was organized in 1945, and its premises at 350 ½ Cedar St. was the meeting place of the St. Paul group. The club moved to its own building at 150 West Fourth in 1954, and within a year about 500 members were meeting there, divided into 18 squads. Still later, the Downtown Club acquired even more spacious quarters at 520 North Robert.
St.Paul’s Number 2 group, the Midway, began holding meetings at the old University YMCA in the 1940’s. Always one of the city’s strongest groups, it had among its early leaders Jerry S., Murray L., Art S., Bill B., Oliver S., Larry M. and Larry P., and Dave K. The next two groups began at about the same time, around 1953: #3, Eastside, which split off from Downtown because of controversy over that club’s soliciting building funds from the outside; #4, Uptown, an offshoot of Midway. Group #5, Northwestern, shows how A.A. grows. It started because squad four of Midway had outgrown the kitchen of Cathedral School where it met. The squad split, with Jackson Street as the dividing line, and on June 20 1954, one of the new halves began meeting in the Northwestern State Bank, from which it took its name. It had 12 members. By 1977, Northwestern had 110 members divided into nine squads and its own clubrooms.
St.Paul A.A. spilled over into the suburbs with the Roseville and South St.Paul groups, in 1959. Later, New Brighton was organized, followed by Highland (an offshoot of Uptown), West-end, and (growing out of South St.Paul) St.Matthew’s, St. Michael’s and Inver Grove.
The beginnings and early history of A.A. in most of the towns in Minnesota are chronicled in surprising detail in a book by Forrest Richeson, a clergyman, entitled Courage to Change: The Minnesota A.A. Story, available in the A.A. Archives. Always fascinating and often touching, these local histories are omitted here only because of space limitations. Dr. Richeson has organized them according to the A.A. service structure, and the towns included in the Southern Minnesota Area are:
|Blooming Prairie||Forest Lake|
Northern Minnesota Area
Dr. Richeson also recounts the history in each of the following towns:
|Thief River Falls||Grand Rapids|
Because of Minnesota’s pattern of dividing large groups into many squads, the figures on number of groups are misleading; i.e., a single group may represent as many as two dozen or more meetings. Bearing this in mind, in A.A.’s 50th year – and Minnesota’s 45th – the state (Northern and Southern Areas together) listed 1,291 groups with a reported membership of over 31,000.
As early as October 1941, an abortive attempt was made to form a group in Des Moines, Iowa. An Emil W. reported four members to the office in New York, which responded by sending him some inquiries that had been received from there. Apparently, however, the group could not sustain itself.
A.A. began in earnest in Iowa on October 29, 1943, when Don F. traveled from Omaha, Nebraska, to make a Twelfth Step call on Judge Ray H. at his office in Des Moines. Also present were Bill A. and Herbert L. It turned out that the judge had been dry a month on his own, while the visiting Don F. had been sober only two weeks! An immediate stream of lively, witty and wonderful correspondence sprang up between Ray H. and the New York service staff. Within a month, the letters from Iowa were on stationery bearing an “Alcoholics Anonymous” letterhead. Ray adopted the nom-de-plume “Hildegarde” and Hildegarde began sending “News Flashes” and “Bedtime Stories” about the goings-on in Des Moines A.A. By its third meeting (!), the group was up to 17 and boasted its own P.O. box.
A December 1943 letter reports an article has appeared in a local paper about A.A. Also, Denison from Waterloo, Iowa, is working on getting a group going there, and the Des Moines members are going over there to help out. “Hildegarde,” it seems, is now putting out a newsletter, “The A.A. Tribune” about Des Moines A.A., which now has 31 members. And a January 10 letter announces the first meeting of a group in Burlington, with five members and a contingent from Des Moines to start them off. Also present was a Catholic priest, Father T.J. Lew, who was so taken with what he saw that he preached his Sunday sermon on A.A.
Before the end of January 1944, Des Moines was up to 50 members, and a group was starting in Marshalltown; by March, another in Cedar Rapids, with nine locals plus two ministers and the Des Moines team; by April, Sioux City was added. Also in February, an Alano Club had been formed in Des Moines. In May, some members in the city split off to form a group on the East Side. And the sixth and seventh towns in Iowa are having their first A.A. meetings; namely, Newton and Davenport.
A scant 11 months after its beginning, A.A. in Iowa held its first State Convention at the swank Hotel Ft. Des Moines! After a day of workshops, a buffet lunch and afternoon tea for the wives, the banquet was attended by 150 from all over Iowa and from Minneapolis, Chicago, Omaha, and St. Paul. The Convention was covered with praise in newspapers and radio.
As might be expected, this rapid growth brought on growing pains. There were problems between the club and the A.A. groups who met there, and there were disappointments with slippers. However, the Fellowship continued to grow as new groups were added: in ’45, the first women’s’ group in Des Moines, and groups in Ft.Dodge and Dubuque; in ’46, Spencer; in ’47, Estherville and Storm Lake (both offshoots of Spencer).
Des Moines A.A. reached out even farther to hold a Midwest Conference in October 1948. Eleven states were represented by two groups or more; and 63 groups were represented by two or more persons. Over 800 attended the banquet, and twice that many were at the open meeting Sunday morning.
In A.A.’s 50th year – and Iowa’s 42nd – Iowa had 536 groups with a reported 10,000 members.
The father of A.A. in North Dakota—and a very early one, anywhere!—was Charles C. In late summer 1939, Charlie had gone from his home in Bismark to Minneapolis for a vacation. He got very drunk while there and was “poured into a hospital.” There he had to good fortune to read the article about A.A. in Liberty magazine and sent to the Alcoholic Foundation in New York for a copy of the Big Book. Back home in Bismark, he remained sober as a lone member, corresponding with Ruth Hock at the New York office.
The following year, in Wahpeton, Rev. Ross Hartman, a nonalcoholic minister who wanted to help a drunk in his congregation, contacted the New York office; and so did Oliver S., a man with a drinking problem from Fargo. Both were put in touch with Charlie C. Oliver also got help from Pat C. in Minneapolis. When Joe S. from Fargo wrote New York for help shortly thereafter, he was given Oliver’s name and the Fargo group began. It never looked back.
Meanwhile, in Bismark, Charlie C. met “Doc” R. from nearby Mandan in 1944 and was a
loner no longer. By 1957, the Bismark – Mandan group which they started had 15 members
In 1947, groups were also listed in Grand Forks, Jamestown, and Kenmare.
Members of the Nicollet group in Minneapolis came to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in March 1946 to help get an A.A. group started. Barry C. spoke before the medical staff of the Sioux Valley Hospital and also before the Rotary Club. The local contact, who had probably sobered up in Minneapolis, was Mike L., who had already obtained a P.O. box. Two months later, he reported the Sioux Falls group already had eight members. He was also present later in the year when Dr. Bob S. and Anne visited the Nicollet group, including a fishing trip to Northern Minnesota. In ’47, Mike L., in turn, had helped start a group in Brookings, with John 0. as the local contact there. Another Sioux Falls member, helped start groups in Yankton and Beresford, where the first member was Edmund McG.
Similarly, Pat C. and others from the Minneapolis group #1 helped start a group in Mitchell in August ’46, in Pierre in September and in Aberdeen in October. The beginnings in other towns, with available information, were:
Rapid City, 1948. Also helped form new groups in Spearfish, Belle Fourche, Deadwood, Hot Springs and Edgemont.
Britton, 1948. Members of the Aberdeen group helped. Watertown, November 1947. Three months later, 16 members.
The first inquiries to the New York office from Omaha began trickling in in 1940. Included was a letter from the personal advice columnist of the Omaha World-Herald asking for information on Alcoholics Anonymous and how it could help those who turn to her for help with a drinking problem. Apparently enough individuals had found sobriety by 1943 to try to form a group. James C. placed an ad in the paper in February, and eight months later, in October, the first Omaha group registered with the A.A. service office in. New York. Among the 16 founding members besides James C. were Martin H., Tim L. and Don F. (who was later to become Delegate on Panel (WHAT NO.) and Regional Trustee 1968-72). The group met at the Hotel Regis.
Bill W. stopped in Omaha on his way west on the Union Pacific Railroad in October. At a dinner for him, 32 attended, including wives. By June ’44, the group had a clubroom and was actively carrying the message to prospects. Other groups began to form. By ’47, Omaha groups were gathering for an annual Fall Festival weekend, at which over 200 gathered. They also had a newsletter, “The Twelve Stepper.”
In Lincoln, a lone member, Tom W., was sober and practicing the program when Jim C. came to Lincoln for the winter and contacted him on advice from the New York office. Together they decided to try to form a group, and listed themselves with the New York office in February 1945. The group really got going shortly afterward when John McD., an A.A. from Denver, moved to Lincoln. By its third anniversary, the group had 67 members, among which were six M.D.’s.
Another group, the South Lincoln group, was formed in 1948, but apparently tried to limit its membership to the “silk-stocking” class. It existed only two years and then disbanded. An Alano Club was organized in 1949. No new group formed until January 1957 when the original group moved to new quarters and the Midtown group split off. Oldtimers recall, however, that there was a lot of carpooling to meetings in other towns: Fremont, Columbus, Omaha. “That way, we got three meetings in one day,” says one old-timer, “one on the way, one when we arrived, and one on the way home.”
Existing groups pioneered new groups in Nebraska. For example, a contingent from the North Platte group, formed (WHEN), made a series of visits in 1947 which resulted in new groups beginning in Grand Island, Fremont, Ord, and Hastings.
The cofounders of North Platte A.A., in western Nebraska, were Mike H. and Vic. H. Committed to St. Joseph Hospital in Omaha for alcoholism in December 1943, Mike was visited by A.A. members who brought him the message, as well as some warm clothes so he could attend a meeting. Vic H. had contacted A.A. in Denver about a year before this time, and had obtained a Big Book. After a year of sobriety, he began drinking and committed himself to St. Bernard’s Hospital in Council Bluffs, Iowa (just across the river from Omaha.) Two AA. members called on him there and gave him Mike’s name to contact on his return with the aim of starting an A.A. group in North Platte.
Mike and Vic met every Friday evening for two and a half years before they received a phone call from an A.A. member in Omaha giving them the name of a North Platte woman who had written in response to an ad in the Omaha paper, telling of her husband’s drinking problem. Her husband, Jake, became member #3. In 1947, the group, which had grown to 18 members, moved to quarters over a bar, in a building owned by Vic H. A few years later, they added clubroom facilities. A woman member, Francis C., helped get a group started in Scottsbluff in 1949 (see below), and many other groups have branched off from North Platte including Grand Island, Fremont, Ord, Ogallala and Hastings. A North Platte member, Jim G., was elected delegate from Nebraska on Panel 17 and later served as West Central Regional trustee 1972-76.
In the western panhandle, Scottsbluff became the center of A.A. activity. In 1949, Art C. had been hospitalized because of his drinking and his wife, Edith contacted Francis C., a woman who had been staying sober in North Platte. Francis traveled 175 miles to make a Twelfth Step call on Art, who placed an ad in the local newspaper. Inquiries came in from the entire panhandle and even from Eastern Wyoming. To support Art, members came from North Platte, Fremont and Ogallala—and occasionally from Denver, Colorado—to attend the Scottsbluff meeting. By 1951, a solid group was established, meeting in the LaRay Hotel, including: Art C., Denny A., Irene C., George C., Roy H., Dave K. and Beryl B. It continued to grow and moved several times. It also spawned many other groups in panhandle towns. Max W. carried the message to Charles W. and Leo R. in Bridgeport and they started a group in April 1965. In 1960, Eloise H., from Alliance (55 miles from Scottsbluff) called G.S.O. in New York. They called A.A. in Omaha, who in turn called Scottsbluff, who contacted Eloise. After attending meetings in Scottsbluff for three years, Eloise H. and Erna L. started an Alliance group. The Alliance group grew and eventually attracted Charles R. from Hemingford, who started a group there in 1972.
“Boog” H. contacted G.S.O. in 1959 and started a group in Chadron. Later, along with Chadron members Roland S., Gene H. and “Doc” A., he helped get small groups started in the northern panhandle towns of Rushville, Hay Springs, Gordon and Crawford. Kimball acquired a group when two members from Seattle arrived in 1963 to work on a defense project. They contacted Scottsbluff who rounded up other members to get A.A. going in Kimball. These and many other groups evolved from the existing groups in the ’70’s—Mitchell, Morrill, Oshkosh, Chappell.
The original Scottsbluff group in 1974 rented a house at 14th and 1st Ave., where it still meets, and other groups have sprung up.
In Ogallala, three recovering alcoholics began meeting in 1971, and organized a group with the help of members from North Platte. It struggled because it was based on fellowship rather than the A.A. recovery program, so a second group, the Ogallala Friendship group split off in 1979. The latter became active in reaching out to professionals arid in district and area service work, and grew to three meetings weekly. Among the leaders were: Lynn M., Joan D., Jerry E., Ann C., Mike, Rod S., Pat S. and Bill G.
A nonalcoholic priest in Omaha recognized the need for a Spanish-speaking A.A. group in 1978. He phoned Horace S., who helped get one started, called the “Amigos.” English-speaking A.A.’s were so eager to support the group that by October 1980, it was necessary to split off a second group, “La Nueva Vida,” which could hold a meeting in the Spanish tongue only. It grew to about 20 members by 1985. Meanwhile, it had helped form a Spanish speaking group, “Nuevo Almanacer,” in Lincoln.
In 1955, Nebraska was barely off the ground with 34 groups and 386 members. By 1985, it had grown to 570 groups statewide, with 10,000 members.
Two men living in Butte, Montana, beaten by the bottle, were ready in 1942 to do almost anything to quit drinking. They had heard of A.A., so they arranged the first meeting in a doctor’s office. By 1953 this group had a membership of 45 and its own clubrooms in which meetings were held four nights a week. Also in 1942 an A.A. member from Atlanta moved to Billings and tried to start a group intermittently until he finally succeeded in 1946. By 1953, the Billings group had 75 members. The Helena group was also started by a loner in ’45.
Missoula had its first meeting in ’47 with three men. After meeting in homes, they later moved to the YMCA hall as the group grew. In Havre, a loner rustled up another alcoholic in ’47 and started the group there.
The resort town of Big Sky sprang up around a ski area in the ’60’s, and Joy N., a long sober, attractive and energetic lady settled there from Kansas (CHK). Along with starting the group in Big Sky and becoming active in A.A. service, Joy also became the Mayor (CHK TITLE) of the town.
In 1955, Montana had 26 groups and 346 members. Thirty years later it had grown to 259 groups with a membership of 3,348.
Los Angeles and Southern California
On a trip to Cleveland, Bill W. had given one of the pre¬publication multilith copies of the Big Book to a lawyer friend. A wealthy young client of the lawyer, Ty M., who had moved to Los Angeles, was drinking himself into one predicament after another. So the lawyer sent him the manuscript of the Big Book, and Ty gobbled it up, saying it was the “first time he’d ever seen something which understood him – who he was and why he drank.” However, he didn’t stop drinking. Although his wife, Kaye, did not read the book, she was impressed with her husband’s reaction and wired the New York office for the location of an A.A. meeting. They replied, “There is no group west of Akron, Ohio.”
So Kaye and Ty took off to Akron, where Ty put himself under the tutelage of Dr. Bob and the group there. Kaye went on to New York to meet Bill W., who, to her surprise, talked to her not about Ty’s problem but her own; namely, her failure to let go of her husband’s drinking and let him hit bottom. He also gave her a copy of the newly published Big Book. While in New York, Kaye also attended her first A.A. meeting, which so impressed her that she returned to California determined to “beat the drum for Alcoholics Anonymous” out there. The time was December 1939.
As Kaye M. talked to the newspapers and public officials in Los Angeles about her discovery, she came to the attention of Genevieve Dodge and Johnny Howe, nonalcoholic social workers in the probation department at the Superior Court. Genevieve was troubled and puzzled by the predilection of persons jailed for being drunk and disorderly, persons battered and beaten up while drunk, to go back out and get drunk all over again. She was convinced that alcoholics were not criminals. So she convinced the Court to allow her to admit drunks to the County General Hospital instead of jailing them. There, she tried to treat them and educate them. She had an enthusiastic partner in John Howe, a young psychologist, who was convinced that psychological group therapy could make the alcoholic’s desire to drink go away. They conducted their experiment for several months. The alcoholics sobered up. They delved into their subconscious. They resolved to live sane and decent lives henceforth. And they went out and got drunk all over again.
So Genevieve Dodge was keenly interested to learn that a woman, Kaye M., claimed she had a book which contained a solution to their baffling problem. The two women met, and Kaye loaned Genevieve the book. She, in turn, gave it to Johnny Howe. After he read it—and despite the fact he did not relate to the spiritual solution it contained—he invited Kaye to attend the psychological classes for the parolees and to tell them about the A.A. recovery program as she understood it. Among the first successful converts were Barney H. and Hal S.
In December, Chuck and Lee T., A.A. members from New York, were visiting Los Angeles. Bill w. had given them Kaye’s number so they looked her up. Kaye decided it was time to have an A.A. meeting in Los Angeles, which took place on December 19, 1939, in her home on Benecia Street in Westwood. (she had now divorced Ty.) Besides Kaye, Johnny Howe and three other social workers, there were Chuck and Lee T., Barney and Ethel H., Hal S., Chauncey and Edna C., Joy S., Dwight S. and Walter K. Kaye telegraphed news of the meeting, “15 were present,” to Bill W. in New York.
Hal S., who was at the meeting was only a prospect at the time. He entered the County Hospital on January 15, 1940, where Johnny Howe gave him Kaye’s copy of the Big Book to read. Hal left the hospital on January 19, and never drank again. He carried the A.A. message into the jail, was a tireless Twelfth Stepper and went on to found A.A. in San Diego. However, as Kaye continued to try to hold meetings, she was not having success. The meetings were informal and rather disorganized, and the alcoholics attending them were not staying sober. Even Lee T. from New York began to drink again and had to be hospitalized before she and Chuck returned East (where they remained sober). Kaye felt she was a failure. She took time off to vacation in Hawaii, and when she returned, she had no heart to start meetings again. In the words of Bill W., “That first candle at Los Angeles was flickering, but it never quite went out.”
The man who was to set it blazing again was at that time in Denver. His name was Mort J., a stockbroker, who was “a violent drunk, a blackout drunk, a geographic drunk.” He had made repeated trips to hospitals and sanitariums. His doctor, who specialized in alcoholism and drug addiction, had shown him a copy of the Big Book, and Mort J. had ordered a copy for himself. But as he tried to read it, he was sipping whiskey. The urge to to travel and to binge was upon him, so he set out drunk. He drove for weeks, much of it in a blackout. He drove to see a brother in Los Angeles, then back to Arizona, crossed the border into Mexico at Nogales, drank in Guyamas and Hermosillo, and finally found himself back in California, in Palm Springs. And still he drank.
Finally, Mort J. awakened one morning rum-sick and shaking, feeling he had to have a drink or he would die. But there were only empty bottles in his hotel room. He ransacked his suitcases and his eyes fell on the copy of Alcoholics Anonymous, which he had forgotten he had packed. Instead of waiting until the liquor stores opened, he read the Big Book from first page to last. He never knew what made him do this. Then he fell into a deep sleep, and when he awakened he had a breakfast of bacon and eggs and coffee – his first good meal in a long time. Afterward, he returned to his room and read Alcoholics Anonymous a second time. He never had another drink.
Mort moved from Denver to Los Angeles. He telephoned the A.A. office in New York and Ruth Hock gave him Kaye’s name and address, where she understood meetings were held. He went over and met Kaye. “When is the meeting,” he asked.
“There aren’t any meetings any more,” she replied, and told him of her disappointments. “The A.A. members are all drunk,” she said bitterly.
“I want to get in touch with them,” Mort exclaimed. “Do you have their names?” “You’re wasting your time,” Kaye said, “but there they are.” She pointed to her wastebasket, where she had just thrown her index cards of A.A. prospects and the inquiry cards. Mort fished them out and departed with them in hand. As he started walking home, he noticed the address on one of the cards was in the vicinity, so he walked there instead. It was the home of Cliff W., whose wife Dorothe had read of A.A. and written New York for help. Cliff answered the doorbell.
“My name is Mort,” announced his visitor. “I’m a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. May I come in?” Cliff had no desire to stop drinking, but he invited Mort in and listened as he told him of his last roaring drunk and his need to carry the message to other alcoholics in order to stay sober. Would Cliff W. come to a meeting if he could organize one? By now, Cliff was kind of fascinated with this Harvard-educated, soft-spoken, well-dressed person. So, more to help Mort J. stay sober than to help himself, Cliff said he would.
Through a Dr. Ethel Leonard who worked with alcoholics, Mort rented a large room on the mezzanine of the Cecil Hotel on Main Street for $5.00. It was in the Skid Row district, which Mort felt was appropriate because it would show where drunks were heading unless they did something about their drinking. He then got in touch with the men who had failed to sober up at Johnny Howe’s classes or Kaye M.’s meetings and pleaded with them to give A.A. one more chance. He also got the L.A. Daily News to mention the meeting. Mort scheduled his meeting—the first public meeting of A.A. in Los Angeles—on a Friday night in March 1940. Besides Mort and Cliff about ten men showed up.
Mort did not know how an A.A. meeting should be conducted. There was no coffee or doughnuts. Mort opened the meeting and told about his last drunk and how he had not had a drink in five months. Then he thought it would be helpful to read from the chapter in the Big Book entitled, “How It Works,” so he opened to Chapter 5 and began reading, “Rarely have we seen a person fail…” And thus began the practice of reading a portion of Chapter 5 at all A.A. meetings in Southern California, which later spread to the rest of California and throughout the West and is followed today at many other A.A. gatherings throughout the world.
A month later, Mort received a letter from a Frank R., who was in a Phoenix, Arizona, sanitarium. There, he had been given a copy of the Big Book, had read it, and had written the New York office, which had told him of the Los Angeles meeting. In his letter, he asked if it was true that A.A. helped the alcoholic at no charge. Mort replied, inviting him to come to the Cecil Hotel on a Friday and find out. The very next week, Frank arrived – with a sanitarium attendant! Skeptical at first of what he had read and of what he saw, he soon came to believe. And he became the third rock on which Southern California A.A. was founded.
Frank R. is remembered by Cliff W. as “the hardest looking hombre I ever saw.” He was a fierce, rough, unsmiling man who became a legendary Twelfth Stepper and a driving force in the young Fellowship. One of his sponsees, Norm A., jokingly says Frank founded “The Los Angeles College of Hard Hearted Sponsors.” And it is true that he was the first in a long line of uncompromising A.A.’s who lived in the conviction that their lives had been given back to them in order to be of service to the alcoholic who still suffers.
Cliff W. recalled once when over a hundred inquiries had piled up, and Frank R. took them—and Cliff—for two weeks of non-stop Twelfth Stepping. “We went into jails, we went into hospitals and insane asylums. We went into dumps and we went into mansions, all over the place. Frank wasn’t afraid of man or beast.”
They treasured every new member and fought hard to get drunks to stay sober. Roy Y., who later moved to Texas, was active in Los Angeles during this period. He remembers they had a “Goon Squad” to corral any member who got drunk and ride herd on him until he sobered up.
When the Saturday Evening Post article appeared in March 1941, bringing in hundreds of inquiries, the group at the Cecil Hotel was well in place. Cliff and Dorothe W. quickly installed a phone in their house under the A.A. name and nearly worked themselves to exhaustion answering the pleas for help. Sybil C. was one who called, drunk. She asked Cliff to send the A.A. ambulance and was indignant when she was told there was no such thing. Sybil came to the A.A. meeting anyway—the first woman to get sober and remain sober in the West. At her second meeting, she was handed a sheaf of inquiry letters from other women and thereafter took all Twelfth Step calls from females. She went on to be the first Secretary of the A.A. Central Office in Los Angeles and was in great demand as a speaker at A.A. gatherings. She was honored at the 50th Anniversary International Convention in Montreal in 1985 as the woman with the longest sobriety in A.A. at that time, and spoke at the opening meeting on Friday night.
Another who came in at that time was Al M., a trombonist who played in movie studio orchestras. A tall, good-looking man, Al became another driving, impassioned A.A. worker, another “hard hearted sponsor,” and a dynamic speaker. Elected Delegate on Panel 1, he attended the first and second General Service Conferences and remained an interested participant in the local service structure the rest of his life. Often critical of Bill W. and the General Service Office in New York, he carried on a voluminous correspondence with Bill. Al championed Southern California A.A.
“We were lucky we didn’t have any help from over the mountains,” he would say—and campaigned for additional delegates from California (which came about) and for their own trustee and their own general service office (which didn’t). Although he mellowed somewhat in later years, he remained extremely active until his death in 1985 (CHK) at age 81. He was playing golf, at which he was excellent, and after hitting a long drive and chortling over it, he fell over dead.
Indeed, it is remarkable that all the founding members in Los Angeles and many of those who followed remained intensely involved in A.A. throughout their long lives. It is also remarkable that they had only the Big Book to rely on. Bill W. remarked on these phenomena at the St. Louis Convention, recalling his first visit in 1943 at the invitation of the 13 Los Angeles groups and their estimated 1,500 members. They planned a big meeting for November 6 and hired the American Legion Hall. “When I peered out from behind the curtain,” Bill said, “I saw a thousand people sitting there. It was incredible. Here was evidence that A.A. could cross the seas and mountains pretty much on its own.” Mort J., who was with him, recalls that Bill shivered and then murmured, “Nothing can stop us now.”
Meanwhile, the mother group had moved from the Cecil Hotel to the Embassy Hotel; and soon, in succession, to the Elks Club, the Regent Hotel, and the Parkview Manor, at 2200 West 7th Street. And other groups were springing up like wildflowers. When Bill and Lois visited Los Angeles again seven years later, in 1950, he spoke to an A.A. audience of 7,000 in the Shrine Auditorium. “By then,” he said, “Los Angeles County represented the most densely populated A.A. region in our whole fellowship.” And, along with the other Southern California counties, it may still be so in 1985.
George D., who later moved to San Francisco, first came to A.A. in Los Angeles in 1955 at the age of 28—though he didn’t have his last drink until October 1961. “A.A. was very colorful down there in those days,” George recalls. “It had its share of celebrities and social life, and of course more than its share of extremely strong personalities – such as Al M., Chuck C., Jules P. and Allen McG. (For more on Allen McG., see chapter on A.A. literature, Chap. 12) From the very beginning, I knew them. My first group was the Early Birds group, which I think was the first young people’s group anywhere. The 6300 Club was going strong in the late ‘505 and early ’60s, on Wilshire at Fairfax, a very valuable corner. It had formerly been a nightclub. Joe Q. and I were around there in 1957, and Clancy I. who was down-and-out and living in an abandoned car out back. We three went to the Primary Purpose Group, and some of those people had some really lurid stories. I remember a Serenity Sam, who was very well known. Clancy and I were very active and both very obnoxious members. Then the group kind of disintegrated and I kind of wandered back to drinking for another year and a half before I sobered up for good. I’m still down in L.A. on business frequently, so I still go to A.A. meetings there. It’s still colorful!”
Clancy I. became a legend in his own time for his tough sponsorship of literally hundreds of alcoholics—often those who had been given up as “hopeless” by others—and for his brilliant, sardonic and dynamic speaking at A.A. events. At the 50th Anniversary International Convention, Clancy spoke on sponsorship before a standing-room-only audience of about 4,000. He was also the founder of the Pacific Group, which in 1985 had grown to be the largest A.A. group in the world.
“I had been wanting to start a speaker meeting in that part of town,” Clancy recalls, “and in 1963 space opened up at a hall on Ohio Street on Tuesday nights. We had about 10 to start. From the first meeting, we had some customs new to L.A.: greet every person through the door with a handshake; everyone thanks the speaker afterward, regardless; and get everyone in the group involved. In six months, we had about 45 members. I ran the group at first. No rotation, and no election for the next year. They persuaded me to do it one more year. Then darned if they didn’t vote me out of office!
“In the Pacific Group, our customs and traditions are very important. The steering committee now consists of the ex-secretaries. The new secretary is elected in May and takes office in June. We eventually grew out of Ohio Street and moved to the largest space we could find, the synagogue where meet now on Wednesday nights. It seats 600 and we overflow it. But what I’m proudest of is the aura of respect to the meeting and to A.A. That and the fact that there are about 160 helping put the meeting on and involved in some way.” Many Pacific Group regulars drive long distances—some up to 100 miles—to attend each week. Members of the group have started satellite meetings. They have also organized themselves according to the year they joined the group and have annual dinner celebrations: “The Class of ’79”, the “Class of ’80”, etc.
Hal S., who had gotten sober in Los Angeles, returned home to San Diego in the fall of 1940 with the names of three prospects given him by the New York office: Marge C., Alta M. and a young man named Tom. Tom already owned a copy of the Big Book (which his father had ordered from the Alcoholic Foundation after reading about A.A. in a New York Times article) but he hadn’t quit drinking. Hal held the first San Diego A.A. meeting on November 7, 1940.
Growth began soon afterward, when Hal contacted the City Police Chief, J.T. Peterson, who agreed to let him hold meetings every Monday night at the city jail at the foot of Market Street. The jail was known familiarly as “Peterson’s Hotel” by the local drunks—many of whom were introduced to A.A. there. Membership also boomed after the Saturday Evening Post article appeared. Bill and Lois visited San Diego on their 1943 trip to Southern California. At an A.A. New Year’s Eve party, Bill helped with the entertainment by playing the violin.
San Diego’s first women’s group started in 1945 – possibly is the first women’s group in A.A. Dissension arose among the group over the forming of a central office in 1946 and over the opening of an Alano Club on 4th Avenue two years later. In the first instance, the adoption of the Twelve Traditions helped solve the problems; and in the second, some A.A. members founded an organization known as the Pathfinders to provide a kind of Twelfth Step house for alcoholics seeking help.
Both Bill and Dr. Bob visited San Diego in 1948. Dr. Bob celebrated his 13th A.A. anniversary at an all-groups central meeting, where he received a birthday cake.
From Los Angeles, A.A. spread north and eastward to Ventura, Santa Barbara, and into San Luis Obispo County in 1947. There, the first group in Paso Robles was started in 1947 by Charlie B. As recalled by Claude F., who was there, the first meeting was held at St. James Hall with six or eight men present. The meetings, which varied from two to a dozen people, moved to space over a shoe store and to other locations. The group in San Luis Obispo began at about the same time and was similar in size, meeting in the courtroom of Judge Ray B. Lyons, a nonalcoholic. At his invitation, Pat M. of Fresno and Ed T. of Bakersfield came over t put on a meeting. Art S., who moved to San Luis in ’49, remernber5 Pappy T., Lester P., Jack M. and Ted H. By ’53 there were about 25 members. The Santa Maria Valley group was started in May 1947 by Frank H. who had attended a few meetings in Santa Barbara at his wife’s suggestion. Bob L. from Santa Maria had done the same– and for the same reason. Frank wrote to the New York service office for the Big Book and other literature and held the first Santa Maria meeting in his home at 621 East Fesler, with about six present including Red S. from Lompoc and Pat 0. from Solvang. They advertised in the paper and soon grew to the point they had to move to the old library building, which had become the USA building. Frank H. was an energetic twelfth stepper and remained sober until his death in 1985. Later, perhaps the best known member of the Santa Maria Valley group was Carl B., delegate on Panel (WHICH?) after which he eventually became archivist.
San Francisco and Northern California
The first contact with A.A. from San Francisco was a letter from Mrs. Zelpa Oram who wrote the New York office following the Gabriel Heatter broadcast in April 1939. She was seeking help for one of her boarders, Ted C., a sometime traveling salesman and full time alcoholic. In his mid-30’s, he had been in and out of jails and state hospitals for years. Mrs. Oram ordered a Big Book which arrived in June, and Ted sobered up in July.
The Liberty magazine article in September attracted a number of inquiries from Northern California, who were advised by the New York office Ray W., an eastern salesman, would be in San Francisco to meet with them. On November 21, 1939, Ray met in his room at the Clift Hotel with Ted C., Don B. and Dave L. Ray told them about the A.A. program and the Big Book and turned over to them several more names to call. Though Ray was a sober member of A.A., he was also an athiest and denigrated the idea of God as we understand Him, so early San Francisco A.A. suffered from lack of a spiritual foundation.
Ted ordered more Big Books and other A.A. literature and the three of them called the other names. The first meeting of an A.A. group in San Francisco was held shortly before Christmas in 1939 in Mrs. Oram’s kitchen at 51 Potomac St. The following month Ted contacted King Y. and Jack C. Soon afterward, Don B. relapsed, and while Ted was visiting him at S.F. General Hospital he met Dr. Percy Poliak, a resident psychiatrist who had formerly worked at New York’s Bellevue Hospital where he had become acquainted with A.A., had acquired a Big Book, and had even met Bill W. In San Francisco, he had also known Ted C. as an alcoholic patient and was surprised to find him sober now. Dr. Poliak, a great admirer of A.A., was to be a source of referrals and a supporter who helped educate other physicians.
The little group struggled through the next year. Among the recruits were Pauline C. from Berkeley, Nic N. from Oakland, Ed MCD., Tom L., and Lee and Chuck T. The latter two, who had joined A.A. in New York and had been a part of the early group in Los Angeles before moving to San Francisco, were highly critical of the way Ted C. was presenting A.A. and immediately began efforts to start a second A.A. group. They succeeded, with Don B. as one of their recruits, in May 1940. Bitter rivalry arose between the two groups.
In April 1940, the original group was joined by John C. (brought in by King Y.) and Fred C. and Amy R. (referred by Dr. Poliak). And John and Fred turned out to be the only two to stay sober (other than King Y., who moved to Washington, D.C., and became active there). Ted C. was to slip repeatedly and end up again in the state hospital at Napa.
The appearance of the Jack Alexander article in March 1941 resulted in an infusion of new members into San Francisco A.A. By this time, the original group had moved to quarters at the Telegraph Hill Community House, 1736 Stockton St. To respond to the many inquiries coming in, it was decided to hold an open or “public” A.A. meeting. This proposal precipitated still more angry disagreement, during which at least three members returned to drinking; but the public meeting was still held. This, in turn, resulted in favorable publicity in the local newspapers, the Examiner and the News, which brought in still more members.
In 1943, the S.F. group moved again, to the Native Sons Hall in downtown S.F. Here, in November, Bill W. spoke to a group of about 50 A.A. members, and at an open meeting afterward to a crowd of 250 people. He was to return in 1948 and again twice in 1951, to speak before 3,000 each time. As membership grew, clubrooms were acquired at 137 Harlan Place. By 1944, attendance at A.A. meetings held there exceeded 100, and the club moved to 143 Bush Street. Further growth forced the A.A. groups to meet in separate quarters elsewhere. The club moved several more times and is now located at 525 Sutter. Among the active members recalled from this period were Bob G., Jim M., Eddie F., Bob L., Juanita D., and Paul G., who had his last drink December 23, 1946.
“My wife had called A.A. that day,” Paul remembers, “but the two members who responded didn’t get the call until Christmas morning. They left their families that day and came to try to help a drunk they didn’t even know, and that really impressed me. It still does! I went to my first meeting the next day. There were four or five groups in San Francisco then.” I became a member of one called the Sunset group, with about 30 members. Paul C. was a pioneer in carrying the A.A. message into San Quentin penitentiary. He went on to become Delegate on Panel 6 and served as secretary of the San Francisco Central Office from 1967 to 198?.
The first neighborhood group to form was the Mission group in 1945, followed the next year by Midtown, then Sunset, Parkside, Richmond and Golden Gate. Paul G.’s first group was Sunset. “One night the secretary asked how many of us lived in the Richmond district, and about six of us held up our hands. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘starting next week, don’t come back. This group is getting too big. Start your own group.’ I became secretary six months later and have been active ever since.”
The Golden Gate group was the first “open meeting” group. The first young people’s group was started around 1950. A local A.A. newspaper, “Good News” began publication the same year, with “O.K.” P. the first editor.
One of the most historic occasions for early A.A. in San Francisco was the presentation of the Lasker Award to Alcoholics Anonymous on October 30, 1951, at a session of the American Public Health Association convention. Paul C., who was an usher at the event, remembers that the Opera House, the site of the ceremony, was jammed. Bernard Smith, the nonalcoholic chairman of the Alcoholic Foundation, accepted the award with a brilliant and moving talk, and Bill W. also appeared. A.A.’s all over California had been notified, and a large A.A. meeting was held at the Opera House on October 29. Jack I. of San Francisco was chairman and again Bern and Bill spoke. As mentioned above, attendance exceeded 3,000.
Because of the confusion and personality clashes in San Francisco A.A., Marion “Nic” N., who lived in Oakland, determined in March of 1941 to start a group on the east side of the bay. Apparently a real need existed, for six months later, 50 people were attending meetings held at the YMCA in Oakland.
Immediately after the group started a woman from Sacramento, having heard about A.A., called Nic and promptly drove to Oakland with her brother, Elliott T., a drunk. She dumped Elliott on the brand-new group and went home. Pauline, secretary of the group, put up the newcomer at her house. The Oakland members dosed him with paraldehyde and took turns sitting with him day and night. When he was finally able to maneuver, Elliott returned to Sacramento. There he rounded up some of his drunken friends who wanted to do something about their drinking and in May 1941 founded the first Sacramento A.A. group – with the support of carloads of Oakland members until it was firmly established.
Nic experimented again with drinking, only to return to the Oakland group in mid-’43 with his wife and brother as members, too. Seeking to deepen his spiritual life, he began attending a Congregational Church, where he took his 5th Step with the minister, Dr. Clarence Reidenbach. Clarence became extremely interested in A.A. from a spiritual standpoint and began attending meetings regularly. With the cooperation of some members, he even held some sessions in which he tried to induce the kind of spiritual experience which seemed common in A.A.—but with very limited success.
From the original Oakland group, A.A. spread until there were groups throughout the city, Alameda County, and beyond. Vallejo, Napa and Santa Cruz counties all registered their first A.A. groups around ’45.
In late 1939, in Monterey, a Martin K.’s wife read the Liberty magazine article about A.A. and persuaded the local stationery store to order a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous. Martin read the book, but balked at the “God bit,” and was unable to maintain continuous sobriety. A traveling salesman, he went on a Twelfth Step call during one of his sober periods to Salinas. He and the caller, Oscar D., got a group started there with five at the first meeting. Martin’s job performance so improved that he was given a larger sales area and decided to move to San Jose to service it. His friends gave him a farewell party at the LaMar Hotel, where he got thoroughly drunk and didn’t sober up until the following year in San Jose where he became active in the Fellowship. Back in Monterey, A.A. didn’t take root permanently until ’45.
Meanwhile, in Salinas, Oscar D. was an active carrier of the message for three years. Then he began to drink off and on, finally committing suicide in ’52. A second Salinas group was begun in ’45 by Bob M, who had been attending meetings in San Jose. Bob was manager of the State Department of Unemployment, where he recruited people to meet with him on Wednesday nights. Because of his position and the location of the meeting, Bob was overly concerned with anonymity and insisted the meetings be closed and “secret.” Even so, the group grew rapidly, due to Bob M.’s indefatigable Twelfth Step work. An Alano Club opened in ’51. Salinas groups continued to multiply, with 21 listed in 1985.
The first meeting in San Jose was held in May of ’41. Mickey C. had been traveling to Oakland to attend meetings. There he met Jim R., who had driven independently to Oakland, and they learned they lived only two blocks from each other! So they began meeting at Jim’s house. Allen C., while in the Agnew State Hospital for alcoholism, wrote to the American Medical Association in June 1941 for help with his problem. They forwarded his letter to the A.A. service office in New York, who passed it along to Jim R. So Allen became the third member of the group.
We don’t know where V.V. “Pop” F., of Palo Alto, got sober, but we know that on Christmas Eve, 1941, he did three things: (1) He went to the local post office and rented Box 12. (2) He went to the Palo Alto Times and inserted an ad in the Personals column reading, “To anyone wishing.. .to make good on their New Year’s Resolution to stop drinking, write to P.O. Box 12, Palo Alto.” (3) He rented a room at the Community Center for the following Friday evening. In 1985, Palo Alto A.A. still has Box 12, the ad is still running, and there’s still a meeting at the Community Center on Friday evenings. The original group has grown to 27, with hundreds of members.
California is one of the largest states in the country and one of the most populous. Appropriately, its A.A. service structure embraces five areas. It has always had the largest number of A.A. groups with the largest membership of any state. Even in 1955, California had 548 groups and 11,645 members. In A.A.’s 50th year, it had 4,753 groups registered, with an estimated membership of more than 131,600.
Seattle and the state of Washington
The first contact with the Alcoholic Foundation from Seattle was on November 24, 1939, when Mrs. J.J. Stewart, wife of an alcoholic, wrote to say “we have the book Alcoholics Anonymous and have read it” and asked if there was any organization or unit in Seattle. The return letter, almost three months later, suggested she get in touch with “the growing Fellowships in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Another wife of an alcoholic, Mrs. Margaret Dorian, wrote a similar query in February 1940, and was told, in a much prompter reply, “we are very sorry…we have no members closer to you than San Francisco.”
The third letter from Seattle, the following month, was from an alcoholic writing on his own behalf, a David W. He wrote to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who forwarded the letter to the young service office in New York. Dave indicated he had stopped drinking three years before, already had a strong faith in God, and had already tried to get other inebriates to quit, without success. It seems he is particularly interested in helping others. Ruth Hock replied with a long, encouraging letter, and in subsequent correspondence sent a pamphlet and put Dave in touch with Mrs. Stewart and Mrs. Dorian. By March 1941, Ruth is able to send Dave the names of several additional referrals—including a Dale A., who was to go on to be credited with being the founder of A.A. in Seattle and the state of Washington. Dale had read the Jack Alexander article in the Saturday Evening Post and had then written to New York to order a Big Book and find a contact in Seattle.
Dave W. rented a room in the New Washington Hotel for $4.50 and held the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Seattle on April 19, 1941. The next letter from Ruth Hock calls that event “an inspiration to all of us here in the East.” Dave continued to follow up on referrals and held his next meeting on May 4. Present were Cal S. of Bremerton, Earl K. from Aberdeen, a Leonard P. and Mrs. Stewart’s husband. After a hiatus, the group finally began meeting regularly in July. And now they met at Dale A.’s home and included Dave, Bob E. and Lindsey M. as the mainstays.
At the end of the year, Dave W. had moved to Daytona Beach, Florida, traveling via New York in order to consult with Bill W. He started groups in Daytona Beach and -several surrounding towns before he died of a heart attack in late 1942. Dale continued to slip occasionally until September 1941, when he had his last drink. Lindsey M. joined the Merchant Marine, and upon his return after World War II, he attended meetings infrequently for a few years and then faded from sight. However—much as Bill W. always gave Ebby T. credit—Dale never failed to think of Lidsey with deep gratitude as the person who helped him obtain sustained sobriety. Although Dale was almost a loner at times in the earliest years, he had a post office box for A.A. and continued to receive referrals. And slowly, the Fellowship began to grow.
Everett K. recalls that a dispute over discussion of God caused an early split in Seattle A.A. Group #1 was reluctant to stress the spiritual; others who disagreed split off: University, Green Lake, West Seattle, Magnolia and capitol Hill, known as “Group #6”. According to Everett, “Group Six and University One survived, the rest failed. But later, fresh groups were started in those places and they, in turn, grew. But that original split made A.A. grow in Seattle.”
An Alano Club was formed in the ’40s. Eric B. (who became Delegate in ’65 and Regional Trustee in ’67) recalls: “The club had slot machines that picked up the tab for many things. They (A.A.] had picnics, and the Alano Club picked up the tab. Whenever Intergroup got a little behind, the Club would give them a check because so much money was coming in from the slots. In 1952 the authorities raided the Alano Club, confiscated the slot machines and booked the Club steward. The newspapers had headlines about A.A. being raided. That was when we learned the importance of the Traditions, which had just come into existence – that we should be self-supporting through our own contributions and that the Club should be separate from A.A.”
Eric remembers that Bill W. had talked about the Traditions when he paid his first visit to Seattle A.A. in February 1948. He spoke at a big meeting with about 800 present, talking about the Conference idea. When it came about in 1951, Dale A. was chosen Delegate. However, the service structure did not really begin functioning in Washington for another five years.
A.A. in Tacoma was started in September 1942 by an Archie 0. and met in members’ homes. The following year, the first regular meeting of the Tacoma group was held at the IOOF Hall at 6th and Fawcett. It moved in ’47 to 1506 Pacific Avenue and in ’49 to the Boilermakers Hall where some of the members were Ralph B. (who was to follow Eric B. as area Delegate), JoAnn, George & Esther, Frances & Gordon A., Jolly & Betty C., Ted K. and others. The Boilermakers spawned other groups including the Fellowship group and Plaza Hall.
Two letters of inquiry came to G.S.O. in New York from Spokane in 1941 and April 1945 without any known result. Then, in June of ’45, Curtis S., who had found A.A. in Minneapolis and attended meetings in Washington, D.C., was transferred to Spokane. Finding no A.A., he put an ad in the newspaper and obtained a meeting room at the Davenport Hotel. The first Spokane meeting was held there on June 21, 1945, with about eight drunks in attendance. Coming as he did from “club country” in Minnesota, Curt immediately began hustling money from outsiders to purchase a building and establish an Alano Club. Bobbie B. at G. S.O. tried to discourage his grandiose plans and to counsel him to slow down, but he charged ahead anyway, and the last of October—just four and a half months after Curt had placed his ad—the group held its first meeting in the Alano Club in a house they had purchased at 119 West 7th Street. The 20 members had dug up some discarded chairs and tables, and, in addition to $6,500 donated from the outside, they owed $8,500 in debts. With the help of income from punchboards and slot machines, the Club was barely able to meet the mortgage payments. But it survived and forty years later was at the same address. Wisely, in February 1947, it was decided to separate A.A. from the Alano Club. There followed a long period of growing pains and dissension between the growing number of A.A. groups and the Club—during which a jointly financed Central Office came and went. Finally, with the separation clearly understood, A.A. groups resumed meeting in the clubhouse, paying rent.
The A.A. groups also found it necessary to form a Central Council in the early days, which was eventually replaced by the Spokane Intergroup.
A.A. came to Mt. Vernon in 1945, founded by Johnny R. from Burlington and Ronnie C. from Conway. Mt.Vernon was a central location for both. Anacortes followed in 1947. Longview dates its first meeting from June 1945, founded by a Henry A., who had quit drinking through a personal spiritual experience, and had then contacted the Seattle group as well as G.S.O. The Longview group reported 15 members by 1951. The Hemlock group in Longview was started in ’53. Yakima made contact with G.S.O. in 1944, but a group did not get started until ’46.
A.A. began in Everett in 1945 with the Lombard group, meeting at the apartment of Floyd M. Five other alcoholics were present plus two members from the Empire group in Seattle to help out. Two years later, the shaky Lombard group had dissolved, but one of its members, Norm S., joined with Vern S., Ted K., Harry B. and Frank H. to form the solid and enduring Evergreen group. Early in ’49, Evergreen acquired quarters at 1906 Grand Ave., their long-term home.
Ena C. of Bellingham, near the Canadian border, wrote G.S.O. in New York in October 1946 saying “I need help real bad,” and was given addresses in Everett and in Victoria, B.C., Canada, to contact. In January ’47, Ena wrote for literature to start a group. Among the members was Brad B. who had written independently, also in January, for a Big Book and was given Ena’s name to contact. The Bellingham group celebrated its second anniversary on April 3, 1949, with a crowd of 300 in attendance! The Vancouver, B.C., group sent three busloads of people and large contingents also came from Everett and Seattle. Archie McG. of Seattle was one of the main speakers.
The first known group in Bremerton probably was started in late 1946 by Lester H., who had been attending meetings at Group Six in Seattle since ’45. The Tn-Cities—Pasco, Richland and Kennewick—formed a common group in the early ’50’s, spearheaded by Ted W. and Bob T. from the Pasco group, which had begun in ’48. Kennewick was the physical location of the new Tn-Cities group which became very active almost immediately. They hosted a Pacific Northwest Conference in ’54 and Washington Area Assemblies and the Pacific Region A.A. Service Assembly (PPAASA) thereafter. In 1981, they began what has become the annual Inland Empire Roundup.
The first effort to bring A.A. to Olympia was in the summer of 1948 when George F. and Al B. of Tacoma, together with Pete P. and others from Seattle, put on an open meeting there. But there was no follow-up until a year later when a second meeting was held at the Olympian Hotel, where Maury B. was elected secretary and meetings continued at the Eagles Hall until the group was established.
After this period of the late 1940’s, the Fellowship spread to hundreds of towns throughout the state. The story of how each group began is told in an amazingly complete 475-page, hardcover history of Washington Area A.A., entitled Our Stories Disclose, available in the A.A. Archives – far too much to cover in a single chapter here.
In 1955, the state of Washington had 86 groups with 1,437 members. In A.A.’s 50th year, it had 811 groups with an estimated membership of over 15,000.
Frank C., in Phoenix, read the Saturday Evening Post article and wrote A.A. in New York for help. They answered that there were no groups nearby, but “a traveler will contact you.” And an A.A. member from the East, Dave S., did so. Some months later, a permanent transplant, Percy A., arrived, and he and Frank C. began the first Phoenix meeting in late 1942. A lawyer and a railroader were the next two recruits, followed by more, and with seven members in ’44, the group began meeting at the Phoenix Women’s Club instead of in homes. In 1950 there were five groups in Phoenix plus others in nearby Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe.
A.A. reached Tucson also in 1942, but in quite a different way. Ham B., a stocky, pleasant man of about 35, who had joined A.A. in his hometown of. Van Nuys, California, found himself stationed in Tucson with his wife, Marian. Although he had brought a copy of the Big Book with him, he was uneasy about leaving his home group and began seeking another alcoholic. He contacted the air base, the police, the psycho ward at the hospital, and finally the city jail. There, the desk sergeant pointed to a prisoner, Frank C., saying, “he’s a great guy, but you can’t keep him sober.” A few days later, Ham saw Frank C. again in the Copper Kettle Coffee Shop, and invited him to join him for a cup of coffee. Frank was a tailor with a shop on 3rd Street and his wife had finally left him. He was ready to hear the A.A. message over that cup of coffee, and he never had another drink!
In February 1943, Ham and Frank had the first registered A.A. meeting in Tucson. The third member of the group arrived in May: a “R.D.” A. and his wife, Jerry, both in their late twenties. A coworker of Frank C.’s, who knew Jerry, told her of Frank’s miraculous recovery. Jerry passed the message along to ‘R.D.” and, when he resisted doing anything about it, she left him. That was “R.D.”‘s bottom, and he agreed to give A.A. a try “or this will be the end of me.”
The three members hung in until they got some recruits as the result of a newspaper article in November 1943. Two months later, Bill and Lois paid them a visit, which brought still more publicity on his talk. And by 1947 the Tucson group had 60 members! Ham and Marian B. continued to keep in touch and visited Tucson frequently after the war was over.
Other Tucson highlights: 1945, the first woman member, Jane C. from New Jersey; 1947, an Alano Club opened; 1972, the first daytime meeting; 1956, a Central Office opened at 207 E. Pennington, as a result of a controversy over the A.A. phone listing; 1974, a new Central Office took its place; 1983, formation of a Spanish-speaking Intergroup. By 1985, there were 59 groups in Tucson.
In all of Arizona, there were 38 groups with 543 members by 1955. In 1985, these had grown to 501 groups with a membership of over 8,500.
The first reported A.A. activity in Idaho was in the beautiful northern resort town of Coeur d’Alene in January 1945. “L.J.” B., an A.A. member from Phoenix had moved there, and wanted to get a group started. Although he had ten members at the end of a year, the group fluctuated in size and viability for a period. However, today Coeur d’Alene lists five flourishing groups and an intergroup.
The next development was in the tiny southern Idaho town of Rigby, where a woman came across the Jack Alexander article in the spring of 1947 and wrote to the New York office for help. It just happened that Harry B., a former member of the Los Angeles “mother” group as well as the Salt Lake City, Utah, group, had recently moved to Idaho Falls, a scant 15 miles from Rigby. The two men were put in touch with each other and the Idaho Falls group #1 was formed. They started meeting at the home of Harry B. and his wife in May ’47 and soon had 19 members, causing them to move to a room at the City Hall. By November ’47, they had 28 members. Now the Idaho Falls group, with the help of members whom Harry knew in Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah, helped organize the first meeting in Pocatello.
In the capital city of Boise, two men from Milwaukee are said to have started a group in 1945, but it became inactive a year or so later. However, some members from that group again got together in ’48 and began meeting at the Owyhee Hotel. By ’52, the group had grown to 120 members and moved to the American Legion Hall. A club was opened in ’54. Groups split off due usually to personality conflicts, and so the number continued to grow until in 1985 there were 34 groups in Boise. The largest of these is the Happy Hour group which meets every afternoon except Sunday at 5:30 in a former cocktail lounge (hence the name), under the leadership of Pat E., Delegate on Panel (WHICH), a tough retired Marine sergeant known for his effective sponsorship.
In Twin Falls, the first A.A. meeting was held in October ’47.
(MORE ON GROWTH IN TWIN FALLS AND ELSEWHERE, HERE) In 1955, Idaho had 26 groups with about 400 members. In 1985, it had grown to 200 groups and over 2,200 members.
Our farthest northern state has always had a major alcoholism problem, not only because of the isolation, the long winters and the harsh living conditions, but also because the pioneers who have emigrated there tend to be rebellious, rugged individualists – classic alcoholic personalities. However, A.A. encountered early difficulties in getting a foothold there, mostly because of the transient nature of the population.
The first inquiry to the New York A.A. office came in January 1946, from a Judson B., who had read of A.A. in a Reader’s Digest article, but Jud didn’t stay sober. The Sourdough Group in Anchorage was the first to make it for a while. Founded by Jay B. and Shielan R., a woman, in ’46, it had six members at its height. But most of these were transient—including Shielan, who returned to the lower 48—and the group soon disintegrated. In 1947, another “Group #1” began in Anchorage, with Herman C. as its leader, and it endured. The same year, a group started in Juneau, with five members. Fairbanks and Ketchikan were added two years later. By 1951, there were 53 members in Alaska; by 1952, there were 94! And A.A. has grown rapidly ever since. In 1985, it reported 156 groups with about 2,000 members.
The first A.A. meeting in Nevada was held in Las Vegas in November 1945 when two lone members there got together. They continued to meet and gain new members until in February ’46 they claimed 24 members; a secretary, Evelyn C.; and a post office box.
Meanwhile, the ground was being prepared in Reno, where Ken B. had been fighting booze most of his life. After several “geographic cures” during which his alcoholism worsened and he nearly died after passing out in a snowbank, Ken returned to Reno.
In May 1946, Ward L. and George N. from San Francisco visited Reno on business. Finding no A.A. there, they took time to visit the police and the hospitals to get names of the known drunks. Ken B.’s name topped every list. That night, Ken’s wife called him and told him two representatives of Alcoholics Anonymous were in Reno and would he go see them. Some hours and a few bars later, Ken arrived at their room in the Overland Hotel but passed out at their door. Ward had to leave for home, but George stayed and Twelfth Stepped Ken most of the night. When Ken woke up next morning at home, George was there, but Ken wasn’t ready. He skipped out daily to drink for a few more days, but returned home each night to his wife and George. Finally, he took George’s advice and had his last drink. George had to leave the following day, but he had already listed Ken’s telephone number in. the newspaper as the local contact for A.A.
The phone started ringing constantly with wives and friends of drunks trying to help them, and Ken dutifully went to see each one, armed only with an A.A. pamphlet. Within three months, there were 15 members meeting at Ken’s house, some of them staying there as well. Without literature or experience, the scene was chaotic, but the group grew, meeting regularly on Tuesdays, including wives, children and pets. With occasional assistance from visiting A.A.’s, and some experience attending meetings in other localities themselves, they settled down to a regular meeting on Mondays, a beginners’ meeting on Wednesdays, and a closed meeting on Fridays with a separate meeting for wives which evolved eventually into Al-Anon.
At the end of a year, the group remodeled the barn behind Ken’s house which became a clubhouse and a regular meeting place until it burned down in ’47. This proved a blessing, because it forced the members out into the community giving A.A. more exposure and resulting in several more groups being formed that year, with an increase to 58 members. By this time, Las Vegas listed 35 members and groups had started in Carson City and Henderson. The Carson City members initiated meetings in the prison there in ’49.
By 1955, there were 10 groups in Nevada with about 200 members, and it was decided to get together annually. Tonopah was chosen as the central meeting place. Other roundups and get-togethers followed, including an International Young People’s Conference in 1971. In 1985, Nevada had 189 groups with an estimated 2,600 members.
In the early 1940’s, “Doc” H., from the A.A. group in Portland, Oregon, together with several other members, had carried the message inside the walls of the Oregon State prison at Salem. One of the inmates who heard the message was Owen L. from Salt Lake City, Utah. Owen was a two-time loser, as a result of alcohol-related crimes, and he immediately latched onto the program, becoming chairman of the prison A.A. group.
Upon his parole in June 1944, Owen wrote New York for information on A.A. in his home city, but was informed there was none. In no way dismayed, he viewed this as “a fertile spot to plant the A.A. seed.” He traveled to Salt Lake City with his wife, Donna, rented Post Office Box 1862, and found a job while he waited for inquiries.
Just 37 miles to the north, in Ogden, Delbert “Deb” P. was a sometime sign painter and full time drunk. He had been fired from other jobs, jailed for being drunk and disorderly, and jailed for drunk driving. In October 1944, his wife read aloud to him an article about A.A. in the Reader’s Digest entitled “Maybe I Can Do It, Too!” Two days later, Deb sent a telegram (charged) to the Alcoholic Foundation reading, “Please send someone to help me.” Back came an answer, “Contact P.O. Box 1862, Salt Lake City.” And he did. That evening, the phone rang and it was Owen, who asked Deb to come to Salt Lake the following evening, sober.
The round trip by interurban line cost $3, which Deb didn’t have, so that morning he rustled up $3 worth of sign painting business. But he was shaking so, he couldn’t do it without a few beers. Deb met with Owen and Donna that evening and for the first time found hope. “Are there any more A.A. members around here?” he asked eagerly. “No,” replied Owen, “but there will be.”
The following day, back in Ogden, Deb suffered with dry heaves and withdrawal agonies, but he prayed to his newly found Higher Power and miraculously did not drink. The following Sunday, Owen and Donna traveled to Ogden to meet with Deb and his wife, Louise.
Early in December 1944, a Salt Lake City Tribune feature story told of Alcoholics Anonymous coming to Utah. A flurry of activity resulted and a meeting to organize the first Utah group was held December 19. Owen was elected secretary. The same day, the Standard-Examiner in Ogden carried an article by editor Frank Francis, giving both the Ogden and Salt Lake post office box numbers. More than 30 inquiries resulted. One of these was Lou W., who listed his phone number in his letter. But when Deb called, Lou’s wife reported that her husband was already back in the drunk-tank at the city jail. He later chose A.A. over that way of life. Another respondent was George K., holed up in a second-rate hotel, from which he called the police to find out who the article in the paper was about. For leverage, he threatened suicide. The police got in touch with Deb, who made the Twelfth Step call in the early morning hours. Soon George was pleading with him, “Don’t talk so loud or they’ll throw me out.” Deb replied, “Well, isn’t it better to be thrown out than to jump out?” George K. became one of Ogden’s early members.
The first group meeting in Ogden took place on New Year’s Eve 1944 in an apartment at 2060 Jefferson Ave. Owen L., Bill H. and Johnnie R. were there from Salt Lake with their wives, and Deb P., George K. and Lou W. from Ogden also with their wives. It was decided to meet each succeeding Saturday at alternate homes. Deb was elected secretary.
The Ogden group sponsored the first public A.A. meeting in Utah on July 12, 1945. More than 60 people turned out for the event, including Salt Lake and Ogden members, relatives or friends of problem drinkers and at least two practicing alcoholics who joined. By August 1946, membership had climbed to 101 in four groups, two in each city. The Salt Lake City groups published their own pamphlets—not uncommon in those days. By 1949, groups existed in Ephraim, Fillmore, Heber City, Logan, Manti, Moab, Monroe, Murray, Nephi, Price, Provo, Roosevelt, Saline,Brigham City and Cedar City. Divisions as to policy ran rampant. Traditions were not yet in place, and disagreements were common. In 1947, a Central Office was set up in Salt Lake at 216 Ness Bldg., with Berk 0. secretary, which helped with communication.
Utah’s Skyline Conference started in 1950 and soon grew to an annual event which attracted A.A.’s from all over the west. The University of Utah inaugurated a one-week Summer School on Alcoholism in 1951, which became one of the best known in the U.S. Since many of the alcoholism professionals attending it were also A.A. members, they asked that an A.A. meeting be included in the schedule. The school authorities were glad to oblige, as it also gave exposure to A.A. to the nonalcoholic students as well. To match the level of the summer school faculty – all figures of national importance – the school invited nationally known circuit speakers from A.A., with the help of a local and rather controversial A.A. member, Clyde G. This created some friction and resentment on the part of Utah—and particularly Salt Lake City – A.A.’s who felt their group conscience was not being consulted. Later, the university officials met with people in the Utah area service structure and agreed to let them pick the speakers. Over the years these have included trustees (including several Chairmen of the Board), general managers and staff members from G.S.O., and others in A.A. service. The large A.A. meeting during the summer school each year has become an A.A. event in itself and has given the opportunity for local A.A. to arrange other participation in-group meetings by the visitors.
By 1955, Utah had 40 groups with over 1,000 members. In A.A.’s 50th year, membership stood at 2,600 in 160 groups in the state.
The first A.A. contact in Oregon was Edward C. who wrote the New York office from Portland in April 1940 to ask for help. He was sent some literature and apparently sobered up about six months later. Although he was sent a letter of encouragement and some names to follow up, from the Jack Alexander article, he was never heard from again. The next contact was Clarence “Doc” H., a Portland chiropractor, in February 1943. He had closed up his office two years earlier to devote full time to drinking. But now he had found his friend, drinking buddy and roommate dead in bed, with their room full of empties. In a moment of truth, Doc H. remembered reading the Saturday Evening Post article and wrote A.A. in New York for help. Bobbie B. wrote back referring him to Dan C., an A.A. member from Chicago working in the Portland shipyards and living in cheap hotel.
The two men met and started the first Portland group in March. They registered with G.S.O., rented a post office box and ordered a supply of books and pamphlets. At first Doc and Dan got together on an impromptu basis, as any meeting space was hard to come by during the wartime boom. Doc pooled gas stamps and drove his old car to Seattle to contact Dale A. and Tacoma to contact Archie O’H. In June he contacted Warren T., an early member from Minneapolis who was now in charge of alcoholic problems at the Kaiser shipyard in Richmond, California, where he heard that Bill and Lois W. were planning to visit the West Coast in December. Back home, he rented a large dining room for the occasion at the old Heathman Hotel. As the time approached, he had several newspaper articles published and even bought advertising space the week preceding the meeting.
On December 6, 1943, the open, public meeting took place at two p.m. with more than 100 people present. Although a number of people in the audience were under the influence, Bill made an inspiring talk and all went well. A closed meeting was held immediately afterward, for which 22 men stayed. Dan C. joined the Navy, and before he left he wrote Bobbie B. “the Portland lamp is lit, and it will never go out…” The following month, the new group rented space at the YMCA, where it stayed until September ’45, when it moved to clubrooms at 830 S.W. 10th Ave. The group had grown so much by November ’46 that two others split off—Eastside YMCA and Central YMCA.
In 1955 Oregon had 47 groups with 614 members. In 1985, there were 511 registered groups with nearly 7,000 members.