Alcoholics Anonymous History In Your Area
Early Alcoholics Anonymous in Baltimore
A brief history of AA in Baltimore; how it started and the problems of growth. This is from a few records and the recollections of some of the old-timers involved. APRIL, 1975
JUNE 16, 1940 Jim B. of Philadelphia had contacted an old friend, Jim R., who had been sober for four years alter a religious recovery at Keswick Colony in New Jersey. Jim R. had been working with two other alcoholics without success, so he was very glad to have “AA” help as outlined by Jim B. Hence, the first “AA” meeting was held at Jim R.’s home on St. Paul St. on June 16, 1940.
JUNE 22, 1940 THE SECOND “AA” meeting was held in the office of a Mr. P. (a lawyer whose brother needed help). Present were: Jim B. (Philadelphia), Jim R., Fred M., Norman B., Mac S., Mr. P. The meetings continued in a board room in the Munsey Building on Fayette St. for about three months.
OCTOBER 1, 1940 They moved to a basement room in the Altamount Hotel. The wives and “AA” girls would furnish coffee and sandwiches after the meeting where the custom of social fellowship was continued. During this period new members arrived and some of those were: Henry M. (October 27), Anita H. (November 13), Bill S., A. C. E., Bill B., Ray N., Hal H., C. E.. Paul K. As World War II approached, the Hotel Altamount was being used for draftees and the “AA” quarters were needed so it became necessary to find a new location.
MARCH, 1941 — 857 N. Eutaw St. It was at this location that the small Baltimore group found an old mail-order house in a somewhat dilapidated condition. With but $6.00 in the treasury, four members of the group signed a two-year lease at $45.00 per month and the group pitched in to make a meeting place. A couple of sobering-up painters and some amateur carpenters removed shelving and painted walls. An employer (who was so tickled that one of his men got sober) gave fifty chairs. So, “AA” was in business with a good meeting place.
February 16, 1941 –(Attraction rather than Promotion) Baltimore Sunday Sun article and picture of “AA” Group (from the rear by Harrison Johnston. Article attached.
October 25, 1941 — Baltimore News American article by Louis Azrael. Article attached.
April, 1941 — Saturday Evening Post — Jack Alexander.
As one can see here we have publicity on both a local and national basis and the debt owed by sober drunks to the media in incalculable. The old timers in the Baltimore group say that as each bit of news came out, the phones would start ringing and the “AA’s” were like firemen — always ready to go. The group grew, about 50 members in October, 1941 .They had no traditions and as they say, they tried everything. Sometimes they asked the judge to “lock him up until he got sober. The Salvation Army would provide a bed at times. Members sometimes helped the newcomers find a job. They tried buying meal tickets, but this didn’t work because the drunks would sell the tickets for booze and on and on. But, the “AA” message of hope and survival was carried on.
“THE GIRLS” The wives of “AA” as well as the “AA” girls started the Saturday Night SC social. This was a feed and social time and the drunks had something to do on Saturday night. They liked it and Baltimore “AA” pays tribute to these ladies who gave of their love, understanding, and time to help make alcoholics feel wanted and worthwhile.
BILL’S VISITS AND HELP FROM WASHINGTON AND PHILADELPHIA A A’S Sometime in the “early forties” Bill W. visited Henry M. and by arrangement talked with several groups of doctors and shared his experiences with them, and this helped. He also was the principle speaker at the meeting attended by Louis Azrael of the Baltimore News American, A A’S from Washington and Philadelphia came to Baltimore many times to help the new group to grow and mature.
GASOLINE SHORTAGE World War II Rationing As the war years went on, the 857 Group felt the effects of gas rationing and some of the suburban members began to think about another group. So after much alcoholic thinking the second group was started.
TOWSON — APRIL 12, 1945 The first meeting was held in the study of an Episcopal Clergyman in Towson with seven people in attendance. Shortly thereafter, a room was rented above a store on York Road in Towson. In June of 1945 they held their first public “AA” meeting. Attending were a judge, probation officer, two clergymen and a doctor. Late in 1945, the group found new quarters in a basement room in an apartment building. It was felt that more room was needed as well as to get away from the noise of streetcars and traffic that had bothered them at the old location. The new location was at 212 Washington Ave., Towson, Md. just a block from the Police Station. This group has remained here since and will be 30 years old in April, 1975. For many years the Towson group has averaged 40 members and from it have grown many other groups as members leave to help start “AA” in other locations.
INTERGROUP OFFICE An Intergroup Office was started August, 1945. This was located in the “Bromo-Seltzer Tower” in downtown Baltimore and drew many comments from the press and radio. As “AA” grew in the Baltimore area so did the Intergroup Council until today where we find over six hundred “AA” meetings each week and approximately 12,000 members.
Reprinted from The Baltimore Sunday Sun, February 16. 1941 John Barleycorns Victims Seek Strength In Unity — Harrison Johnston The story of “Alcoholics Anonymous,” which now includes a Baltimore group, is the story, in the words of one of its members, of a “bunch of drunks trying to help one another stop drinking.
This may sound like the scenario for a Mack Sennett comedy, but it isn’t. For members of “Alcoholics Anonymous,” and thousands like them, escape from under the thumb of alcohol is the most important and difficult of life’s problems. And medicine, while it has finally come to recognize alcoholism as a disease rather than a moral delinquency, has yet to devise a permanent cure, or even an effective preventive.
Last year, for example, almost seventeen per cent of the total first admissions to Maryland hospitals were because of alcoholism. Every year some 56,000 persons are added to the vast number of chronic alcoholics in the United States, variously estimated as high as 900,000. Every year in this country fifteen of every 100,000 persons dies while confined in institutions because of chronic alcoholism. Medicine has so far been hard put to lower these figures; at best its “cures,” in the opinion of most informed specialists, are merely periodic “refreshers” which enable a man to keep his job.
Where Group Comes In This failure on the part of medicine has become the starting point for “Alcoholics Anonymous,” a sort of psycho-religious movement with faith in divine assistance and the practice of public confession and group contact between continuing and reformed delinquents — in this case, continuing and reformed (or “dry”) alcoholics.
“Alcoholics Anonymous” meet regularly as a group twice a week – once in a semi-formal “business” meeting, once in a completely informal and spontaneous social gathering — without benefit of alcohol. They base their hopes of success on a mystical belief in aid from without themselves (all else having failed), from God, “as we understand Him,” and on constant association with other alcoholics who can understand and help them and whom they in turn can understand and try to help. They may thereby draw upon the companionship of other alcoholics, men and women like themselves with whom they alone are psychologically able to discuss their difficulties, and try to lose themselves in the rehabilitation of others even less controlled than they, a proven form of uplift characteristic of all group organizations, the church itself not least among them.
From out this mixture, without any recourse whatsoever to medicine, “Alcoholics Anonymous” claims complete success — with no relapses – with about fifty per cent of its members (always supposing them to be sincere in their efforts to stop; and eventual success — after occasional relapses — with an additional twenty-five per cent.
Founded by New Yorker “Alcoholics Anonymous” was founded five years ago by a New York broker who had lost two fortunes largely because of alcoholism. After money and medicine failed to effect a “cure,” the financier, a widely read man, thought to seek aid from the omnipotent, whatever or whoever that might be, and formulated twelve “suggested steps” for the turning over of the alcoholics’ problem to God. These still serve the “Alcoholics Anonymous” as a Sort of creed. With a handful of other alcoholics he then established in New York the first group of “Alcoholics Anonymous.”
With the publication shortly afterward of a book of case histories of alcoholics, also called “Alcoholics Anonymous,” on which a mid-Western physician collaborated with the New York broker, the movement began to spread. Today it includes some 2,000 members and fifty groups, located as far south as Texas, as far west as San Francisco. Growth in the mid-West, under the motivation of the collaborating physician, has been especially rapid and the Cleveland group is the largest in the country. The New York group, which might logically be expected to be the largest. is kept down by existence of surrounding, smaller groups, in the Oranges and on Long Island.
40 In Baltimore Group The Baltimore group was founded only eight months ago, in June, 1940, and now numbers about forty members, of whom five are women. It may be contacted through Box 155 at the Baltimore Post Office. Most of its members are married, most of them are middle-aged. One is a youngster of 22. On the whole, they are a well-groomed, not unprosperous looking lot, few of whom display noticeable scars of battle.
The founding fathers of the Baltimore group were three, one of whom shortly fell by the way. One of the founders and one of the men who have joined since had been “dry” for fairly long- periods prior to entering “Alcoholics Anonymous”; all of the others came in as very active alcoholics, as they themselves are the first to admit.
Not all of them, of course, here or elsewhere, are sincere. As one doctor who has worked very closely and enthusiastically with the local group points out, there are some false-faces among them. The groups in two distant cities, for example, were originally founded by a sharper who hoped to chisel his way to a small fortune and a woman neurotic who simply desired to bask in the reflected publicity.
Time Still Short Not all of them have been able to walk the extremely narrow and difficult path laid out for them without an occasional false step. but as far as the members themselves know (and they know pretty well by virtue of constant individual and family contacts) slips have been relatively few. Over the Christmas holidays only three of the then thirty-five members succumbed to !he old lure. Since June only four members altogether, two men and two women. are known to have slipped, and some of them only once.
In the case of the Baltimore group, of course, such a record is discounted by the fact that most of its members have belonged only four or five months or less, a period guaranteed, for example, by most of the profession al “cures.” At the same time, the members feel they can take legitimate pride in their record over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. New Year’s Eve, incidentally, most of them spent in a group at a member’s house in Mount Washington with intoxicants nowhere to be found. And they say they enjoyed it.
Members come to “Alcoholics Anonymous” in a number of different ways. A few are sent by their ministers, others are brought in by friends and old drinking companions who are already members. A number have been referred by several doctors interested in the movement, including the head of one of the professional “cures” and Dr. George H. Preston, of the State Health Department, with whom Alcoholics Anonymous has an informal working agreement. He recommends alcoholics to them and they in turn are privileged to send alcoholics to one of the State hospitals to have them “defogged,” their systems cleared of alcohol.
Several have come directly from the State institutions at Cambridge and Spring Grove. One was in jail for striking his father with a bottle. His wife asked the “Alcoholics Anonymous” to go see him. Another, a girl, was tricked into at tending her first meeting by being told she was going on a bind date.
Finding Jobs A Problem When alcoholics join “Alcoholics Anonymous” they are frequently out of a job. Getting them back to work is one of the first, end most important, things the group attempts to do. Today, “early every member has a job, Some ten of them have obtained them directly as the result of efforts of other members. Four of these are doing clerical work at national defense establishments, one at a salary of over $300 a month. Another, the young man who was in jail when “Alcoholics Anonymous” first contacted him, is doing steel work.
Among the others, a number have improved upon positions to which they were barely able to hold on heretofore. One has had two step-ups; another who went to the office every day expecting to be fired has had a raise and offers of four other positions in three weeks, and has gained twenty pounds in the process. Another has got back his old job –that of a whisky salesman — and it isn’t bothering him, at least not much.
The ”formal” Wednesday evening meetings are held in the clubroom of an uptown hotel. There are no dues, no initiation fees. A hat is passed at each meeting and each member contributes as he can afford; new members often out of a job and broke, some times can afford nothing and that’s just the way “Alcoholics Anonymous” want it to be. The organization of groups throughout the country is a loose one. The foundation in New York is financed by a small endowment and the sale of the book.
The meetings are formal only to the extent of having a chairman -chosen by rotation each week — and a permanent secretary. Otherwise their atmosphere is one of pleasant. almost light-hearted fellowship. Wives, husbands, friends, even interested strangers are welcome, for despite !he name “Anonymous” one of the basic principles of the movement is that its members have nothing to hide. Admission of their difficulties is a first requisite. Some of the Baltimore group even objected to having the accompanying photograph taken from the rear — for fear it might encourage people to believe they were afraid to have their identity known.
Little Embarrassment Nothing could be farther from the truth. Except and quite naturally, among the very new members, there is no embarrassment. At each meeting several members tell the group, and whoever else may be present, about their difficulties with alcohol and what “Alcoholics Anonymous” is meaning for them. This, of course, is a sort of spiritual catharsis and is basic in the psycho-religious idea upon which the movement is based.
There is no softening of terminology, no shelter behind pleasant euphemisms. One member describes the group as “not bad looking for a bunch of drunks,” and as a matter of fact they are not. Such words and phrases as “bender,” “debauch, “”in the gutter’ ‘”gin mill” and “horrible drunk” sprinkle their talks and conversation. Sometimes one almost feels they are carrying this sort of thing to an extreme.
One of the Baltimore group’s unsolved problems is what to do with alcoholics who wander in from out of town. Other cities with larger and older groups have clubhouses for just this purpose, or arrangements with such organizations as the Salvation Army. The Baltimore group hopes to be able, eventually, to do the same.
“Alcoholics Anonymous” are not prohibitionists. They simply admit an allergy. For those who can control their drinking, they think it is all right. But for themselves and others like them, no.
Reprint from The Baltimore News American. October 25. 1941
THE EX-DRUNKARDS LEAD THE DRUNKARDS — Louis Azrael ” I’m a drunkard,” said the middle-aged, dignified gentleman who has a responsible place in a big business organization. Then he corrected himself. “At least, I was until recently.
In that correction lies a fascinating story. He told me part of it and, as a result, I attended a few nights ago, one of the weekly meeting of “Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Except for myself, every other man in the room (and some of the women) knew pink elephant from purple giraffes, knew roaring sprees and jittery hangovers from personal experience. Most of them had, at one time or another, taken ineffectual “cures.” The business or professional careers of many had been ruined or seriously injured by drink.
Also present at the meeting were the wives, and in one case, the mother, of some of the men.
Testimony You’d never have suspected anything like that, to look at the gathering. There were no ragged, bleary-eyed bums. There were serious, friendly, well-dressed, alert looking people. Some of them bore names which are well known in Baltimore.
And they merely talked. A young man arose and, to my astonishment, I recognized him as one who when I first knew him, was one of the outstanding members of a Johns Hopkins University graduating class.
In simple, straightforward language, he told how his mother and his wife (both of whom were present) had used every device they knew to break his addiction to alcohol; how his business career had been ruined, and how he had come across “Alcoholics Anonymous.” He hasn’t had a drink in four months. He is re-establishing his business successfully.
He talked with none of the evangelical fervor of a revivalist. He indulged in no mock heroics. He talked like a friendly person who knew something which could be helpful to others.
Some of the others, with whom I spoke later, had been off liquor for a year or more. The chief speaker of the evening was a New York broker named William G. Wilson, who founded “Alcoholics Anonymous” six years ago. He too spoke in the same fashion.
Group Help What is their secret? It is, as they explained it to me, amazingly simple; amazingly sensible. Six years ago several souses reached the depths of alcoholic degradation. Sanitariums hadn’t helped them. Psychiatrists hadn’t helped them. So, in a sober period. they decided to help each other.
One of the things that psychiatrists usually recommend to drunkards is to find some hobby; to get some new interest which will occupy their minds and energies. Well, these men adopted a new interest. They became interested in helping drunkards.
It was a hobby with a special fascination for them. They knew, better than any other persons could, how much they accomplished for those they helped. Because they knew the problems, the mental tricks, the rationalizations that drunkards use, they were able to give help which others couldn’t give.
Furthermore, they could appeal to drunkards where doctors, physicians or clergymen couldn’t. After they sat around with a drunkard for a while, exchanged stories about sprees and jamborees, about efforts to stop drinking, etc, there was a mutuality of interest which other types of persons couldn’t achieve.
And the important thing is that whether these men helped the other drunkards or not, they were helping themselves. They had because of what they were trying to do, an incentive to stay sober. And their minds, and their spare time, were taken up with an activity which was overpoweringly interesting and important to them.
It Works From that group, “Alcoholics Anonymous” developed until it now includes about 1,500 persons in about twenty cities. The Baltimore group is only a few months old.
The plan is much more elaborate then I have indicated. Through experience, they have worked out a definite technique. They try to have men, when seeking to rid themselves of alcoholic habits place reliance in a Superior Being though it doesn’t matter what they call Him or how they approach Him. They try to teach victims to be honest with themselves and with others. In fact, Wilson and some others have written a long book about their experiences and solutions.
They get together every week just to be sociable and to talk things out. Any one of them knows that, when the craving for drink assails him, he can phone a member of the group, who will be glad to come to him immediately and try to help him.
There are no dues. There are no officers.
What I saw when I attended the meeting was merely a group of persons who had been through, or were still going through, a horrible experience and were trying to help each other.
And they’re succeeding. At least two thirds of those who have joined them, they told me, no longer take a drink.
Reprint from The Baltimore Sun
Alcoholics Are Worth Saving — Editorial June 4, 1974, A large part of the problem undoubtedly is that most of us are able casually to dismiss the alcoholic as a skid-row character, a ne’er-do-well who is scarcely worth saving. Such misconceptions can be dispelled quickly by attending a few meetings of recovered alcoholics in various programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Many of the members of these programs tell frightening stories of their descent into degradation through alcohol — and heartening, inspiring stories of their recovery once they made the decision to stop drinking. As it turns out, many of these recovered alcoholics – although by no means all —had become skid-row bums of the stereotyped variety. But what is startling is that so many of them had been among the most respected members of society before they made the descent.
A Los Angeles man who had been an eye surgeon before his drinking became debilitating told how he spent years huddled in doorways in filthy, worn clothes attempting to cadge a few coins from passersby so he could buy a bottle of wine — and then he described how he made the decision he could no longer drink and survive, and laboriously made his climb back to his former position.
Among recovered alcoholics in the Baltimore-Washington area are artists, successful businessmen, editors high government officials, at least one United States Senator, many lawyers and thousands of respectable workingmen. One universal characteristic of the recovered drunks is that they are well-dressed, clean and responsible. Whether their stations be high or low, they are useful members of society.
This, then, is the overwhelming practical message of Miss Rohzon’s articles: To let alcoholism programs slip into neglect is to consign untold numbers of potentially useful citizens to continued degradation and, often, death and insanity; while to maintain effective programs hr to rescue them and, eventually, to convert them into taxpaying citizens. The practical message happens to coincide with the humane one.
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