Alcoholics Anonymous History In Your Area
This information is brought to you by the
West Baltimore Group
Three of the men mentioned in the following stories
Rev. Sam Shoemaker
THE VOICE OF MARYLAND GENERAL SERVICE, INC. OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
GLEANINGS FROM MARYLAND’S A.A. HISTORY
From the MERGENSER NEWSLETTER
Part 1: The Birth of AA: Pioneers from Maryland
Many of us came to AA feeling that a mysterious, malign force would do us in, no matter what we did. Then something strange stirred within us. As we became willing to accept the help of those who went before us, who understood us, good things happened. We followed in their footsteps and found freedom from the bondage of self. What resulted was a sense of identification, of belonging, of unity. But lest we become too clannish, we must remember that without guidance and support of nonalcoholic friends in the early years, AA would not be here for us. Maryland-born Samuel Shoemaker was the first of such friends.
His influence began on December 7, 1934, when a tall, gaunt, drunk–William Griffith W. made his first visit to Calvary Episcopal Church, where the reverend Samuel Shoemaker was rector.
At this stage, Bill was stealing money from his wife, pawning household items, falling down drunk and having blackouts and delirium tremens. Bill had visited the mission under stimulus from an old drinking buddy, Ebby T., who had gotten sober through the Oxford Group, which was headquartered at Calvary Methodist Church, on 23rd Street in New York City. Shoemaker had helped convert drunkards at this Calvary Mission using Oxford Group principles.
Four days after he visited the mission, Bill was admitted to Towns Hospital for a one week stay, during which time He had a profound spiritual experience and never drank again. After leaving Towns, Bill associated himself with Shoemaker’s Oxford Group, Calvary Mission and Towns Hospital, dedicating himself to other alcoholics.
Born in Baltimore in 1893, Rev. Shoemaker published over 25 books and many Pamphlets on spirituality. One pamphlet, “What the Church Has Learned From Alcoholics Anonymous,” is an interesting commentary on how we learn by helping each other Shoemaker died in October 1963 and was buried in Garrison
In Language of the Heart, Bill says, “Dr. Shoemaker was one of AA’s indispensables. Had it not been for his ministry to us in our early time, our Fellowship would not be in existence today. He will always be found in our annals as the one whose inspired example and teaching did the most to show us how to create the spiritual climate in which we alcoholics may survive and then proceed to grow …”
For the next few months after meeting Sam Shoemaker, Bill haunted the mission and Towns Hospital trying to help other drunks, but with little success. then he made his fateful trip to Akron, Ohio.
We A. A.’s say that our program began there on June 10, 1935, when Dr. Bob S. had his last drink, one month after his historic meeting with Bill W.” But one could argue that it really began in April 1939 when the book Alcoholics Anonymous was published.
Up to the time the Big Book appeared, our program had no name or written guidelines or principles. The early “nameless bunch of alcoholics” followed a “word-of- mouth” program that had evolved mainly from their affiliation with the Oxford Group, a movement based on the philosophy of First Century Christianity. Bill W. summed up the six-point word-of-mouth program as follows
1. Admit powerlessness over alcohol.
2. Take a moral inventory
3. Confess shortcomings with another person.
4. Make restitution for wrongs done to others.
5. Pray for power to practice these principles.
After several years of association with the Oxford Group, the small groups in New York and Ohio broke off and started their own meetings.
Up until then, alcoholics were doomed, except for rare cases where they experienced profound religious conversions. But with the AA approach of one drunk trying to help another came hope for the previously hopeless. The several dozen members of the infant fellowship had come across something wonderful. They had discovered a way out, and it had to be documented so alcoholics everywhere could be helped.
Bill agreed to write the book. As he finished the rough drafts of the chapters, Bill would have them read and discussed at the meetings in New York and Ohio so all members could have their say.
The review of the first four chapters generated enthusiastic arguments. But things really became hectic when Bill released Chapter Five. (Bill said by then he had become the umpire rather than the author!)
Members had drifted into two opposite groupings–a pro-religion faction led by Fitz M. argued that the book should reflect the teachings of the churches, missions, and, especially, the Oxford Group. An agnostic faction spearheaded by Hank P. and Jim B. was passionately against theological orientation, believing in a practical, psychological approach.
Heated discussions went on for days and nights, but out of it all came the answer. The agnostics persuaded the others to accept the compromise language of “God, as we understand Him.” This non-dogmatic idea opened the door to uncountable numbers of alcoholics who otherwise would not have entered our recovery program.
Eventually the book was almost ready for printing, but still hadn’t been titled. Various recommendations were dropped from consideration until two choices remained. The Way Out was Ohio’s choice; Alcoholics Anonymous was New York’s. A check of book titles in the Library of Congress by Fitz showed 12 books named The Way Out and none named Alcoholics Anonymous. The choice was thereby made easy, and both the book and the Fellowship acquired names.
In April 1939, the Big Book was published, and our program was established. As Bill said in his 1953 Grapevine article, “Little did we guess that our Twelve Steps would soon be approved by clergy of all denominations and even by our latter-day friends, the psychiatrists …”
The Big Book is now over 55 years old. Over 14 million copies have been published in 27 languages without one word of the basic text being changed. And our program has become the model for some 114 other self-help groups.
Although Fitz and Jim B. were miles apart on spiritual philosophy, they were always close family friends. And their final resting places are also close, just a few yards apart on the grounds of Christ Episcopal Church at Owensville, MD.
The two were born in Maryland and were boyhood friends in southern Anne Arundel County. As previously mentioned, Shoemaker was also a Marylander. Had not this Maryland trio played their critical roles in AA’s infancy, our Fellowship in all likelihood would not have been born and survived its growing pains. They are among the many unsung heroes to whom we A. A.’s owe a debt that we cannot repay but partially by continuing to carry the message to alcoholics who still suffer from our devastating disease.
Part 2: Two Boyhood Friends Made Crucial Contributions
Two friends from boyhood who lie buried in the cemetery of Christ Episcopal Church at Owensville, Maryland, made vital contributions to Alcoholics Anonymous in the Fellowship’s infancy. But for their individual input, countless thousands would never have joined AA and the Fellowship itself might have been short-lived.
One of the pair-John Henry Fitzhugh M.”Our Southern Friend in AA’s Big Book-was among the first few to get and stay sober in New York. The other was Jim B., whose Big Book story is “The Vicious Cycle.” Their early efforts formed the foundation of AA’s rich history in Maryland.
The pair’s friendship flowered in southern Anne Arundel County after Fitz’s minister father became rector of Christ Episcopal Church at Owensville when Fitz was about four years old. Tim B. was the son of a Baltimore physician and grain merchant with family ties at Cumberstone, just a few miles from Owensville. As teenagers, they attended the Episcopal School for Boys at Alexandria, VA.
Alcohol began to take its toll on both in their twenties. Fitz had a promising career with an established firm aborted by the Great Depression and took a teaching position in Norfolk, VA, where he drank heavily, lost his job, and his health deteriorated. Feeling great compassion for Fitz, another friend from childhood gave him part of his own farm at Cumberstone to homestead. Jim’s story relates that, after losing several fine positions, he drifted into sales work and lost 40 jobs in eight years “before AA found me.”
In the fall of 1935, Fitz heard that Towns Hospital in New York was having some success in treating alcoholics, and he went there for the “cure.” This was just a few months after Bill W.’s historic meeting with Dr. Bob in Akron that marked the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. On Bill’s return to New York, he had set about trying to “fix” drunks he found at the Calvary Mission and Towns Hospital. His first successful project was Hank P., whom he had rescued at Towns; Fitz was the second to be picked up there and maintain sobriety. After returning to Cumberstone, Fitz brought a number of prospects into his home in a vain effort to get them sober, much to the distress of his wife. He also began to make frequent trips to New York to join Bill and Lois W. and Hank at meetings of the Oxford Group, a “First Century Christian movement” with which early members of the fellowship were affiliated. When weekly meetings of the small group of alcoholics soon began to be held at the Wilson home, Fitz usually came up to attend. Fitz formed a close friendship with Bill and Lois W., who were frequent visitors to his Cumberstone home for several years, starting in 1936. Lois W. recalled in her book,
Lois Remembers, that they often visited “Fitz and Co” at Cumberstone and that on different occasions she was called on to care for Fitz’s ailing wife and diabetic daughter. (When queried some years later, Lois said that Bill did not write any of the Big Book at Cumberstone, but some Maryland old-timers believe he made notes there as he formulated ideas for the book.)
At least as early as 1937, Fitz was spending much of his time trying to help drunks and gain a foothold for the Fellowship in Washington, DC, where his sister Agnes worked and provided Fitz shelter and a base of operations for his AA work. His early efforts met with minimal success, but by the fall of 1939, he and Ned F. had established the nucleus of a small group with staying power that began to function in Washington as AA’s southernmost outpost.
One of Fitz’s early reclamation projects was the ill-fated Jackie W.. Fitz sent Jackie to see his old chum Jim B., who was just coming off a binge at his mother’s home in DC. Jim describes the encounter in his Big Book story:
“January 8, 1938-that was my D-Day; the place Washington, DC. This last real merry-go-round had started the day before Christmas and I had really accomplished a lot in those fourteen days. First, my new wife had walked out, bag, baggage, and furniture; then the apartment landlord had thrown me out of the empty apartment and the finish was the loss of another job. After a couple of days in dollar hotels and one night in the pokey, I finally landed on my mother’s doorstep–shaking apart with several days’ beard … That is the way Jackie found me, lying on a cot in my skivvies, with hot and cold sweats, pounding heart, and that awful scratchiness all over.
“I had not asked for help and seriously doubt that I would have, but Fitz, an old school friend of mine, had persuaded Jackie to call on me. Had he come two or three days later I think I would have thrown him out, but he hit me when I was open for anything…”
Jim and Jackie took the train to New York, where they met Bill and Hank. It turned out that Hank had fired Jim from a job years earlier. Jim was impressed by the sobriety of the New Yorkers and decided to join them “and take all that they gave out except the ‘God Stuff’.” He also took a job as a traveling salesman for a business Hank and Bill had started. Jim B. later recalled that his association with the little band in New York started about the time that Hank began pressing Bill to put something of the program in writing; up to that time, the “program” was carried solely by word of mouth in the New York and Akron meetings.
The Akron contingent was initially against any publication–it was still closely affiliated with the Oxford Group, from which the New Yorkers had severed ties in September 1037. Akron finally acquiesced, and Bill began writing in the sprint: of 1938.
As Bill finished a chapter it would be reviewed and discussed by the New York members and a copy sent to Dr. Bob for review in Akron. This procedure brought lively debate in New York, particularly over the language of Chapter Five and the Twelve Steps. As related in Part 1 of this series, Fitz and Jim became central characters in the discussions, with Fitz favoring a Christian religious approach and Jim aligned with those wanting a philosophical text devoid of references to God. The resulting compromise language of “God as we understood Him” was hailed by Bill W. as a “ten strike” that opened the way for those of all faiths and little or no faith to embrace and be embraced by Alcoholics Anonymous.
And when disagreement developed over the title of the Big Book, it was Fitz to whom Bill turned for help: his search at the Library of Congress found a dozen books titled The Way Out and none named Alcoholics Anonymous. Thus both the book and the Fellowship were named. Fitz and Jim were also prototype “service workers.” In addition to “Twelve Stepping” prospects and founding groups, they pioneering institutional relations community/public emissaries.
Fitz’s efforts in Washington led to groups forming in Georgetown, Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville and Colmar Manor in Maryland; and Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church in Virginia. The other traveling salesman Jim B.’s need for the company of other alcoholics led him to establish groups in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Harrisburg, PA and Wilmington, DE.
His seed-planting in Baltimore doubtless eventually sprouted groups in Towson, Glen Burnie, and other points in Maryland.
Both developed excellent relationships with hospitals in DC and Philadelphia to the point where A. A.’s could admit and take home alcoholics from alkie wards to which they had were and access any hour of the day or night. Through his liaison with top government officials, Fitz also gained AA access to the workhouse to which drunks were sent by DC courts.
An invaluable bonus growing out of Jim’s founding the first group in Philadelphia was the famous Jack Alexander article in The Saturday Evening Post, which Jim B. was instrumental in getting published. Publicity in the immensely popular and widely circulated Post brought thousands of letters to AA and spurred phenomenal growth of the Fellowship in 1941 and subsequent years.
Jim B. can also be credited with the adoption of AA’s Third Tradition–“The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking”–as reported by Bill W. in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (pp. 143-145).
In World War II, Fitz rejoined the army where he was found to have cancer. He died October 4, 1943, eight years sober. Jim migrated to San Diego and continued active in AA until his death on September 8, 1974. Fittingly they rest a few yards apart just outside the chancel of Christ Church at Owensville, where their paths first crossed as youngsters.
Undoubtedly there were many other unsung heroes among “early timers” whose efforts helped Alcoholics Anonymous through its perilous first years, but few if any made critical contributions like those of the two Maryland men of south Anne Arundel County.
Part 3: How It Happened in Baltimore
The first request for help from Baltimore was received by the New York AA/office in mid-December 1939, eight months after publication of the Big Book. In his letter, Louis M. wrote that he was tired of making and breaking promises to his wife and pastor. He saw himself in many of the stories in the book and wanted, if possible, to get in touch with some of the men who had the same problems.
The Office promptly responded, ” … we are sorry that at present we have no members in Baltimore, and we are hoping it is possible for you to make the trip to Washington, DC, where we do have a few members . . .”
Louis was advised to contact Ned F., who along with Fitz M. (see Parts 1 and 2 of Margenser series), had begun the nucleus of a small group in DC several months earlier. his was to be the first on-going group outside the New York and Ohio areas.
About the time of Louis’ letter, Jim B. — one of the earliest members to stay sober in New York — got a traveling sales job that took him to Philadelphia. Upon arriving, and recognizing the need to work with other alcoholics to stay sober, he went out into the community to carry the message as was done in New York and Ohio. As a result, he was able to start the first group in Philadelphia on February 26, 1940.
Jim’s job also brought him to Baltimore, his old hometown. There he was able to locate a former drinking buddy, Jim R., who had been sober four years after a religious recovery at Keswick Colony, New Jersey. Jim R. had been working with two other alcoholics without success. Jim B.’s arrival was timely — he had 12th step experience and had already started up an AA group in Philly.
On June 16, 1940, the two Jims met with three other men at Jim R.’s home on St. Paul Street. Several days later, Jim B. received a letter in Philadelphia from a Baltimore lawyer who wanted to help his alcoholic brother and offered his office in the Munsey Building on Fayette Street as a meeting place. On June 22, 1940, the six men held the second Baltimore AA meeting in that office.
In early October the group moved to the Altamount Hotel basement on Eutaw St. for several months, after which the group had to leave to make room for processing of World War II draftees into the military.
About that time, the members located a run-down, second-floor mail-order house at 857 Eutaw Street. With only six dollars in the treasury, four members signed a two-year lease at $45.00 per month. Several sobering-up members removed shelving, painted the interior, and put down a new floor. An employer who was so pleased that one of his workers got sober, donated 50 chairs to the cause.
The group moved into “857” in early 1941 and remained there until 1987 when it moved to 123 N. Clinton Street in Highlandtown. Club 857 — the No. 1 group in Baltimore – is still in operation after 53 years.
Publicity contributed greatly to the public knowledge and growth of Baltimore’s budding AA group:
*February 16, 1941 — Baltimore Sunday Sun article by Harrison Johnston
*April 1941 — Saturday Evening Post magazine article, “Alcoholics Anonymous” by Jack Alexander
*October 25, 1941 — Baltimore News American article by Louis Azreal
Early members said that as each article came out, the phones would start ringing. The AAs were like firemen, always ready to go. “857” — also called the Rebos Club — had grown to about 50 members in 16 months, which included several women. The group had no traditions to guide them in those early days, so they tried whatever they thought might work. For example, they asked judges to lock up drunks until they got sober and the A. A.’s would then try to help them; they asked the Salvation Army to provide beds; and they gave out meal tickets, which didn’t work because the drunks sold the tickets for booze money.
Looking back, the local and national publicity had an incalculable impact on the growth of AA. By the end of 1941, there were over 50 active groups in the United States, according to estimates provided by AA’s New York office.
“857” continued to grow, and the need to start up another group became apparent. Transportation was a problem as trolleys or busses were sometimes not available. People often didn’t have automobiles, and gas was limited because of World War II rationing. Because of periodic overcrowding, the Baltimore Fire Department said the club site was unsafe.
Several suburban members decided to start the second group in Towson. The first meeting of seven people was held in the study of an Episcopal minister on April 18, 1945. Two months later, they moved to a rented room above a store on York Road. At that first meeting, the gathering included a judge, a probation officer, a doctor, and two clergymen.
In late 1945, the group found new quarters in an apartment building basement at 212 Washington Avenue, away from streetcar and traffic noise, and large enough to accommodate the growing membership. This location became well known to drunks, as it was only a block away from the police station.
The Towson group remained on Washington Avenue for 40 years. In late 1985, it moved to and remains at the Carver Annex at Jefferson Street and Towsontown Boulevard. The Maryland General Service Archives are also located at the Carver Annex.
Fifty years ago drunks had little chance for a decent life. They were viewed as psychos by the medical profession and as spiritual lepers by the churches. Now, here was an answer, and the several dozen recovering Baltimore alcoholics were eager to pass it on.
Tom S. and Lib S. — two of our pioneer members — came across a beat-up, downtown Baltimore rowhouse being auctioned off. They were living in a boarding house and had limited assets, but nevertheless made a down payment. Tom recruited 18 friends, each of whom advanced $1,000 for working capital. One floor would be a clubhouse, one a business office for educating the public about alcoholism, and another for detoxing and housing drunks. Sailors awaiting sea duty would help with the renovations.
At a business meeting requested by Towson members, Tom and Lib representing “857” members faced heated disagreement and squabbling. To muster support for their plan, they and a friend went to New York to see Bill W. Bill said that if he had been asked about it five years prior, he would have been all for it. But now he was against it because experience showed that AA should be self-supporting, should not have any outside affiliation, and should focus on attraction rather than promotion.
As a suggestion, it was noted that Cleveland and Boston were growing faster than other cities and each had an effective central AA office, separate from clubs and groups. Tom and Lib decided to drop the big plan, to return the $18,000, and to recommend that Baltimore follow the Cleveland-Boston arrangement. At another briefing of Baltimore members, tempers flared once again. Clubhouse advocates believed they could more effectively handle 12th-step calls and walk-ins. But after about a one-week cooling-off period, the members became agreeable.
A tiny room in the Bromo-Seltzer Tower Building was rented in late 1948. Lib S. stated that if you stood in the middle of the room and extended your hands, you would touch the walls.
Since 1948, the Intergroup Office has moved four times and has been located at 5438 York Road since July 1986. Operating Intergroup back in the 1940s was a rather simple but important job. Since then, responsibilities have snowballed. Over 3000 calls ring monthly. The volume of activity requires special workers: one full-time and three part-time. In addition to regular staff, about 30 volunteers answer calls for help and meeting information. The staff coordinates with employers, clergy, media, hospitals, professionals and institutions as required. Intergroup conducts all of its affairs according to the Traditions.
This volume of work would be impossible to handle without the aid of modern technology. A computer database helps keep accurate information on meeting locations and times. Twelfth Step lists are kept up to date. The over 900 meetings need constant assistance. All groups receive bulletins and council reports twice monthly. Twenty thousand directories are printed for distribution every eight months. Also, the office stocks and sells Conference-approved literature … Action is the magic word in AA and there is lots of action at the Intergroup Office, the Baltimore service hub.
The enclosed graph shows Baltimore’s remarkable meeting growth. Early members were innovative, carry-the-message activists. They took it upon themselves to get spot information, announcements, and interviews on the radio and place simple ads and articles in the newspapers. They informed the clergy, the medical profession, and law enforcement personnel. They took meetings to mental institutions and prisons. One of our early embers, Tom B. (see box), was instrumental in starting the first half-way house, the American Council on Alcoholism and the annual AA Sobriety Show to celebrate recovery.
Along with AA’s growing success came a change in public attitude. People started to recognize alcoholism-once thought to be a moral deficiency–as a health problem. U. S. medical societies, including the World Health Organization in 1954, declared alcoholism a disease. Recovering employees convinced their companies to implement programs to help alcoholic employees, and labor unions were very supportive. Our own Jim Burwell provided guidance to the DuPont Company, using AA as the vehicle for recovery. (Dupont may have been the first company to have a viable program.)
Government action had a far-reaching impact. James C. of Baltimore was able to develop and have passed the 1968 Maryland Comprehensive Intoxication and Alcoholism Control Act, the first such law in the country. This act preceded by two years the famous U. S. Public Law 96-616, the so-called Hughes Act, which declared that alcoholism was a disease and all U. S. Government agencies were to have employee assistance programs. The positive examples set by recovering alcoholics and actions such as those mentioned above generated many calls for help. Members would meet face-to-face with the callers to share their AA experiences and encourage meeting attendance. Membership and meetings spread in all directions, and by 1970 there were about 140 weekly meetings. Then growth increased dramatically to about 900 meetings by 1991.
However, from 1991 to mid-1994, meetings increased only by 33. This dramatic decline in growth may surprise AA members, especially since the trend is not simply a Baltimore happening. A review of data from Box 459, published by the N. Y. General Service Office, reflects similar trends in the U. S. and Canada. GSO estimated that in 1991 the number of AA groups grew by only 5%, in 1992 by but 3%, and in 1993 by a scant .7%. And a review of estimated data for the same time span shows a similar trend in membership growth.
These statistical snapshots prompt the authors to ponder several questions-
Is this a natural statistical development and the problem of alcoholism in North America actually leveling out, or is AA starting to go downhill?
Are we failing in AA’s primary purpose of carrying the message to still-suffering alcoholics?
Could the trends reflect a serious threat to AA’s future?
We raise these questions not to be alarmists, but to sound a timely alert against complacency and suggest that perhaps AA members and groups need to take inventories and decide what, if anything, should be done about the trends.
* Early AA in Baltimore, April 1975, written by Henry M. and Don H. of the first Towson Group.
* Historical material provided by:
* Ed B., Maryland General Service Archivist
* Susan K., Baltimore Intergroup Office Administrator
* Ray R., longtime member now living in Florida *Bob M., longtime member, American Council on Alcoholism
*Lib S., interviewed on July 9, 1994. Lib was a pioneer in Baltimore AA development, sober since Sept. 1945, active for years in Baltimore, Washington and New York, having worked in the General Service Office for 11 years.
We need your help to make our history comprehensive and accurate. In this third of an eight-part history, we had planned to identify which four groups started after Towson. Opinions were many and varied, and no directories were available up to Feb. 1953.
In particular, we need information about the group and Intergroup evolution outside the Baltimore areas. We also want to cover subjects such as institutional service, special interest groups, and events such as the Maryland State Convention.
Please help us. Send information to:
8008 Old Alexandria Ferry Road
Clinton, MD 20735.
Also let us know of any errors in our articles.
HOW AA CAME TO SPARKS, MD.
In her memoir, Lois Remembers, Lois records the “unique way” that an AA group was established in the tiny community of Sparks, MD, a few miles north of Baltimore.
It seems that Tom B.’s wife had long been nagging him to get into AA. Tom was long on promises to do so, but short on action. When Mrs. B. finally applied serious pressure, Tom was moved to put pencil to paper. In his alcoholic deviousness, instead of writing to AA’s General Service Office in New York, Tom addressed AA at the most remote and unlikely place he expected would bring a response- Capetown, South Africa.
Surprisingly, he soon received a reply telling him of the members’ experience and suggesting he write GSO in New York.
Tom was so taken aback that he did just that. Lois writes, “He started a group in Sparks. Maryland, MD and called it Capetown Group No 2.”
Lois also records that “…all through his long AA life, Tom continued to correspond with ‘his’ group in Capetown
Part 4: Alcoholics Anonymous Spreads Into Southern Maryland
The pioneering groups of Alcoholics Anonymous founded in Washington, DC in 1939 and Baltimore in 1940 became the twin hubs for the spin-off groups in suburbs south of those cities.
The start of suburban groups spreading from the two cities stemmed partly from wartime gasoline rationing and coincided with the development of GI housing beyond the metro centers. The first Maryland groups spawned by Washington started in Chevy Chase in 1945, in Silver Spring the following year, and in Colmar Manor several years later. Baltimore’s initial offshoot was established north of the city in Towson in 1945, but solid data on the founding of the first groups south of the city are sketchy.
The two oldest continuing groups of record the authors have found south of Baltimore are the Brooklyn Park group, established in 1952, and Glen Burnie, which begun in 1953. Soon after Glen Burnie, the Anne Arundel group started at Sandrock’s real estate office on Ritchie Highway, later moving to Woods Memorial Church at Severna Park.
Charlie M. recalls these three, plus the Health Department meeting in Annapolis, as the only groups in Anne Arundel County when he came into AA in 1957. Other early groups in northern Anne Arundel County starting in the early Sixties included Ft. Meade, Pasadena, and Annapolis Interracial.
However, the very earliest meeting south of Baltimore appears to have begun in Annapolis at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Jimmy L. recalls attending his first meeting there in 1950, and the 1953 and 1961 Baltimore Where and When’s listed meetings there. Also, church bulletins announced meetings at St. Mary’s for several years thereafter, but none have been held there for a long time. So the oldest continuing group in Annapolis is the one started at the County Health Department, which later moved and is now the Heritage Group.
The next group established in south AA County was Tracey’s Landing in 1961. Chuck O.’s recollection is that, like many others, “It began with a resentment and a coffee pot” when Duvall A. had a “falling out” with the honcho of the lone Annapolis group, Barse S. Duvall’s widow, Queenie, remembers that Frank K. asked Duvall for help in getting a group started in south county, and Tracey’s Landing was the result.
The second oldest group still meeting in Maryland’s capital city is the Wednesday Night Stag Group, which began in 1965. Chuck 0. and George H. are the only survivors of the five charter members (including Duvall, Owen B., and Jack B.). “Not one of the charter members ever found it necessary to drink again:’ 84 years old George reports. Chuck was the prime mover in establishing the Annapolis Area Intergroup in 1972. The organizational meetings were held in his home, with 29 groups represented at the charter session. And it was Chuck who had obtained the approval of his pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in 1965 to hold meetings at the now-famous Red House, which became the Intergroup’s headquarters. Countless members credit their recovery to a good beginning at the Red House.
Annapolis Area Intergroup files show that groups represented at the charter meeting included: All Saints, Annapolis, AA General Hospital. Asbury, Calvert City Hospital, Dry Dock Eleven, Eastport, Fog Lifters, Ft. Smallwood, Pasadena, St. Anne’s Church, St. Margaret’s, St. Martin’s Lutheran Church, St. Phillips Episcopal Church, Severna Park, Tracey’s Landing, Twin Beaches, Unity, Wednesday Stag, and 174 West Street.
The thriving Belair-Bowie group apparently was not represented at the Annapolis Area Intergroup kick-off meeting, perhaps because its membership didn’t know where it belonged.
In the early Sixties. two large planned suburban community developments got started in the area–Belair-Bowie, just inside the eastern Prince George’s County line, and Crofton, across Rt. 3 in Anne Arundel County. Until then the only nearby community was Old Town Bowie. But by 1964, the sprawling Bowie-Belair housing development was well underway and had become a mecca for people from far and wide.
One new resident. five years sober and active in AA in the DC-Northern Virginia area, took the lead in starting the Belair-Bowie group late in 1964. Some months later, another five-year sober member arrived from Baltimore as did several A. A.s active in Annapolis. Members coming from the several areas seemed to have first-group loyalty and believed they “really knew how to do it right.” To accommodate the diversity, the Bowie group was listed in meeting directories for all three areas–DC, Baltimore, and Annapolis.
The nearest meetings to Bowie at the time were Cheverly, College Park, Ft. Meade, Pasadena, Severna Park, Annapolis, and Tracey’s Landing. Bowie members were energetic message-carriers in the fast-growing area, and dozens of new groups evolved from the original group– which still meets at the Sacred Heart Church on Route 450.
How Crofton got started is a message in itself. Ginny B.’s husband had a drinking problem and she became dedicated to Al-Anon. She personally delivered Al-Anon literature to churches in the Crofton community. One minister–Fred Wood of the Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church–wanted to get meetings going at his church. Ginny rounded up interesting AA and Al-Anon members, and the Crofton group was started in July 1974.
For some seven years before the operation of the Annapolis Area Intergroup began in 1972, the AA telephone contact in the Annapolis Area was the home phone of Duvall and Queenie A., the latter a founder of Annapolis Al-Anon. The first phone call for help was answered on New Year’s Day 1965; the caller got sober and was active in Annapolis for many years.
After being active in AA’s No. 1 Group–Dr. Bob’s Kings School group–in Akron for four years, Bud and Jean Marie L. landed in Severna Park in 1970 to find only one group close by, meeting at Woods Memorial Church on Thursday nights. The pair became very active in the area, and over the next five years, they were involved in starting a number of AA groups in the Severna Park area. Among groups, they got underway were the Sharing, Freedom, Early Birds, St. John’s Catholic Church. and Benfield Road Baptist Church groups. After the Intergroup Headquarters were established at the Red House, they started and were responsible for holding the nightly beginner meetings there. Meanwhile, AA had arrived in deep Southern Maryland–at Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County in 1948 and at Accokeek in Prince George’s County in 1953.
Local legend has it that AA came to Leonardtown in the same way the message was carried to many cities and hamlets in the early days–via a traveling alcoholic salesman. The popular story goes that a salesman visiting Duke’s Restaurant in Leonardtown brought the word of AA’s way out of alcohol addiction to the then-suffering wife of the proprietor. Encouraged to learn more about and benefit from AA’s program, the late Lillian Duke had to travel by bus from Leonardtown to Washington for many months.
As Lillian grew strong in sobriety but wary of commuting, she decided to try to start a group in Leonardtown, located not far from the southernmost tip of Maryland. After putting out the word in the area, Lillian sat alone for weeks before another alcoholic, Bart F, ventured to join her and constitute the first AA group in the Tri-County area. Like Duvall and Queenie in Annapolis, she provided the area’s AA telephone answering service from her home at the start. She is also given major credit for getting Al-Anon underway in the area.
In the years before Tri-County Intergroup was founded in the mid-Seventies, AA calls for help and information continued to be serviced from homes of a succession of other members, including Bart F., Dave T., Warren K., Francis M., and Gene H.
At a recent covered-dish dinner celebrating the founding of the Leonardtown group, a quintet of old-timers recalled how it was in their early days. “Back then there was only one meeting in each county:’ recalled Warren K. “To make more than one meeting a week, you had to drive from Leonardtown to Accokeek or Hughesville and Huntington.”
“Yeah, you could really burn up some gas going to meetings down here then,” agreed Dave T. “Back then if you had eight or ten members, it was considered a big group,” remembered Waiter O. “But as the pioneer groups grew, others were started in additional locations.”
Although the group could not readily pinpoint the beginning dates of groups, the consensus was that when the Leonardtown group grew to 50-60 members, a group began meeting at the Southern Maryland Correctional Center in Hughesville -the first group actually located in Charles County–about 1969. Similarly, when the Accokeek meeting got too large, it spawned the Warner group at La Plata.
The first group located in Calvert County is believed to be the Huntingtown group, followed by the Port Republic group on Broome’s Island Road and probably the Sunderland group in the Sixties. Among other early offshoots were groups at Lusby, Cove Point, Tall Timbers, Twin Beaches, Lexington Park, and Placid Harbor.
From the modest beginning in the ’50s and ’60s, more than 100 meetings are now held weekly, spotted in almost every small community in the Tri-County area.
Asked their views on what led to AA’s explosive growth in the ’70s and ’80s, the quintet of old-timers came up with a number of contributing causes:
The appearance of articles about alcoholism and problem drinking in popular prints like Reader’s Digest and Parade, especially the self-test quizzes that increased public awareness of alcoholism as a disease and lessened the stigma attached to it.
The spotlight frequently turned on celebrities and public figures who began to go public about their alcoholism and their recoveries.
The softening attitude within AA groups toward “high bottom” drunks, women, and young people being accepted as members.
The growing Public concern about drunken driving accidents, tough new laws to deal with the problem, and the tendency of courts to require offenders to attend AA meetings.
The law (Hughes Act) requiring Government agencies to start programs to help alcoholic employees, leading to a requirement that Government health insurance plans cover treatment for alcoholism and contributing to membership growth throughout the nation. “When the police down here pulled you over and found you drunk, they used to just drive you home,” said one with experience. “When they started locking us up and the courts began sending people to AA, that got some attention.”
The focus on treatment by naval installations and the large population of naval personnel in the area was also a factor, the group agreed. They cited the fact that an officer heading the treatment program at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station was active in the Leonardtown group and that two naval dental technicians had started the AA group at Lexington Park.
Interviewed later, Charlie M. came up with an added reason why AA membership sky-rocketed in the Seventies-the maturing of the Baby Boomers. “By the mid-Seventies, the Baby Boomers were reaching their thirties and beginning to recognize their problem with alcohol, and they started coming to AA.” he observed. “Now, 20 or so years later, I’m seeing fathers and sons at the same meeting.”
The map accompanying this article spotlights nearly a score of the earliest AA meetings started in the five counties south of Washington and Baltimore-Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s. Nearing 60 years after AA was founded by Bill W. and Dr. Bob, 55 years after Fitz M. got a group going in DC, and 54 years after Jimmy B. helped start the first Baltimore group, close to 700 meetings are held weekly in the five-county area.
What a monument to the memory of those who “carried the message” before us! What a responsibility for us to assure that the hand of Alcoholics Anonymous will always be there for those yet to come.
Projected articles in this series will cover the spread of AA into Western and Northern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, the development of AA’s statewide organization, the barriers encountered by women, minorities, and young people, and the story of AA’s Preamble and the Baltimore Prologue. Documentation of- many early developments in Maryland AA has been hard to find or doesn’t exist, so this series relies heavily on memory and memorabilia of old-timers. Thus, some “facts” may be subject to challenge. In the interest of accuracy and completeness, the authors earnestly solicit help. If you find errors in the series or have any information which would help round out the story of AA in Maryland, please let us know by writing to the Margenser Editor.
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