Pioneers of A.A.
“She tells how A.A. works when the going is rough. A pioneer woman member of A.A.’s first Group.”
Ethel’s date of sobriety was May 8, 1941. She was the first woman to get sober in Akron.
She came from a very poor family, the oldest in a family of seven. Her father was an alcoholic. They moved from the country to the city when she was at an age where girls want nice things and to be like the other girls at school. She felt the others were making fun of her, and feared that she wasn’t dressed as well as the rest.
At the age of sixteen she was invited to spend the summer with an aunt in Liberty, Indiana. Her aunt told her she could have boy friends visit, but that she must stay away from one boy, Russ M., (his name was Roscoe, but he was called Rollo or Russ), who came from a fine family but drank too much. Four months later, she married him, even though he drank and he was seven years her senior. She was sure his family disapproved of her because she was from the wrong side of the tracks.
They had two daughters, but about seven or eight years after they were married his drinking became so bad that she took her children and went home. She didn’t see Russ or hear from him for a year. She was about twenty-five at the time and had never touched a drop of alcohol.
At the end of a year the children received a card from their father, which she kept and cherished. It said “Tell Mommy I still love her.” Soon Russ himself arrived. She welcomed him with open arms, though he had little but the clothes on his back. He told her he would never drink again and she believed him.
He got a job and went back to work, and stayed “dry” for thirteen years. By the end of the thirteen years their older daughter was married and she and her husband were living with them and the other daughter was in her last year of high school.
Then one night their son-in-law and Russ went to a prizefight. Russ came home drunk. She told him “The children are raised, and if this is the way you want it, this is the way we’ll have it. Where you go I’ll go, and what you drink I’ll drink.” And thus Ethyl started drinking.
They went on vacations in the car, drinking all the way. Ethyl did the driving. One Sunday afternoon she got picked up for drunk driving and they both were thrown in jail. On another occasion she got drunk and set the house on fire.
In 1940 they read something about A.A. in the newspaper. They talked about it and thought there might come a time when they needed it.
She was having a drink in a barroom one day, and told the woman behind the bar she wished she never had to take another drink. She was told to talk to Jack, the owner of the place, whom they had always tried to buy a drink, but who always refused saying he couldn’t handle alcohol. (This may have been John M., one of the early Cleveland members.)
Finally, one morning Ethel got in the car and cried all the way to that bar and told them she was licked and wanted help. But Jack was out and his wife said she would send him as soon as he returned. He soon arrived with two cans of beer one for Ethel and one for Russ. That was their last drink. Men from A.A. started coming to the house the next day, telling their stories, and Jack brought them the Saturday Evening Post story about A.A., and told them the whole thing was based on the Sermon on the Mount. Paul S. visited and stressed that they read the Big Book.
So many nicely dressed people were coming in nice cars that Ethyl told Russ: “I suppose the neighbors say, ‘Now those old fools must have up and died, but where’s the hearse?'”
Jack took them to a meeting at the King School on Wednesday night and introduced Ethyl to some of the wives. Annabelle G., the wife of Wally G. (“Fired Again” in the 1st edition), was told to take her under her wing. Ethyl never forgot how she “sort of curled up her nose and said, ‘They tell me you drink too.'” Ethyl often thought how that would turn some people away, but she replied: “Why sure, that’s what I’m here for.”
Women had a harder time being accepted in Akron than they did in New York. Perhaps the reason Ethel was accepted is that Russ joined at the same time. Also Ethel weighed 300 pounds, and the wives probably did not consider her a threat. (Her husband was about half her weight and only about 5’2″.)
Ethel gave a lot of credit to Dr. Bob and Anne for their recovery. Dr. Bob and Anne S. spent at least an evening a week at Russ and Ethel M.’s home, and Russ thought Dr. Bob thoroughly enjoyed these visits.
She and Russ worked as a team and were very active from the beginning. Ethel started what may have been the first women’s A.A. group.
Her husband died on September 4, 1944. After his death, A.A. became Ethel’s whole life and she sponsored many women. She died on April 9, 1963.