Alcoholics Anonymous History In Your Area
Fort Worth Texas
From the archives of the Fort Worth A.A. Central Office
Also, much of the material (as a matter of fact, the bulk of the material came from pioneer A.A. members here. Among them were: Ralph R. (see the chapter titled: August 28, 1943), Lou G., Jack W. and Joe C. Ralph R. is deceased. Lou G., one of many beneficiaries of Ralph’s sponsorship, is a member of Fort Worth’s A.A. Group No. 1. Jack W. And Joe C. are members of the Harbor Group of A.A.
Joe C. is Secretary-Treasurer of the Harbor Club Inc. and a member of the club’s board of Directors. Jack W., member of the club’s board of directors, as of this writing, has the earliest Sobriety date of any Fort Worth A.A. member (May 5, 1945)
In the Beginning
The genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous in Fort Worth is hazy in the mist of time. First stirrings of the Fellowship here were felt in 1941, but no person known to have been active in A.A. in Fort Worth then is alive today. There is, however, some written evidence of Fellowship activity here that year.
The first written expression of interest in A.A. in Fort Worth is in the form of two letters on file with The Fellowship’s General Service Office in New York City. They were written in the spring of 1941 by a distressed wife who sought help for her alcoholic husband, a Fort Worth oil firm engineer. They lived on Alston Avenue in the city’s South Side.
A.A. in New York sent her literature, but said the only Texas A.A. group was in Houston (a group had been founded there in March 1940). The ailing husband may have been affiliated with the A.A. group that was to develop here later. Or, he might have (as countless others before and after him) simply evaporated into alcoholic oblivion. There is no record of what happened to him.
The record is clear however of the beginning of group activity later in 1941. For purposes of Historical assessment, this author ² concludes that title of “A.A. No. 1 in Fort Worth” must go to another man, George McL. His work starting an A.A. group in Fort Worth is confirmed by correspondence on file with GSO. Moreover, there were people alive in Fort Worth today who knew him and saw his A.A. work. George died March 9, 1946 of cancer, but he died sober.
¹ This section was the last page (pg. 14) of the original document. It is moved to the front to acknowledge the author and contributors.
² Bill H.
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GSO has a letter on file from George McL. dated May 25, 1941. He gave his address as 1710 Washington on Fort Worth’s South Side and wrote: Referring to the article by Jack Armstrong in the March 1st issue of the S.E. post, I wish to start this work here, or if someone has already done so, to be put in touch with them. I quit drinking about two years ago with one relapse and a million temptations since. It ruined my life, killed my wife and put me on relief. Am now recovering from ten operations for cancer, am 57 years old and by the grace of God, intend to devote the rest of my life to his work. I thank you for whatever information you may be able to give me.
A.A. answered George’s handwritten letter on June 4, 1941, telling him that the only Texas A.A. group was in Houston and giving him the group’s address. New York made no reference to the woman who had written earlier that year about her husband. Such reference would seem to have been in order, but it must be remembered that those were the early days and the New York office was undermanned and underfinanced. Nothing in subsequent correspondence between Fort Worth A.A. and New York alludes in any way to the wife or her husband.
If George McL. was “A.A. No. 1 in Fort Worth”, when was the first group meeting held? This historical session could have been July 23, 1941. On file in New York is a letter from George McL., dated July 24, 1941. It said: I am happy to report that I have the A.A. well on it’s way in Fort Worth. At our meeting last night we had seven members, one from St. Louis and one from Chicago. We have three of your books here.
In the context of the letter’s date, “last night” would have been July 23, 1941. Of course, it is possible that George had organized an earlier group meeting and simply failed to mention it. However, since there is nothing in the written record mentioning an earlier meeting, it would be reasonable to assume that the first known A.A. group meeting in Fort Worth was July 23.
Thus the beginning of A.A. in Fort Worth came about six years after the Fellowship was founded in Akron, Ohio (June 10, 1935) by the New York stockbroker Bill W. and the Akron physician Dr. Bob S. The next chronology from Fort Worth is a letter dated August 28, 1941 from George McL. he wrote New York that Fort Worth’s A.A. group had grown to eleven members. He asked: Can you give me any idea as to procedure in meetings? And he posed another prophetic query: What about women, so far we have none but will?
There is no clue in George’s correspondence where group meetings were held in 1941. A good guess would be his South Side home, where it is known for sure that meetings were held in 1943.
A.A. published census reports in the early 1940’s. One, issued in December 1941, stated that Fort Worth A.A had twelve members and listed the Group Secretary as George McL. A.A. worldwide membership mushroomed in 1941 from 2,000 to 8,000. Credit for that quantum leap is given to the Saturday Evening Post. In March 1941, it carried a glowing story about the Fellowship in an article by Jack Alexander. George McL. referred to the article in his first letter to A.A.
Apparently, the Alcoholics Anonymous movement in Fort Worth died down (and almost out) in 1942. Correspondence between New York and Fort Worth was sparse. In one letter, New York wrote to George McL.: We had just about decided you had dropped out of the A.A. picture. There was a reference to George’s illness and he was urged to solicit help from other A.A. members in Fort Worth. On February 9, 1942 New York wrote George about a prospect. The letter also said:
This is just a short note to determine whether the Fort Worth group is still active…let us know…if your group is still active.
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An A.A. census in early 1943 listed Fort Worth as being down to only five members. The same report carried George McL. as Group Secretary. What caused this drop in A.A. activity here in 1942 and early 1943? There are two possible reasons. One is that George was suffering grievously from cancer. He undoubtedly was the prime mover in the Fellowship in those pioneer days, and with his activity slowed by illness, there could have been a resulting group slowdown.
The other reason was that these were days of crisis for the nation. People were on the move, in uniform or in war work. It was not the best time for a new entity to take root and flourish.
There is no doubt that the outlook for A.A. in Fort Worth in 1943 was bleak.
But a new dawn was coming.
August 28, 1943
At some point about the middle of 1943, Alcoholics Anonymous activity in Fort Worth had vanished. George McL. then was a loner, staying sober by prayer and reading of the Big Book. Whatever happened to the other A.A. pioneers here is not known. What is known for certain is that the date August 28, 1943 marked the beginning of continuous and uninterrupted Fellowship group activity in Fort Worth. The catalytic agent for launching that growth was a railroad switchman and former deputy sheriff who was waging a losing battle with the bottle. He was Ralph R.
Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes principles before personalities, but if any individual Fort Worth A.A. merited tribute for toil in the Fellowship’s primeval vineyards it would be this man. In the spring of 1943, Ralph was only 32 but he was desperate for help because of his drinking. So were his loved ones. A sister-in-law in Kansas mailed an article about A.A. to Ralph’s distressed wife, Virginia. Virginia called the Fort Worth Star-Telegram hoping someone there would know about A.A. in Fort Worth. Someone did and gave George McL’s phone number.
Ralph called George but didn’t follow through until August 28. Then after a painful drunk, he went to George’s home for A.A. help. He got it. Ralph joined A.A. then, and since that fateful meeting, Alcoholics Anonymous has vibrated in Fort Worth without letup.
Ralph became an apostle for the Fellowship, one of the most zealous Twelfth-Steppers of all time. Beneficiaries of his sponsorship are legion and his work was heroic in mold. He traveled up and down the land studying alcoholism in clinics and drying-out places. He became a personal friend of A.A. co-founder Bill W. and journeyed to New York to seek Bill’s expert counsel on Fellowship matters.
But all of that was after the 1943 meeting of Ralph and George. The two continued to meet about once a week at George’s home. They read the Big Book, talked, meditated and prayed. It worked.
They stayed sober.
In the fall of 1943 a woman joined them. She was the first woman member of A.A. in Fort Worth.
Anne T. came from a wealthy, socially prominent family. But alcoholism is no respecter of fiscal weight or social station. Anne was a drunk and she was crying out for help.
From a Little Acorn
How Anne T. heard about A.A. and about George McL. and Ralph R. is not known, but she began meeting with them (probably in November 1943). Meetings were moved from George’s home to an area over a stable on property Anne owned on Summit Avenue, once Proud Silk Stocking Row of Fort Worth cattle barons.
3 Years after his pioneering in A.A. here, Ralph R. had relapses but his work was an inspiration to countless A.A. members and is remembered clearly to this day. He died January 16, 1972.
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Soon joining them was a soft-spoken little Fort Worth oilman, Mac B., who became a staunch member of the society of recovering alcoholics.
A.A. groups throughout the world have run various classified ads (usually under the Personal Column) offering help to those who want it. The first such ad by Fort Worth A.A. appeared in a Sunday Fort Worth Star-Telegram on October 31, 1943. Ralph R. went to the want-ad counter and while pondering what to write, these words flowed from his pencil:
FOR PROBLEM drinkers who want
to help themselves. No charge.
Write Alcoholics Anonymous,
Box 1671, Fort Worth, Texas
The group grew. Anne rented a room at the Blackstone Hotel, and meetings were moved to there.
She wrote New York A.A. on November 8, 1943: Good news that Fort Worth is starting up again.
As many as ten people began attending regularly.
Insofar as numbers are concerned, the Fellowship just about held its own but didn’t grow in Fort Worth in 1944. A census dated January 11, 1944 said Fort Worth had ten members and reported that the group met in the downtown YMCA at 7:30 on Wednesdays. Anne T. was Group Secretary. An August 1944 census said the group had twelve members. Mac B. was Secretary.
The few pioneers were yeasty. The Fellowship began to ferment about this time.
Great growth was to follow.
The Boom Years
The boom years of early A.A. growth in Fort Worth began in 1945. A February census of that year said that the group here was up to twenty-eight members. The Secretary was J. Van H. An August 1945 census said that Fort Worth had fifty-seven members. The Secretary was Gwen M.
One hundred and two members were reported by Group Secretary Harry D. in February 1946 and membership was listed at 275 in February 1947 by Secretary Johnny R. There were other important signs of growth. In 1945 the group moved from the YMCA to the First Presbyterian Church Annex downtown.
Later the same year, the group rented (for $100 per month) a two-story brick building at 612 West 4th Street. The structure still stands, just east of the First Methodist Church.
This was the first site of an A.A. club in Fort Worth. A contest was held to select the name for the club. A Fort Worth advertising man, Joe C. won the contest with the name of The Harbor Club. This was in early 1948. The prize was a $50 savings bond (Joe donated it back to the club).
With establishment of the club as a place of continuing daily activity, A.A. took solid roots in the community and continued to grow. Activity was almost feverish. Meetings were packed-almost standing room only. Food was served from a busy kitchen. A full time Secretary lived on the 2nd floor. His office thrived. Eager new members were poised around the clock for Twelfth-Step calls.
Fort Worth A.A. attracted national attention with the Fellowship. It was said to have an outstanding recovery rate. Old timers claim that in those days if a member didn’t show up for a meeting, that a squad of “trouble shooters” would dash out in pursuit. There was other activity within the club-strange sounds-the riffling of pasteboard upstairs and down-and the click-click-click of metal reels. The Harbor Club was to become one of the richest A.A. milieus in the world.
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Edited for the web by Mark S