Alcoholics Anonymous history in your area
How A.A. Came to Worcester, Massachusetts
The following document came here by the way of e-mail. It was typed into the computer from a document. It is not known if that document was the one Frank W. wrote. This one was received with quite a few typos, some of which were corrected. If someone out there has the original document written by Frank W. we would appreciate getting it so that it could be scanned onto this page as Frank W. wrote it.
If anyone has additional information about Frank W. or the history of A.A. in Worcester, please send the information to firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail to Worcester Area Intergroup, Web Site Committee, 100 Grove Street, Suite 309, Worcester, MA 01605.
How A.A. Came to Worcester, Massachusetts
By Frank W.
Worcester, MA, June 21, 1940, 2:00 p.m. I had fallen into my wife’s favorite petunia bed. I couldn’t get up. Faintly, I could hear the passioned voice of my loving daughter, Dolly. “don’t try to get up now, Daddy. I’ll get you some water.” The sun was blazing hot. She was trying to adjust a shade to spare me the torture.
“Oh my dear God, I didn’t mean to do this, Dolly”, I mumbled. She spoke again. “That man in New Jersey called again, Daddy. He wants to talk with you at your office in the morning. He said his name is Arthur H.”
I can’t meet a stranger in the morning”, I protested. “I’ll be too sick and shaky.”
“You can do it, Daddy. I’ll help you.” She always did. Even when others wouldn’t touch me with a stick. I was a drunk, but I was her dear father.
The man was a traveling sales representative for a firm in New Jersey. Dr. Foster L. Ribber, a neurologist with City Hospital affiliation and whom I had consulted about my drinking, had contacted Alcoholics Anonymous Service Headquarters in New York City to arrange a meeting for me with a recovered alcoholic doing twelve-step work. “Then, if you can stay sober a few days, you could start a group”, he said. The thought of helping other drunks stay sober, while possibly saving myself, thrilled me and I vowed to do it. But, now I was drunk again and surely, I thought, Arthur H. would not want me on his band wagon. He would say, “Sorry, but we can’t use you.”
The next morning, I had told my assistant not to let anyone in further than the waiting room. But, at 10:00 a.m., the inner door swung open and there stood Arthur H., a dapper, intelligent and prosperous-looking gentleman, somewhat younger than I. With the kindliest of all the smiles I ever knew, he called, “hi, Frank. How are you?” The after effects of drinking booze were gnawing at my innards and confusing my brain. I walked unsteadily to shake his hand, radiating guilt, remorse, regret and shame. “By God, Art, I ain’t so good. I been on it a week. I guess you won’t want me in your outfit now.” “Oh”, he said, “it isn’t that way, Frank. We want you. I know you wanted to stay sober and you have slipped. Many of us slipped and some of us slipped many times before we caught on. Did you have to go to the hospital?”
I had expected to be curtly rejected but this man was filled with empathy, tenderness and brotherly love, born of similar suffering. He spoke the language of his heart. Instead of demeaning me, he seemed to want to gather me into his heart and soul saying, “I love you, no matter what”.
Then he told me of his need. He was carrying the message of hope to other alcoholics to save himself. He called it twelve-step work. We talked about the steps, i.e., how you turn your will over to God as you understand that great power. And about taking a personal inventory, admitting your faults and making amends to persons you have harmed. And how you ask God each morning to help you avoid that first drink. Just for today. One day at a time.
Concluding our talk, he stood in the doorway asking me to write him. It would give him a lift, he told me. His last words were, “Many are called but few are chosen.” The message was loud and clear. So much was going on in my mind so fast, I could hardly speak coherently. With a frog in my throat I mumbled, “It’s good to know a fellow like you, Art.” I looked past him through the open doorway. Parked at the curb was his shiny automobile. In it was a happy looking wife and three vibrant children. It was a scene of happiness. I was overcome. I broke down and cried, much to the consternation of my assistant. Then he was gone. His image remained with me constantly for many moons. In that few minutes of togetherness, I had undergone a rapid personality adjustment. All my negative thinking was gone. I was a free man. I felt a buoyancy I am unable to describe. I knew that I didn’t have to drink again. In religious parlance, I was reborn.
I watched the car carrying my savior go out of sight. Then, suddenly I was struck with fear. My life was now inextricably bound with his. What if something should happen to him? He had said, “please write to me, Frank, I need you.” I was impelled to write at once to let him know his visit has been a success. I told him I was a new man and would have a group started pronto. The outgoing mail that evening contained a letter to Arthur H. in New Jersey from Frank W. in Massachusetts. After that, out letters were constantly passing en route.
I was chaffing at the bit to get started forming a group. I knew nothing of the difficulties to be encountered. Drinking alcoholics are not known for being amiable, i.e., sweet—tempered, kind—hearted, or agreeable. But, I was on fire. Art had said he would come back and meet with a group when we were ready.
I tried to explain A. A. to good old Bill C. “Why sure”, he said. He didn’t understand it, but he said, “Maybe it’ll rub off onto me too.” He was loyal to the end of his life. Together, we visited “alkies” at City Hospital, Ward H, where they were treated. There were always a dozen or more there.
We answered letters and telephone calls and held consultations. Our ranks rose to five, then back to three; then to seven, and back to five; then to eleven and back to nine, etc., until we could boast of having 15 members all sober. We were mightily saddened when a comrade would relapse. Each one of us knew the suffering a slippee would have to endure, and no stone was left unturned to get them back on the ball. Besides the grief of having slippees, we had many growing pains as a group. That proved to be a natural phenomenon and, within several years, other groups were born of the first.
Progress was slow. Finally, we reached 100 sober men and women from all walks of life and professions. Because Old John Barleycorn takes on all comers, we were lawyers, doctors, clergymen, scientists, teachers, intellectuals, politicians, tradesmen, menial laborers and all other occupations.
My place of business at Austin Street became the first meeting place. A room was set aside for conference. We were never a ragtime outfit. We were likened to a busy beehive. Members were continually coming in for conference and exchange of ideas and general discussion about how to help certain new recruits, sometimes humorously referred to as pigeons, alkies, babies, etc. A sponsor was teamed up with each new arrival.
We were very humble, plain, simple, down-to-earth and unpretending. Although the general public was awed by out activity, we were respected in all quarters. Critics were few. There was really nothing about Alcoholics Anonymous to criticize. We were downright serious. We knew then and we know now we are dealing in human life. And we were and are succeeding.
Dr. Ribber gave us our first real lift. He arranged a round-the-clock visiting privilege for us at City Hospital. We were often called during the night if it was the right psychological moment for the contact. We even sat with patients in delirium tremens at Ward L. Some patients we were called upon to contact were in state mental hospitals.
The Reverend Dr. Fallon, Past of the Wesley Methodist Church, was our greatest spiritual helpmate during infancy. Many of us attended his church. He never failed to praise Alcoholics Anonymous from the pulpit. He also arranged for some of use to speak at church services.
In general, medics and clergy were slow to recognize our activity. Now, both professions give A. A. general approval and very many churches provide meeting places.
Forty-two years have slipped by since A. A. began in Worcester. It is all very vivid.
My wife, a total abstainer, joined with me heart and soul, and our three children were quick to befriend the children of other alcoholics. For 17 years there was no time that we didn’t have a recovering alcoholic living with us. Often there were two, and once there were three. My wife contributed without stint to the essential therapy. Together, we wrestled many scalps from Old John Barleycorn’s grasp. When she passed away in 1957, very many grateful recovered alcoholics attended the funeral.
On October 17, 1982, in the Worcester Sunday Telegram, Section F, under the caption The Battle Against the Bottle, appeared an article purporting to give the history of Worcester Alcoholics Anonymous. Fortifying the article were head and shoulder photographs of three worthy men it claimed to be the driving forced behind A .A. Not one of them was a member. One was the president of a major industry in Worcester, Philip Morgan, a great man, a humanist and a philanthropist. Another was and is a psychiatrist who entered the alcoholic field years after A. A. was conceived. He is a good man. He did a lot of good work. He made the most of his opportunity and now has institutional responsibilities. The other was purported to be a counselor in the Alcoholic Services Department at St. Vincent’s Hospital. He is William Holmes, son of Francis Holmes, now deceased. I have known both father and son throughout all their service.
After reading the story and noting the inaccuracies and hearsay fabrications and the flagrant unethical violations of A. A.’s most sacred tradition, anonymity, I was aghast. How could this thing happen? I have been a member of A. A. for 42 years. I felt a little resentment at first, but Easy Does It, my favorite slogan, came to my rescue. Also, because of the 12 steps of A. A. and the 12 Traditions that I try to live by, I am not free to avenge.
Since the Telegram article referred to was published, my daughter, Dolly, called me. “But Daddy, the way that story goes is not the way it was. I was only a little girl., but I remember. Will you write something so we can have it straight, when you are gone?
I am called upon and my only problem is to tell it as it was and is.
As Alcoholics Anonymous grew, groups formed in all cities and most towns. A central service committee became essential to groups and loners scattered around the world. Many isolated persons received help to stay sober simply by writing to headquarters and receiving a reply in A. A. parlance. Many were brought together into groups by correspondence. In the far reaches were loners without a kindred soul within 100 miles.
Alcoholics Anonymous proved alcoholism to be a sickness that could be overcome. That stimulated much research resulting in much information for which there was great demand from scholars and facilities concerned with treating alcoholism. A National Committee was instituted, wholly independent of A. A., to be a clearing house for all information relative to alcoholism and related problems
An intellectual person of high repute was chosen to head the service. She was known to us as Marty Mann. She was in great demand throughout the country for speaking and teaching. The National Committee on Alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous were both highly sophisticated in their respective areas, but they had no official connection.
One of Marty Mann’s chores was to promote the formation of committees in cities and towns, She had a knack for gathering the elite, including newsmen. The local committees were to select a person to do the footwork, raise funds and chair their meetings.
Late in the first decade of A. A’s existence in Worcester, Francis Holmes attended many A. A. meetings. He didn’t claim to be eligible for membership, although any person is a member if he says so. But no one can speak for another or for a group and there is not authority in A. A. except a loving God as He may be expressed by the group conscience.
Francis Holmes became the Executive Secretary for the Worcester Committee on Alcoholism. His base of operation seemed to be within the meeting places of A. A. and he was made to feel at home. We were quite well-informed about alcoholism 40 years ago. We shared our knowledge with all who sought our help. Except in the field of detoxification and statistics, very little has been added. Mr. Holmes did his job well and good. His son, William O. Holmes, followed in his footsteps. He is known to us as Bill. According to the Sunday Telegram article, he is now a counselor in the Alcoholic Services Department at St. Vincent’s Hospital. He is a good man and I believe he did well in a field that can be very frustrating and discouraging.
Bill Holme’s recollection of the early days of A. A. in Worcester, seems more like fiction than fact to one who lived through it all.
Dr. George Deering’s recollection of 1944, which I quote from the Telegram article as follows, “Ten cars crashed the gate at City Hospital and 30 or 40 people staggered in drunk, sick and suffering with delirium tremens, etc.,” is wholly false. At that point in time and place we knew everything that went on at City Hospital that had to do with alcoholics. And we had an ultra efficient grapevine. Nothing of such a melee reached our headquarters. There were less than six padded cells for delirium tremens cases in Ward L at City Hospital. They were dismantled about 1950. The whole story is ludicrous and demeaning, as were most of the recollections.
Soon after Francis Holmes began forming the Educational Committee, he arranged with radio station WTAG to broadcast an interview with me relative to the workings of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was done August 11, 1951. All who heard my answers to his questions received a good knowledge of the workings of A. A. A record was made. Bill could have produced the disc or borrowed mine. It was and is available for reproduction.
I am grieved to witness such flagrant disregard of A. A.’s most sacred tradition as in the Sunday Telegram, October 17, 1982. The grim reaper took the good doctor, referred to, several years ago. It would have been ethical and merciful to his survivors if his alcoholic experience had not been featured in newsprint. Our tradition of anonymity is to protect the members, their families, and their surviving kinfolk from unnecessary stigma and/or embarrassment.
The doctor was one of the great men of our time in our city. He fathered the Cerebral Palsy Clinic for children at Memorial Hospital and gave his free time as a physician and surgeon in that specialty. He was a good man.
I had the good fortune to be associated with him on the staff of that clinic and in Alcoholics Anonymous also.
For the enlightenment of readers, I will quote part of the A. A. Tradition. Quote: “Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A. A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and our pictures as A. A. members ought not to be broadcast, filmed or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never a need to praise ourselves.”
Good night. May the overpowering spirit which motivates us in Alcoholics Anonymous be a source of inspiration to you all, also.
— http://www.aaworcester.org/ —