Sylvia K., Chicago, Illinois.
(The Keys of the Kingdom — Sylvia Kauffmann, Chicago, IL.
(p. 304 in 2nd and 3rd editions, p. 268 in the 4th edition.)
Pioneers of A.A.
“This worldly lady helped to develop A.A. in Chicago and thus passed her keys to many.”
According to member list index cards kept by the Chicago group, Sylvia’s date of sobriety was September 13, 1939. Because of slips by Marty M. (“Women Suffer Too,”) Sylvia may have been the first woman to achieve long term sobriety.
Sylvia was raised in a good environment with loving and conscientious parents and given every advantage: the best schools, summer camps, resort vacations and travel. She had her first drink at sixteen and loved what it did for her.
She was the product of the post-war prohibition era of the roaring ’20s. She married at twenty, had two children, and was divorced at twenty-three. This gave her a good excuse to drink. By twenty-five she had developed into an alcoholic.
She began making the rounds of the doctors in the hope that one of them might find a cure for her accumulating ailments, most of whom prescribed sedatives and advised rest and moderation.
Between the ages of twenty-five and thirty she tried everything. She moved to Chicago thinking a new environment would help. She tried all sorts of things to control her drinking: the beer diet, the wine diet, timing, measuring, and spacing of drinks. Nothing worked.
The next three years saw her in sanitariums, once in a ten-day coma from which she very nearly died. She wanted to die, but had lost the courage to try.
For about one year prior to this time there was one doctor who did not give up on her. He tried everything he could think of, including having her go to mass every morning at six a.m., and performing the most menial labor for his charity patients. This doctor apparently had the intuitive knowledge that spirituality and helping others might be the answer.
In the 1939 this doctor heard of the book Alcoholics Anonymous and wrote to New York for a copy. After reading it he tucked it under his arm and called on Sylvia. That visit marked the turning point of her life.
He must have studied the book carefully because he took its advice. He gave her the cold, hard facts about her condition, and that she would either die of acute alcoholism, develop a wet brain, or have to be put away permanently.
Then he told her of the handful of people in Akron and New York who seemed to have worked out a technique for arresting their alcoholism. He asked her to read the book and to talk with a man who experiencing success by using this plan. This was Earl T. (“He Sold Himself Short”), the “Mr. T.” to whom she refers on page 309.
Earl suggested she visit Akron. According to Bill W., she got off to a slow start there, and may also have been a pill addict. She took a lot of “little white pills” which she claimed were saccharin, and no one could understand why she was so rubber-legged. A nurse was flown in, presumably from Chicago, to take care of her.
Sylvia stayed two weeks at Clarence (Clarence S., “The Home Brewmeister”) and Dorothy S.’s home in Cleveland. She met Dr. Bob, who brought other A.A. men to meet her. Dorothy S. said that the men “were only too willing to talk to her after they saw her.” Sylvia was a glamorous divorcee, extremely good looking, and rich. But these attractions probably did not help her with the wives of the alcoholics, who were known on occasion to run women out.
After meeting Dr. Bob she wanted to move to Akron, but this caused great consternation, since her presence threatened to disrupt the whole group. Someone told her it would mean a great deal more if she could go back and help in Chicago.
She went back to Chicago where she eventually got sober. She worked closely with Earl T., and her personal secretary, Grace C., became the first secretary at the Intergroup office in Chicago, the first in the country.
Sylvia updated her story in the January 1969 issue of the “A.A. Grapevine.” She tells how busy her first ten years in A.A. were, but how all this tremendous activity, by bringing her into almost constant contact with other members, provided her with everything she most desperately needed to save her life. As she looked back she realized this was the most excitingly beautiful period of her life.
When she wrote this update, Sylvia had been living in Sarasota, Florida, with her husband, Dr. Ed S., and was soon to celebrate their eighteenth wedding anniversary. “He is an alky, too, and our lives have been enriched by our mutual faith and perseverance in the A.A. way of life. Through it we have found a quality of happiness and serenity that, we believe, could not have been realized in any other way. Small wonder our gratitude knows no bounds.”