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Alcoholics Anonymous history in your area
Washington D.C.
http://www.aa-dc.org/index.shtml
The Washington Group

THE WASHINGTON GROUP:
FOUNDATIONS,1936-1941

Washington Area Intergroup Association
Intergroup Archives Project, Washington, D.C.

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The Washington Group, 1936-41

Table of Contents

,
Preface
Note on the Internet Version
 
1. The Environment and The Challenge
2. There is a Solution
3. The Loners: Fitz and Florence
4. Fitz M.
5. Florence R.
6. The Boys of '39
7. Ned F.
8. The Indigenous Drunks
9. A.A. Growth in 1940
10. The Nebulous Group
11. The Bob Erwin Articles
12. Early Washington Group Meetings
13. The Washington Group Comes of Age
14. Post Script: Fitz After 1940
 
Endnotes
Appendices:
A. Florence's Story
B. The Bob Erwin Articles
C. An Early D.C. Chronology
D. WAIA Archives Inventory
E. Fitz' 1943 letter to Howard C.

Preface

The compilation of this history was possible because of documents and oral history interviewscollected for the archives of the Washington Area Intergroup Association (WAIA). Most of the documentation came from three sources: the AA General Services Archives in New York; the WAIA Office in Washington; and from oral history interviews with early members of the group. Many of the old-timers interviewed by the author had saved documents from their early years in AA, and donated the historically valuable materials to the WAIA Archives project.

All the stories mentioned below have come from reliable sources; members who were a part of the Group at the time, contemporary AA correspondence and publications, and newspaper articles. Some of the stories were, however, remembered or written many years after the event -- memories fade and exact dates, even years, tend to merge over time. In this history, however, only events that were documented at the time they happened are treated as hard facts. Everything else, including after-the-fact accounts, are cited here as "stories". The reader may decide their validity.

Many people who were part of the group, and some who were central to the events described here do not appear in this story. That is because their names did not appear in the correspondence or publications available for research. Additional documentation may be discovered to provide the missing information. Oral history may eventually fill in some of these gaps, but as the events recede into the past, fewer first hand witnesses remain alive.

This is the second printing of this work. Most of the information contained in the first edition is included here, but major revisions have been made.

An inventory of the holdings of the WAIA Archives is appended to this history. Most of the documentation supporting the history can be found in the archives.

Experience indicates that many "old-timers" preserved memorablia and documents from their early days in AA. Their memories and the documents they preserved are an invaluable source of the history of bygone days. The WAIA Archives Project has thus far only contacted a small portion of these valuable people. There still remains much work to be done. I would like to thank Penny W., who assisted in typing and editing this second printing.

Charles E. Schamel
February 1993
Riverdale Park, Maryland

A Note on the Internet Version

This internet edition of The Washington Group  consists of the same text as the revised and expanded edition printed in 1995. The footnotes that are included in the paper edition have not been included in this web version. Anyone wishing to examine the source material should contact the WAIA office to obtain a paper copy or access to the WAIA Archives.

The web document is in two files: Part 1 - the cover to chapter 8; and Part 2 - chapter 9 to the end. To print the entire document open and print the first part, then go to chapter 9 and print the second part.

At this time the five appendices are not included in the web version. We expect to include the appendices soon. However, until that is done, anyone wishing to examine these appendices should contact the WAIA office.

Ed Schamel
February 2002

Return to contents


Chapter 1

THE ENVIRONMENT AND THE CHALLENGE

It is difficult to imagine the world the alcoholic faced before Alcoholics Anonymous. Today alcoholics live in a world shaped by the work, experience, and wisdom of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous over the years.Today hospitalization and a wide range of professional counseling are available to the alcoholic. There is still a stigma attached to alcoholism, but it has become recognized as one of the most common diseases in the modern world. Most important, the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is available to almost anyone anywhere who has a desire to stop drinking.

The great contribution of Alcoholics Anonymous is that it provides a systematic program whereby alcoholics can stop drinking and achieve and maintain sobriety. It is the first and only treatment or therapy program that can truthfully say, "Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path."

In the world before A.A., the victim of alcoholism was a hopeless case. No doctor, priest, or psychiatrist could treat the illness. Neither love, money, faith, nor hope could save the alcoholic once he had become addicted. This is reflected in the great psychiatrist Carl Jung's prognosis for an alcoholic patient. Dr. Jung said, "You have the mind of a chronic alcoholic. I have never seen one single case recover, where that state of mind existed to the extent that it does in you." But, he continued,"Exceptions to cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences." But, he explained that he had never been able to induce such a "vital spiritual experience" in an alcoholic.

What is so important about Alcoholics Anonymous is that it works every time the person follows the prescribed steps. Indeed, it is possible that in some way the A.A. fellowship has been able to help hopeless drunks to become open to what many call a spiritual experience.

This story is about the people and events surrounding the founding of the A.A. group in Washington, DC. Only by examining the history can we become aware of how profoundly their efforts have affected our lives today. Their work not only contributed to the growth and development of A.A., but it played a major role in changing the political and social attitudes toward alcoholism.

Alcohol and drunkenness have had an important place in American history from the early daysand have been the subject of numerous books and scholarly articles. One author even described nineteenth century America as "a nation of drunks." But, during that century America became more civilized and more urban. Even though drunkenness had been overlooked on the frontier, it became more visible, more disruptive, and less acceptable in the more complex and civilized society.

With the coming of the industrial revolution, workers, were required to function according to therhythm of production lines and to work according to time tables. Industrialization meant working with powerful machines and dangerous tools that required a steady hand and clarity of mind on productionlines that could not easily be stopped. Drunkenness on the job meant injuries, lost time, and lostrevenue. In this atmosphere drunkenness began to be recognized as a burden on society rather than a purely personal issue.

The earliest attempts to combat the problems created by excessive drinking centered around the prevention of alcoholism. There was little anyone could do about a drunk once he had become an alcoholic, so the best solution seemed to be to reach people before they became caught in the grip of alcohol. Moral persuasion was the tool used to innoculate the young.

Prevention was embodied in the temperance-prohibition movement that developed in the United States during the nineteenth century. The temperance crusade was conducted by churches and social service organizations such as the Anti-Saloon League, which was dedicated to suppressing "the evils of drinking." As early as 1865 thirteen states had passed prohibition laws, and by 1917 twenty-three states were considered prohibitionist.

In 1919 the prevention strategy became the national law of the land with the adoption of prohibition in the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which outlawed the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating beverages.

As a national public policy, prohibition was a failure and the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed in 1933 by the Twenty-First Amendment. When prohibition failed, there was no alternative policy to replace it. In many ways the government's attempt to enforce prohibition left the nation in worse shape than it had been before prohibition. Probably the most obvious damage done by prohibition was the increase in organized crime due to the illegal traffic in alcohol. Less obvious was the depletion of resources for treating alcoholics that occured during the period of prohibition. Most of the hospitals and sanitariums that had treated alcoholics before prohibition had closed when it became illegal to become an alcoholic. By 1933 the opportunities for obtaining medical treatment for the alcoholic were worse than they had been before prohibition.

Religious and civic minded citizens continued to work toward prevention, attempting to use moral persuasion to save young people from becoming alcoholics. But the plight of the person who had already become an alcoholic remained the same--he was written off as an incurable drunk, a burden on his family and on society until his death. The sad truth is that in 1933 alcoholics really were incurable by any methods known at the time.

Most doctors and hospitals turned drunks away from their doors, refusing to treat them at all. The situation was the same with most psychiatrists. Their attitudes were understandable. Drunks made miserable patients: they broke appointments, they refused to do as they were told; they were dirty, angry, ungrateful, and untrustworthy; and they did not pay their bills.

Furthermore, alcoholism was not considered a health problem. The terms "alcoholism" and "alcoholic" were rarely used to describe the hopeless drunk. Most members of the medical profession, along with the rest of society, considered alcoholism to be a moral or character problem and not a proper subject for medical treatment.

In 1933 the concept of addiction was new to the medical profession. Only during the last century had addiction been discovered, and its implications had not yet been fully explored. Most medical practicioners were not even aware of the new concept of alcoholism.

While the medical and psychiatric communities did little to treat the problem of alcoholism, the legal system addressed the affects of the behavior of drunks. Disruptive drunkenness was considered a problem of morality and was dealt with by the courts and jails.

The life history of a drunk, once he had crossed the line to alcoholism, could be summed up by the "revolving door" metaphor; the doors of the public jails and insane asylums became revolving doors to the alcoholic as his life became a series of incarcerations and releases, until finally, toward the end, he became hopelessly insane or irreversibly physically broken. For the alcoholic, release from the institutional revolving doors came only when he was permanently committed to an insane asylum, prison, or graveyard.

It was under these grim circumstances that Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith founded the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Among the earliest people to attain sobriety with them were three of the A.A.s who brought the program to the Washington, D.C. area. Less than two years after Bill and Bob had their initial meeting, the first A.A.s came to Washington carrying the message.

The capital city was an ideal location to establish an A.A. outpost. Washington had probably always had more than its share of alcoholics. Since its founding as the nation's capital in the 1790s, it has attracted people with high energy, intelligence, and well developed egos--people driven to be successful, to do good deeds, or just to make themselves rich or famous or powerful. Alcohol was the universal lubricant; it greased the pathways to the halls of power, and it eased the passage of difficult legislation. It relieved fears and inhibitions, removed doubt, and bestowed eloquence. Alcohol was always present at cocktail parties, in executive offices, and on the floor of Congress.

In the year 1935 Washington was an unusually drunk town. That year the Census Bureau reported that the District of Columbia had the second highest death rate due to alcoholism in the United States. The Washington Star reported that the District ranked first in the nation in per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Police Commissioner Melvin C. Hazen recognized that the penal system in the District was not sufficient to deal with the alcohol problem. He noted that sending drunks through repeated confinement at the work house was ineffective because, ". . . the present system was 'an endless chain' in which a man drunk, was arrested, convicted, sentenced, served time, was released - and then went right back to drink again." He compared the alcoholic to people with other diseases and noted that few resources were going toward their treatment, when he stated, "The habitual drunk is a sick man and needs care just the same as a tuberculosis victim for whom the District was building a new $1,500,000 hospital. . ."

The Commissioner suggested the idea of creating an "alcoholic farm" where alcoholics could be sent to dry out and regain their health. The alcoholic farm idea received a lot of attention and was periodically popular with public officials and later with some A.A.s. The idea was supported by the Catholic Charities, the Superintendent of Police, and the newly formed Public Welfare Association of the District. For years public officials were attracted to it every time the tremendous costs and ludicrous ineffectiveness of sending habitual drunks through the prison system became apparent. The idea was, however, never put into action on a large scale.

Part of the reason for the failure of the alcholic farm concept was that while the idea was supported by many sensitive, influential friends, it was stoutly opposed by the local temperance societies, most notably the Rechabites. At a large public meeting in 1936, the leader of the Rachabites announced that he objected, as a taxpayer, to the commissioner's proposal for a farm to take care of drunks. The temperance groups asked questions such as, "Why help alcoholics who are old enough to help themselves?" More responsible groups like the Washington Committee for Education on Alcoholism answered, "An alcoholic is like a man going over Niagra Falls; he is old enough to know better, but he is already in the rapids."

By 1939 there were over 400 package stores in the District of Columbia and the problems of drunkenness had become evident even in children. In the first five years after the repeal of prohibition, 1,685 children had been arrested for drunkenness. Congressman Morris Sheppard declared, "I am incensed . . . the children of Washington apparently are able to procure liquor by ordering it over the telephone from a licensed dealer."

A few years later the Washington Committee for Education on Alcoholism published a pamphlet outlining the alcohol problems in the District. During the twelve years between 1934 and 1946, there had been 318,000 arrests for drunkenness and 137,000 commitments to the DC Jail. Gallingers Hospital (later named DC General Hospital) admitted an average of 4,000 patients annually for alcoholism. And although only 5% of all St. Elizabeth's patients were diagnosed as suffering primarily from alcoholic psychosis, at least one-third of all patients admitted reported a history of alcohol abuse. It was estimated that alcohol problems cost the D.C. government between 5 and 8 million dollars annually.

The pamphlet published by the Committee also provided personal statistics to illustrate how the revolving door syndrome worked in an alcoholic's life. One distinguished Washingtonian had been arrested over 250 times and had served 197 jail sentences for drunkenness. Several others could count well over 100 of each. The numbers showed that throwing alcoholics into the drunk-tanks--even a great many times--did not solve the problem.

As the war effort brought increasing numbers of workers to the Nation's capital and subjected many of them to unusual pressures, the problem increased. Fitz M., one of the founders of the Washington Group of Alcoholics Anonymous, described Washington, DC, in 1940 as a city with more than its share of alcoholics:

. . . 5% of the plastered in this burg seem always to be committing suicide. Of course we blame it on the administration. Not enough relief - or bonus - or too much relief - wives shouldn't work or shouldn't marry if they can only allow their husband a quart a day,which causes them to drink smoke - wives have all the jobs and the men can't do thehousework properly. . ."

In a letter dated March 15, 1940, Fitz suggested that the offices of the federal government inWashington also had their share of drunks.

Some of these days, everyone that works for the government are going to get drunk all at one time and then you are going to see the Northern lights over Washington. At present they stagger their drinking spells, so that somebody is always sober to carry on.

Return to contents


Chapter 2

THERE IS A SOLUTION

The decade of the 1930s may have been one of the bleakest times for alcoholics in modern history. Little had ever been known about how to treat alcoholism, but part of the knowledge that had been accumulated over time was lost during the prohibition experiment that led society to believe that it would no longer be needed. By the time the experiment had failed, the few professionals and sanitoriums that had attempted to treat alcoholics before prohibition had become even fewer.

It was during these years that the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous first saw the light of day. At this low point Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, and the early members of the new fellowship worked out the program that would become the solution to the age-old dilemma of the alcoholic. During these years they designed the program, created the organization and learned the principles needed to carry the message across the continent.

The years between 1935 and 1939 were some of the most important years in the growth of A.A.. Membership in the fellowship grew from just two men to over one hundred. The members were aware that they had been given a gift and a responsibility to carry the message to other suffering alcoholics. Two of the earliest members made contributions to general A.A. history in New York and Akron and also came to Washington to try to establish an A.A. outpost. The first A.A.s who came to Washington were Fitz M. and Florence R.

Their activities are documented in the books Alcoholics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age and in unpublished documents in the A.A. Archives in New York and WAIA Archives in Washington. One of the most useful documents is a "Fact Sheet" that Bill Wilson wrote while preparing to write Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. Bill's summary of the state of affairs at the end of 1936 mentioned Fitz.

By the close of 1936 a small but strong nucleus had been established in Akron and New York. We had isolated out of towners like Fitz M--- and Don Mc---, a banker who lived in Cohoes, New York. Scores, and I think hundreds were exposed to us. The failure rate was immense. Never the less, the two little groups and a few outlying people held on. This was the state of affairs at the close of 1936.

In 1937 two things were becoming clear: first, A.A. worked; and second, there were too few A.A.s to carry the message to all the people who needed to hear it. Bill's visit to Dr. Bob in Akron provided revelations that shaped the A.A. agenda for the next year.

This [trip] gave me a chance to compare notes with Dr. Bob. In his living room one afternoon after the score had been added up we realized for the first time there was no doubt whatever of the success of our little society. Enough time had elapsed on enough desperate cases to prove the point. I think we were able to top something like 40 cases in both groups with enough [time] elapsed to mean something. Our joy was unbounded as their realization fell upon us.

In the talk that afternoon we began to ask ourselves how this thing should spread. Could we rely simply on the word-of-mouth program which by now had broken down to the following simple essentials: A) admitted we were powerless over alcohol, B) got honest with ourselves, C) got honest with other people about our defects, D) made restitution to those we'd harmed, E) tried to carry the message to other alcoholics, F) prayed to whatever God we thought there was. This was the substance of the word-of-mouth program. But wouldn't this get garbled?

We realized to that hospitals didn't have too much use for us. We thought we needed money to carry on the work. Bob's practice hadn't revived, and I was without any financial roots at all. Didn't we need money to establish hospitals, the profits of which could carry on the work? Didn't we need to subsidize members from the existing groups to go out and start fresh groups. Didn't we need a book of some sort which would set forth our technique so it couldn't be garbled. These were the realizations that were to lead to the formation of the Alcoholic Foundation in New York.

By the end of 1937, the fellowship was actively seeking solutions to these questions. One of the promising leads was Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. In December of 1937 Bill Wilson, along with a few other alcoholics, managed to obtain a meeting with the rich gentleman. This meeting did not solve the financial problems as the A.A.s had hoped, but it provided moral support and a valuable lesson that would become the foundation for the seventh tradition of self-support.

The central issue became how to carry the message to the vast numbers of drunks spread out over the continent. Getting the message to those on the west coast was a special problem because all the current members were in the east or midwest. Although the program was simple, transmitting it by word of mouth would allow it to get distorted as it was passed second and third and fourth hand. The publication of a book seemed to be the solution.

In order to publish a book, the A.A.s had to solve some tough problems. They had to agree on the contents the style and title of the book, and then someone had to write it. They needed money not only to publish the book, but also simply to survive while the writing and publishing the book. To insure that the book would be accepted and would reach the alcoholics who needed it, they had to cultivate the good will of the community, especially the professionals who worked with alcoholics.

As members of the New York group before they came to Washington, Fitz M. and Florence R. made contributions in all these areas. The tribulations and debates that filled these formative years in New York and Akron and surrounded the publication of the book Alcoholics Anonymous have been recorded elsewhere and do not need to be recounted here. The parts played by the Washington Group founders will be more meaningful when the reader becomes more familiar with the history of each of them.

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Chapter 3

THE LONERS: FITZ AND FLORENCE

Fitz M. and Florence R. were among the earliest members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Separately and alone, they each came to Washington to try to establish an outpost of Alcoholics Anonymous in the city. They were loners operating in the city; their only A.A. contact was correspondence with the A.A.s in New York and Akron. Florence may have brought the A.A. message to Washington as early as 1937, although she was unable to establish a permanent group here. That same year Fitz came to Washington from his home on Maryland's Chesapeake shore, searching for suffering alcoholics to work with.

Although they had both sobered up in the small fellowship in New York, there is no evidence that Fitz and Florence ever met. In fact, a letter Fitz wrote upon arriving in Washington in the fall of 1939 indicates that he had been told to look out for Florence, but that he did not know what she would look like.

Both Fitz's and Florence's stories appeared in the first edition of the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Fitz's story is "Our Southern Friend" and Florence's story is "A Feminine Victory." Although Florence's story appeared in the first edition, it was removed from later editions because she was unable to remain sober. Her story is reprinted in the appendix of this volume.

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Chapter 4

FITZ M., 1897 - 1943

John Henry Fitzhugh M. was one of the earliest members of Alcoholics Anonymous -- probably the fourth member after Bill, Dr. Bob and Hank P. -- dating from the fall and winter of 1935 when he sobered up with the help of Bill Wilson. He was important to the early years of A.A. in New York and made contributions to the writing of the Big Book. He has long been regarded as the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in the Washington area. During the closing weeks of 1939, after many months of vain attempts, he found the people who would help him create a permanent A.A. group in the nation'scapital.

His early history reveals his roots in the Maryland countryside and the events that shaped his character as a spiritual man and a teacher. In 1902 when Fitz was four years old, his family moved to the quiet parish rectory of Christ Church in Owensville, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay south of Annapolis. His father was the Rector of the Episcopal Church.

During his early childhood, he developed close and lasting friendships that would serve him well throughout the rest of his life. Along with his best friends, he went away to an Episcopal high school for boys in Alexandria. One of these friends, Jimmy B., became his lifelong companion and together they made important contributions to the spread of Alcoholics Anonymous on the east coast. The other friend, E. Churchill Murray, who also remained a friend for life, gave Fitz a house to live in during the worst of his alcoholism and preserved letters from Fitz that show his spiritual nature as early as his tenth birthday.

Just before the first World War, Fitz graduated from Washington and Lee College, where he had his first experience with alcohol. With the coming of the First World War, he and Jimmy B. joined the Army together, although the war ended before they completed training.

After the war, Fitz taught school in Norfolk, Virginia, to support his wife Elizabeth and three young children. When he lost the job in Norfolk, E. Churchill Murray, gave him a piece of land on Cumberstone Road, next to his farm in Owensville, Maryland, to live on. At Cumberstone Fitz was close to his family and childhood friends. By this time he was powerless over the alcohol he consumed. His condition was well known to those close to him, and his friends recall that his drinking bouts often ended in neighborhood searches that located him passed out in the loft of a nearby barn.

In the fall of 1935 Fitz found his way to Town's Hospital where he met Bill Wilson. His story in Alcoholics Anonymous tells how he came to the A.A. way of life and how he tried to stay sober in the small rural bayside setting. He describes periods of depression, doubt in God, and bouts with an overpowering compulsion to drink. He tells of unbearable isolation and the need to work with others, "I am blue again. I want to sell the place and move away. I want to get where I can find some alcoholics to help and where I can find some fellowship."

He tells about traveling to distant cities and of spiritual lessons to be learned during these years, "I am on a train headed for a city, and later pick up my bags and leave. I stay with understanding friends." A man asks him to work with a young alcoholic, and he writes, "Soon I have others who are alcoholics and some who have other problems. I begin to play God. I feel that I can fix them all. I do not fix anyone but I am getting part of a tremendous education and I have made some new friends." He does not name the city. It could very possibly have been Washington and the friends those at Gatewood House.

Jimmy B's story in Alcoholics Anonymous also indicates that Fitz had worked as a loner in Washington as early as 1937, and that he had at least one sober A.A. friend, a man named Jackie. Jimmy's story, "The Vicious Circle," documents one of the first successful twelve step calls in Washington. The hope and tragedy of these early days is recorded in Jimmy's story:

January 8, 1938 - that was my D-Day; the place Washington, D.C. 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 poky, I finally landed on my mother's door step shaking apart, with several days' beard.... This is the way Jackie found me, lying in a cot in my skivvies, with hot and cold 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 when I was open for anything.

Jimmy's story goes on to describe how he found sobriety, but it also tells of the fate of his first sponsor, Jackie, who did not make it.

All of us in A.A. know the tremendous happiness that is in our sobriety, but there are also tragedies. My sponsor, Jackie, was one of these. He brought in many of our original members, yet he himself could not make it and died of alcoholism.

Fitz's twelve step work in Washington during these early years is further substantiated by Bill Wilson's Fact Sheet. Bill recalls that in 1936, There was much visiting back and forth between ourselves, the Parkers [sic] and

Fitz, who lived at Cumberstone, Maryland, not far from Baltimore. Fitz was trying to start a group in Washington and Baltimore without success.

During these years Fitz's visits with Bill and the A.A.s in New York and Akron were animportant part of his life. The history of those early years shows that Fitz was a member whose presence profoundly affected the fellowship in many ways.

Among the contributions Fitz made were his contacts among the professional community. Bill W. recalls that in the early years the acceptance of the fellowship by the public depended, in part, upon good endorsements from medical and religious professionals. As early as 1938, Fitz was able to obtain a letter of support from a friend at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

His pursuit of acceptance by the local community, including the doctors and judges, is evident throughout the rest of his life. He used endorsements from those familiar with A.A. successes to introduce new professionals to the program, and when they became convinced of its effectiveness, he asked them for their own endorsements. In a letter dated November 25, 1939, Fitz requested copies of endorsements of A.A. to show his new friends, two ministers and a priest. In his letter to Ruth Hock, secretary of the Alcoholic Foundation, he asks for lots of ammunition, "Can you get me a copy of Harry Emerson Fosdick's letter about the A.A.s? Also just a few of Dr. Silkworth's articles? Has any Catholic ever written any kind of endorsement of A.A.?"

And, although Fitz was never financially secure himself, it was through him that funds were acquired to carry the Foundation through a financial crisis in 1938. His sister Agnes lived in Washington, and when Fitz went to the city to work with drunks, he slept at her apartment on S. Street. Agnes had seen how A.A. had changed Fitz's life, and when the Foundation desperately needed financial support, she provided a $1,000 loan.

No doubt, his greatest contributions to the fellowship, however, were in the area of spirituality. In Fitz's explorations of spirituality, he often had his friend Jimmy B. as a counterpoint.

Jimmy B. was a traveling salesman who, in his sobriety, carried the A.A. message with him as he canvassed the east coast. He is credited with founding the Philadelphia Group, and, along with Fitz influencing the establishment of A.A. groups in, at least, Washington, Baltimore, and Richmond.

These two friends greatly influenced the shape of the new fellowship. Their conflicting spiritual attitudes - Fitz was deeply religious and Jimmy agnostic - contributed to the adoption of the phrase "God as we understand him," that has saved so many lives. In Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age Bill W. described a debate which took place during the writing of the book Alcoholics Anonymous that produced the phrase.

Fitz M., one of the most lovable people that A.A. will ever know,...fell at once into hot argument with Henry [F.] about the religious content of the coming volume. A newcomer named Jimmy B., who like Henry was an ex-salesman and former atheist, also got into the hassles. Fitz wanted a powerfully religious document. Henry and Jimmy would have none of it. They wanted a psychological book which would lure the reader in; when he finally arrived among us, there would be enough time to tip him off about the spiritual character of our society. As he worked feverishly on this project Fitz made trip after trip to New York from his Maryland home to insist on raising the spiritual pitch of the A.A. book. Out of this debate came the spiritual form and substance of the document, notably the expression, "God as we understand Him," which proved to be a ten strike. As spiritual rather than religious or entirely psychological terms.

When the content of the book had been decided, there was still the issue of what to name the book. The naming of the book Alcoholics Anonymous is a story in itself, and the earliest Washington A.A.s both played a role in determining what that name would be. Bill remembered that,

. . . voting on what the title of the new book should be became one of our major occupations, both in Akron and New York. The more we tried the more difficult it seemed. Some wanted a novel type title, others wanted a title like a textbook. Perhaps a couple of hundred were suggested.

There were three front runners for the title: "One Hundred Men," "The Way Out," and "Alcoholics Anonymous." "One Hundred Men" seemed appropriate because there were nearly one hundred A.A.s sober in the fellowship. But, as Jimmy B. pointed out, "We . . . found our name 'One Hundred Men' inadequate for we had forgotten the ladies and we already had one girl, Florence R. on the ball." So because of Florence, the name "One Hundred Men" was rejected. That left the decision between the titles "The Way Out" and "Alcoholics Anonymous." Quoted below is Bill's description of Fitz's contribution to the final title choice.

As the day of publication approached we racked our brains to find a suitable name for the volume. We must have considered at least two hundred titles. Thinking up titles and voting upon them at meetings became one of our main activities. A great welter of discussion and argument finally narrowed our choice to a single pair of names. Should we call our new book "The Way Out" or should we call it "Alcoholics Anonymous"? That was the final question. A last-minute vote was taken by the Akron and New York Groups. By a narrow majority the verdict was for naming our book "The Way Out." Just before we went to print somebody suggested there might be other books having the same title. One of our early lone members (dear old Fitz M., who then lived in Washington) went over to the Library of Congress to investigate. He found exactly twelve books already titled "The Way Out." When this information was passed around, we shivered at the possibility of being the "Thirteenth Way Out." So "Alcoholics Anonymous" became first choice. That's how we got a name for our book of experience, a name for our movement, and, as we are now beginning to see, a tradition of the greatest spiritual import. God does move in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform!

After 1938 A.A. work came to dominate Fitz's life, often taking him to Washington, New York, or Akron. In the fall of 1939 he left his family at Cumberstone and took up permanent residence in Washington, living with his sister Agnes sometimes and with friends other times. By December of that year the charter members of the first permanent A.A. group in Washington had come together. During the spring of 1940, Fitz met Ruth J., the woman he would marry in 1943. (Ruth was also known by the name Arabella.) At this point Fitz's life became intertwined with the Washington Group of Alcoholics Anonymous. Our story will turn to the Washington Group and then discuss the final years of Fitz M's life in the Post Script.

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Chapter 5

FLORENCE R., 1895 - 1943

During these same years another figure was fighting to maintain sobriety and learning hard lessons in twelve step work. Florence R. occupies an important place in the story of how A.A. came to the Washington area. But her story does not have a happy ending.

She was the first woman to get sober in A.A., and her story, "A Feminine Victory," is the only story of a woman in the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. Its opening paragraph is especially poignant, for although she was unable to sustain sobriety, her story has served as an inspiration for countless other women.

To my lot falls the rather doubtful distinction of being the only "lady" alcoholic in our particular section. Perhaps it is because of a desire for a "supporting cast" of my own sex that I am praying for inspiration to tell my story in a manner that may give other women who have this problem the courage to see it in its true light and seek the help that has given me a new lease on life.

In addition to being the first woman sober in Alcoholics Anonymous, she was the first A.A. to reside permanently in Washington. Between 1936 and late 1939 Fitz had been living in Cumberstone and periodically visiting Washington to work with drunks. During these same years Florence had taken up permanent residence in the District and was attempting to establish an A.A. foothold.

Bill Wilson's description of her years in Washington tell her story.

. . . along about 1936 or 1937, Florence dug a lot of people out of Gallinger (Hospital) and they finally overwhelmed her and she got drunk and by this time (1939), I think she was washing around in the background down there. Poor girl, she had been sober a year or two. She came from New York to start a group - I remember finding the records at the Foundation now, about 1936 or maybe 1937, we granted her $50 to go to Washington and start an A.A. group. But I think - she kind of got in the background, but I imagine there were still some of the people washing around - practically nobody staying sober at this period [1939 Washington] . . ."

Even though Florence was unsuccessful at establishing a group in Washington, she played an important part of A.A. history. One of the legacies she left the fellowship was the contribution she made to the naming of the book Alcoholics Anonymous. It was because of her that the book was titled "Alcoholics Anonymous" rather than "One Hundred Men." That was in 1938.

By the fall of 1939 both Florence's sobriety and her A.A. work were over. In the first letter Fitz wrote to the Alcoholic Foundation upon arriving in Washington in November of 1939, he relayed the sad news to Ruth Hock.

One woman . . . Florence R. is not in evidence. She is in love with a hellion 15 years younger than she who feeds her beer - so says her landlady. He and she put Shirley on the train the other day and Florence did not return to the boarding house. I am hoping she boarded the train with Shirley - she owes the landlady $36.00 I am told. Poor woman - I hope she finds the way out - I don't think she will here. You know how the people chatter, especially the gals about the leader who slips.

After her slip in late 1939, little is known of Florence. She eventually married a carpenter named Krouse. She had some further contact with the program, but it is not known if she ever sobered up again. A copy of Alcoholics Anonymous in the General Service Archives contains her signature dated April 9, 1940, which may indicate that she was still trying at that date.

There is evidence in the records of the Washington Group that she called on her A.A. friends for help at least one more time. The Twelve Step call cards from the Washington Group for 1941 show that Florence R. called, but do not record any follow up.

Apparently Florence never really recovered from her slip in 1939. She died of pneumonia on April 19, 1943, just six months before Fitz passed away. She was apparently alone in the world. Her death certificate does not show her husband's name. Two Washington Group A.A.s were called to the coroner's office to identify her body.

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Chapter 6

THE BOYS OF '39

The term "Boys of 39" first appears in the records of the Washington Group in the spring of 1948, when Henry S., a member of the Chevy Chase Group, became interested in writing a history of A.A. in Washington. According to Henry S. and Hardin C., both of whom were present during the final months of 1939, the "Boys of '39" were Fitz M., Ned F., George S., Bill E., Steve M., and Hardin C.

The unfolding history of the Washington Group reveals how closely the history of the group parallels the history of the larger A.A. fellowship.

The year 1939 was a very important year for Alcoholics Anonymous both nationally and locally in Washington, D.C. In 1939, the book Alcoholics Anonymous was published, the Alcoholic Foundation was incorporated, and the Foundation office in New York became a central clearing house and referral point for information from and about alcoholics all over the country. In Washington, D.C, 1939 was the year of the founding of the Washington Group.

Throughout 1939 the fellowship got important national attention through articles in several magazines and newspapers. With the new recognition came letters and telephone calls from drunks and relatives of drunks in cities and towns across the country, seeking information about the fellowship and A.A. contacts in their area. The Alcoholic Foundation received hundreds of requests for the new book, Alcoholics Anonymous.

Members of the Foundation staff answered letters, filled book orders, and referred inquiries to the A.A. member or group nearest the caller. They carefully filed away the correspondence of the Foundation, preserving an accurate record of the business transacted during these formative years. The foresight of the early Foundation staff to keep careful records made it possible to accurately reconstruct the history of the early years of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the foundations of the fellowship in Washington, D.C., and other communities across the country.

The earliest documented evidence of A.A. in the Washington area is preserved in the correspondence files of the General Services Archives. A letter dated October 26, 1939, from the Alcoholic Foundation to Fitz M. at the Gatewood House, 2107 S. Street, begins a dialogue between Washington area A.A. members and the Foundation that established many personal ties over the coming years. It is a simple and businesslike letter that begins, "glad to hear that you are back in the Washington area," and refers four inquiries from drunks in the Washington area.

When Fitz moved to Washington, he became the southernmost representative of Alcoholics Anonymous, and he was therefore responsible for the territory south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Two of the four inquiries that were referred to him came from Washington, one came from lower Virginia, and one from North Carolina. One of the Washington drunks referred to Fitz by this letter was Hardin C. The first contact between Fitz and Hardin C. marks the beginning of the Washington Group. From this meeting of two men, the Washington Group grew and continued to expand over the decades.

The date of the meeting was two or three days after Fitz received the letter from New York dated October 26, 1939. If the mail took two days to arrive from New York, then the date of the founding of the Washington Group was October 28, 1939.

Fitz's reply to the Alcoholic Foundation's letter of October 26, 1939, implies that he had already established personal relationships in Washington where there were people staying sober - even before 1939. But his correspondence also indicates that the people he knew before Hardin C. did not become part of the original A.A. group.

His letter begins by reporting that Hardin C., "the fine fellow referred to him in the October 26 letter," had contacted him and offered his home as a meeting place. This was an answer to a prayer, for the little group of alkies could hold their Tuesday night meeting there.

In the letter, he also mentioned that he met a retired Navy Commander living in D.C. who had gotten his A.A. in California two years earlier and who was now working with alkies in the city. He goes on to say, "We are getting sort of solid now with Comdr. C., Goldsmith, Dillard and myself getting together. Then we have Hardin C., the Magills, the Waters, the Andrews all very interested. Also George E."

This is a curious letter because it contains the names of many people that we never hear about again. Furthermore, it is difficult to distinguish between those who are alcoholics and those who are non-alcoholic friends. Who, for example, is Commander C., and where could he have gotten his A.A. in California in 1937? Who are the Magills, the Waters, the Andrews, or Goldsmith or Dillard? Fitz writes as though these people form a group, and yet only Fitz and Hardin were among the original members of the Washington Group. The most likely explanation is that some of these people were members of the local Oxford Group and some of them may have been alcoholics.

Nevertheless, the meeting of Fitz and Hardin was the beginning of the new group; during the next few months four more men joined them to form the beginnings of a fellowship. According to Hardin C., these six men were Fitz M., Ned F., Bill E., George S., Hardin C., and Steve M.

As a long-time member of A.A., Fitz brought his experience, strength, and hope from the established groups in New York and Akron. But, Fitz would not be the only experienced A.A. to contribute to the founding of the Washington Group. When Ned F. arrived from New York in December of 1939 with about six months A.A. sobriety behind him, he became an invaluable member of the group during its first year.

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Chapter 7

NED F.

Ned became a member of Alcoholics Anonymous in New York during the spring of 1939. A lawyer by profession, but unemployed because of his drinking problems, he had survived the year on $22.50 a week supplied by his mother who lived in Cleveland.

Before finding the New York A.A. group, Ned had tried all the known treatments for his alcoholism. He spent the summer of 1938 in the expensive Bloomingdale Institute, only to end up drunk and in trouble two weeks after his release. His next stop was the Westchester Hospital for the Insane, where he met the man who introduced him to Alcoholics Anonymous and took him to his first meeting.

At that meeting, in which Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith spoke, two things that Ned heard stuck in his mind. Dr. Bob described how he had been drunk from 1898 until he met Bill in 1934, and Bill W. said that hope was the spiritual base of the fellowship. Bill asked those afflicted with the incurable disease, "Can you admit to the barest possibility of a power greater than your-self?"

Later, as he approached a neighborhood bar, Ned contemplated the threatening reality implied by Bob's experience. Bob had been a young man like himself 40 years ago, and he had lived in the anguish of alcoholism all those years, not a fate that Ned relished. But, in Bill's message was a hope of salvation for even the worst alky. Ned decided to give A.A. a try.

During that summer and fall he remained in New York where he attended A.A. meetings and worked with other drunks.

A happy coincidence occurred for Ned when a man from Washington, D.C. visited his friend, Dr. Sam Crocker, who had been treating Ned's alcoholism. The friend had come to New York to interview a patient of Dr. Corcker's for a job at the Civil Aeronatuics Authority. But, the man was an alcoholic and unable to accept the position because he was an inmate at a mental institution. Dr. Crocker had been impressed by Ned's recovery in A.A. and recommended him to fill the legal assistant position.

Ned accepted the job and moved to the nation's capital. When he arrived in Washington, his first A.A. assignment was a referral from Bill W., who suggested that he talk to an ex-Army Sergeant who needed and might even want the A.A. program. Ruth Hock, the secretary of the Alcoholic Foundation, wrote to Ned, "Bill Wilson advised me that you are now in Washington and would be glad to do what you could," and she adds, "I have a few inquiries which I will send along shortly. Meanwhile, we have an urgent and sincere letter from Mr. Louis M. of Baltimore. . ." Ruth's letter constituted Ned's official initiation into the Washington A.A. community.

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Chapter 8

THE INDIGENOUS DRUNKS

In addition to the two experienced A.A.s from the New York group, the "Boys of '39" included four local drunks. Little is known of the native Washingtonians. One of them, Hardin C., had contacted the Foundation office in New York (or someone, perhaps his wife, had contacted the office for him) and his case was referred to Fitz. Hardin and his wife offered their home as a meeting place for the newly forming group.

When Fitz found George S., the second Washington native, he was in the Greenhill Institute undergoing "Samaritan Treatment" for his alcoholism. This was probably early in November of 1939. Shortly after his release from Greenhill, George became an active member of the new A.A. group and returned to his presitgious job with one of the New Deal agencies. Fitz described him in glowing terms in his letter of March 15, 1940.

With the same zest that he landed in Gallinger Hospital under the influence of gin and five policemen, he is now out to give the message of Alkies Anon to Washington in a big way. Having been put in charge of all the Federal projects in the District, with 29 supervisors and 3800 men under him, he has gotten himself into a vital position so to speak, where a lot of people have to listen to him. Anyway, he says, "to hell with opposition, this city needs meetings" and forthwith three halls are offered. The one chosen is Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall (appropriate for alkies, I think, don't you?).

The third man from Washington was Steve M., an ex-Army Sergeant and probably the man Bill W. had sent Ned to contact. While he was a member of the group, he worked in one of the area correctional institutions. Joining the group in late 1939, he remained a member until the summer of 1941, when he moved to Atlanta and played a key role in founding the A.A. group there.

The forth man was Bill E., a well-to-do Washingtonian who worked in the publishing business. Before finding the Washington Group, he had remained sober by attending the meetings of a local Oxford Group. Although he was an active member of the Washington Group and in later years worked toward the opening of a Washington office of the National Council on Alcoholism, very little is recorded about him during the first year.

As 1939 drew to a close, events for the Washington Group began to occur rapidly. The publication of the Big Book increased the calls for help from all over the country and those from the Washington area increased proportionately. The steady stream of referrals from New York produced new recruits and the small group's twelve step work added to the number. As soon as the new recruits were sober, they began twelve-step work. One of the first products of this work was Dick T., a man who tried to pan-handle Fitz in a downtown park and ended up getting twelve stepped into the program.

Most of the information about the A.A. work in Washington from November and December of 1939 is from Fitz's correspondence with New York. His reports of great progress were filled with a buoyancy and enthusiasm that seemed to reflect his faith that God was in Heaven and the world was unfolding as it should. He talked about his new contacts -- Dr. Klein of the Green Hill Institute, someone at St. Elizabeths Hospital, and George S., the new recruit. He reflected on his unhappy financial condition, but was not dismayed by his troubles.

After trying various expedients to get what man calls a 'job', I find that nothing has happened. But I find that there is plenty to do here - so to hell with that other stuff - I may have to sleep in the dog house...but it's O.K. with me... If I'm supposed to have that kind I'll get it. I find plenty to do as is... I am paid up at Gatewood until Sunday.

By Monday Fitz had moved in with George E., a fellow alky. As he had done before, Fitz used his sister Agnes' apartment as an office. His main concern was getting the Washington A.A. groupfirmly established and making it highly visible in the community -- visible enough that even the sickest alcoholics would know about it and could find it.

The first thing needed for A.A. in the District of Columbia was a general headquarters, or as Fitz described it, "a room with a phone as headquarters. And get some permanency in it, we are rather nebulous to the general public. . . When we get the G.H.Q. I will get some publicity on it."

By the end of 1939 Washington, DC, had an Alcoholics Anonymous Group of its own. As the members rang in the New Year of 1940, the Washington Group was less than two months old, but it established a permanent beachhead. The nation's capital would never again be without an A.A. group.

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Copyright © The Washington Area Intergroup Assciation
http://www.aa-dc.org/index.shtml

The Online Resource for
Alcoholics Anonymous in the Nation's Capital
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