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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Riverdale Park, Maryland
on the Internet Version
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.
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
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
ENVIRONMENT AND THE CHALLENGE
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. . ."
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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
. . 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. . ."
a letter dated March 15, 1940, Fitz suggested
that the offices of the federal government inWashington
also had their share of drunks.
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
IS A SOLUTION
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
[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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
LONERS: FITZ AND FLORENCE
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
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
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.
M., 1897 - 1943
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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
who lived at Cumberstone, Maryland, not far
from Baltimore. Fitz was trying to start a group
in Washington and Baltimore without success.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
R., 1895 - 1943
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.
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.
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.
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.
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] . . ."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BOYS OF '39
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
unfolding history of the Washington Group reveals
how closely the history of the group parallels
the history of the larger A.A. fellowship.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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.
that summer and fall he remained in New York where
he attended A.A. meetings and worked with other
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.
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
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.
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?).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.