About the Author

Shortly before his death in 1996, former Senator Harold Hughes of Iowa asked Nancy Olson to write this book, telling the story of what they and their friends had done to try to help the plight of alcoholics in the United States. Olson, like Hughes a recovered alcoholic, had been involved in the alcoholism field since 1965. In 1969, he appointed her to the staff of the newly created Special Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Narcotics and she served on Hughes' staff until he left the Senate in 1975. During this period the epoch-making "Hughes Act" became law.

Because of the many alcoholics and their families who contacted Hughes' office for help, she and the Senator in effect ran the first, albeit informal, Employee Assistance Program for Members of Congress, their families, and their staffs. They also counseled many high-ranking government and military personnel, and on numerous occasions even strangers who walked in off the street.

In 1975 Olson was re-appointed to the staff by Senator Harrison A. Williams of New Jersey, and thus also was involved in drafting the 1976 and 1979 amendments to the Hughes Act. During this period she also had primary staff responsibility for congressional oversight of the activities of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

She resigned from the Senate staff in 1980, after which she briefly served as a part- time Washington representative for the Hazelden Foundation, while preparing to enter a monastery of the Visitation of Holy Mary. In 1982, for health reasons, she returned to secular life in Washington where she worked as a legislative analyst and lobbyist until her retirement in 1995.

During the latter part of her life she was a popular speaker on alcoholism both nationally and internationally. In addition to writing this book, as another of her retirement projects, in March of 2000, she began a web group called the AA History Lovers which served as a clearing house for dependable information on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous for people all over the world.

She enlisted the aid of some of the best historians and archivists in the field to help her answer questions on a wide variety of topics. By 2005 there were well over a thousand members of the group, from a wide number of countries including the United States, Canada, India, Mexico, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Sweden.

+  In Memoriam  +

September 18, 1929 - March 25, 2005

Click here for more on Nancy Olson's life

Published Reviews

Frazer A. Lang, review in the Addiction Professional (January 2004), "Letter from the Publisher."

The book With a Lot of Help from Our Friends: The Politics of Alcoholism . . . is a compelling history of the time in the 1970s and '80s when much of the federal government involvement in addiction treatment and prevention took root. The book is authored by Nancy Olson, who served on the staffs of US Senators Harold Hughes of Iowa and Harrison Williams of New Jersey and was immersed in the effort to enlist government interest in alcoholism and drug dependence.

This book is full of detail but remains thoroughly readable. Those involved in today's fight can learn much from past efforts.

Notable for me in this book were the frequent references to Jay Lewis, editor of The Alcoholism Report, which for a time was published by Manisses and gave birth to our Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly. Jay was the primary journalist for the field and deserves great credit for providing the communications vehicle that made advocacy and organizational efforts succeed.

Frazer A. Lang

Linda Farris Kurtz, Eastern Michigan University, review for Amazon April 10, 2003.

As a person who teaches policy to students who are not very interested in it, I greatly appreciate Nancy Olson's interesting and readable account of public policy development for the alcoholism treatment field during the latter half of the last century. Most of the public policy for this field in our country has focused on law enforcement rather than humane and sensible responses to addiction. Ms. Olson's book also reminds us that sweeping policy change like the 1970 Hughes Act, which is the centerpiece of this book, actually begins decades earlier and reverberates for years to come. This one act, amazingly ushered into existence by a one term Senator, was a stunning victory for those who care about really solving the alcohol addiction problem in our country.

I worked in the field when this legislation passed. I can really appreciate the perspective of someone who was making things happen in Washington at the same time that I was working with the OEO program in our community developing community resources and getting people into AA, which was all the real help there was at the time. It was facinating to see that side of the action and to remember those promising days.

Linda Farris Kurtz, ACSW, DPA
Professor, Eastern Michigan University



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