Groups in the U.S.: How They Began and How They Grew,
South Central and Southeast
Kansas City and Western Missouri
Johnny P. from Chicago brought the A.A. message to Kansas City, Missouri, in early April, 1941. Johnny had been sober in the Chicago Group nine months—but not until after he had lived on skid row and tried to kill himself three times. A candy salesman now, and about to be transferred to Kansas City, he wrote the New York office for any information about A.A. there. He was sent three letters written in response to the Saturday Evening Post article, from Dr. Z. Miles N., a doctor; William "Bill" T., a druggist; and Harvey L., a certified public accountant.
As soon as Johnny P. arrived in Kansas City, he called the three letter writers and they got together in his room at the Robert E. Lee Hotel. They scheduled their first real A.A. meeting as a group for a few days later at the Victoria Hotel, then at 9th and McGee Streets. They also placed an ad in the Kansas City Star to run each Sunday, giving a P.O. box number. The group began to grow, and in August moved to a room on the mezzanine floor of the Pickwick Hotel, where they met every Friday night.
I was there on September 21, 1941 that Ken S. came to his first A.A. meeting—and never had another drink. He recalls that in addition to the four founding members, four others were present: L.W. T., Lee P., Vasco Y. and George W., who brought Charlie M. to the next meeting. All nine have since passed away, but Ken S. in 1985 - then 89 years of age and 44 years sober—was still actively serving as manager of the Kansas City Central Office. He was introduced from the stage at the Friday night opening meeting of the 50th Anniversary International Convention in Montreal, recognizing not only his longevity and service but also his remarkable record as the only person (other than Lois W who had attended every International Convention plus the one in Cleveland in 1945. (See Chap. 21)
Ken's wife had seen the ad in the Star and had written to the P.O. box. For Ken was about to lose his bookkeeping job a second time and about to be evicted because of his drunkeness and she now threatened to take the children and leave. As a result, Ken quit his drinking cold turkey and went to work on a Monday (too sick all day even to eat) and returned to find that two men from A.A. had called. They Twelfth Stepped him on Wednesday evening and told him to come to the meeting on Friday. So Ken came to the Pickwick Hotel and saw the group standing and talking together on the mezzanine but lost his courage at the last moment "Then Divine Providence took a hand in my life," says Ken. As he was about to turn away and head for a familiar bar across the street, one of the men spotted him, came toward him and asked him if he was looking for the A.A. meeting. He remained a member of that group, "Kansas City Number One", ever afterward.
As in most other places, the group had a pitiful struggle to survive at first. Most of the members had suffered the depths of alcoholic degradation. Some were so ill they died soon afterward, and the sobriety of the others was fragile. At one time, they were down to three members! And they had so little money they couldn't afford coffee at the meeting. Their treasurer got drunk and disappeared with the group funds: $3.74! There was always an undercurrent of fear for their survival - but survive they did.
Bill W. made his first trip to Kansas City that November. "He walked in on our meeting on a Friday night," Ken recalls. "Only Dr. N. knew he was coming, because Bill was staying at his house. He said that when he and Dr. Bob sat down to talk in 1935, it was one common drunk talking to another common drunk. I've always remembered that. So that's how I've always introduced myself." Bill suggested that growth might be more rapid if the group included the wives in the meetings and the social activities. So the Friday night meetings became open. During Bill's visit, a public dinner meeting was held with a number of judges, ministers and police officials as guests—about 40 present, in all. It was the first time any of the A.A. members had heard Bill speak, of course, and was a tremendous thrill.
A friend of Charlie M.'s named Landon Laird was an extremely popular columnist on the Kansas City Star. When he saw what had happened to Charlie, Laird began to mention A.A. frequently in his daily column, "About Town," usually giving the P.O. Box number. "Landon Laird did for us locally what Jack Alexander did for us nationally," says Ken.
As "Kansas City Number One" grew, it moved from the Pickwick to a succession of larger locations: first to 112 W. Linwood. Blvd., followed by the Newbern Hotel, then to the Boulevard Manor Hotel, next to Robison's Hall, later for many years at 6125 Troost and finally to 624 E. 63rd Street. The attendance numbers show why these moves were necessary. In 1949, there were 632 members who met together on Fridays but separated into 38 neighborhood units or "squads" on Tuesday night.
Dr. Miles N., who lived in Kansas City, Kansas, left the group in 1942 to form the first group in his own town, known popularly as the "Shrine on the Hill" group. That same year, Ken S. and Charlie M. called on the first woman prospect. One of the questions she asked was, were there other women at the meetings? The callers assured her there were, only they didn't tell her they weren't alcoholics. As it turned out, when she discovered that she was the first woman alcoholic in Kansas City A.A., she was thrilled. Kay B., which was her name, helped bring in several more women before moving away two years later.
Bill W. paid a second visit to Kansas City in June 1943, accompanied by Bobbie B., the secretary in the New York office with whom the group had often corresponded. A dinner was held for them at the Newbern Hotel, with 152 in attendance, some from surrounding towns.
In the spring of 1945, the group received a letter informing them that a national convention would be held in Cleveland on June 15 to celebrate A.A.'s 10th Anniversary. "My wife and I didn't have the money to go, but we went anyway," says Ken, arid the experience made an indelible impression on him, with implications for the rest of the group in Kansas City. "Cleveland was the biggest hotbed of A.A. you ever saw in those days, Ken recalls, "and everybody was there—Bill and Lois and Bobbie B., and that's where I met Dr. Bob. He came over at breakfast and just sat down and talked to us." Dr.Bob mentioned that he was going to Iowa City, Iowa, to speak at an anniversary two years later, in 1947; so Ken and three other Kansas City A.A.'s drove to hear him and talk to him again. After the Cleveland convention, Ken stopped by Chicago to visit Earl T., the founder of A.A. in that city, and the Chicago Central Office. From Chicago, he brought back the idea of having a large, citywide A.A. meeting one night a week, and then dividing into "squads" which met in members' homes for more intensive sharing on another night.
Also, in March, 1945, Kansas City A.A. decided it would hold an Anniversary Dinner each year in April, that year being its Fourth Anniversary. The custom has been followed ever since.
There were enough women members by 1947 to organize a Women's Group which began meeting in February. At the Sixth Anniversary Dinner that year, held at the Ivanhoe Temple, Dick S. from New York City and Earl T. were speakers (the first time out-of-town speakers had participated), and 536 persons attended. The Monday morning Kansas City Times carried a big story on the celebration.
Eventually, in 1950, a controversy arose within "Kansas City Number One" which caused 50 or 60 members to withdraw and form the Fellowship Group, better known as the Plaza Group, since it met at the west edge of the Country Club Plaza. The breaking away proved beneficial to A.A.'s growth in Kansas City, and by 1970, when the Central Office was organized, there were 29 groups. By 1985, that number had grown to 97, plus almost that many more in surrounding towns in Western Missouri.
One of these was Springfield, where the first A.A. group was started by Jeanne C. While living in Kansas city for a while during World War II, she was seriously ill with alcoholism. Reading the ad in the Kansas City Star, she called and joined Kansas City Number One in August 1942. Returning to Springfield, she stayed sober two years by managing to drive to Kansas City frequently despite gasoline rationing and by corresponding with Bobbie B. at the A.A. service office in New York. Finally Jeanne wrote an article on A.A. for the local paper and obtained a post office box. When she had accumulated a dozen names, she set the date of Springfield's first group meeting, at her house on January 15, 1945. Later, Jeanne helped A.A. get started in Joplin after receiving a phone call from Jim S. asking her how to form a group. Jeanne responded by rounding up several carloads of Springfield and Kansas City members and descending on Joplin.
St. Louis and Eastern Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri, was the home of Father Ed Dowling, and that fact alone would make it significant in A.A. history: For, in Bill W.'s words as he introduced the clergyman at the St. Louis Convention, "Father Ed helped start the first A.A. group in this town; the was the first clergyman of his faith to note the surprising resemblance between the spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (founder of the Jesuit order) and the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. He was quick to write in 1940 the first Catholic recommendation of A.A."
Bill often told of his first meeting with Father Dowling. On a cold and rainy night in 1940, Bill had gone upstairs to lie down in the rooms over the Old 24th Street Clubhouse where he and Lois were living at the time. The front doorbell clanged and a moment later the caretaker came upstairs and said a man from St.Louis was downstairs and wanted to see him. Bill reluctantly agreed and soon "heard labored steps on the stairs. Balanced precariously on a cane, he came into the room, carrying a battered black hat...plastered with sleet. He lowered himself into my solitary chair, and when he opened his overcoat I saw his clerical collar. He brushed back a shock of white hair and looked at me through the most remarkable pair of eyes I have ever seen. We talked...and my spirits kept on rising, and presently I began to realize that this man radiated a grace that filled the room with a sense of presence..." Thus, as Bill said elsewhere, "Father Dowling wandered in out of the rain into a 20-year 'spiritual sponsorship.'"
After Father Ed returned to St.Louis, he was contacted by F., who said his son-in-law had a drinking problem. Of course, it was F. himself who had the drinking problem and was seeking help. With Father Ed's aid and encouragement, F. rounded up four other prospects and held the first A.A. meeting in St.Louis (and in the state of Missouri) on October 30, 1940, at the Gibson Hotel, 5883 Enright Avenue. The first newcomer got sober December 11 and the second on January 8, 1941. And on December 26, 1940, the St.Louis Star - Times ran a favorable article under the headline, "Alcoholics Anonymous, Fraternity that Streamlined the Waterwagon, Has Formed a Group in St.Louis."
By mid-'41, the group had grown to the point they had to move their meetings to the Kingsway Hotel—and then, in succession, to the Winston Churchill, the Castlereagh Apartments and the Ballroom of the Jefferson Hotel. A second group, called The Wilson Club, held its first meeting in April '42. (This was not a club in the modern sense of the word, but simply a name—a name which Bill tried to discourage them from using, to no avail.) Part of the reason for breaking away was to discontinue the Parent Group's practice of inviting wives to attend; The Wilson Club was for alcoholics only. And it devised all kinds of other rules, regulations and restrictions; e.g.:
"We reserve the right to determine whether or not the applicant is a true alcoholic, and if the Board decides negatively, he is not admitted to membership." They ruled that "Where necessary to advance rehabilitation money to a prospective member, that money shall be PAID BACK...regardless of whether the person advancing it wants it or not. And they did not condone slipping; the rules required: "Upon his or her first slip he shall admit his drunkenness to the group and buy a copy of "A.A.". Upon his second, he shall turn in his membership card and have a private consultation with the Board. Upon his third slip, he shall be automatically expelled." And they further emphasized, "Believing that the slipper more than anyone else will be injured by any deviation from the rule 3 above, it is inviolable...and shall apply to all."
The Wilson Club also introduced a card system: white cards for under six months' sobriety; blue for over six months but under a year; and gold for over a year. Today groups in St.Louis still use a similar card system: white for one month; silver for six months; and gold for over a year, with a gold star for each year thereafter.
In June '43, Bill W. was invited to St.Louis to attend a meeting of the full membership held at the Congress Hotel. The Mayor, William D. Becker, also attended. As a result of the visit, an alcoholic ward was set up at St.Louis City Hospital. The following year, the DeBaliviere Club House was opened as a Central Service Office and a facility for several meetings. By then, several groups had spun off from the Parent Group. By 1946, there were seven groups in all: the Parent Group, The Wilson Club, the Water Tower Section of The Wilson Club, St.Louis County Monday and Tuesday Groups, and the Auxiliary Group. By '47, the number had grown to 14; by '48, 16; and many more groups were spreading throughout the surrounding area. An Alano Society was formed in '45 to coordinate A.A. activity and provide a center for meetings. Five years later, the membership of groups meeting there was 600; by '55, 900. During this period, several clubs were organized, but as the city spread, many of the groups and clubs moved to locations in St.Louis County. (Also, many of the new groups didn't list themselves at G.S.O.) The best estimate is that there were 77 groups in the city and the county by '65; 225 groups with an estimated 3,500 members in '85.
St.Louis also claims the first Black (then "Negro") A.A. Group in the U.S. Calling itself "AA-1" , it held its first meeting January 24, 1945, as reported by Torrence S., secretary. They began with five members, but grew steadily. A year afterward, they celebrated with their First Annual Dinner Meeting with several invited guests including "two Negro doctors, the secretary of the YMCA, and a representative of the Urban League." A revealing letter in September 1945 to Bobbie B. in New York from a Harold W. asks that the Grapevine "withhold publicity about our group that may occasion controversial discussions of racial problems within A.A...." In the same letter, Harold says, "We will be glad to correspond with the colored group that is being organized at Valdesta, Georgia." In the same vein, Bobbie B. wrote Torrence S. the very next month that "we have heard of another Negro Group started in Washington, D.C. earlier this year...Would you care to correspond with them and share experience?"
The first town in Eastern Missouri outside of St.Louis to register an A.A. group with G.S.O. was Columbia. The time was April 1942 and the place was the Elvira Building, with five people attending. Five years later, the group had grown to 18 members and was called The Wilson Club, changing its name the next year to the Alanon Club and listing 31 members. And a small Group #2 had been started. More groups were slowly added over the years and the decades until, in 1985, Columbia was a stronghold of A.A. in Eastern Missouri with 16 groups and about 270 members. In nearby Mexico, Mo., after some preliminary activity as far back as '43, a group was started March 31, 1946. That single group has struggled along with small membership, but has continued to meet regularly and faithfully once a week until the present time.
Jefferson City claims a lone member as far back as 1941, but its first group met in 1945 with three members. Membership increased to 30 in a single year, and to 60 by 1950. The greatest period of growth was in the '70s, with six more groups added. In 1985, Jefferson City listed about 120 members.
Until 1945, A.A. members in St. Charles attended meetings in St.Louis, but in that year they formed their own local group, eventually called the Daniel Boone Group. A second group did not survive until 1972, when The Three Legacies Group began. The greatest growth occurred in the late '70s and early '80s, and by 1985 St.Charles had nine groups with 361 members, an answering service and its own monthly newsletter!
A booklet, Golden Moments of Reflection, prepared by the Eastern Missouri Area Archives, contains accounts of how A.A. began and grew in other towns including Kennett, Poplar Bluff, Eugene, Caindenton, Macon, Rolla, St.Clair, Kirksville, Monroe City, Troy, Commerce, Cape Girardeau, Edina, Flat River, Fulton, Warrenton, Rock Hill, Kahoka, DeSoto, Sikeston, Perryville, Shelbyville, Washington, California, Steele, Sullivan and Malden - which are omitted here only because of space limitations. The booklet is available in the A.A. Archives in New York.
In A.A.'s 50th year, Eastern Missouri had 397 groups with over 5,500 members.
Little Rock and Arkansas
Little Rock, Arkansas, saw its first A.A. meeting in May 1940 thereby assuring itself a place in A.A. history as "the first g roup formed solely by mail", i.e., by the Big Book alone, though many others followed. But the events leading up to that meeting began in the early '30s, when an insurance salesman, Sterling C., was fired for drinking. He moved to New Orleans where he drank again but also got Richard C. Peabody's book, the. Common Sense of Drinking, which advocated retraining one's mind and taking continuous self-inventory. On this program, Sterling sobered up and was given a job with his old company in Memphis if he stayed sober. After six months, he slipped on an out-of-town trip—and again later. Sterling decided to live up to his promise and resign—but when he went in, he found his boss had died the day before! As a result, he had a spiritual experience and never drank again.
Sterling C. returned to Little Rock to make amends (a part of Peabody's program), and three and a half years later he received a call from a local businessman asking him to help an alcoholic employee, Harlan N. For six months, Sterling tried to help Harlan, without much success. When the Liberty magazine article appeared in September 1939, both men read it and wrote to New York for a copy of the Big Book. It was sent to Harlan, who was on a drunk at the time, so it was returned. Shortly afterward, Sterling's boss, Foster Vineyard, read in TIME magazine about Rockefeller's dinner for Alcoholics Anonymous and told Sterling. This time, Sterling wrote for the Big Book and received it. Next, Harlan, now sober, Twelfth Stepped Glenn "Bud" G., who was incarcerated in the "nut house" (i.e., State Hospital) for his drinking. Bud read the Big Book three times and became such a changed man that his psychiatrist, Dr. Nick Hollis, was so impressed that he ordered a second Big Book.
The first meeting of the three men—Sterling C., Harlan N., and Bud G.—as an A.A. group was in late May 1940 in the insurance agency office in the Wallace Bldg., Markham and Main Streets. The group ran ads in the newspaper as they continued to meet, and began to grow. Proceeding almost entirely on their own, without experienced direction, the Little Rock A.A.'s very early decided to screen prospects to make sure they were serious, so they wouldn't waste their time. The new man was asked four questions: 1. Are you convinced you cannot handle your alcohol problem? 2. Are you willing to let a group of fellows who had the same problem prescribe a course of action? 3. Will you do anything to eliminate alcohol from your life? 4. Do you believe in a power bigger than yourself? If the prospect couldn't answer yes to all four, he was told to come back when and if he could.
Out of this grew an astonishingly rigid plan for new prospects before they could be inducted into the group, credited to Ed I. M., an attorney. The prospect was required to: read the Big Book in three days; keep a 28-day journal; write his case history; make time and money budgets; if employed, take a two week leave of absence to devote full time to the plan; and accomplish other assignments given to him by his sponsor. The plan provided for an individual sponsor for each newcomer and outlined the sponsorship methods that had proved successful. And all this from a group less than a year old! This became famous as the Little Rock approach plan. And it worked for many people. But, predictably, it also was controversial even within the group.
The need for a more permanent home for the group was soon felt, and Harlan's family offered a large cabin on Jennings Lake. It was both a meeting place and a dormitory for new prospects going through the approach program. Among these were Mack H. and Max H. Members of the group included Newton F., C.L. T., Fred L., soon joined by Bob M., Pat H., Julian H., Henderson J. and Ladd M. Two nonalcoholics, Dr. Nick Hollis and Judge Harper Harb, lent valuable support to the group. In 1942 growth necessitated a move to a large room at 214 ½ Louisiana. Macie H., the first woman member, kept slipping and kept everyone busy. Other inductees at this time included Buddy K., Jack E., Lee H., Bert C., Bill M., George S. and Andy S. Drunks also came from elsewhere in Arkansas to sober up and return to their own communities to carry the message.
Macie H. moved away from Little Rock, but three other women members had joined the group. Then "Floozie" arrived—broke, hungry and battered. Two of the women were assigned to work with her, but she preferred male attention. After about a week, word got out that "Floozie" was shacked up with six of .the prospects over in a hotel room naked and drunk. But that wasn't the worst of the news. Three oldtimers were part of the orgy and were running the bottles in from the liquor store. Even one of the sober women members had joined the party! The scandal shook the group to its foundations and resulted in a new rule: no women allowed.
Bud C., now director of the state publicity commission, was in New York on business in the spring of 1943. He contacted Bill W. and invited him and Lois to visit Little Rock, which they did January 17-20, 1944. Meanwhile, the group moved again to the Bathhurst Bldg. on West 2nd. Three years had elapsed since Sterling and Harlan had received the Big Book, and 24 individuals had a year of sobriety or more. Among these, in addition to names previously mentioned, were Sam K., Marvin W., Ed P., Hyder L. and Earl N.
Bill and Lois' visit included sightseeing trips, a dinner dance in the Skyway Room at the Lafayette Hotel and a big meeting at the Robinson Auditorium at which Bill spoke. For the prior two weeks, the local newspapers carried stories of some of the A.A. members. The publicity worked beautifully, for 1,500 people filled the auditorium for the Sunday meeting - including a number of prospects seeking sobriety. One of these was Frances P. When she was told they did not accept women, she became all the more determined to join. She was given the Big Book to read, but she continued to drink. Frustrated, she went to Chick W.'s office and declared, "chick, you have a woman member whether you like it or not." As a result, although Frances was still banned from the big Thursday meeting, they began to hold small "squad" meetings at her house. One day, on impulse, she asked Doyle W. for a list of members. She called on them all personally to plead her case and was thus finally accepted into the group. Ruth P. followed Frances. Macie H.: returned to Little Rock. And Frances sponsored in Vi D. and Myrtle T. The "no women" rule had been successfully challenged.
After Bill's visit, larger space was needed again. An ideal place was found at 120 ½ Main Street, and all hands were put to work cleaning, painting, plumbing and wiring the new facilities, which still had sleeping accommodations for prospects. For the next 13 years, "120 ½ Main" was the hub of A.A. activities in the state. It was the "mother group" for many others, as drunks from all over found their sobriety there and returned home. And, although the rigid Little Rock approach plan is no longer required, the emphasis is still on the newcomer.
The first black A.A. member in Arkansas - and one of the first in the Southwest - became sober in Little Rock in 1962. Joe MCQ. had become a wandering "drunken black bum", in his words. He lived and drank a while in Tennessee, then in Kansas City, where he came in contact with the famous candy salesman, Johnny P., founder of A.A. there. In the early '60s, he found himself in Little Rock, still in deep trouble with booze, at the peak of the civil rights uprisings and in the town that was the very center of the violence. "It was not a good time to be black and drunk," says Joe mildly. He finally sought treatment at the city's only rehab, where he was turned away because of his color. So he ended up in the segregated portion of the state mental institution, "a real snake pit." To their eternal credit, some white A.A.'s were carrying the message into this grim and terrible place, usually without results. But when Joe McQ. heard (WHAT NAME?) he caught fire—and the fire has never gone out.
Joe was released to (NAME) and began to go to the all-white A.A. meetings. Before his first one, his sponsor took him aside and said, "Joe, you are welcome to come to the meeting, but it would be better if you didn't stay around for the coffee." Joe kept coming, in the face of the prejudice. He studied the Big Book and the other literature and absorbed everything he read or heard. His lovely wife, LuAnn, joined Al-Anon over similar obstacles, and supported her husband all the way. Besides being extremely active and respected in A.A., Joe became active in the alcoholism field, serving at one time on the Governor's Advisory Board on Alcoholism, in which capacity he had responsibility for the very treatment center which had refused him admittance! He established and directed a facility of his own - part detox, part half-way house, part club house and all completely A.A.-oriented, with a strong leaning toward A.A. history and Traditions. (A large hand-lettered sign in the common room read, THERE IS BUT ONE GOD, AND TODAY YOU ARE NOT HIM.) Begun in a spotlessly maintained former residence (WHAT ADDRESS), it moved (WHEN) to a magnificent mansion (NAME AND WHERE).
Though run by Joe, the center attracted white alcoholics from the beginning. In (WHAT YEAR) Joe began conducting small Step meetings on Sunday morning mainly for the residents of his facility, perhaps a dozen people gathered around a table. As word spread of the wisdom and spirituality of the discussions, A.A.'s from around town began to attend, crowding the room, then outgrowing it. Today, in the new quarters, around 400 people gather every Sunday to hear Joe talk about a Step. Joe McQ. was one of the speakers at the Sunday morning spiritual meeting at the 50th Anniversary International Convention in Montreal.
Joe, together with Charlie P. (Arkansas Delegate, Panel 31) also began to put on small seminars discussing the Big Book. Wesley P. of Pompano, Florida, (See Chaps. XX & XX) conceived the idea that such a seminar lasting a full weekend might be of interest to other A.A.'s around the country, and so organized the first Big Book Seminar there in 1977 . It was sufficiently successful that it has continued to be held in Florida annually ever since and has been taken on the road to other locations around the country and even abroad. The "Joe and Charlie Show", as it is sometimes jocularly called, was also part of the program at the Montreal Convention.
Wayne P., from Rogers, Arkansas, was elected Southwest Regional Trustee in 1983. He provided outstanding leadership on the General Service Board, serving as chairman of the A.A. World Services Board and of the Nominating Committee, as well as a member of the Ad Hoc committee on taking the Board's inventory and the Finance & Budgetary and the International Convention/A.A. Regional Forums committees.
In 1955 Arkansas had 56 groups with about 900 members. In A.A.'s 50th year—and Arkansas' 45th—Arkansas reported 187 groups with a membership of 2,700.
Dr. Miles N., one of the founders of the Kansas City, Missouri, group, started a small hospital in the basement of his home in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1942, for the treatment of sick alcoholics who needed medical aid in addition to A.A. He called the tiny facility "The Shrine on the Hill." (It was later transferred to its own building in another location, where it is still in existence.) At the same time, the doctor formed the first Kansas A.A. group, called "Kansas City, Kansas #1." However, since it met at the hospital, it was more usually known as "The Shrine on the Hill" group. A group was founded in Topeka, the capital city, about 60 miles from Kansas City, in '43. In Wichita, near the center of the state, Sally E. wrote the New York office in October 1944 for a copy of the Big Book to give to her husband, Sid. At about the same time, Otis P. from the Kansas City, Mo., group moved to Wichita and contacted Sid, whose name he had obtained from New York. Together, they started Wichita's first permanent A.A. group, holding meetings in several hotels and in an art studio in the Butts Bldg. An ad in the newspaper and publicity on the radio helped bring in prospects. In 1948, Doc B., Heim R., Clint A., Bob W. and others started the Metropolitan group, out of which came an Alano Club at 140 S. Hydraulic St. The Downtown group and the Noal Club were organized two years later. The Noal Club lost its license in 1969 due to gambling on the premises. Many Wichita and Arkansas City alcoholics at this time came through Jim J.'s ranch, a treatment facility in the latter town.
Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita became the centers for A.A. activity in their surrounding communities and, indeed, in most of Kansas. For example, Glen C. from Hays, farther west would board a train and travel 500 miles round trip, two or three times a month, to attend the "Kansas City #1" group. In 1946, he grew tired of it and started the Oak Street Group in Hays. This group, in turn, became the nucleus for many other groups in other western and north - central Kansas towns. By 1949, there were enough groups in scattered locations that a member did not have to drive more than 80 miles to attend a meeting!
Kansas had 68 groups with a little over 1,200 members by 1955. In A.A.'s 50th year, it had 308 groups with a membership of over 6,300.
According to Mike R. of Cordell (Delegate, Panel 15; Trustee, 1975-79), A.A. in Oklahoma began with two men drying out in Oklahoma City in the Coyne Campbell Hospital. This was a small, two-story facility on Walnut Street in the seedy east side of town for the treatment of mental disorders and nervous conditions, operated by Dr. Coyne Cambell. While in there, they read the Jack Alexander article which had been published in March; and on their release, they sent a penny post card of inquiry to the New York office. They received a reply saying there were no meetings as yet in Oklahoma, but someone would get in touch with them. That someone was Johnny P., the candy salesman who founded A.A. in Kansas City—to whom the New York office forwarded the card. When Johnny made his next circuit, he carried the A.A. message to the two who had written. They, in turn, contacted others and held the first A.A. meeting of the Oklahoma City Group in late 1941.
At the end of the year, the group listed 11 members and grew at a healthy rate. In 1942, it had 25 members; in '44, 60. By June 1946, there were 200 members who had planned and constructed a brick clubhouse with an auditorium seating 400, a dining room and kitchen and other amenities.
Meanwhile, A.A. had spread to Tulsa. A young businessman there was traveling 125 miles twice a week to attend A.A. meetings in Oklahoma City. So he decided to start a luncheon meeting in Tulsa in 1944 with the help of visiting A.A.'s and two prospects - including Tulsa's chief of police. Meetings were held for about a year in members' homes, with the wives helping serve luncheon. The group was also able to obtain radio and newspaper publicity, which helped it grow. By 1945 there were 40 members and clubrooms had been rented at 114 1/2 No. Denver Ave. The opening celebration attracted 100 people, some from as far as Kansas City, Dallas and Houston. In 1946, the group reported 70 members representing "almost every conceivable business, profession and trade." Tulsa's third anniversary was celebrated by a crowd of 200 A.A.'s plus 100 family and friends and the treasury was in embarrassingly good shape.
Mike R. came into A.A. July 24, 1946, in the nearest group to Cordell, which was in Clinton, 15 miles away. This was in western Oklahoma, where "Altas may have already had a group and the towns of Woodward, Lofton and Elk City followed almost immediately. The Clinton group had about ten members at that time, all men except one. The lady was Virginia C., who lived—and is still living—in Elk City. She and her husband, Paul, had been driving 130 miles to the Oklahoma City meeting on Fridays and then driving three hours back after the meeting, because Paul still had a job managing a lumber yard. Then there was Dr. Bill T., who had started out in successful practice but had become an alcoholic in the Army in World War II. He had such severe problems trying to re-establish his practice that his family shipped him off to Coyne Campbell Hospital. But he couldn't admit his alcoholism, so was given shock treatments. He made another trip, again getting shock treatments before he was called on by three members of A.A. Indignant, angry and still full of denial, he sent them away. Dr. Bill was released and was back in again in two weeks. This time he wanted to talk with the AA.'s. Although he read the Big Book which they left him, and started going to Oklahoma city meetings, he continued to drink whiskey periodically for two or three years before finally sobering up. Meanwhile, he drove weekly to Oklahoma City, and at the meeting there met Virginia and Paul C. and two or three others from the western part of the state. Together they decided to start a meeting in Clinton in February 1946. And that's the meeting I came to about five months later."
"Several people came up from Oklahoma City every week to help the Clinton group get started," Mike continues. "They took turns driving the 90 miles out and back to attend the meeting and talk. There was a man called Fritz B., a lawyer, who contributed so much to the program in the early days. Another was Roy S., and also Lane P., Roy's right arm. Lane had about two years' sobriety at the time; Roy, four. Joe B., owner of a lumberyard and ice company. About seven or eight people who came out regularly.
"Let me tell you what it was like then. There was nothing you could take and nothing anybody could do for you; you just had to shake it off. I was dying. I had been drunk for ten months and the withdrawal was rough. My wife had taken our son and left, because I couldn't provide food for the table. I had worked in a family business and the family had run me off. I was unemployed and unemployable. So these people told me what I would have to do if this program was to work in my life. The first thing was, I had to make a total commitment to the Fellowship. They explained to us that some how, some way, we who were at that meeting had been singled out to receive a new gift. And it was a gift the world had been searching for, for over two thousand years. And somehow we had been selected—by the grace of a Higher Power. They said it was up to us whether we wanted to accept this gift or not. But if we wanted to get sober and stay sober and if this is to work in our life - we've got to want to be sober more than anything else in the world. When I heard this, I knew it was for me. Because I was just a drunken burn and I hated myself. So I made the commitment at that time. And I've never had reason to doubt that decision in 40 years!
"A friend of mine in Denver, Jimmy W., told me years ago, 'I just love your Oklahoma Fellowship down there—you've got Desperation A.A. in Oklahoma!' And I think that's what we had in those early days. First four and then five of us in Cordell met three times a day in addition to our weekly meeting in Clinton. We would meet at the coffeeshop and talk about how we felt and our experiences. We were trying so hard to help each other. And around September '46, we started saying, we need a group here in Cordell. I wasn't for it as much as the other fellows because I was afraid of change. I knew I hadn't had a drink in the Clinton group. But I went along. When we announced our intentions, it caused a row in the Clinton group. But it finally smoothed over and we began to meet in the Methodist Church, though we kept going to Clinton, too." The group was run off two years later because of agitation by the W.C.T.U and began meeting in a large, new Presbyterian Church building. It is still meeting in the same hall in the same church 35 years later.
The members in Cordell then tried to get other meetings started in eight other towns within a 30-mile radius. They would talk to the ministers, doctors and police to get a line on prospects, who would then be invited to attend meetings in Cordell or other western Oklahoma towns—or even in Oklahoma City. Around 1958, the groups in Clinton, Cordell and Elk City began holding tri-city meetings once a month, which were open (all the local meetings were closed).
Around 1950, Bill W. visited Oklahoma for the first time. Mike R. recalls, "I went to the Kelly Club in Oklahoma City and there in the middle of the room was Bill. About five of us from home made for him and were talking with him. Our Presbyterian minister who was with us asked, 'Mr. W., I have a parishioner who drinks far too much, to the point its causing everybody a problem. How can I help him? He's an undertaker.' Bill stopped him right there and said, 'We have more damn trouble with undertakers than any other people.' And that broke up the room right there."
The "Birthday Plan" as it is known today was originally called the Oklahoma Plan. It began with a member, Ted R., from Oklahoma City, who found his sobriety in the early '50s and was grateful. He wanted to contribute something to the Fellowship to express his gratitude. He hit on the idea of contributing to G.S.O. a dollar for each year of his sobriety on his A.A. birthday each year, not to exceed ten dollars, ever. He got other members enthused over the idea, which caught on in Oklahoma. Ted R. then turned the idea over to the current Delegate, "Ab" A., from Tulsa, who took the idea to the Conference. It was adopted and is in effect today as a suggested plan for an individual to contribute regularly.
A.A. in Oklahoma grew early to number 58 groups with 900 members by 1955. By 1985, the state had 321 groups with a membership of over 4,200.
The colorful early history of A.A. in the Lone Star State led Bill W. to refer to it at the St.Louis Convention as "the astonishing state of Texas." The story begins in Cleveland in 1939, where a newspaperman, Larry J., had "drunk himself into the gutter." Louis Seltzer, editor of the Cleveland Press, remembered him and sent a search party to find him, offering to pay for his hospital recovery. They found him in freezing weather with no coat on, one lung collapsed from earlier tuberculosis and the other with a tube sticking out of it through his chest. At the sanatorium, Larry slowly recovered from d.t.'s, malnutrition, exposure and exhaustion. Told he would be better off where the weather was warmer, he boarded a train for Houston with a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous in hand upon reading it en route, he had a spiritual experience and determined to try to help alcoholics when he arrived.
He sought out Allan C. Bartlett, editor of the Houston Press, and after a two-hour talk, persuaded him to run a series of articles on A.A. which Larry J. wrote anonymously. Impressed by his creative brilliance, Bartlett hired him as an editorial writer. The articles attracted the attention of Bishop Clinton S. Quinn (Episcopal), who became an enthusiastic supporter and immediately arranged for Larry to talk to meetings of church officials in Houston and other towns in his diocese. They also came to the attention of Bill W., who wrote Larry a congratulatory letter from New York. And most importantly, the articles attracted some alcoholics. One of these was Roy Y. from San Antonio, who had recently sobered up in Los Angeles A.A. Another was Ed H., a great help to Larry in getting A.A. started, who was unable to stay sober himself.
The first Houston A.A. meeting was held March 15, 1940, in a room in the YWCA Bldg. The group continued to meet on Tuesdays with as many as 25 attending—but often a different 25 each time! Ed H. and Roy Y. tried to educate ministers and doctors without much success until they were referred to Dr. David Wade at Galveston State Hospital. Dr. Wade was to remain a good friend of A.A. Later, he and Ed H. were to help found A.A. in Austin (see below). The Jack Alexander article in March 1941 brought in many inquiries, one of them a defrocked preacher, Howell S. and his beloved wife Molly, who also attended the meetings. Another was Ed F. who became particularly active in Twelfth Stepping the flood of prospects, along with Ed H. Early members from that time were:
Clarence "Bull" D., Earl D., Joe F., George P. (who later helped carry A.A. to Albuquerque), and an enthusiastic and energetic woman, Esther E. (who moved to Dallas and helped start A.A. there as well as afterward in San Antonio). By the end of '41, there were 85 members.
Dissension developed when a transplant from Baltimore A.A. told the group that in the East the group elected a steering committee which handled its affairs. Founder Larry J. had been running the Houston group with something of an iron hand, so the group decided to elect a steering committee. Larry, full of resentment, pulled out of the group. Ed H. went with him, "not because I thought he was right—I thought he was wrong—but because he needed a friend." Larry slipped and was hospitalized. Soon afterward, Ed H. went back to drinking. But by this time, A.A. was firmly rooted in Houston. Larry came back to the old group in 1943, but died of his old ills later that year. Ed H. went into the Navy, where he stayed drunk as much as he could. Roy Y. went into the Army and was transferred to Tampa, Florida, where he started an A.A. group. He remained sober the rest of his life and was still active and well in 1985. Esther E. took over as leader of the Houston group in 1942, and Hortense L. succeeded her when she moved to Dallas. The group met in the basement of the Ambassador Hotel in 1941. During the war years it met in other places: the M.& M. Building, Franklin St., Milam St., Dooley St., and finally beginning in '46 at 3511 Travis St. where it remained.
In early 1949, the majority of the Travis St. group broke away to form the Montrose group. Among those that remained were Ed H., Angus McL., Claire W., Anna D., Mildred C., and Icky S.
Another nonalcoholic churchman, Bishop Everett Jones (Episcopal), was responsible for starting A.A. in San Antonio in 1941. Having read the Jack Alexander article which mentioned Houston, Bishop Jones phoned A.A. when in Houston for Lenton services. He was met by a man who greeted him with, "I'm George, an ex-drunk," and agreed to drive back to San Antonio with him to meet with two of his alcoholic parishioners. Unfortunately, George was not exactly "ex-" because he got drunk before he could meet the prospects and was sent back to Houston. The Bishop then sent one of the men he was trying to help to Houston as a scout, to attend A.A. meetings there and bring back the Big Book and other literature, which he did. Thus Bishop Jones began meeting weekly with Jack D. and Henry K. in his office. Jack D. informed Ruth Hock at the New York office of the new outpost of A.A. and told her of trying to help a man already referred to him: "After several bad relapses, we have had him sober for two weeks now, and last night for the first time in three years, on his payday he took his wife and mother to the movies!...This work pays out the greatest dividends in self gratitude of anything I ever heard of..." The Bishop got the San Antonio Light to publish an article about A.A. and by 1942 the group had 12 members. It also had a visit from co-founder Dr. Bob and Anne, whose son was stationed in San Antonio.
The members of the group were scattered during World War II, so the group dissolved - but Bishop Jones kept the faith. Esther E. came down from Dallas in '43 to try to get a group going, but couldn't stay long enough. She returned the following year at the invitation of the Bishop, and this time she was successful. The first real San Antonio group began meeting in 1945 in an abandoned grocery store at 4th and Taylor Streets. Two years later it moved to a second floor room on West Commerce St. and eventually split into the Downtown Group and the Sahara Club.
The early history of A.A. in Ft.Worth is a triumph of spirituality over wealth and of A.A. principles over the multiple problems of Clubs. It began when George McL. wrote A.A. in New York in 1941. He organized the first meeting on August 23, with seven in attendance. By the end of the year, there were 12 members. Apparently that group didn't make it, for we next hear of Ralph R., a railroad switchman and former deputy sheriff, calling George McL. in '43 and meeting at his house. In November, they were joined by Anne T., the socially prominent wife of a successful lawyer. She wrote New York, "Good news. Ft.Worth is starting up again." Ralph R. wrote ads in the Ft.Worth Star-Telegram reading, "For problem drinkers who want to help themselves. No charge. Write Alcoholics Anonymous, Box 671..." Ralph is also credited with having written, "If you want to drink, that's your business. If you want to stop, that's our business." In '44, ten members were meeting regularly in the downtown YMCA, with Anne T. as secretary. By August '45, 57 members were meeting at the First Presbyterian Annex.
Then, in late '45, the group decided to start a Club, for which they rented an old two-story red brick building at 612 W. 4th St. for $100 a month. Joe C., an advertising man, won a contest for the name: The Harbor Club. Almost immediately, gambling competed all too successfully with the A.A. meetings held there. Daily poker games downstairs were for pots of a hundred dollars or so; upstairs, pots were in the thousands. And the winners always gave the Club a cut of the winnings. Jack W., a professional con-man, who played in the upstairs game, supplied the Club with slot machines which proved to be an even greater bonanza. (Slot machines were legal in those days.) Within a few months, the Club had a surplus of $14,000, a huge sum then, so Ralph R. traveled to New York to seek Bill's counsel. Bill suggested the Club be incorporated separately from the group, with its membership limited to A.A. members, which was finally done in '48. By that time, it had nearly 300 members. Meanwhile, a beautiful mansion had been purchased at 1008 Penn Street and had been refurbished. Bought for $40,000; it was sold in 1953 for $72,000. The Harbor Club then built a larger facility for $100,000 with large meeting rooms for the A.A. groups, a dining room, kitchen, pool table—and, of course, card rooms. All this while, A.A. membership continued to grow. Heavy gambling was banished in 1975, but nickel-&-dime poker, gin rummy and bingo are still allowed; and more than 20 A.A. groups were meeting regularly on the premises.
Although there was a lone member in Dallas as early as 1941 and some abortive efforts to start a group in the next two years, the first Dallas group didn't really begin until the peripatetic Esther E. moved there from Houston in May 1943. The first meetings were held in members' homes, but by 1945, the first organized group in Dallas was meeting regularly at 912 1/2 Main St. That group, which was home to countless alcoholics in the early days, spawned other groups in every part of the city.
(NEED MORE ON DALLAS. PRESTON GRP. DAVID A. ETC.)
Austin A.A. stemmed from the interest of Dr. David Wade, acquired at Galveston State Hospital before his move to Austin in 1945. His friend Ed H. had returned from the Navy to Houston, sober once more. There he met Ernest P., who was brought to Houston from Austin to get the A.A. program. They decided to return to Austin together and try to start a group there. One of their first calls was from a Jack H. in the Austin Hotel, drunk and in need of help. Ed called in Dr. Wade, because Jack needed medical attention. Dr. Wade informed them of two more persons to contact: Clarence L., who had read of A.A. in a magazine article and wanted to quit drinking; and Ryan P., who had sobered up in Little Rock, Arkansas. Dr Wade brought them all together—Ed H., Ernest P., Clarence L, Ryan P., and a Jimmy M. from Dallas—and these became the first Austin AA group. After gathering a few times at Ed H.'s mother' s house, they began meeting at the Drisskill Motel.
In the Southwest Texas Area, these are the beginnings of A.A. in some of the towns:
Amarillo. Gordon S., who had attended A.A. at Bill and Lois's house in Brooklyn, had moved to Amarillo and was listed as the A.A. contact in 1942. He was joined in 43 by Charles H., formerly of the Oklahoma City group. The real start of the famous Top O'Texas group was in February '46.
Lubbock. In September '46, the Hub of the Plains group was registered. Members included Don B., Searcy W., Bill W., Truman M, Stewart B., Tate S. and others.
Big Spring. January '47, with four members.
Abilene. November '46. Also in '46: LaMesa, Sweetwater, Snyder, Seminole.
Midland. March '58, with 11 members. Five years later, it had four groups with 100 members.
El Paso. In 1944, Gene H., an A.A. member from Indianapolis, retired on disability to El Paso. He enlisted the help of Bill H. from the local newspaper to do a series of articles on A.A. As a result, the first meeting of the El Paso group was held on September 11, 1944, with four men and one woman. As the group expanded, it included members from Juarez, Mexico; and its members helped start meetings in Las Cruces and Silver City, New Mexico. In 1985, there were 61 groups listed, a number of them Hispanic groups.
Many groups in West Texas owe their start to Macon F. of Coleman. He found his sobriety and the A.A. way of life in Dallas and carried it back in 1944. In East Texas, Doc W. was a loner in Longview when he was contacted by Tommy T., Scotty M. and Claude H. of Nacogdoches. This trio also recruited a Dr. B. in Palestine and together with Doc W. held the first East Texas A.A. meeting in Nacogdoches in May 1943. Two months later, groups were operating in Longview and Palestine.
By 1955, Texas boasted 216 groups in all, with 735 members. As A.A. grew there, the structure was composed of four areas in the four quadrants of the state. And in A.A.'s 50th year, Texas had a total of 1,213 registered groups with a membership of 30,500.
A psychiatrist at Mt.Airy Sanitarium in Denver, Dr. C.S. Bluemel, wrote New York for a copy of the newly published Big Book in July 1939. Upon receiving it, he wrote a most favorable review for a bulletin distributed to 5,000 doctors. In November of that year, a Mortimer J. from Denver wired the New York office for help and was referred to Dr. Bluemel. A few months later, The Rocky Mountain News ran an article on A.A., generating a number of calls for help which were referred to Mort J. Unfortunately, he took off almost immediately on the prolonged traveling binge which was to end with Mort J. 's establishing A.A. in Los Angeles.
Almost a year later, after publication of the Jack Alexander article, a Denver alcoholic, Venard F., went to Houston, Texas, to observe the working of the A.A. group there. Returning with the Big Book and pamphlets, he got an article published in the local paper giving his P.O. Box number. And on August 19, 1941, the first A.A. meeting in Denver was held at the home of Sarah McP., with 11 people in attendance. A month later, with 16 members, they moved to the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Two factions threatened to split the group over whether or not newcomers should be required to follow rigid rules before being allowed to join. The dispute solved itself when Sarah McP. moved to Washington, D.C., and Venard F. stepped down as a group leader; but it did lead directly to the formation of a Denver Central Committee consisting of Hugh MC.A., Art D., Ernie R. and Harold 0.
The group began meeting at its first "permanent" home at 1608 Broadway in February '44. A South Denver group formed about the same time, followed by other small groups so that estimated citywide membership in April '45 was between 100 and 250, depending on who was estimating. In '49, Group #1 moved to their own building, a clubhouse at 1311 York St. The York Street Club found itself at the center of controversy from its earliest days to the present. Files at G.S.O. reveal heated objections to solicitation of funds from outside the Fellowship—even from private companies—for funds to purchase the building. Further correspondence over the years deals with the Club allegedly preventing A.A.'s from attending meetings on the premises unless they were dues-paying club-members, and alleged misuse of meeting collections for Club purposes. Perhaps the greatest furor arose, understandably, when a Denver paper headlined the manager of the Club by full name, identifying him with A.A. as he testified at a public hearing on impending anti-gambling legislation, in which he defended gambling! The individual involved blamed the press for the Traditions violations, but that did not seem to mollify indignant local A.A. members.
Bill W. and Lois paid a visit to Denver A.A. on October 26-29, 1943, and Bill spoke at a banquet at the YMCA. A Denver A.A. newsletter, "Alky Ally," was published monthly from '47 to the mid-'60s. From June '67 to the present, the Denver central Committee has published "The Last Drop", another monthly newsletter. The groups grew slowly during the '50s, but virtually exploded in the decades of the '60s and '70s. The growth was given a significant boost when the 40th Anniversary International Convention was held in Denver in July 1975.
In 1955, Colorado had only 54 groups with about 1,800 members. By 1985, the groups numbered 522 with a membership of nearly 10,500.
Robert D. of Clovis, New Mexico, traveled to Los Angeles in 1942 to find sobriety in A.A., and then returned home. In 1945, he met Pete A. who ran the Hotel Clovis gift shop. Pete's daughter Betty had met Bob Smith, only son of A.A.'s co-founder, Dr. Bob, when he was flying B-29 bombers at Clovis Air Base. They married and moved to Akron. Betty had recently sent her father a copy of the Big Book, which he showed to Robert D. They vowed that as long as they lived there would be a weekly A.A. meeting in Clovis.
Albuquerque formed its first group at about the same time, registered by Leo B.
Also in the mid-'40's Josephine M. in Roswell was hospitalized. While there, her husband obtained a copy of the Big Book and gave it to her. When she got out, she sought other alcoholics and started the Roswell group. They met at Josephine's home in the beginning, then moved to the Chamber of Commerce building and later to a cafe owned by one of the members.
A.A. began in Almagordo when an alcoholic named Rowena visited her friends, Bernard and Robbie L., in Lovington in an attempt to get sober. Bernard was in A.A., attending meetings in nearby Hobbs. When they took Rowena home to Almagordo, Bernard went into a barbershop to get a shave. The barber whispered in his ear, wasn't Bernard an A.A. from Hobbs? The barber had attended some meetings in Hobbs and missed having any in his hometown. Bernard was delighted to put Rowena in touch with him, and together they started the Almagordo group.
(NEED MORE RECENT INFORMATION ON NEW MEXICO)
In 1955, New Mexico had 38 groups with 761 members. In 1985, it had 218 with over 3,200 members.
Atlanta and Georgia
Army officer Steve M., who had recently attained sobriety in A.A. in Washington, D.C., came to Atlanta, Georgia, in June 1941. Realizing that to stay sober, he had to talk to other alcoholics, he rented a Post Office box (A.A. in Atlanta still has the same P.O. box today!) and put an ad in a local newspaper. A defrocked minister—Sam D., answered the ad—and then sat in the post office the next day to see who picked up the mail from that box. Thus the two men met. They discovered that each knew another alcoholic who might want to quit drinking. A few days later, they held the first meeting of A.A. in Georgia at Steve's apartment on the Army base, sitting on the still-unopened packing cartons containing his household goods. Present were Steve, the Army officer; Sam, the former minister; a real estate agent; and a dentist.
Soon a few more came in, and the group began meeting at the Robert Fulton Hotel. By '42, a clubroom was obtained which was kept open seven days a week, with a closed meeting on Tuesday and an open meeting on Friday.
As was common elsewhere in the country in those days, families attended the meetings and social events were an important part of the recovery. Four well-known newspaper columnists mentioned the group from time to time and this welcome public recognition brought still more growth. The club, which was incorporated in '46 as the Atalan Society, moved several more times, causing some dissension, but the Fellowship continued to flourish.
Neely D., who came to A.A. in Atlanta in 1943 but had her last drink July 4, 1945, said she was the fourth woman—but she remained to become the longest sober, the first female Delegate (serving on Panel 2, and perhaps the best known and most active Atlanta member until her death in 1980). Neely said a Mrs. D. was the first woman. "She always ordered a beer and poured paregoric into it—that was her drink! She ended up in Milledgeville Hospital, where she heard about Bert F. So she called him up again and again, but each time got his mother, who kept giving her the runaround. About the third call, Mrs. F. said, 'What did you want to see Bert about?' Mrs. D. said, 'I'm an alcoholic and I wanted to talk to him about Alcoholics Anonymous.' And Bert's mother said, 'Won't do no good. A.A. don't have no luck with the women.' But Mrs. D. didn't stop there and she came in anyway."
Jim K., who came in in December 1952, tells of one of the traumatic moves: "In 1953 the meetings moved from 522 West Peachtree—a big, beautiful facility which was going broke—to a place down on Walton Street. I thought, it sure was fine while it lasted, but now the whole thing is going to fall flat on its face, and there won't be any more A.A. But some of the fellows—Fred N., Ed H., and Joe H.—told me they had found this place they could afford, down on Walton, and said come see it. Well, if you've ever seen a dirty, broken-down place, that was it. The ceiling was hanging halfway to the floor, there was an inch of dust all over, the walls were terrible, there was no toilet. But a bunch of the folks got together and worked around the clock and straightened that place up so they didn't skip a meeting. That was a tremendous inspiration to me, because no one would ever do anything like this unless they were serious about it. So I stayed in."
The first neighborhood group, away from downtown, was the West End group in 1947. The Buckhead group, an offshoot of the original downtown group, started about 1952. Joe P., who joined A.A. in Fall River, Massachusetts, at the age of 27 March 1, 1949, moved to Atlanta with his wife and four (soon to be five) children in 1953. "I believe there were four and possibly five groups in greater Atlanta when we came here. There was the Buckhead group that I went to, there was a group out in the west end called the Crosstown where I used to go Friday nights, there was the Northeast group, and of course the downtown group." Joe P., a frequent speaker at conferences and conventions, entered A.A. service in 1975 as a result of attending a Regional Forum in Atlanta and eventually served as Deleqate on Panel 30 and Regional Trustee beginning in 1985.
Clarence R., another past Delegate (Panel 10) also went to his first meeting at the Buckhead group in September 1954. "So I wouldn't have to go so far, I started the Skylane group the next year, and it's still going. Groups started all over Atlanta in the '50s and even more in the '60s. In '55, the Tri-City group was started. In January '56, the Ansley group. And so on." Joe H., another alcoholic whose first A.A. meeting was Buckhead in 1957, recalls some of the other people active in Atlanta at that time: Andy A., Rita H., Hal H., Gracen W., Bob C., Chris F., and John F.
Meanwhile, outside Atlanta, there were groups in Savannah, Macon, Albany, Waycross and Dublin by 1948. Augusta began a year later, and Washington a year after that. In 1953, there were enough groups in Georgia to hold a State A.A. Convention, in Augusta. By 1955, Georgia had a total of 52 groups with nearly 1,000 members. In A.A.'s 50th year, it had 542 groups with an estimated membership of well over 10,000.
There was some A.A. activity in Tennessee quite early, but no viable groups until 1944-45. In Knoxville, Bern H. wrote the New York office in October 1939, after reading the Liberty magazine article. He followed up by going to New York in person for help. Returning to Knoxville in November, he started to work with other drunks. The first organized meeting was held in April 1941, but it was almost inactive by '43. It started up again a year later and by August '45 was going solidly with 10 members.
In Memphis, there were two lone members, Clark B. and his wife, in May 1941. They received inquiries referred to them and helped drunks get sober, but it was not until April 28, 1944 that an A.A. member who had moved to Memphis, Wally H., sparked the locals into a cohesive group. Present at the first meeting, besides Wally and the Clark B.'s, were Warren C., Harry H., and Julian B. They were soon joined by Maryann H., Charlie L., Oscar M. and Howard U. And by the end of '45, there were 150 members! They started a Sunday morning breakfast meeting on the mezzanine of Britling's Cafeteria in February and soon afterward a second group called Crosstown split off from the original group.
Chattanooga saw its first meeting on November 6, 1943, with six in attendance. The group grew slowly but steadily, with 28 members at the end of '44 and 42 members in mid-'45. In the northeastern part of Tennessee, Kingsport had its first meeting on September 3, 1945. "Boots" D., after being Twelfth Stepped by Jack C. from Knoxville, was inspired by meeting Bill W. at the first Southeastern Regional Convention in Birmingham. Returning home, "Boots" started the first Kingsport group along with Annette T., wife of a prominent businessman in nearby Bristol. Eight people were present at the first meeting. "Boots" had his home phone number listed under A.A. and continued active. In 1985, with 39 years' sobriety, he was proud to report five groups in Kingsport.
December 1941 Cameron F. wrote the New York office from Nashville asking for help. Although Cameron became sober and, through a lot of Twelfth Step work, built the group up to seven, most of them went into the Service and the group was defunct a year later. December 1944 the office received a letter from "H.B." C. in Nashville saying, "I'm sure you will be glad to know...November 27th, with the help of Dr. George Little who is visiting our city, we were able to organize a Nashville chapter of A.A. with four members and some very good prospects..." Within a year, there were about 40 members and a big public meeting was held with favorable newspaper publicity. Clubrooms were opened in '49 and a Group #2 was organized.
Cooksville and Tullahoma meetings began in 1954; Winchester in '49. The Clinton group, with a checkered history, traces its beginnings to '49, when James S., an automobile salesman, came to Rev. Arthur Jones, a nonalcoholic, for help with his drinking problem. In 1952, Rev. Jones met another James S. on the street in Clinton and learned that he had just returned from Milwaukee where he had attended A.A. The minister immediately enlisted his aid in forming a group in Clinton, which began meeting in the church study. Nothing much happened until Bill P., sober three years in Knoxville A.A., began to take an active part. He moved the meeting to its own space and breathed life into the group so that when he organized a big "eatin' meetin'" in 1958, 200 attended. He also caused a stir by rising to his feet in a Methodist Church service to 'preach" a soaring "sermon" to the assembled congregation on the grace of God in A.A. Soon afterward, Bill P. moved to Florida, and the Clinton group began to fall apart. It folded completely in 1959 and remained dormant for 22 years!
Buford L., a dedicated member of the Knoxville Northside group with eight years' sobriety, reactivated the group in Clinton in 1980 with the help of Harlan L. and Roger S. Their first meeting was at the Parish House of St. Therese Catholic Church, So. Main Street. One person present was Eugene H., a lawyer, who had attended the last meeting when the group had folded 22 years before. The group grew rapidly and in October had to find larger quarters at the First Baptist Church. Buford L. was elected Delegate from the state of Tennessee. (By coincidence, Bill P., now active in A.A. in North Florida, was elected Delegate from that area at the same time.)
In 1955, Tennessee had 41 groups with 735 members. In 1985, it had 310 groups with over 4,700 members.
The first A.A. contact in Florida was probably a loner in Daytona Beach who first wrote the New York office in November 1939. Then in 1940 Frank P., a member from New York living in Miami, became the A.A. contact there. And the wife of Joe T. wrote to New York concerning her alcoholic husband. Separately, a Roger C. also wrote New York and was put in touch with Joe T., and both of them were in touch with Frank P. With the appearance of two new recruits, Charlie C. and Carl C., in December, organized meetings in Miami got under way. A series of articles on A.A. in the newspaper helped bring in others. A group was formally organized in April 1941. By July, it had ten members. In August 1942, Bill W. visited Miami and reported a membership of 45 with two meetings a week. Bill and Lois W. visited again in May '44. A club and an intergroup were going by 1946. New groups at that time included Miami Beach, Northside, Coral Way and Hialeah.
A group began in Ft. Lauderdale in '44 by Buck B. In '45, more groups elsewhere in the state were started: Pensacola, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Lake Worth and Gainesville. The following year new groups appeared in Cocoa, Delray Beach, Ft.Myers, Hollywood, Lake Wales and Ocala.
The group in Lake Worth was named the Palm Beach county group. Stan L. and Hazel 0. from West Palm Beach attended the group and in 1947 a meeting for women began in May in Palm Beach. The West Palm Beach group held its first meeting on August 5, at the odd Fellows Hall. They ran an ad in the classified section of the Palm Beach Post and Times. In 1949, clubrooms were opened. December 1940 also saw the beginning of A.A. in Jacksonville.
Commander Junius C., who had apparently gotten sober in California through the Big Book, was transferred to the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. He went looking for a prospect that December and found Tom S.—who was to become a real pioneer in A.A. service, Delegate from North Florida on Panel 1, Regional Trustee 1962-66, and chairman of the oldtirners' committee that led to the establishing of the A.A. Archives. Tom rounded up five of his drinking cronies—among them, Charlie P., Bruce H. and Hugh C.—and they met at his house for the first A.A. meeting in Jacksonville. In April '41, Tom persuaded the Jacksonville Journal to publish an article on A.A.
Bruce H. had even more ambitious plans. He started a radio program on A.A. sponsored by the Gulf Life Insurance Co. It was a huge success, and Bruce approached the Prudential Life Insurance Co. with the idea of sponsoring it nationwide. This helped bring Bill W. down for a visit in early 1942, during which he and Tom S. were able to convince Bruce of the error of his ways. Twenty-five people attended a dinner given in Bill's honor at the Seminole Hotel.
A.A. thrived in Jacksonville until there are now 60 groups in and around the city, holding well over a hundred meetings a week. Tom S. remained active and was still working with newcomers at the time of his death in 1982 with over 41 years of continuous sobriety.
In the spring of 1942, a William D., who had gotten sober in A.A. in Chicago, was transferred to Tampa, Florida, and wanted to start a group. His wife, Helen, wrote the New York office, and the D.'s were listed as a Tampa contact. Helen also ran an ad in the local paper. Unfortunately, Bill D. soon died of pneumonia. Tampa's first A.A. meeting was held November 1943 through the efforts of a nonalcoholic pharmacist, Dr. J.K. R. The pharmacist's brother, Ralph R., who lived in Gainesville, Georgia, had found sobriety in Atlanta A.A. Dr. R. attended Atlanta A.A. with him several times, becoming so enthusiastic about what he saw that he sent to the New York office for literature. He and, his brother returned to Jacksonville to hold the first meeting there.
Roy Y. arrived a month later. This was the same Roy Y. who had sobered up in Texas, helped get the first A.A. group going in Los Angeles, and lived the A.A. program as a lone member while stationed in Alaska. Now Roy was stationed at Drew Field, an Army Air Corps base in Tampa. Upon contacting Dr. R., Roy immediately began work on prospects. One name was a Jack D., who, when contacted, replied, "I don't need your program, but I'll tell you the name of a man who does—badly!" The name was that of Ernest K. who became Roy's first recruit. The two of them formed the nucleus of A.A. in Tampa. In January '44 they acquired their first woman member, Alleen E., and by April they had ten members in the group and a permanent meeting place at Frankfurt and Tyler streets. A letter to the New York office said, in part, "Roy is like an anxious hen with a flock of awkward chicks." Roy secured the support of the city's leading psychiatrist, who has helpful in reaching the rest of the medical profession. In May, Bill and Lois W. paid a three-day visit to Tampa and spoke at an open meeting at the Chamber of Commerce Building.
Samuel E. and wife, an A.A. couple from East Orange, New Jersey, who had met Bill W., moved to Orlando in 1944. There they were put in touch with Dave A., who was looking for help. After meeting with the E.'s several times, Dave wrote to New York asking how properly to conduct an A.A. meeting. The group grew slowly. Sometimes Dave A. and Ernie 7., from Winter Park, were alone. But by '46, the group was large enough to have a meeting place of its own in an office building where the room was reached by climbing 30 steep steps. The members joked, "If you made the steps, you will probably make the program." A second group was started in 1952 at the Lamar Hotel by the owners, Larry and Jackie K. Larry kept one room at the hotel for drying out newcomers. As he was crippled and had difficulty mounting the famous steps, he started to hold meetings at the hotel. Louise A. remembers that in the late '40's and early 50's, it was not unusual for some of the Orlando members to drive 60 miles to Daytona Beach, 80 miles to Tampa, or even 150 miles to Jacksonville to attend A.A. meetings or gatherings - and that was before Interstate highways.
Longtime Orlando A.A. members tell of Mac, a defrocked Episcopalian priest, who was hired as full-time secretary at the Intergroup office. A compelling speaker, he would rouse the audience with, "I found God to save my soul, but it was A.A. that saved my ass." Once, on a radio show, he fielded call-in questions for four straight hours with great communicating skill. His long counseling sessions were popular—particularly with young women. Then one day, Mac skipped town, leaving the young women sadder but wiser, the treasury about $400 poorer thanks to a forged check, and the Intergroup without its office machines. "Mac was such a good con artist, many of us couldn't believe he was a phony," says one of the members. Word went out to other Intergroup offices to beware. (Years later Mac turned up in Hyannis, Massachusetts, as a drug and family counselor at project HELP, using an assumed name. Confronted with his Orlando crime, he claimed protection under the statute of limitations.)
Basia and Joseph H. have a special place in Orlando A.A. history. As a pilot in the Air Force, Joseph traveled worldwide and tells poignant stories of A.A. encounters in Labrador, Japan, Germany and elsewhere. The H. 's moved to Orlando in 1969 and began holding Traditions sessions in their home. Each monthly session was a three - to four - hour discussion of one Tradition with a review session at the end of twelve months. The meetings were still being held 16 years later, but on a weekly basis. The H's also attempted to carry the A.A. message into the Black community, through talks to Black church groups.
Orlando now has over 40 groups with about 100 meetings a week.
In South Florida, the South Miami group was founded in 1952. The Arcadia group began in '50. The Islamorado group on the Upper Keys was founded in '54 by Eddie S., who had a real estate office near U.S.1 where A.A.s from Miami would stop for coffee on their way south. As the group grew, it moved to the Methodist Church annex. In '58 the members who lived farther north broke away to form the Upper Keys group which eventually met at the Coral Isle Church on Plantation Key. The Key West Fellowship group began in June '69. A women's group, called the Ocean group, was started in '78 when some women from other groups took a meeting to the home of Mavis B., who had been injured in an auto accident.
Florida A.A. has always benefited from the influx of sober members from other parts of the country as they migrated to the sun belt. Just as the state has been one of the fastest growing in population, so has A.A. in the state. In 1955, Florida had 128 groups with about 2,400 members. In 1985, it reported 1,363 groups and its estimated A.A. membership had climbed to 22,230!
A.A. came to Kentucky early in 1941. Jim McC. , a member of the Indianapolis group, was transferred to Louisville. For his own sobriety, he began contacting other alcoholics, and in June '41, five men and one woman met at the YMCA to form the first Louisville group. They met weekly at a tavern where they would have dinner and share their problems and experience. Jim McC. succeeded in getting a full-page spread on A.A. in the Sunday Courier-Journal.
The group did not have a regular meeting place or schedule for the first several months. They would meet on a street corner almost every evening and go out on Twelfth Step calls. As they grew, they found a meeting place in November in the Louisville Dairies building, where they remained for a number of years. The wives became active and were helpful in contacting the wives of prospects. A second feature article appeared in the Courier in June '42. And a visit by Bill W. in March '43 sparked some real growth. Neighborhood groups were formed, and a steering committee was set up to coordinate the activities citywide. The Token Club opened in '47. By '53, there were 15 groups in Louisville, including a Black group.
Elsewhere in Kentucky, A.A. came to Mayfield in '43, and in '46 to Lexington, Fulton and Paducah. In 1955 the state had 59 groups with 850 members. In 1985 Kentucky had 357 groups reporting 5,369 members.
In the spring of 1940, Ted C. from Richmond, Virginia, was undergoing treatment at Rockland State Hospital in New York—"the first [hospital in the East) to enter into full scale cooperation with A.A." So the New York office of A.A., learning that Ted C. was returning to Richmond with a new business connection, asked him to serve as the A.A. contact there. One of the first referrals was Mcchee B., who was helped by Ted. The two men now hoped to start a group. The first A.A. meeting in Virginia was held June 6, 1940 at McChee's apartment with 12 present. However, as Bill W. later recalled, they "believed in getting away from their wives and drinking only beer." It didn't work, and the group fell apart almost immediately.
The following year, Jack W. started a new Richmond group with five members and a more orthodox approach to A.A. In '44, Jack reported 20 regular members meeting at the William Byrd Hotel. The group held its first public meeting in August '45 which grew a large crowd. Spacious clubrooms on Grace Street were opened in '46. By '48, the group reported 82 members; by '50, 250 members.
Elsewhere in Virginia, a group was begun in North Arlington in 1943, which was the parent group for others in Arlington. The first meeting in Virginia Beach was held in December '46. In the same period, the Fellowship spread to Norfolk and Warsaw, and later to all parts of the state.
(NEED MORE ON VIRGINIA HERE?)
There were 79 groups with 1,754 members in Virginia in 1955. In A.A.'s 50th Anniversary year, Virginia had 797 groups and nearly 15,000 members.
Charleston was the site of the first A.A. meeting in West Virginia in March 1942, with three members: "W.T." S., the secretary; George S.; and Louis J. Six months later, the group had doubled in size and was meeting at W.T.'s office. During the next three months, the group grew to 12, then 16, then 29 members. This included A.A.'s who had been active in Cleveland, New York, Cincinnati, Zanesville (Ohio) and Pittsburgh before moving to Charleston.
Bill W. paid a visit in March '43, and clubrooms were established in '44. By June of that year, there were 71 members, and in August a women's group began with eight members.
Parkersburg was only three months behind Charleston in forming its first group with two members and one prospect. By January, '43, it had grown to ten members and was meeting at the Stratford Hotel on Saturday nights. Growth continued and in April '45 a second group was formed in North Parkersburg with five members.
The 1943 World Directory indicates a group had started in Wheeling, which reported 17 members in '48. A Fairmont group began in October '46 with 15. Virginia H. was one of the organizers. When a second group was formed in '53, meeting on Monday night, the original group called itself the Friday Night group. And a third group, the Saturday Night, was added in '66. By 1955 West Virginia had 49 groups with nearly 700 members. And in 1985 it had 193 groups with over 2,000 members.
A.A. in North Carolina began not in a major city but in the town of Shelby in the western part of the state. The reason was that a Shelby physician, Dr. Tom Mitchell, was working with drug addicts and alcoholics. In early 1941 he met Dave R., a recently arrived sober member of A.A. from New Jersey. The two of them started an A.A. group in June.
A year later, a group started in Charlotte and soon attracted members from surrounding towns. Later in '42, groups were organized in Burlington and Fayetteville. Asheville started with 12 members in the summer of '44, and in '45 new groups were formed in Gastonia, Winston-Salem and Durham. Greensboro began in June '46.
The Hendersonville group held its first meeting in July 1945 in a judge's office in the Northwestern Bank Building. The charter members were a corporate attorney, a gamecock fighter, a bondsman, a prominent businessman and "a destitute bum, Smiley M." After recovering in A.A., Smiley M. rose to become one of the most prominent and respected business leaders in Henderson County. He also brought the A.A. message to hundreds of alcoholics in the western part of the state.
Clubrooms were important gathering places for A.A.'s in the early days in North Carolina. Shelby, by 1945, boasted quarters in an uptown hotel a reading room, piano, radio, pool table and a meeting room with seating for 125. The Asheville group had 60 members when they opened their clubrooms in '48, which included a spacious lounge, meeting rooms, a coffee bar, a pool table and two bowling alleys!
Asheville on September 16-18, 1946, hosted the Southeast Regional Convention, "the largest A.A. crowd assembled in the South" up to that time.
(NEED MORE ON N.C. SINCE 1940's! CHK DAVE COOKE & HAL HARLEY FOR NAMES OF SPECIAL PEOPLE)
Thanks to a number of unusually energetic and dedicated A.A. leaders and a solid service structure, A.A. spread and grew in North Carolina at a faster rate than some other areas in the Southeast. By 1955, there were 104 groups in the state with over 2,000 members. And in A.A.'s 50th year, it reported 542 groups with a membership of over 8,500.
The first A.A. group in Alabama was formed in Mobile in 1944 by Dick C. (described as dapper, energetic and a good story teller) and Tom D. An early member was Jo D., who became very active in statewide A.A. service and was Delegate on Panel 13. In July '46, Ensley, Alabama, saw the first meeting of the Western group, which became a parent group for others in the area. The first meeting in Bessemer was in February '49 in the office of Ed L. The founders, from the Western group or the Five Points group, included Raleigh R., Shorty R., Ben L. and Clover H. Elsewhere in the state, the Telladaga group began in '48.
(ANY MORE ON ALABAMA?)
From 43 groups and 1,155 members in 1955, Alabama grew to 242 groups with about 3,500 members in 1985.
Early A.A.'s in New Orleans called Steve G. "the man with the book," because he sobered up on the Big Book which he had given by a woman who had ordered it for her son. When she was unable to interest her son, she thought of Steve, who was the first solid member in the Crescent City.
There had been earlier stirrings. Daniel P.'s sister wrote New York in May 1940 for help for her brother, and even visited A.A.'s service office there. Meanwhile, Daniel had received a letter from his friend Larry J. in Houston, telling him of Larry's recovery. He was also contacted by the ubiquitous Irwin M., traveling salesman and ambassador for A.A. Daniel was impressed, but didn't stay sober.
In June 1942, Irwin wrote that there were three sober A.A.'s in the city: Albert B., Bruce L. and Alec J. By the end of that year, Steve C. had become sober and was looking for alcoholics to help. He was joined in February 1943 by Wally H., an A.A. from the Chicago group, and Irwin M. gave them encouragement and put them in touch with his contacts. The first organized A.A. meeting in New Orleans was held in March 1943 in the boardroom of the Chamber of Commerce. There were six members present, and an ad in the newspaper was expected to bring more inquiries.
In May, Wally, the secretary, wrote on a letterhead with the group address that ten members were attending their Tuesday meetings and that Noel E. and Sam T. were doing a particularly good job. In September he reported progress in cooperating with city jails and hospitals. In October, there were 14 members; in November, 17. In December, Lefty H. moved to New Orleans and "gave the group a shot in the arm." And in January 1944, Bill and Lois W. paid the new group a visit.
A.A. was established now, and grew steadily. In 1944, the group began holding two meetings a week. The following year, there were 45 active members and three meetings weekly. Clubrooms were opened at 510 Queens and the crescent Building. By April '45, 75 members were reported, with more coming in all the time. There were six meetings a week by '47, with an all-groups open meeting on Tuesday nights. And by mid-July '48, new clubrooms had opened at 821 1/2 Poydras St. and membership in New Orleans had reached 400.
In the capital city of Baton Rouge on an autumn day in 1944, while waiting for the kickoff of a football game, Rupert P. started talking to a fellow member of Governor Jimmie Davis's staff, Jack Meredith, about his (Rupert's) drinking problem. Although he had been dry several months at the time, he confessed he was prone to periods of drinking himself into exhaustion "In order to work." Jack introduced Rupert to Pat O'B. Seeking privacy, they talked in the Governor's office, Rupert in the Governor's chair. Pat took Rupert by his house and loaned him a copy of the Big Book. Rupert p. skipped the football game.(and the pint of whiskey he was planning to drink at it) and read the book until two a.m. A few days later, Pat and Rupert talked of starting a group. A former newspaperman, Rupert wrote a story for the local papers announcing an A.A. meeting. Besides the two founders, five men showed up at Pat's apartment for the meeting the beginning of the Baton Rouge group.
Ed C., who had sobered up in New Orleans, decided in May '44 to form a group in Shreveport. He ran a classified ad in the local paper, which brought "a handful of problem drinkers" to the first meeting of what became the Highland group. "On occasion, no one attended scheduled meetings except Ed, who sat alone and prayed," but the group eventually caught on and grew.
In the Houxna/Thibodeaux area, Lee J. heard a radio talk about Alcoholics Anonymous by Marty M. and immediately contact with the New Orleans group. In April '47 he organized the first meeting in Houma. In more recent times, Houma has become known as the site of the Bayouland Jamboree, an A.A. event under the leadership of "Cajun Joe" R. drawing several hundred annually.
As A.A. spread throughout the state, the Monroe group was formed in '46 by Dr A.H. Serex, nonalcoholic pastor of the First Methodist Church. The same year, A.A. was brought to Bastrop by a member of the Little Rock, Arkansas, group. From the start, the group has had two regular meetings a week plus an open meeting once a month. In Ruston, meetings began in '57.
Louisiana A.A. got a tremendous boost from the 45th Anniversary International Convention held in New Orleans in 1980. Hundreds of A.A.'s from all over the state formed the Host Committee, and conventioneers from all over the U.S. and Canada and the rest of the world showed up at local meetings throughout the week.
Louisiana, which had 32 groups with 782 members in 1955, had 39 groups and over 6,200 members in 1955.
(NEED LOCAL HISTORY. EXISTING NOTES TOO SKETCHY)
South Carolina had 63 groups by 1955, with about 900 members. By 1985, it had 199 groups with a membership of over 3,000.
A.A. came to Jackson, Mississippi, in January 1945 when Ruth and Dick B. moved from Washington, D.C. The group took hold and apparently the second group formed was in Greenwood. For about a year, two men from there had been driving 95 miles to Memphis to attend meetings there and 95 miles back again - as did several others from that part of the state. So they formed a group in Greenwood which began with 28 members (!), from as far as 50 miles away.
In the next several years, groups formed in Tylerstown, Hattiesburg, Mississippi City and Winona. In '49, a member from Greenwood with three years' sobriety, "J.P." M., moved to Brookhaven. He placed an ad in the paper and the first to answer was Harrison C., who, 36 years later, was still making coffee for the group.
As these early groups were usually small and the members were well acquainted with each other's stories, Brookhaven got together with McComb, Natchez and Columbia and organized "circuit rider" meetings. These were open meetings held on a Sunday afternoon once a month, at alternating towns, with guest speakers.
Mississippi began holding state A.A. conventions in 1948, and at the '51 convention, Bill W. was the honored guest and principal speaker.
By 1955, Mississippi had 32 groups with 763 members. In A.A.'s 50th year, these numbers had grown to 215 groups with over 2,400 members.