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This information is brought to you by the
West Baltimore Group
of the men mentioned in the following stories
VOICE OF MARYLAND GENERAL SERVICE, INC. OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
FROM MARYLAND'S A.A. HISTORY
the MERGENSER NEWSLETTER
1: The Birth of AA: Pioneers from Maryland
Many of us came to AA feeling
that a mysterious, malign force would do us in, no matter what we
did. Then something strange stirred within us. As we became willing
to accept the help of those who went before us, who understood us,
good things happened. We followed in their footsteps and found freedom
from the bondage of self. What resulted was a sense of identification,
of belonging, of unity. But lest we become too clannish, we must remember
that without guidance and support of nonalcoholic friends in the early
years, AA would not be here for us. Maryland-born Samuel Shoemaker
was the first of such friends.
His influence began on December 7, 1934, when a tall, gaunt, drunk--William
Griffith W. made his first visit to Calvary Episcopal Church, where
the reverend Samuel Shoemaker was rector.
At this stage, Bill was stealing money from his wife, pawning household
items, falling down drunk and having blackouts and delirium tremens.
Bill had visited the mission under stimulus from an old drinking buddy,
Ebby T., who had gotten sober through the Oxford Group, which was
headquartered at Calvary Methodist Church, on 23rd Street in New York
City. Shoemaker had helped convert drunkards at this Calvary Mission
using Oxford Group principles.
Four days after he visited the mission, Bill was admitted to Towns
Hospital for a one week stay, during which time He had a profound
spiritual experience and never drank again. After leaving Towns, Bill
associated himself with Shoemaker's Oxford Group, Calvary Mission
and Towns Hospital, dedicating himself to other alcoholics.
Born in Baltimore in 1893, Rev. Shoemaker published over 25 books
and many Pamphlets on spirituality. One pamphlet, "What the Church
Has Learned From Alcoholics Anonymous," is an interesting commentary
on how we learn by helping each other Shoemaker died in October 1963
and was buried in Garrison
In Language of the Heart, Bill says, "Dr. Shoemaker was one of
AA's indispensables. Had it not been for his ministry to us in our
early time, our Fellowship would not be in existence today. He will
always be found in our annals as the one whose inspired example and
teaching did the most to show us how to create the spiritual climate
in which we alcoholics may survive and then proceed to grow ..."
For the next few months after meeting Sam Shoemaker, Bill haunted
the mission and Towns Hospital trying to help other drunks, but with
little success. then he made his fateful trip to Akron, Ohio.
We A. A.'s say that our program began there on June 10, 1935, when
Dr. Bob S. had his last drink, one month after his historic meeting
with Bill W." But one could argue that it really began in April
1939 when the book Alcoholics Anonymous was published.
Up to the time the Big Book appeared, our program had no name or written
guidelines or principles. The early "nameless bunch of alcoholics"
followed a "word-of- mouth" program that had evolved mainly
from their affiliation with the Oxford Group, a movement based on
the philosophy of First Century Christianity. Bill W. summed up the
six-point word-of-mouth program as follows
1. Admit powerlessness over alcohol.
2. Take a moral inventory
3. Confess shortcomings with another person.
4. Make restitution for wrongs done to others.
5. Pray for power to practice these principles.
After several years of association
with the Oxford Group, the small groups in New York and Ohio broke
off and started their own meetings.
Up until then, alcoholics were doomed, except for rare cases where
they experienced profound religious conversions. But with the AA approach
of one drunk trying to help another came hope for the previously hopeless.
The several dozen members of the infant fellowship had come across
something wonderful. They had discovered a way out, and it had to
be documented so alcoholics everywhere could be helped.
Bill agreed to write the book. As he finished the rough drafts of
the chapters, Bill would have them read and discussed at the meetings
in New York and Ohio so all members could have their say.
The review of the first four chapters generated enthusiastic arguments.
But things really became hectic when Bill released Chapter Five. (Bill
said by then he had become the umpire rather than the author!)
Members had drifted into two opposite groupings--a pro-religion faction
led by Fitz M. argued that the book should reflect the teachings of
the churches, missions, and, especially, the Oxford Group. An agnostic
faction spearheaded by Hank P. and Jim B. was passionately against
theological orientation, believing in a practical, psychological approach.
Heated discussions went on for days and nights, but out of it all
came the answer. The agnostics persuaded the others to accept the
compromise language of "God, as we understand Him." This
non-dogmatic idea opened the door to uncountable numbers of alcoholics
who otherwise would not have entered our recovery program.
Eventually the book was almost ready for printing, but still hadn't
been titled. Various recommendations were dropped from consideration
until two choices remained. The Way Out was Ohio's choice;
Alcoholics Anonymous was New York's. A check of book titles
in the Library of Congress by Fitz showed 12 books named The Way
Out and none named Alcoholics Anonymous. The choice was
thereby made easy, and both the book and the Fellowship acquired names.
In April 1939, the Big Book was published, and our program was established.
As Bill said in his 1953 Grapevine article, "Little did we guess
that our Twelve Steps would soon be approved by clergy of all denominations
and even by our latter-day friends, the psychiatrists ..."
The Big Book is now over 55 years old. Over 14 million copies have
been published in 27 languages without one word of the basic text
being changed. And our program has become the model for some 114 other
Although Fitz and Jim B. were miles apart on spiritual philosophy,
they were always close family friends. And their final resting places
are also close, just a few yards apart on the grounds of Christ Episcopal
Church at Owensville, MD.
The two were born in Maryland and were boyhood friends in southern
Anne Arundel County. As previously mentioned, Shoemaker was also a
Marylander. Had not this Maryland trio played their critical roles
in AA's infancy, our Fellowship in all likelihood would not have been
born and survived its growing pains. They are among the many unsung
heroes to whom we A. A.'s owe a debt that we cannot repay but partially
by continuing to carry the message to alcoholics who still suffer
from our devastating disease.
2: Two Boyhood Friends Made Crucial Contributions
Two friends from boyhood who
lie buried in the cemetery of Christ Episcopal Church at Owensville,
Maryland, made vital contributions to Alcoholics Anonymous in the
Fellowship's infancy. But for their individual input, countless thousands
would never have joined AA and the Fellowship itself might have been
One of the pair-John Henry Fitzhugh M."Our Southern Friend in
AA's Big Book-was among the first few to get and stay sober in New
York. The other was Jim B., whose Big Book story is "The Vicious
Cycle." Their early efforts formed the foundation of AA's rich
history in Maryland.
The pair's friendship flowered in southern Anne Arundel County after
Fitz's minister father became rector of Christ Episcopal Church at
Owensville when Fitz was about four years old. Tim B. was the son
of a Baltimore physician and grain merchant with family ties at Cumberstone,
just a few miles from Owensville. As teenagers they attended the Episcopal
School for Boys at Alexandria, VA.
Alcohol began to take its toll on both in their twenties. Fitz had
a promising career with an established firm aborted by the Great Depression
and took a teaching position in Norfolk, VA, where he drank heavily,
lost his job, and his health deteriorated. Feeling great compassion
for Fitz, another friend from childhood gave him part of his own farm
at Cumberstone to homestead. Jim's story relates that, after losing
several fine positions, he drifted into sales work and lost 40 jobs
in eight years "before AA found me."
In the fall of 1935, Fitz heard that Towns Hospital in New York was
having some success in treating alcoholics, and he went there for
the "cure." This was just a few months after Bill W.'s historic
meeting with Dr. Bob in Akron that marked the founding of Alcoholics
Anonymous. On Bill's return to New York, he had set about trying to
"fix" drunks he found at the Calvary Mission and Towns Hospital.
His first successful project was Hank P., whom he had rescued at Towns;
Fitz was the second to be picked up there and maintain sobriety. After
returning to Cumberstone, Fitz brought a number of prospects into
his home in a vain effort to get them sober, much to the distress
of his wife. He also began to make frequent trips to New York to join
Bill and Lois W. and Hank at meetings of the Oxford Group, a "First
Century Christian movement" with which early members of the fellowship
were affiliated. When weekly meetings of the small group of alcoholics
soon began to be held at the Wilson home, Fitz usually came up to
attend. Fitz formed a close friendship with Bill and Lois W., who
were frequent visitors to his Cumberstone home for several years,
starting in 1936. Lois W. recalled in her book,
Lois Remembers, that they often visited "Fitz and Co" at
Cumberstone and that on different occasions she was called on to care
for Fitz's ailing wife and diabetic daughter. (When queried some years
later, Lois said that Bill did not write any of the Big Book at Cumberstone,
but some Maryland old timers believe he made notes there as he formulated
ideas for the book.)
At least as early as 1937, Fitz was spending much of his time trying
to help drunks and gain a foothold for the Fellowship in Washington,
DC, where his sister Agnes worked and provided Fitz shelter and a
base of operations for his AA work. His early efforts met with minimal
success, but by the fall of 1939 he and Ned F. had established the
nucleus of a small group with staying power that began to function
in Washington as AA's southernmost outpost.
One of Fitz's early reclamation projects was the ill-fated Jackie
W.. Fitz sent Jackie to see his old chum Jim B., who was just coming
off a binge at his mother's home in DC. Jim describes the encounter
in his Big Book story:
"January 8, 1938-that was my D-Day; the place Washington, DC.
This last real merry-go-round had started the day before Christmas
and I had really accomplished a lot in those fourteen days. First,
my new wife had walked out, bag, baggage and furniture; then the apartment
landlord had thrown me out of the empty apartment and the finish was
the loss of another job. After a couple of days in dollar hotels and
one night in the pokey, I finally landed on my mother's doorstep--shaking
apart with several days' beard ... That is the way Jackie found me,
lying on a cot in my skivvies, with hot and cold sweats, pounding
heart and that awful scratchiness all over.
"I had not asked for help and seriously doubt that I would have,
but Fitz, an old school friend of mine, had persuaded Jackie to call
on me. Had he come two or three days later I think I would have thrown
him out, but he hit me when I was open for anything..."
Jim and Jackie took the train to New York, where they met Bill and
Hank. It turned out that Hank had fired Jim from a job years earlier.
Jim was impressed by the sobriety of the New Yorkers and decided to
join them "and take all that they gave out except the 'God Stuff'."
He also took a job as a traveling salesman for a business Hank and
Bill had started. Jim B. later recalled that his association with
the little band in New York started about the time that Hank began
pressing Bill to put something of the program in writing; up to that
time, the "program" was carried solely by word of mouth
in the New York and Akron meetings.
The Akron contingent was initially against any publication--it was
still closely affiliated with the Oxford Group, from which the New
Yorkers had severed ties in September 1037. Akron finally acquiesced,
and Bill began writing in the sprint: of 1938.
As Bill finished a chapter it would be reviewed and discussed by the
New York members and a copy sent to Dr. Bob for review in Akron. This
procedure brought lively debate in New York, particularly over the
language of Chapter Five and the Twelve Steps. As related in Part
1 of this series, Fitz and Jim became central characters in the discussions,
with Fitz favoring a Christian religious approach and Jim aligned
with those wanting a philosophical text devoid of references to God.
The resulting compromise language of "God as we understood Him"
was hailed by Bill W. as a "ten strike" that opened the
way for those of all faiths and little or no faith to embrace and
be embraced by Alcoholics Anonymous.
And when disagreement developed over the title of the Big Book, it
was Fitz to whom Bill turned for help: his search at the Library of
Congress found a dozen books titled The Way Out and none named
Alcoholics Anonymous. Thus both the book and the Fellowship were
named. Fitz and Jim were also prototype "service workers."
In addition to "Twelve Stepping" prospects and founding
groups, they pioneering institutional relations community/public emissaries.
Fitz's efforts in Washington led to groups forming in Georgetown,
Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville and Colmar Manor in
Maryland; and Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church in
Virginia. The other traveling salesman Jim B.'s need for the company
of other alcoholics led him to establish groups in Philadelphia, Baltimore,
Harrisburg, PA and Wilmington, DE.
His seed-planting in Baltimore doubtless eventually sprouted groups
in Towson, Glen Burnie and other points in Maryland.
Both developed excellent relationships with hospitals in DC and Philadelphia
to the point where A. A.'s could admit and take home alcoholics from
alkie wards to which they had were and access any hour of the day
or night. Through his liaison with top government officials, Fitz
also gained AA access to the workhouse to which drunks were sent by
An invaluable bonus growing out of Jim's founding the first group
in Philadelphia was the famous Jack Alexander article in The Saturday
Evening Post, which Jim B. was instrumental in getting published.
Publicity in the immensely popular and widely circulated Post brought
thousands of letters to AA and spurred phenomenal growth of the Fellowship
in 1941 and subsequent years.
Jim B. can also be credited with adoption of AA's Third Tradition--"The
only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking"--as
reported by Bill W. in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (pp. 143-145).
In World War II, Fitz rejoined the army where he was found to have
cancer. He died October 4, 1943, eight years sober. Jim migrated to
San Diego and continued active in AA until his death on September
8, 1974. Fittingly they rest a few yards apart just outside the chancel
of Christ Church at Owensville, where their paths first crossed as
Undoubtedly there were many other unsung heroes among "early
timers" whose efforts helped Alcoholics Anonymous through its
perilous first years, but few if any made critical contributions like
those of the two Maryland men of south Anne Arundel County.
3: How It Happened in Baltimore
The first request for help from
Baltimore was received by the New York AA/office in mid-December 1939,
eight months after publication of the Big Book. In his letter, Louis
M. wrote that he was tired of making and breaking promises to his
wife and pastor. He saw himself in many of the stories in the book
and wanted, if possible, to get in touch with some of the men who
had the same problems.
The Office promptly responded, " ... we are sorry that at present
we have no members in Baltimore, and we are hoping it is possible
for you to make the trip to Washington, DC, where we do have a few
members . . ."
Louis was advised to contact Ned F., who along with Fitz M. (see Parts
1 and 2 of Margenser series), had begun the nucleus of a small group
in DC several months earlier. his was to be the first on-going group
outside the New York and Ohio areas.
About the time of Louis' letter, Jim B. -- one of the earliest members
to stay sober in New York -- got a traveling sales job that took him
to Philadelphia. Upon arriving, and recognizing the need to work with
other alcoholics to stay sober, he went out into the community to
carry the message as was done in New York and Ohio. As a result, he
was able to start the first group in Philadelphia on February 26,
Jim's job also brought him to Baltimore, his old hometown. There he
was able to locate a former drinking buddy, Jim R., who had been sober
four years after a religious recovery at Keswick Colony, New Jersey.
Jim R. had been working with two other alcoholics without success.
Jim B.'s arrival was timely -- he had 12th step experience and had
already started up an AA group in Philly.
On June 16, 1940, the two Jims met with three other men at Jim R.'s
home on St. Paul Street. Several days later, Jim B. received a letter
in Philadelphia from a Baltimore lawyer who wanted to help his alcoholic
brother and offered his office in the Munsey Building on Fayette Street
as a meeting place. On June 22, 1940, the six men held the second
Baltimore AA meeting in that office.
In early October the group moved to the Altamount Hotel basement on
Eutaw St. for several months, after which the group had to leave to
make room for processing of World War II draftees into the military.
About that time, the members located a run-down, second-floor mail-order
house at 857 Eutaw Street. With only six dollars in the treasury,
four members signed a two-year lease at $45.00 per month. Several
sobering-up members removed shelving, painted the interior, and put
down a new floor. An employer who was so pleased that one of his workers
got sober, donated 50 chairs to the cause.
The group moved into "857" in early 1941 and remained there
until 1987 when it moved to 123 N. Clinton Street in Highlandtown.
Club 857 -- the No. 1 group in Baltimore - is still in operation after
Publicity contributed greatly to the public knowledge and growth of
Baltimore's budding AA group:
16, 1941 -- Baltimore Sunday Sun article by Harrison Johnston
1941 -- Saturday Evening Post magazine article, "Alcoholics
Anonymous" by Jack Alexander
25, 1941 -- Baltimore News American article by Louis Azreal
Early members said that as each
article came out, the phones would start ringing. The AAs were like
firemen, always ready to go. "857" -- also called the Rebos
Club -- had grown to about 50 members in 16 months, which included
several women. The group had no traditions to guide them in those
early days, so they tried whatever they thought might work. For example,
they asked judges to lock up drunks until they got sober and the A.
A.'s would then try to help them; they asked the Salvation Army to
provide beds; and they gave out meal tickets, which didn't work because
the drunks sold the tickets for booze money.
Looking back, the local and national publicity had an incalculable
impact on the growth of AA. By the end of 1941, there were over 50
active groups in the United States, according to estimates provided
by AA's New York office.
"857" continued to grow, and the need to start up another
group became apparent. Transportation was a problem as trolleys or
busses were sometimes not available. People often didn't have automobiles,
and gas was limited because of World War II rationing. Because of
periodic overcrowding, the Baltimore Fire Department said the club
site was unsafe.
Several suburban members decided to start the second group in Towson.
The first meeting of seven people was held in the study of an Episcopal
minister on April 18, 1945. Two months later, they moved to a rented
room above a store on York Road. At that first meeting, the gathering
included a judge, a probation officer, a doctor, and two clergymen.
In late 1945, the group found new quarters in an apartment building
basement at 212 Washington Avenue, away from streetcar and traffic
noise, and large enough to accommodate the growing membership. This
location became well known to drunks, as it was only a block away
from the police station.
The Towson group remained on Washington Avenue for 40 years. In late
1985, it moved to and remains at the Carver Annex at Jefferson Street
and Towsontown Boulevard. The Maryland General Service Archives are
also located at the Carver Annex.
Fifty years ago drunks had little chance for a decent life. They were
viewed as psychos by the medical profession and as spiritual lepers
by the churches. Now, here was an answer, and the several dozen recovering
Baltimore alcoholics were eager to pass it on.
Tom S. and Lib S. -- two of our pioneer members -- came across a beat-up,
downtown Baltimore row house being auctioned off. They were living
in a boarding house and had limited assets, but nevertheless made
a down payment. Tom recruited 18 friends, each of whom advanced $1,000
for working capital. One floor would be a club house, one a business
office for educating the public about alcoholism, and another for
detoxing and housing drunks. Sailors awaiting sea duty would help
with the renovations.
At a business meeting requested by Towson members, Tom and Lib representing
"857" members faced heated disagreement and squabbling.
To muster support for their plan, they and a friend went to New York
to see Bill W. Bill said that if he had been asked about it five years
prior, he would have been all for it. But now he was against it because
experience showed that AA should be self-supporting, should not have
any outside affiliation, and should focus on attraction rather than
As a suggestion, it was noted that Cleveland and Boston
were growing faster than other cities and each had an effective
central AA office, separate from clubs and groups. Tom and
Lib decided to drop the big plan, to return the $18,000,
and to recommend that Baltimore follow the Cleveland-Boston
arrangement. At another briefing of Baltimore members, tempers
flared once again. Club house advocates believed they could
more effectively handle 12th-step calls and walk-ins. But
after about a one-week cooling-off period, the members became
A tiny room in the Bromo-Seltzer
Tower Building was rented in late 1948. Lib S. stated that if you
stood in the middle of the room and extended your hands, you would
touch the walls.
Since 1948, the Intergroup Office has moved four times and has been
located at 5438 York Road since July 1986. Operating Intergroup back
in the 1940's was a rather simple but important job. Since then, responsibilities
have snowballed. Over 3000 calls ring monthly. The volume of activity
requires special workers: one full-time and three part-time. In addition
to regular staff, about 30 volunteers answer calls for help and meeting
information. The staff coordinates with employers, clergy, media,
hospitals, professionals and institutions as required. Intergroup
conducts all of its affairs according to the Traditions.
This volume of work would be impossible to handle without the aid
of modern technology. A computer database helps keep accurate information
on meeting locations and times. Twelfth Step lists are kept up to
date. The over 900 meetings need constant assistance. All groups receive
bulletins and council reports twice monthly. Twenty thousand directories
are printed for distribution every eight months. Also, the office
stocks and sells conference-approved literature ... Action is the
magic word in AA and there is lots of action at the Intergroup Office,
the Baltimore service hub.
The enclosed graph shows Baltimore's
remarkable meeting growth. Early members were innovative, carry-the-message
activists. They took it upon themselves to get spot information, announcements
and interviews on the radio and place simple ads and articles in the
newspapers. They informed the clergy, the medical profession, and
law enforcement personnel. They took meetings to mental institutions
and prisons. One of our early embers, Tom B. (see box), was instrumental
in starting the first half-way house, the American Council on Alcoholism,
and the annual AA Sobriety Show to celebrate recovery.
Along with AA's growing success came a change in public attitude.
People started to recognize alcoholism-once thought to be a moral
deficiency--as a health problem. U. S. medical societies, including
the World Health Organization in 1954, declared alcoholism a disease.
Recovering employees convinced their companies to implement programs
to help alcoholic employees, and labor unions were very supportive.
Our own Jim Burwell provided guidance to the DuPont Company, using
AA as the vehicle for recovery. (Dupont may have been the first company
to have a viable program.)
Government action had far-reaching impact. James C. of Baltimore was
able to develop and have passed the 1968 Maryland Comprehensive Intoxication
and Alcoholism Control Act, the first such law in the country. This
act preceded by two years the famous U. S. Public Law 96-616, the
so-called Hughes Act, which declared that alcoholism was a disease
and all U. S. Government agencies were to have employee assistance
programs. The positive examples set by recovering alcoholics and actions
such as those mentioned above generated many calls for help. Members
would meet face-to-face with the callers to share their AA experiences
and encourage meeting attendance. Membership and meetings spread in
all directions, and by 1970 there were about 140 weekly meetings.
Then growth increased dramatically to about 900 meetings by 1991.
However from 1991 to mid-1994, meetings increased only by 33. This
dramatic decline in growth may surprise AA members, especially since
the trend is not simply a Baltimore happening. A review of data from
Box 459, published by the N. Y. General Service Office, reflects similar
trends in the U. S. and Canada. GSO estimated that in 1991 the number
of AA groups grew by only 5%, in 1992 by but 3%, and in 1993 by a
scant .7%. And a review of estimated data for the same time span shows
a similar trend in membership growth.
These statistical snapshots prompt the authors to ponder several questions-
Is this a natural statistical development and the problem of alcoholism
in North America actually leveling out, or is AA starting to go downhill?
Are we failing in AA's primary purpose of carrying the message to
Could the trends reflect a serious threat to AA's future?
We raise these questions not to be alarmists, but to sound a timely
alert against complacency and suggest that perhaps AA members and
groups need to take inventories and decide what, if anything, should
be done about the trends.
Early AA in Baltimore,
April 1975, written by Henry M. and Don H. of the first Towson Group.
Historical material provided by:
Ed B., Maryland General Service Archivist
Susan K., Baltimore Intergroup Office Administrator
Ray R., longtime member now living in Florida *Bob M., longtime member,
American Council on Alcoholism
S., interviewed on July 9, 1994. Lib was a pioneer in Baltimore AA
development, sober since Sept. 1945, active for years in Baltimore,
Washington and New York, having worked in the General Service Office
for 11 years.
We need your help to make our
history comprehensive and accurate. In this third of an eight-part
history, we had planned to identify which four groups started after
Towson. Opinions were many and varied, and no directories were available
up to Feb. 1953.
In particular, we need information
about group and Intergroup evolution outside the Baltimore areas.
We also want to cover subjects such as institutional service, special
interest groups, and events such as the Maryland State Convention.
Please help us. Send information
8008 Old Alexandria Ferry Road
Clinton, MD 20735.
Also let us know of any errors
in our articles.
AA CAME TO SPARKS, MD.
In her memoir, Lois Remembers,
Lois records the "unique way" that an AA group was established
in the tiny community of Sparks, MD, a few miles north of Baltimore.
It seems that Tom B.'s wife had long been nagging him to get into
AA. Tom was long on promises to do so, but short on action. When Mrs.
B. finally applied serious pressure, Tom was moved to put pencil to
paper. In his alcoholic deviousness, instead of writing to AA's General
Service Office in New York, Tom addressed AA at the most remote and
unlikely place he expected would bring a response- Capetown, South
Surprisingly, he soon received a reply telling him of the members'
experience and suggesting he write GSO in New York.
Tom was so taken aback that he did just that. Lois writes, "He
started a group in Sparks. Maryland, MD and called it Capetown Group
Lois also records that "...all through his long AA life, Tom
continued to correspond with 'his' group in Capetown
4: Alcoholics Anonymous Spreads Into Southern Maryland
The pioneering groups of Alcoholics
Anonymous founded in Washington, DC in 1939 and Baltimore in 1940
became the twin hubs for the spin off groups in suburbs south of those
The start of suburban groups spreading from the two cities stemmed
partly from wartime gasoline rationing and coincided with the development
of GI housing beyond the metro centers. The first Maryland groups
spawned by Washington started in Chevy Chase in 1945, in Silver Spring
the following year, and in Colmar Manor several years later. Baltimore's
initial offshoot was established north of the city in Towson in 1945,
but solid data on the founding of first groups south of the city are
The two oldest continuing groups of record the authors have found
south of Baltimore are the Brooklyn Park group, established in 1952,
and Glen Burnie, begun in 1953. Soon after Glen Burnie, the Anne Arundel
group started at Sandrock's real estate office on Ritchie Highway,
later moving to Woods Memorial Church at Severna Park.
Charlie M. recalls these three, plus the Health Department meeting
in Annapolis, as the only groups in Anne Arundel County when he came
into AA in 1957. Other early groups in northern Anne Arundel County
starting in the early Sixties included Ft. Meade, Pasadena and Annapolis
However, the very earliest meeting south of Baltimore appears to have
begun in Annapolis at St. Mary's Catholic Church. Jimmy L. recalls
attending his first meeting there in 1950, and the 1953 and 1961
Baltimore Where and When's listed meetings there. Also,
church bulletins announced meetings at St. Mary's for several years
thereafter, but none have been held there for a long time. So the
oldest continuing group in Annapolis is the one started at the County
Health Department, which later moved and is now the Heritage Group.
The next group established in south AA County was Tracey's Landing
in 1961. Chuck O.'s recollection is that, like many others, "It
began with a resentment and a coffee pot" when Duvall A. had
a "falling out" with the honcho of the lone Annapolis group,
Barse S. Duvall's widow, Queenie, remembers that Frank K. asked Duvall
for help in getting a group started in south county, and Tracey's
Landing was the result.
The second oldest group still meeting in Maryland's capital city is
the Wednesday Night Stag Group, which began in 1965. Chuck 0. and
George H. are the only survivors of the five charter members (including
Duvall, Owen B. and Jack B.). "Not one of the charter members
ever found it necessary to drink again:' 84 year old George reports.
Chuck was the prime mover in establishing the Annapolis Area Intergroup
in 1972. The organizational meetings were held in his home, with 29
groups represented at the charter session. And it was Chuck who had
obtained approval of his pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in
1965 to hold meetings at the now-famous Red House, which became the
Intergroup's headquarters. Countless members credit their recovery
to a good beginning at the Red House.
Annapolis Area Intergroup files show that groups represented at the
charter meeting included: All Saints, Annapolis, AA General Hospital.
Asbury, Calvert City Hospital, Dry Dock Eleven, Eastport, Fog Lifters,
Ft. Smallwood, Pasadena, St. Anne's Church, St. Margaret's, St. Martin's
Lutheran Church, St. Phillips Episcopal Church, Severna Park, Tracey's
Landing, Twin Beaches, Unity, Wednesday Stag, and 174 West Street.
The thriving Belair-Bowie group apparently was not represented at
the Annapolis Area Intergroup kick-off meeting, perhaps because its
membership didn't know where it belonged.
In the early Sixties. two large planned suburban community developments
got started in the area--Belair-Bowie, just inside the eastern Prince
George's County line, and Crofton, across Rt. 3 in Anne Arundel County.
Until then the only nearby community was Old Town Bowie. But by 1964,
the sprawling Bowie-Belair housing development was well under way
and had become a mecca for people from far and wide.
One new resident. five years sober and active in AA in the DC-Northern
Virginia area, took the lead in starting the Belair-Bowie group late
in 1964. Some months later, another five-years sober member arrived
from Baltimore as did several A. A.s active in Annapolis. Members
coming from the several areas seemed to have first-group loyalty and
believed they "really knew how to do it right." To accommodate
the diversity, the Bowie group was listed in meeting directories for
all three areas--DC, Baltimore, and Annapolis.
The nearest meetings to Bowie at the time were Cheverly, College Park,
Ft. Meade, Pasadena, Severna Park, Annapolis, and Tracey's Landing.
Bowie members were energetic message-carriers in the fast-growing
area, and dozens of new groups evolved from the original group-- which
still meets at the Sacred Heart Church on Route 450.
How Crofton got started is a message in itself. Ginny B.'s husband
had a drinking problem and she became dedicated to Al-Anon. She personally
delivered Al-Anon literature to churches in the Crofton community.
One minister--Fred Wood of the Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church--wanted
to get meetings going at his church. Ginny rounded up interested AA
and Al-Anon members, and the Crofton group was started in July 1974.
For some seven years before the operation of the Annapolis Area Intergroup
began in 1972, the AA telephone contact in the Annapolis Area was
the home phone of Duvall and Queenie A., the latter a founder of Annapolis
Al-Anon. The first phone call for help was answered on New Year's
Day 1965; the caller got sober and was active in Annapolis for many
After being active in AA's No. 1 Group--Dr. Bob's Kings School group--in
Akron for four years, Bud and Jean Marie L. landed in Severna Park
in 1970 to find only one group close by, meeting at Woods Memorial
Church on Thursday nights. The pair became very active in the area,
and over the next five years they were involved in starting a number
of AA groups in the Severna Park area. Among groups they got under
way were the Sharing, Freedom, Early Birds, St. John's Catholic Church.
and Benfield Road Baptist Church groups. After the Intergroup Headquarters
were established at the Red House, they started and were responsible
for holding the nightly beginner meetings there. Meanwhile, AA had
arrived in deep Southern Maryland--at Leonardtown in St. Mary's County
in 1948 and at Accokeek in Prince George's County in 1953.
Local legend has it that AA came to Leonardtown in the same way the
message was carried to many cities and hamlets in the early days--via
a traveling alcoholic salesman. The popular story goes that a salesman
visiting Duke's Restaurant in Leonardtown brought the word of AA's
way out of alcohol addiction to the then-suffering wife of the proprietor.
Encouraged to learn more about and benefit from AA's program, the
late Lillian Duke had to travel by bus from Leonardtown to Washington
for many months.
As Lillian grew strong in sobriety but weary of commuting, she decided
to try to start a group in Leonardtown, located not far from the southernmost
tip of Maryland. After putting out the word in the area, Lillian sat
alone for weeks before another alcoholic, Bart F, ventured to join
her and constitute the first AA group in the Tri-County area. Like
Duvall and Queenie in Annapolis, she provided the area's AA telephone
answering service from her home at the start. She is also given major
credit for getting Al-Anon under way in the area.
In the years before Tri-County Intergroup was founded in the mid-Seventies,
AA calls for help and information continued to be serviced from homes
of a succession of other members, including Bart F., Dave T., Warren
K., Francis M., and Gene H.
At a recent covered-dish dinner celebrating the founding of the Leonardtown
group, a quintet of old-timers recalled how it was in their early
days. "Back then there was only one meeting in each county:'
recalled Warren K. "To make more than one meeting a week, you
had to drive from Leonardtown to Accokeek or Hughesville and Huntington."
"Yeah, you could really burn up some gas going to meetings down
here then," agreed Dave T. "Back then if you had eight or
ten members, it was considered a big group," remembered Waiter
O. "But as the pioneer groups grew, others were started in additional
Although the group could not readily pinpoint beginning dates of groups,
the consensus was that when the Leonardtown group grew to 50-60 members,
a group began meeting at the Southern Maryland Correctional Center
in Hughesville -the first group actually located in Charles County--about
1969. Similarly, when the Accokeek meeting got too large, it spawned
the Warner group at La Plata.
The first group located in Calvert County is believed to be the Huntingtown
group, followed by the Port Republic group on Broome's Island Road
and probably the Sunderland group in the Sixties. Among other early
offshoots were groups at Lusby, Cove Point, Tall Timbers, Twin Beaches,
Lexington Park, and Placid Harbor.
From the modest beginning in the 50's and 60's, more than 100 meetings
are now held weekly, spotted in almost every small community in the
Asked their views on what led to AA's explosive growth in the 70's
and 80's, the quintet of old-timers came up with a number of contributing
The appearance of articles about alcoholism and problem drinking in
popular prints like Reader's Digest and Parade, especially the self-test
quizzes that increased public awareness of alcoholism as a disease
and lessened the stigma attached to it.
The spotlight frequently turned on celebrities and public figures
who began to go public about their alcoholism and their recoveries.
The softening attitude within AA groups toward "high bottom"
drunks, women, and young people being accepted as members.
The growing Public concern about drunken driving accidents, tough
new laws to deal with the problem, and the tendency of courts to require
offenders to attend AA meetings.
The law (Hughes Act) requiring Government agencies to start programs
to help alcoholic employees, leading to a requirement that Government
health insurance plans cover treatment for alcoholism and contributing
to membership growth throughout the nation. "When the police
down here pulled you over and found you drunk, they used to just drive
you home," said one with experience. "When they started
locking us up and the courts began sending people to AA, that got
The focus on treatment by naval installations and the large population
of naval personnel in the area was also a factor, the group agreed.
They cited the fact that an officer heading the treatment program
at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station was active in the Leonardtown
group and that two naval dental technicians had started the AA group
at Lexington Park.
Interviewed later, Charlie M. came up with an added reason why AA
membership sky-rocketed in the Seventies-the maturing of the Baby
Boomers. "By the mid-Seventies, the Baby Boomers were reaching
their thirties and beginning to recognize their problem with alcohol,
and they started coming to AA." he observed. "Now, 20 or
so years later, I'm seeing fathers and sons at the same meeting."
The map accompanying this article spotlights nearly a score of the
earliest AA meetings started in the five counties south of Washington
and Baltimore-Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, and
St. Mary's. Nearing 60 years after AA was founded by Bill W. and Dr.
Bob, 55 years after Fitz M. got a group going in DC, and 54 years
after Jimmy B. helped start the first Baltimore group, close to 700
meetings are held weekly in the five-county area.
What a monument to the memory of those who "carried the message"
before us! What a responsibility for us to assure that the hand of
Alcoholics Anonymous will always be there for those yet to come.
Projected articles in this series will cover the spread of AA into
Western and Northern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, the development
of AA's statewide organization, the barriers encountered by women,
minorities and young people, and the story of AA's Preamble and the
Baltimore Prologue. Documentation of- many early developments in Maryland
AA has been hard to find or doesn't exist, so this series relies heavily
on memory and memorabilia of old-timers. Thus, some "facts"
may be subject to challenge. In the interest of accuracy and completeness,
the authors earnestly solicit help. If you find errors in the series
or have any information which would help round out the story of AA
in Maryland, please let us know by writing to the Margenser Editor.
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