| print this
Anonymous history in your area
Brief History of Alcoholics Anonymous
In Northern New Jersey
Northern, New Jersey
The Big Book Study Group of South Orange, New Jersey
spark that was to flare into the first A.A. group was struck
at Akron, Ohio in June 1935, during a talk between a New
York stockbroker and an Akron physician.”
(AABB 2nd Edition, p.xv)
second small group promptly took shape at New York…
(AABB 2nd Edition, p.xvii)
August of 1935 Bill Wilson left Akron and returned to New
York. Not long after, Bill found his first New York prospect
at Town’s Hospital. Most historians date it as September
when Bill first began working with Henry G. Parkhurst. Henry
(Hank) had been an executive with the Standard Oil Co. and
was fired for his drinking. Hank was to become Bill’s
first New York “sponsee” and was from Teaneck,
New Jersey. New Jersey A.A. can trace its roots to this
the fall of 1935, a little band of recovering drunks had
formed and began attending “Oxford Group” meetings
in Brooklyn at Bill & Lois’s house at 182 Clinton
Street. These meetings included Bill and his wife Lois,
Hank and his wife Kathleen, and John Fitzhugh Mayo. Hank
(The Unbeliever), and Fitz (Our Southern Friend) had their
stories included in the first edition of the Big Book. The
A.A. history book, “Pass It On” indicates that
there were other attendees at these Tuesday night meetings
including Ebby Thacher who had moved in with the Wilson’s,
Shep Cornell, Freddie B (The Chemistry Professor) Brooke
B. (from Calvary House) and Alec the Finn who had also moved
in with the Wilson’s. In later years, Jerseyites Bill
Ruddell and his wife Kathleen from Hackettstown, Herb Debevoise
and his wife Margaret from South Orange and Ernest McKenzie
from Westwood would also attend the Tuesday night meetings.
the close of 1935, there were two growing bands of sober
alcoholics within the Oxford Groups. The Akron contingent
consisting of Dr. Bob, Bill Dotson, Ernie Galbraith, Walter
Bray and Phil Smith. The New York contingent consisted of
Bill Wilson, Hank Parkhurst, Fitz Mayo and Silas Bent. Other
members in both contingents had not yet achieved sobriety
or were continuously slipping.
was a slow year for the New York contingent of the newly
recovering drunks. The group added just one new member,
Myron Williams (Hindsight). The Akron Group added seven
more members during this same period. Both groups continued
to maintain their sobriety through their affiliation with
the Oxford Groups; and in New York, the Tuesday Night meetings
at the Wilson’s home on Clinton Street.
Moving forward to 1937, on February 13th the “Alcoholic
Squadron” of the New York Oxford Group held a meeting
in New Jersey at Hank Parkhurst’s Teaneck home. It
was the first time the group of drunks met here in New Jersey
to conduct an “alcoholic style” Oxford Group
meeting. The purpose of this meeting was to introduce William
(A Business Man’s Recovery) of Hackettstown to the
1937, New Jersey added additional members to its ranks.
Douglas Delanoy from Plainfield joined in early 37. In July
of 37, Paul Kellogg of Roselle achieved sobriety. . In September
of 37 Florence Rankin joined the growing band of recovering
drunks and was the second woman (first from the eastern
branch) to achieve any sobriety time. Florence hailed from
Westfield, New Jersey. Florence’s story also appeared
in the first edition of the “big book” (A Feminine
August of 1937, the New York contingent split off from the
Oxford Group. Bill and Lois had been criticized by certain
Oxford Group members for their work with “drunks only.”
Bill also felt that some of the drunks were having trouble
adhering to the Oxford Group’s “Four Absolutes”,
the requirement that members adhere to guidance received
and their rigorous evangelism. The Akron contingent would
remain with the Oxford Group for another two years.
October of 1937, Bill returned to Akron on a business trip.
Visiting with Dr Bob one afternoon they “counted noses”
of the alcoholics staying sober in both New York and Akron.
They realized that some forty, formerly medically hopeless
alcoholics were recovering as the result of the life changing
program undertaken. More than half of these cases had more
than one year of continuous sobriety. Bill and Bob realized
they need to make this program of recovery available to
as many alcoholics as possible. They convince the Akron
contingent to support the idea of building hospitals to
rehabilitate alcoholics, hiring paid missionaries to carry
on the life changing work in conjunction with the hospitals,
and to write a book outlining the life changing program.
returns to New York and receives an enthusiastic response
to the ideas he had proposed in Akron. Bill and Hank begin
trying to raise funds for the book project. They have little
success over the next two months and Bill is quite dejected.
Parkhurst had opened an office in Newark New Jersey located
at 9-11 Hill Street. Hank later moved the office to the
6th floor of 17 William Street. The office was "the
headquarters for a rapidly failing business," according
to Bill. The "rapidly failing business" was Honor
Dealers, which Hank had conceived, according to one source,
as a way of getting back at Standard Oil, which had fired
him. His plan was to provide selected gasoline stations
with the opportunity to buy gasoline, oil, and automobile
parts on a cooperative basis. Hank hired a secretary, Ruth
Hock and Bill Wilson was hired to be a salesman for the
company. Ruth remembered very little gasoline business being
A lot of people dropped in to discuss their drinking problems,
and on more than one occasion she observed Bill and Hank
kneeling in prayer by the side of Hank's desk with one of
these visitors, an Oxford Group custom when seeking God's
guidance. It was here in the offices of Honor Dealers that
the book Alcoholics Anonymous was to be written.
of 1938 marked the beginning of the writing of the Big Book
at Hank’s office. Bill W wrote, edited and rewrote
manuscripts at home on legal pads then dictated chapters
to Ruth Hock (nicknamed “Dutch” - short for
“Duchess” who was then the Honor Dealers Secretary).
In the spring of 1938 Bill wrote to Dr Bob that he had dictated
two chapters of the proposed book (There Is a Solution and
Bill’s Story). He also suggested at that time the
name of “Alcoholics Anonymous” for the book
as well as the idea of establishing a foundation using the
spring of 1938, Bill was being pressured to write promotional
material for the book project. Also at this time it became
evident that the group needed a foundation, so a young attorney
named John Wood, a friend of Frank Amos, was hired. The
name "The Alcoholic Foundation" was chosen to
leave open all sorts of possibilities for future endeavors.
Members of the first board of trustees were Dick Richardson,
Frank Amos, John Wood, Bill Ruddell, and Dr. Bob. Ruddell
of Hackettstown got drunk within a few months and was replaced
by another New Jersey member, Harry Brick. Harry, from Montclair,
New Jersey was “Fred”, partner in the well known
accounting firm in chapter three of the big book. Harry’s
story (A Different Slant) also appeared in the first edition
of the big book. Harry too, later got drunk and had to be
removed from the board. It seems like the early pioneers
from New Jersey would have their troubles in maintaining
Bill was the primary author of the book, Hank is credited
with writing Chapter 10, To Employers. Without Hank and
his hard driving, raising money, promoting and keeping Bill
on task, the book may never have been written.
December of 1938 the first draft of the Big Book was complete.
Four hundred multilith copies were produced and distributed
to the shareholders and interested parties for review. One
of those to review the book was reportedly the “Chief
Psychiatrist of NJ” “Dr. James Wainwright Howard”
from Montclair, New Jersey who suggested softening the tone
of the book to make it appear more suggestive.
April of 1939 the Big Book is published with the name “Alcoholics
Anonymous” Bill had credited New York member, Joe
Worden with the name.
April 25, 1939 New Jersey member Morgan Ryan of Glen Ridge
(former advertising man, asylum patient and friend of Gabriel
Heatter) appeared on Heatter’s 9:00 PM radio program
“We the People.” He told his story and made
a pitch for the newly published Big Book. Morgan had been
sequestered at the downtown Athletic Club for a number of
days to ensure his sobriety remained intact for the program.
On April 26, 1939 Bill and Lois were evicted from their
home at 182 Clinton Street in Brooklyn. They moved in with
Hank and Kathleen Parkhurst who were now living in Montclair,
New Jersey. A few days later Bill and Lois left to stay
at the Bungalow owned by Horace Chrystal (a New York member)
in Green Pond, New Jersey. Green Pond was in the remote
wilderness and Lois loved it. Her diary entries from that
time, many of which are in Lois Remembers, are the longest
and happiest of that first five-year period.
May 14, 1939, a Sunday afternoon, the very first meeting
of what was to become the New Jersey Group of Alcoholics
Anonymous took place in the home of Hank and Kathleen in
Montclair. Meetings that had been formerly held in Brooklyn
were held in New Jersey for the next 5 or 6 weeks. The meetings
began at 4:00 PM and went most of the night. They rotated
speakers for the first portion according to Jim Burwell
who was living at Hank and Kathleen's home at that time.
These were dinner meetings with Herb Debevoise. paying for
a "big spread". The wives always attended these
along with their spouse's. At the May 14th, meeting they
voted in the “Bill and Lois Home Replacement Fund”
and each pledged different amounts of which none of them
paid more than a few months. They wrote up a document with
this information which is in the GSO archives. (Bill and
Lois were doing an errand when they voted this Home Replacement
Fund in, they arrived shortly thereafter and Lois wrote
in her diary that they were thrilled.) Marty Mann was still
a Blythewood Sanitarium patient and took the train from
Connecticut to this historic meeting in New Jersey.
the early summer of 1939 there was a falling out between
Bill and Hank. Hank wanted to leave his wife and marry Ruth
Hock, the secretary from Honor Dealers. She refused his
proposal and Hank felt that Bill had interfered. In late
June Hank and Kathleen would split up. Hank moved to East
Orange, and by mid June, the New Jersey Group of Alcoholics
Anonymous began meeting at the South Orange home of Herb
Debevoise on Hartford Road. At this time, the group was
beginning to grow and had about 15 members.
early September, Hank Parkhurst had returned to drinking.
Bill’s first sponsee, the great promoter of the Big
Book and the founder of A.A. in New Jersey would never again
enjoy long term sobriety. Hank would nurse resentment against
Bill for the rest of his life and cause division within
the A.A. ranks in the months to come.
the end of the summer of 1939, Bill and Lois moved in with
Bob and Mag Volentine. Their farmhouse, named “Bog
Hollow”, was located near Monsey, NY. Bob was a member
of the New Jersey Group with six months sobriety at the
October 22, 1939 the first ever public meeting of Alcoholics
Anonymous in New Jersey was held at the South Orange Community
Center. A newcomer with just five months of sobriety, Gordon
MacDougall, along with Herb Debevoise had arranged the public
meeting space to accommodate the growing New Jersey Group
who now had between twenty-five and thirty members attending
its meetings. This meeting was held on Sunday evening at
5:30 PM and marked the start of regular Sunday night meetings
held at the Community Center. It was this group, then known
as the New Jersey Group, that would become the “mother
group” for all of New Jersey. Later this group would
be known as the South Orange Sunday Night Group.
January 1, 1940 the group produced a membership roster that
is housed in the GSO archives. The survey was conducted
in preparation for the Rockefeller dinner in February. The
member list shows forty-one names, but indicates seven are
no longer group members. Of the active members, there are
several pioneers of A.A. and five people with between one
and three years of continuous sobriety. Another nineteen
members have between three months and one year and six are
working on ninety days.
group claims an overall success rate of 73% with 46% getting
and staying sober on the first try. These were consistent
with the fellowship’s report to the Rockefellers and
the press. A.A. would continue to use the 50-25-25% figures
quoted in the foreword to the second edition of the Big
Book for many years to come. The membership of the New Jersey
Group represented more than twenty-three towns including,
South Orange, East Orange, Orange, West Orange, Bogota,
Jersey City, Caldwell, Newark, Montclair, Upper Montclair,
Irvington, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Westwood, Millburn, Verona,
Plainfield, Ridgewood, Hoboken, Hackettstown and Roselle
and two upstate New York towns.
of the newcomers with less than one year, Ray Wood, Gordon
MacDougall and Helen Penhale would become active in group
affairs and later appeared in one of the photographs in
the Jack Alexander article of the Saturday Evening Post,
March 1, 1941. Ray helped start AA is San Francisco and
both Gordon and Helen would hold trusted servant positions
in the early years of the group. Lois’s diary indicates
that she and Bill attended the South Orange meeting on February
18, 1940 and then spent the night at the MacDougall’s
East Orange home.
the membership in New Jersey grew many changes occurred.
The New Jersey Group actually became a legal business entity
with its incorporation in 1941. It was then legally know
as A.A of New Jersey, Inc. This is of course prior to the
traditions being written and the incorporation of the NJ
Group was done to allow it to conduct real estate transactions,
purchase property, sign leases and contracts, etc. Activities
somewhat incompatible with today’s A.A. traditions
1941, the New Jersey Group began to give birth to its children.
The second group in Northern New Jersey was the Morristown
Group started by Dr. Malcolm Taylor. Morristown was followed
by groups in Englewood and Fairlawn. The South Orange group
also began holding a Tuesday Luncheon meeting at the Howard
Johnson’s in East Orange.
New Jersey Group held an anniversary dinner on March 14,
1942 at the Hotel Suburban, 141 South Harrison Street in
East Orange, NJ. The featured speaker was none other than
Bill Wilson and the cost was $2.50.
1943, there were growing groups in Newark, Bloomfield and
Montclair, and in 1944 the Newark/Roseville group in association
with dozens of A.A. members from local groups formed a corporation
called the Alanon Association and purchased a building owned
by the Roseville Athletic Association (Roseville A.A.) There
was no need to change the name on the building! This is
the historic Alanon Club that we have today on 7th Avenue
A.A. in New Jersey led to the formation of New Jersey Intergroup
which had its first offices at the Alanon Club. The Intergroup
Committee of A.A. of New Jersey, Inc became official at
a meeting held in May 1945 when the Articles of Association
were adopted by the delegates representing sixteen A.A.
groups in New Jersey. The first Intergroup office was some
space set aside on the 2nd floor of the club. It was a small
office provided rent free by the club. The only furnishings
were a small desk, a few chairs and a telephone. The secretary
of Intergroup became a full time employee receiving $35.00
per week. Keeping with the tradition that groups should
be self-supporting, Intergroup requested a monthly contribution
of $.50 per member per month. Even though many groups numbered
over thirty members, Intergroup received only $5 –
$10 monthly from the groups.
originally held meetings twice a month then switched to
a monthly meeting being held on the first Monday of each
month. New Groups in New Jersey would be asked to join and
participate in the monthly meeting. Intergroup was responsible
for booking the speaker commitments for the various institutions
such as Lyons, Greystone and the Essex County Penal Institute.
Intergroup published a booklet listing the different meetings
available in New Jersey. The meeting book today still looks
very much like the original except of course in the number
April of 1948, the Intergroup office was moved to bigger
quarters at 944 Broad Street in Newark. Future moves of
the office included Clinton Street and Maplewood, New Jersey.
October of 1948, a pamphlet entitled “Facts about
Intergroup” was written which described the formation
of an Intergroup Committee and sold for $.10. The draft
for this pamphlet was sent to the Alcoholic Foundation and
the response was favorable that this type of system within
A.A. was workable. The pamphlet was circulated by the Alcoholic
Foundation to different parts of the world and served as
a guide for the formation of other Central Offices and Intergroups.
June of 1953, the book “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”
was published. Bill described the work as: “This small
volume is strictly a textbook which explains AA’s
24 basic principles and their application, in detail and
with great care.” Betty Love and New Jersey member
Tom Powers helped Bill in its writing. Jack Alexander also
helped with editing.
September 14, 1957, New Jersey held its first State Convention
of Alcoholics Anonymous at Seton Hall University in South
Orange. The program was a one day event lasting from 12
Noon until 8:45 PM. The featured speaker at the final meeting
was New Jersey’s Tom Powers, who edited and helped
write the Twelve and Twelve for Bill Wilson.
willing, more will be revealed!
following sources are gratefully acknowledged:
A Narrative Timeline of AA History 2007 – Arthur
2. Alcoholics Anonymous 2nd Edition – AAWS
3. Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age – AAWS
4. Pass It On – AAWS
5. Not God – Ernest Kurtz
6. Merton Minter – Author of, "Black Sheep"
- New Jersey A.A.
7. Nancy Olsen
8. Dr. Bob and the Good Old Timers – AAWS
9. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions – AAWS
10. History of the Big Book – Don B.
11. Lois Remembers – Al Anon
12. Various Postings on AA History Lovers Group –
13. Various writings of Bill W. AA Grapevine.
14. NNJ Area 44 Archives Fall