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Anonymous history in your area
Washington D.C. and Virginia
A.A. History in Virginia/DC*
Boys of '39
term "boys of 39" first appears in the records
of the Washington Group in the spring of 1948. At that time
Henry S., a member of the Chevy Chase Group, was interested
in writing a history of A.A. in Washington. The term appears
in correspondence with the New York office regarding the
history. According to Henry S. and Hardin C., both of whom
were present during the first few months, the "boys
of 39" were Fitz M., Ned F., George S., Bill E., Steve
M., and Hardin C.
M., 1897 - 1943
M. has traditionally been regarded as the founder of Alcoholics
Anonymous in the Washington area. He, along with Ned F.,
brought the A.A. experience they had gained in the established
New York Group to this area. During that first year their
efforts and those of a number of other alcoholics shaped
the group into what it would become. But more important
than who-did-what, are the principles of the program, for
they are what have really shaped this group as well as all
the other groups in the fellowship.
Fitz died an untimely death in 1943, his story is preserved
in A.A. publications and correspondence and in the memories
of a few old timers. In the Big Book his story, "Our
Southern Friend", describes his early life, how he
came to find Alcoholics Anonymous, and his return to his
small town home in Maryland.
grew up in the country home of his father, a clergyman.
Just before the first World War he graduated from college
where he had begun his drinking career. The next fifteen
years of his life were dominated by the progression of alcoholism,
and landed him, in the fall of 1935, in the alcohol ward
of a new York hospital. There he met Bill Wilson. His story
tells how he came to find the A.A. way of life. In his simple
question, "Who am I to say there is no God," is
expressed the humility and spirituality that became the
theme of his life.
know from Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers that Fitz was one
of the earliest members of Alcoholics Anonymous and that
he sobered up with the help of Bill W. over the fall and
winter of 1935. We know from the GSO correspondence that
by the fall of 1939 he had taken up residence in Washington.
What he did during the period 1936 - 1939 is, however, sketchy.
story in the Big Book tells of returning to his country
house and there he describes periods of depression, doubt
in God, and bouts with an overpowering compulsion to drink.
During this part of his story he was one of the A.A. "loners."
tells of an unbearable isolation and a need to work with
others, "I am blue again. I want to sell the place
and move away. I want to get where I can find some alcoholics
to help and where I can find some fellowship." He tells
of traveling to distant cities and of spiritual lessons
to be learned during these years. A man asks him to work
with a young alcoholic. He writes, "Soon I have others
who are alcoholics and some who have other problems. I begin
to play God. I feel that I can fix them all. I do not fix
anyone, but I am getting part of a tremendous education
and I have made some new friends."
home was on the western shore of the Chesapeake and it is
possible that some of the lessons he learned during these
years were3 learned in Washington. This lends some credence
to the 1937 stories, but is merely speculation, for no further
evidence exists of his activities in this area.
these years he kept contact with fellow alcoholics in the
New York and Akron areas where there were established A.A.
groups. In Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age Bill W. describes
the contributions Fitz made to the debate over the tone
of the forthcoming book, Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill remembers:
M., one of the most lovable people that A.A. will ever know,
... fell at once into hot argument with Henry [F] about
the religious content of the coming volume. A newcomer named
Jimmy B., who like Henry was an ex-salesman and former atheist,
also got into the hassles. Fitz wanted a powerfully religious
document. Henry and Jimmy would have none of it. They wanted
a psychological book, which would lure the reader in; when
he finally arrived among us, there would be enough time
to tip him off about the spiritual character of our society.
As he worked feverishly on this project Fitz made trip after
trip to New York from his Maryland home to insist on raising
the spiritual pitch of the A.A. book. Out of this debate
came the spiritual form and substance of the document, notably
the expression, 'God as we understand Him,' which proved
to be a ten strike. As umpire of these disputes, I was obliged
to go pretty much down the middle, writing in spiritual
rather than religious or entirely psychological terms.
and Jimmy were equally ardent to carry the A.A. message.
Jimmy started the Philadelphia group in 1940 while Fitz
took the good news to Washington.
B. and Fitz are said to have been friends since boyhood.
Jimmy's name will appear periodically in the Washington
Group story as well as the Philadelphia and Baltimore stories.
these years Fitz made trips to other areas also. In a letter
dated November 23, 1940, he reminisces about a trip some
three years previous, in which he and Bill W. had visited
the group in Akron.
reply to the Alcoholic Foundation's letter of October 26
(1939) gives us reason to believe that he had established
personal relationships in Washington and that there were
people staying sober â€ even before 1939.
In most of the early correspondence with the Foundation
members used full names, disregarding anonymity within the
fellowship. Fitz's first letter contains lots of names and
it is difficult to tell who are alcoholics and who are non-alcoholic
friends. Therefore, the pertinent passage is quoted in full
opens his letter by saying that Hardin C., the fine fellow
referred to him in the October 26 letter, had contacted
him and offered his home as a meeting place. This was an
answer to a prayer, for the little group of alkies could
hold their Tuesday night meeting there. He mentions that
he has met a retired Navy Commander living in D.C. who had
gotten his A.A. in California two years previous and who
was working with alkies here. He goes on to say, "We
are getting sort of solid now with Comdr. Congre, Goldsmith,
Dillard and myself getting together. Then we have Hardin
C., the Magills, the Waters, the Andrews all very interested.
Also George E. One woman â€ Florence â€
is not in evidence. She is in love with a hellion 15 years
younger than she who feeds her beer, â€
poor woman â€ I hope she finds the way
out. I don't think she will around here. You know how the
people chatter, especially the 'gals' about the leader who
is a curious letter for although Fitz writes to Ruth Hock,
secretary of the Alcoholic Foundation, as if she would recognize
the names, and writes as though these people form a group,
most of the names do not reappear in the later records of
the Washington Group. Of the original "Boys of 39",
only Fitz and Hardin were included in the ten names mentioned
in his letter. There are a number of possible explanations;
some of these people may have been non-alcoholic friends
of Fitz's, some may have moved from the area, some may never
have really gotten sober, and some of them may have been
members of the group but were not mentioned in the correspondence.
This may have been a group similar to the Oxford Groups
â€ not restricted to alkies.
were happening and all of his letters reflect a buoyancy
and enthusiasm that seems to reflect a faith that God is
in Heaven and 'the world' is unfolding as it should. This
is even in the letters where he discusses his unhappy financial
condition. In a letter dated Wednesday, which must have
been in late October or early November, Fitz talks about
his new contacts, Dr. Klein of the Green Hill Institute,
and someone at St. Elizabeth's, and the new recruit, George
then goes on to explain that, "After trying various
expedients to get what man calls a 'job', I find that nothing
has happened. But I find that there is plenty to do here
â€ so to hell with that other stuff â€
I may have to sleep in the dog house ... but it's O.K. with
me ... If I'm supposed to have that kind I'll get it. I
find plenty to do as is ... I am paid up at Gatewood until
Sunday." By Monday Fitz was staying with another alky,
George E., and using his sister Agnes' apartment as an office.
"I have been living as circumstances direct and provide,"
Fitz writes, and his main concern at this time is acquiring
a general headquarters for A.A. in the District, a "room
with a phone as headquarters. And get some permanency in
it, we are rather nebulous to the general public ... When
we get the G.H.Q. I will get some publicity on it."
insecurity is a theme that seems to run throughout Fitz's
life. Through these problems he is able to see his salvation.
"Nothing is right," he writes in "Our Southern
Friend". "Finances are in bad shape. I must find
a way to make some money." And he is tempted to drink
over the problems. "I cannot see the cause of this
temptation now. But I am later to learn that it began with
my desire for material success becoming greater than my
interest in my fellow man."
deeply spiritual nature of Fitz is remembered by those who
knew him, and it precluded his involvement in such worldly
activities as working for money and the accumulation of
material possessions. Fitz was a man with a mission, maybe
his last letter of 1939, November 25, Fitz mentions that
he had received a grand letter from Clarence S. of Cleveland
(the Brewmeister of the Big Book) and requests copies of
endorsements of A.A. to show his new friends, two ministers
and a priest. "Can you get me a copy of Harry Emerson
Fosdick's letter about the A.A.'s? Also just a few of Dr.
Silkworth's articles? Has any Catholic ever written any
kind of endorsement of A.A.," he writes.
what we have seen of Fitz's study we can be fairly confident
that something did happen before the fall of 1939 in Washington
concerning alcoholics, but the beginnings of what was to
become the Washington Group occurred at this time. Fitz
had arrived in town and worked with Hardin C. on referral
from New York. Several days later they found George S. in
the Green Hill Institute undergoing "Samaritan Treatment"
and brought him into the group. And about this time Ned
F., the second New York Group member arrived in town and
began to work with referrals from the Foundation. Events
began to occur rapidly. The publication of the Big Book
had increased the calls for help from all over the country
and referrals from the Washington area increased proportionately.
The steady stream of referrals from New York produced new
recruits and the small group's twelve step work reached
drunks in the city who would otherwise have simply gone
by the boards. One example of this is the story of Dick
T., the man who panhandled Fitz in a downtown park and ended
up getting twelve stepped into the program.
F. had become a member of Alcoholics Anonymous during the
spring of 1939. Prior to this time he had tried all the
known cures for his alcoholism. He had spent the summer
of 1938 in the expensive Bloomingdale Institute only to
end up drunk and in trouble two weeks after hiss release.
His next stop was the Westchester Hospital for the Insane
where he met the man who introduced him to Alcoholics Anonymous
and took him to his first meeting. At that meeting two things
stuck in his mind. Dr. Bob S. described how he had been
drunk from 1898 until he met Bill in 1934. Bill W. spoke
of the hope that is the spiritual base of the fellowship,
"Can you admit to the barest possibility of a power
greater than yourself," he asked.
as he approached a neighborhood bar, Ned contemplated the
threatening reality implied by Bob's thirty-five year drunk,
and he began to see that in Bill's question was the hope
that summer and fall Ned remained in New York where he attended
meetings and worked with still practicing drunks. A lawyer
by profession, but unemployed, he survived on $22.50 a week
supplied by his mother in Cleveland.
happy coincidence occurred when Dr. Sam Crocker, who had
been treating Ned, was visited by a friend from Washington.
The friend had come to New York to visit a potential employee
who was also a patent of Sam's. Unfortunately the man was
an alcoholic and was, at that time, the inmate of a mental
institution, unable to accept the position. Sam had been
impressed by Ned's recovery in A.A. and recommended him
to fill the legal assistant position in the government agency.
accepted and made preparation to leave for the Nation's
capital. His first assignment in Washington was a referral
from Bill W., who suggested that he talk to an ex-Army Sergeant
who needed and might even want the program. When he arrived
in town he was greeted by Ruth H. in her customary manner.
"Bill Wilson advised me that you are now in Washington
and would be glad to do what you could," she writes,
"I have a few inquiries which I will send along shortly.
Meanwhile, we have an urgent and sincere letter from Mr.
Louis M. of Baltimore ..." Ned had just been officially
initiated into the Washington contingent.
the native Washington Drunks who comprised four of the six
"boys of 39" very little is known. We know that
Hardin C. had contacted the Foundation office and was referred
to Fitz. We know that he and his wife offered their home
as a meeting place for the group.
S., the third member, held a rather prestigious position
in the federal government. At the time Fitz found him he
was in the Greenhill Institute undergoing "Samaritan
Treatment" for his alcoholism. This was probably early
in November. Shortly after his release from Greenhill he
became an active member of the group and returned to his
job with a New Deal agency. George was influential in acquiring
the Veteran's of Foreign Wars Hall for the regular public
meeting in the spring.
E. was a well to do Washingtonian who worked in the publishing
business. Before finding the Washington Group he had remained
sober by attending the meetings of an area Oxford Group.
Although he was an active member of the group, and in later
years worked toward the opening of a Washington office of
the National Council on Alcoholism, very little is recorded
about his first year work.
M. was an ex-Army Sergeant and may have been the man Bill
W. had sent Ned to contact. While he was a member of the
group he worked in one of the area correctional institutions.
After joining the group in late 1939, he remained a member
until the summer of 1941, when he moved to Atlanta and was
central to the beginning of the group there.
question that may arise is how did these men come together
to form a group? Although there is no information among
the records, the unverified stories that have been handed
down may provide some insight. There are several versions
of the YWCA story. Another holds that around Thanksgiving
of 1939 Marty Mann appeared at a public meeting at the YWCA
on behalf of the National Council on Alcoholism. Marty was
also an AA member and this meeting may have alerted some
members of the community to the presence of AA members in
the area. Several other sources indicate that the Washington
Group held a public meeting in a rented hall in 1939.
the stories mentioned in this paper have come from reliable
sources: members who were a part of the group at the time,
AA publications and newspaper articles. Some of the stories
were, however, either remembered or written many years after
the event. Memories fade and exact dates, even years, tend
to merge over time. Therefore, in this history, only events
that were documented at the time they happened are treated
as hard facts. All else, including after-the-fact accounts,
are cited here as "stories". This policy has been
particularly adhered to concerning public events such as
meetings, locations, and dates. Some of the stories are
certainly true, and probably most of them are based in some
degree on fact. The reader may decide that for himself.
will also become evident that many important names have
been omitted from this story. That is because these names
did not appear in the correspondence or publications available
for research. Oral history may eventually fill in some of
these gaps, but it is hoped that further work collecting
archival documents will provide the missing information.
A., a northern Virginia businessman, for example, was very
active during this first year, but his story does not appear
among the records. Bill may have been introduced to A.A.
prior to 1940 and is remembered for his trips by train to
New York where he learned, directly from the source, how
A.A. works. He was active in organizing the group there
during that first year, and continued his work in the southern
states after leaving Washington in 1945. The activities
of other members such as Paul K., the alcoholic Dutch plumber,
Eddie K., Paul H., Kev S., and Len H. are not documented
in the records available at this time.
names and who-did-what are not what is important. These
were the "boys of 39" and perhaps a few of the
"boys of 40", and they formed the nucleus of a
group that would multiply tenfold over the next ten months.
Who-did-what is not so important as that something was done.
This was forwarded to me via a friend in Canada. It is
short early history of AA in the Washington, DC area circa1939/40.