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Alcoholics Anonymous history in your area
Washington D.C.
The Washington Group
- continued

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Chapter 9


As the Washington Group was getting established in 1939, the national A.A. fellowship was also reaching a stage of escalating growth. According to statistics prepared by Dr. Harry Tiebolt, approximately 400 people sobered up in A.A. during 1939 bringing the total membership to around 600. At the end of 1939 the Washington Group had 6 or possibly 7 members. In 1940 another 2000 sobered up nationally including about 70 members from the Washington Group. Another 8000 came into the program in 1941 increasing A.A. membership to over 10,000 nationwide, and by September of 1941 the Washington Group had grown to more than 300 members.

No central record has been kept of the founding dates of the various A.A. groups. A good approximation of the national A.A. scene in 1940 has been provided, however, in correspondence between Margaret B., secretary for the Foundation in 1948, and Henry S., of the Chevy Chase Group.

Henry S., who had a longtime interest in the history of A.A., intended to write a history of the Washington Group. In August of 1940 and again in 1948 Henry wrote to the Alcoholic Foundation to ask, "Just where does the Washington Group stand in the order of A.A. group beginnings?"

His 1940 letter to the Foundation requested a complete list of A.A. membership and mailing addresses. The Foundation staff, who were at that time learning to work with the concept of anonymity, refused this request, but sent instead a list of cities in which "A.A. activity goes on." The list sent to Henry included the following 14 cities and the name of an A.A. contact in each city. The Washington Group is not included because the list was written for Washingtonian Henry S., who didn't need to be informed of its existence.

Richmond, Virginia Cleveland, Ohio
Dayton, Ohio Houston, Texas
San Francisco, California Coldwater, Michigan
Little Rock, Arkansas Detroit, Michigan
Akron, Ohio Chicago, Illinois
Los Angeles, California Jackson, Michigan
Evansville, Indiana New York, New York

This was not a comprehensive list of A.A. groups in early 1940. Instead, it was a list of cities in which there was an A.A. contact. The list included cities with established groups; cities in which a few meetings occurred, but the group failed to survive; and cities in which a lone alcoholic maintained contact with the New York Group.

When Henry wrote her again eight years later, Margaret could provide a clearer impression of the state of A.A. across the country in the summer of 1940. She said that only about six of the fourteen cities listed in the 1940 letter actually had A.A. groups and the remaining eight probably were A.A. loners or contacts. She describes the groups in these eight cities as follows:

The Richmond Group which was represented by McGhee B., did not really get off the ground until a few years later. Dayton did not appear until much later and it is questionable whether the A.A. contact listed in 1940 remained in the program. Larry J. was in Houston, but there wasn't much of a group there in 1940. The same goes for Los Angeles and San Francisco, which had a couple of members each and plenty of headaches before any established group could be recognized. Coldwater and Evansville were simply listed for contacts and the Little Rock entry is questionable.

Margaret also provided a description of the groups that did exist at that time, as she reminisced about her first six months in the program:

I first saw the light of day in A.A. early in 1940, and that summer Ruth [H.], another member, and I decided we would visit the established A.A. groups. So we set out to visit the first one which was holding regular meetings and had more than a handful of members. This was Cleveland. We next went to Chicago, where about 100 members gathered in a downtown building each Tuesday night. Then we cut back to Detroit, where I guess there were about 25 or 50 members. Jackson, Michigan also boasted of 20 members, and we stopped there. In order to make a big showing, they had their wives, husbands, sweethearts, friends, and anyone who had been dry five minutes come to the meeting. This was in the good old days when we had to show the world a large membership, and anyone who could sit still for 2 hours was counted in. At that time, I believe Fitz had gone to Washington, and there were a few scattered members there, but not what we then called a large group. The same might be said for Philadelphia and a couple of other places.

It's awfully hard to specify dates of founding and ages of groups, for so many personal factors enter. I imagine that Washington dates their founding from the time Fitz went there. I know Philadelphia bases theirs from the date Jimmy [B.] stepped on their ground.

The fellowship was growing at amazing speed in 1940. By the fall of the year the number of groups had grown to twenty-two according to a Bulletin prepared by Ruth Hock at the Alcoholic Foundation on November 14, 1940. The bulletin listed sixteen towns where lone A.A.s had recovered through the book alone or from a brief contact with established groups, five cities where groups were "in a get together stage," and the following list of communities where A.A. work was well established and weekly meetings were being held:

New York City, N.Y. Evansville, Indiana
South Orange, N.J. Little Rock, Arkansas
Washington, D.C. Philadelphia, Pa.
Richmond, Va. Baltimore, Md.
Detroit, Michigan Waunakee, Wisconsin
Jackson, Michigan Greenwich, Conn.
Coldwater, Michigan Cleveland, Ohio
Chicago, Illinois Akron, Ohio
Houston, Texas Toledo, Ohio
Los Angeles, Calif. Dayton, Ohio
San Francisco, Calif. Youngstown, Ohio

Although the two lists appear to conflict--Ruth's letter says there were no more than six groups in the summer, and the bulletin lists twenty-two in November -- it is possible that the numbers were both correct, reflecting the tremendous growth of the fellowship during 1940, just after the Big Book was published.

All over the country alcoholics and their loved ones had tried everything available, and many were willing to go to any length to find a cure or relief from their addiction. When Alcoholics Anonymous was published, word spread through newspapers, magazines, and by word of mouth. The Alcoholic Foundation was awash with calls and letters from all over the country asking for copies of the book. Because the way to stay sober described in the book was to work with other alcoholics, twelve-step work proliferated.

One only has to witness the amazing growth of the Washington Group during the first months after it was formed in order for the nationwide numbers to become more believable.

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Chapter 10


As the New Year of 1940 opened, the small Washington Group met on Tuesday nights, probably at the home of Hardin C., because they had not yet found a location to hold open public meetings. They answered referrals from the Alcoholic Foundation, twelve stepped local drunks, and helped each other stay sober. But to Fitz and Ned, it was clear that in order for the group to flourish and to carry the message to all the drunks that needed it, they had a long way to go.

Although Alcoholics Anonymous had finally attracted national attention, the small group of A.A.s in Washington was still new and unknown. Few people knew enough about alcoholism or the A.A. program to search out the fellowship.

In order to accomplish their goals, the group had to make themselves better known in the community. They had to convince doctors, police, and other professionals that their program was both responsible and a service to the whole community as well as to sick individuals. They had to demonstrate that they were not boisterous drunks, self-righteously preaching during short periods of sobriety. Above all, they had to convince the local alcoholics and their loved ones that they offered a real and lasting solution, not just another short-lived quick-fix.

Twelve step work and staying sober were the principle tasks of the members during the first months of 1940, but word spread rapidly that an Alcoholics Anonymous group was in Washington. During that year the group made many new friends in medical, religious, and civic organizations and brought in new members through an active twelve step program. But not all of the early contacts were friendly.

Just after the New Year, Ned was approached by a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union who asked him to speak to her group. His letter of January 8, 1940, indicates that Ned expected a controversial evening at the Temperance Union, "Also have talked to the W.C.T.U. lady and am licking my chops in anticipation of a riotous evening later this week."

The Temperance Union people wanted to outlaw alcoholic beverages entirely, and the "belligerent drunken slob" was their best advertisement. They believed that the work of Alcoholics Anonymous was intended to help the alcoholic, to relieve him of the compulsion to drink and help him become a useful member of society, and that it would make the temperance movement's proselytizing chore more difficult.

One temperance writer described members of Alcoholics Anonymous as "missionaries of the liquor business" because they demonstrated that all alcoholics were not skid row bums, but that they could become productive, respectable members of the community. Dr. Haggard, of the Yale Centerfor Alcohol Studies, commented that, ". . . this attitude makes sense, but it does not make humanitarianism."

Ned did not seem threatened by the temperance people, and his later letters do not refer to the outcome of the meeting. According to Fitz's second wife, Arabella, however, some W.C.T.U. members tried a different strategy later that summer. The 1940 series of newspaper stories by Washington Star journalist Bob Erwin were a great success, informing the suffering alcoholics and their families, and public officials of the existence of the group. The stories also informed the members of the temperance societies of the presence of the group, and, according to Arabella, required Fitz to explain the A.A. position.

It (the articles) brought in a great many people. It also brought in the W.C.T.U! Three very nice women came in, matronly looking women, and they were very much impressed with A.A. and one of them got up and spoke and told how happy they were that they had found an organization to work with. They knew that we were all going to get along beautifully together and we would really put Prohibition back on the map again! It was at the time when this W.C.T.U. lady stopped speaking that Fitz ankled up to the platform and in his drawling voice, announced very abruptly as well as positively, that Alcoholics Anonymous had nothing to do with people who could drink and needed no help. They were not out to save the world from liquor, they were out to help those who had trouble with liquor and a lot of other things he said in a very nice way but very positively and these three dear ladies never showed up again!

By 1940 the temperance societies had already lost the battle to control alcohol consumption in America; prohibition had failed. Two powerful new movements that were changeing the public's conception of alcoholism had begun in the mid-1930s: Alcoholics Anonymous provided a practical program of abstinence and daily living for alcoholics and the Yale Center for Alcohol Studies provided the first systematic scientific study of alcohol problems. The heyday of the temperance societies was over.

Most of the Washington Group's contacts in the community were positive. The hard work in the winter and spring paid off by the end of the summer with a strong, well organized fellowship that was well known and respected in the community.

The first task, as Fitz pointed out, was to establish a permanent headquarters so that people attempting to find the group could easily locate or contact the group. Renting a post office box and establishing a permanent mailing address filled this need. Henry S., who had joined the group in its first months, worked at his father's printing business, and by mid-February had designed and printed a simple but elegant letterhead for the Washington Group stationary. Part of a letter written on Washington

Group stationary is shown here:

:: image missing ::

The next important task was to obtain a public meeting place to replace meeting in members' homes. George S., the Brigadeer General who was in charge of federal projects in the District, obtained the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall at 1700 L. Street Northwest. The first meeting in the VFW Hall was held on Thursday, March 21st, at 8:00, and thereafter the regular meetings were scheduled on Tuesday night. George S., it should be noted, had been sober about four months at this time, having been twelve stepped by Fitz in the fall.

The Washington group met at the V.F.W. Hall for several months, probably from March 21st through sometime in June, and then met briefly at the Burlington Hotel on Vermont Avenue. Next they moved to the Hamilton Hotel on the corner of 14th and K Streets, NW, where they met until September when they opened their first clubhouse at 1310 Massachusetts Avenue.

It was the nature of the fellowship that as it grew in numbers and recognition it also increased in effectiveness. More members meant more twelve step calls producing still more new members. Regular meetings in public locations made the meetings predictable and easy to find. The opening of the clubhouse in September provided a regular meeting place, a dedicated telephone number, and a place for new members to dry out and hang out until they got steady.

And time itself was their ally. With every day that passed each sober member had grown through another day of sobriety, had learned a little more, and had more experience, strength, and hope to pass on to the new members. It is interesting to note that on January 1, 1940, the cumulative sobriety of the group was about four and a half years (Fitz had four years, Ned had six months), but by the end of the year the accumulated sobriety had grown to several decades with many members approaching first anniversaries.

One of the first new members of 1940, and the first woman member of the Group, was Dorothy H. Dorothy was fortunate to have an intelligent and sensitive friend in her Aunt Frances, a non-alcoholic who worked for the Womens' Bureau. Frances knew about Dorothy's drinking problem, when she heard about the presence of Alcoholics Anonymous in the District. She convinced her niece that the fellowship might be able to help her with her drinking problem.

The members of the Washington Group readily accepted Dorothy, and elected her group secretary to ease her discomfort as the only woman in the group and to help make her feel useful. The tradition of giving new-comers a "trusted servant" position to help them become part of the group had already been established at this early date.

During the same months that Dorothy's Aunt Frances was searching for a way to help her niece, another woman was searching for a way to help her suffering husband and having a difficult time finding the fellowship.

In the fall of 1939 when Liz E. heard about Alcoholics Anonymous, there was no A.A. group in Washington; the nearest established group was in New York. As the new year began the newly formed group was meeting in Hardin C's house. Their existence was known only to a few friends and the Alcoholic Foundation in New York. It was difficult for a sober, intelligent, and resourceful person to find the group, and for the drunk himself it would have been almost impossible. The story of Liz and Bob E. illustrates how hard it was to locate the new group.

During the fall of 1939, while her husband, Bob, was out of work and suffering repeated alcoholic binges, Liz heard about a group of people who could help people with drinking problems like Bob. But she did not know the name of the group nor how to contact it. None of her friends had even heard of the group.

After exhausting all the sources she knew, Liz wrote to Homer Haskin, an Evening Star columnist, asking for information about a group called Anonymous Inc. Neither Mr. Haskin nor anyone else at the Star had heard of the group, but on January 6, 1940, Mr. Haskin wrote to the Federal Council of Churches of Christ of America, asking if they knew anything about Anonymous Inc. The letter from the Council of Churches dated January 13, 1940, provided the needed information:

January 13, 1940

My Dear Mr. Haskin:

In reply to your inquiry of January 6 I am sorry to have to say that I do not know anything about the organization called "Anonymous, Inc." I wonder, however, whether your inquirer may not have confused this with the movement known as "Alcoholics Anonymous." This is a group of former alcoholics who meet in New York to strengthen one another's resolution and to help alcoholics to reform. This is a very informal organization, so informal that perhaps it can hardly be called an organization. Those interested meet, I believe, in Steinway Hall, New York. They have recently published a volume entitled "Alcoholics Anonymous" which comes from the press of the Works Publishing Company, Church Street Annex, P.O. Box 657, New York City.

Mr. Haskin forwarded the reply to Liz, who then wrote to the address given for the Works Publishing Company. On February 28, 1940, she received the following reply from Ruth Hock, secretary of the Alcoholic Foundation:

Dear Mrs. E---,

Thank you for your recent letter. We know you realize how similar are some of the stories in the book Alcoholics Anonymous and what you tell us of your husband. It is difficult for any of our members to be helpful to other alcoholics unless they themselves sincerely desire to stop. You stated in your letter that usually toward the latter part of his sprees he begs you to get someone to help him and we are wondering if that would not be a good time to tell him of Alcoholics Anonymous, what they have accomplished and what they are trying to do. You, of course, would more easily recognize the opportune time to present him with this idea than we at this distance, however, it would undoubtedly help.

We have a small membership in Washington, D.C. and we would like you to get in touch with Mr. Edward F---, c/o University Club, Washington, D.C. We assure you that you will find Mr. F--- interesting and understanding for he has gone through the difficulties of alcoholism himself and will appreciate an opportunity to discuss the matter with you. Perhaps such a personal talk will prove more helpful.

Please let us hear from you again at any time if we can be of further assistance.

R. Hock,       

After receiving the letter, Liz contacted Ned, who described the program to her and invited her to the next meeting at the V.F.W. Hall, where they could discuss her problem. Liz took her girlfriend along and together they attended meetings until Bob's binge had run its course. Then she brought Ned home to make the twelve step call. The twelve step call was successful, and Bob had become an active member of the group by the end of the summer. Liz continued to attend meetings as she had before Bob joined the group, and she remained a member of the group until her death in 1988.

Both Bob and Dorothy were fortunate because there was someone in each of their lives who loved them enough to search for help and who was diligent enough and competent enough, or lucky enough, to find the A.A. group in Washington. But, making A.A. accessible to everyone who needed it was a problem for the members of the Washington Group just as it was for the larger fellowship nationwide.

The A.A.s used whatever means were available to bring A.A. to the attention of the public. Experienced A.A.s traveled from group to group, criss-crossing the country, to share their experience, strength, and hope, sometimes gaining valuable publicity for local groups or the overall fellowship. One of the best known members of A.A. during that period was Marty Mann, who was also probably the most influential woman in the alcohol treatment community.

Marty Mann is cited by a number of sources as an organizer of A.A. in Washington. She may have spoken at a meeting in the fall of 1939, but there is no real evidence to prove that she did. There are, however, indications that she was in Washington in the spring of 1940. Bill W's letter to Ned F. dated April 4 said, ". . . he [Fitz M.], along with Marty Mann, can't say enough complimentary things about the way everything is working out down there." Fitz's letter to Bill said, "Bring Marty along. Another trip this way will do her good. Tell her I had a nice chat with Betty, who seems all pepped up from her visit."

During that first spring and summer, Fitz and some of the others worked on developing contacts and furthering the cause of the suffering alcoholic in as many ways as possible. While a surprising number of the ideas and personal contacts were highly productive, not all of them worked out. The alcoholic farm idea, for example, received support from many quarters, but was not publicly implemented.

Fitz's May 22 letter told how he and Jimmy were working on the alcoholic farm idea. He says, ".. . someone should get busy on this alcoholic farm business and keep interest stirred up - Jimmy B. has Preston lined up (he is the head of the State Hospitals in Md) for a conference at 3 P.M. on Monday next. Jim wants me to come to Baltimore to sit in."

The alcoholic farm concept remained with Fitz through the summer and in an August letter to Bill he wrote, "Ray Huff, the superintendent of the Penal institutions of the District, is a man who is very interested in the A.A.s and is out to cooperate with us 100%. We have quite a fine alumni association from Occaquan, the work house, already, and some action going on inside." He goes on to explain that in addition to Mr. Huff, he has been working with two of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia government to get the alcoholic farm plan rolling. He asked Bill for advice on how to proceed with this work, and Bill replied with a well thought out four page analysis of the alcoholic farm issue.

As the summer of 1940 came to a close the group had already grown considerably. The original "boys of ,39", Fitz M., Ned F., Bill E., George S., Steve M., and Hardin C. were central. Dorothy H. became the first woman member of the group.

Among the members who joined the group during its first months was, Henry S., who worked at his father's printing business. By mid-February he had designed and printed business stationary for the Washington Group correspondence.

Bill A., a well known Virginia businessman, joined the Group very early and made frequent trips to New York to learn from the established group there. He later financed the church in Rosslyn, Virginia, known as St. Exon's.

Paul H., a Rhodes Scholar who was employed at the 1940 equivalent of today's Goodwill Industries, came into the fellowship during these early months. Bill V., a recovering New Jersey alky, began spending time in the Washington area. He later made his home in this area after coming to work for a government agency, and served as an officer of the club. Bob and his wife, Liz E., who helped him stay sober through the next 48 years, became active members.

Other very active members during that first year included Eddie K., Kev S., and Len H., and a Dutch plumber named Paul K., but little is known about them because their names do not appear in the documentation of that period.

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Chapter 11


Probably the biggest boost the Washington Group got during that first year was a series of articles in the Evening Star written by Bob Erwin, a non-alcoholic journalist. The series alerted the suffering drunks of the District to the presence of the A.A. group in town. The seven articles in the series described the fellowship in a straightforward and honest way and helped the community to accept the new fellowship.

At the time these articles were written, Alcoholics Anonymous had received little attention in the press. Seven months earlier, in September of 1939, an important article was published in Liberty magazine, but at that time A.A. had no central office or staff to answer calls or inquiries. Many people who read the Liberty article sought further information about the fellowship, but they were forced to write directly to the author, who forwarded their letters to Dr. Bob at Towns Hospital. A few months later, an article in a Houston newspaper provided good exposure for the fellowship. In his letter of April 4, one month before the Erwin article appeared, Bill W. told of the impact of the Houston articles.

I don't know whether you have ever heard of our Houston delegation so I'll tell you the story briefly. One of the Cleveland, Ohio men with everal ribs and one lung missing and a very bad case of alcoholism besides, went to Houston, Texas for his health. Within two weeks he had a job on the Houston newspaper and several days later appeared in it's columns with six daily articles on A.A. Many people here think its the best publicity we've had yet. Anyway, it was so well thought of we added a few things like the Silkwood article, etc. and had it printed in the form of a small booklet.

The Bob Erwin articles were important to the general A.A. fellowship, but they were particularly significant to the Washington contingent. The first article, "Victims of Alcohol Hold Weekly Meetings to Aid One Another in Overcoming Weakness of Drink," which appeared in the May 5 Sunday Star, stretched across seven columns of print and contained a picture of an A.A. member making a twelve step call at the bedside of a drunk. The article began this way:

Alcoholics Anonymous, the nationwide brotherhood of alcoholics who have banded together to help one another lick their common illness - alcoholism, has established itself in Washington.

This movement, and such it has become, reaches the Nation's capital after five years of successful trial in other cities, trial that helps prove the contention that an alcoholic understands the problems of an alcoholic better than anybody else.

The article described the program and gave the address of the Alcoholic Foundation in New York. It noted that the founder of the organization said that the recovery rate was 50% to 60% and that there were then 600 recovering alcoholics in the fellowship.

The original article also reported that a "colored group" had started meeting in Arlington on Thursdays. The group was founded by an area businessman who recognized that some of his employees were in need of the program. The founder referred to in this passage is Bill A., who owned a lumber business in Arlington, Virginia.

A paragraph at the very end of the article, caused some concern for both Fitz and Bill W. because as Bill wrote, ". . . the job-getting paragraph may bring you a lot of headaches." The offending paragraph read as follows:

Something new comes out each meeting. At the end, however, the spirit of brotherly love stands out even more strongly when some A.A. brother stands up on a chair and announces that Mr. So and So, a brother on the way back, needs a job. The others rise to the occasion. If they have no job open, in the case of members who are employers, if the do not know of a job somewhere, they collectively go to work to find one for the man.

In spite of this troublesome paragraph, the article was a great boost for the Washington Group. During the week after its publication, the New York office received twenty letters from the D.C. area, many of them citing the article. Erwin got approval from his boss to begin a five or six part series about the Washington A.A. group. The rest of the articles in the series, Fitz wrote, "...will clear up the idea that this outfit is in the job-getting business."

Yet, in reality, the job-getting paragraph was not entirely in error. Some people found work through A.A. contacts, and two Washington area organizations, the Washington Federation of Churches and the Life Adjustment Center on Columbia Road, worked together specifically to secure work for some of the alkies.

The original Erwin article along with the six part series were reprinted twice for distribution by the Washington Group and the Alcoholic Foundation. Several changes were made in the original article. The title was changed to "Experience Elsewhere Indicates Success of 'Alcoholics Anonymous'," and the paragraphs on "colored group founded" and "jobs" were omitted. Comparison of the two reprints shows how the group grew during the year between them: the 1940 edition lists membership of the Washington Group at 50, and the 1941 reprint shows it to be 200.

During these summer months, A.A. in Washington was booming. Publicity, twelve step calls, and contacts with influential members of the community were making the group a highly visible presence in the federal city. The day after the first Erwin article was published, Fitz wrote, "I missed the Tuesday meeting but understand there was a full house and it was the best yet... We have lots of boys in action throwing their alky brothers into Gallinger and what-not. I've been answering the telephone all day. . ."

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Chapter 12


As the summer of 1940 wore on, the Washington Group continued to hold only one meeting aweek. The meetings were mostly speakers meetings in which two to four members told their stories and discussed the principles of the program. There were neither step meetings nor discussion meetings. Although the twelve steps appeared in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, which was the first A.A. literature to discuss the twelve steps in depth, had not yet been written. There were no old-timers; Fitz had the longest sobriety in the Washington Group, with five years, and the second longest was Ned who had been sober about one year. The concept of sponsors had not yet been developed, and new members learned the program by listening and identifying with the experiences of others, and by doing what they were doing to stay sober.

The A.A. speakers meeting, however, was firmly established by 1940, and it has retained the form developed in the early years to the present day. The articles written by Bob Erwin during the summer of 1940 describe A.A. meetings that could have occurred in the 1990s as easily as the 1940s. The articles preserved the essence of several meetings over the summer and confirm the unchanging quality of the speaker meeting.

In an article entitled "Honesty With One's Self A Prime Requirement," Erwin recorded the message of a young attorney in a federal bureau whom he called Mr. X. This anonymous person was Ned F., one of the two A.A.s who had over one year of sobriety and the only one of the two who worked for a federal agency.

Ned emphasized the principles of honesty and humility as he told his story and discussed the eighth and ninth steps. It is clear from this transcript that the format of speakers meetings has remained relatively unchanged over the years.

"It's false pride," he affirmed, "if you don't admit that Old John Barleycorn has you licked. Not until I admitted that did I stop drinking. A friend gave me a copy of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, at the time I had been drinking for a month, but I was not very happy. I had just spent two months in a 'gooney roost'. That's one of our names for an institution for alcoholics. Then I started drinking again.

"Anything that smacked of religion sounded like rules to me, " Mr. X. continued, "and if you don't follow them you're out of the club. The first meetings I attended some one walked up and said 'Hello rummy.' That appealed to my sense of humor. As f religion, I found I could suit myself about that. Now I am convinced that religion is the cornerstone of the whole thing.

"You have got to want not to drink," he said. "With me, it was a gradual process. Some of us, of course, have got all fired up with this thing right away and have stayed quit. As for religion, I have a simple faith, and as you know, we have no connections with any particular group.

"At this point, Mr. X. took up two points in the 12 steps that a confirmed drunkard follows to become a working member of Alcoholics Anonymous. They are, "To make a list of all persons we had harmed and become willing to make amends to them all" and "To make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."

"If you go to a chap who you have wronged when he thinks you are a heel," Mr. X. pointed out, "and if he still thinks so when you leave, you've lost nothing. You can't quit alcohol or anything else if something is biting you. I admitted my wrongs and it was like a spring house cleaning. In other words, I got the beer bottles out of the way and put away the dice. When you do that, though, you can't sit back and do nothing or the house will get dirty again. This thing is a continuous proposition."

"I had the wrong idea of what religion was," he concluded, "There is some Power in this world to help you if you want to lead the right kind of life."

In another article later that summer, Erwin described a meeting in which Jimmy B. told about recent A.A. developments in Philadelphia. The theme of Jimmy's talk was the cooperation between the A.A. group in Philadelphia and the members of the medical profession in that city to help alcoholics.

"The keystone to the Philadelphia system is the Philadelphia General Hospital where many confirmed drunkards eventually wind up. The hospital's doctors became interested in Alcoholics Anonymous about a year ago and the group has been holding its weekly sessions at the hospital in recent months...Mr. B. related, 'We are allowed access to the hospital any time, day or night, we are welcomed there, and we frequently take in alcoholic victims or take them home when they are discharged. Two of the doctors have relatives in our group, and in this way they came to know us well."

Jimmy's talk that night may have influenced thinking in the Washington area, for the Washington A.A. group developed a close working relationship with the staff of Gallingers Hospital during the coming year that was similar to the Philadelphia relationship described by Jimmy. In the months after this talk, Gallingers began to issue special cards to assist A.A. members who brought drunks to their doors.

Image of a [Gallinger Card]

These unique relationships between local A.A. groups and the hospitals that served the area were especially important because most of the hospitals in the country were still turning alcoholics away from their doors. These hospitals not only accepted alcoholics, but they also went to extraordinary lengths to assist the A.A.s who were helping the alkies.

After the Erwin articles, the local A.A. group remained a newsworthy item. Nothing special occurred to warrant the story below; it was primarily a public service of the newspaper, keeping the new group before the public. Although the date was cut off this article, it was undoubtedly from the summer of 1940, when the group's Tuesday night meetings were held in a hotel instead of a clubhouse. The article also gives insight into one of the group's efforts to attract attention to its presence.

The Washington Chapter in recent weeks has varied its routine toward the social side, at the same time keeping up its Tuesday night sessions. A second luncheon be held tomorrow noon at a restaurant downtown, while on Sunday afternoon, a member will again play host to the A.A.s with an open house at his home in Chevy Chase.

The article contained a bit of A.A. social history under the subtitle, "Refreshments Served." The speaker was probably Jimmy B. again, giving a lesson on how to nurture a group of people who might not have been inclined to stick around after meetings.

"Another feature in Philadelphia", he explained, "is our refreshments. We serve doughnuts and coffee every evening. It costs little and keeps the group sitting around and talking after the meeting is over."

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Chapter 13


Throughout the spring and summer the group continued to grow. An active twelve step program brought in new members, problems were solved, and lives were salvaged. Little documentation exists describing the personal stories of the individuals in the group. Fortunately, there is significant documentation describing the growth of the group and the founding of the first clubhouse.

As the summer drew to a close, the initial crisis of organization had passed; the group had grown to sufficient size, and its members were gaining solid sobriety. Since the end of May, the group's Tuesday night meetings at the Hamilton Hotel had averaged over forty people, three quarters of which were alcoholics. By September the membership of the group had grown to over seventy. In nine short months the Washington Group was founded, formed, grew, and had come of age. And, almost as if they knew that someday a history would be written, the early members left a wonderful record of their feelings on the occasion of coming of age.

In late August, Bob V. informed the Alcoholic Foundation that Ned had declared, "the Washington Group is done organized," and he described the organization in these words:

". . . 3 committees as follows: Contact Committee (new cases) - Henry S., chairman; Instructions Committee - Ned F., chairman; and Visiting Committee (old members, slippers, ect.) - Don S., chairman. Organizer was Bill A. & committees are large with rotating chairmen and membership. Everyone seems very serious d about the whole thing & a real effort is being made so that everyone finds something to do."

The same drama that had played out at the national level was being repeated in Washington. Just as the A.A. founders struggled to establish the fellowship and obtain recognition, the individual groups in each new city struggled for local recognition and respect. In order to function effectively, the groups needed a permanent location with a telephone and an address where the A.A.s could receive mail and respond to calls for help. As autumn approached, the Washington Group searched for a suitable location for a permanent clubhouse -- a general headquarters in which to continue their work.

Probably no amount of historical research could describe the founding of the new clubhouse as well as the letter written by Martin F.

As you no doubt know, we are getting a club house - move into it tomorrow night, in fact, and will hold our first meeting there immediately after taking possession.

The place is a former studio on the ground floor of an apartment house at 1310 Massachusetts Ave., NW. It consists of three rooms - one large room to which another somewhat smaller room is connected by large folding doors. Off the smaller room is a little bedroom which will do for the caretaker, when we find him. There are two baths, which solves that problem, and a sort of enlarged slot that will be ample for storage of folding chairs, etc.

It has been estimated that 125 people can be accommodated without too much crowding. All considered, it would appear that the place will do admirably.

We are starting cold, of course, no furniture except for 100 folding chairs, fifty of which were promoted by the indefatigable Henry S., for free.

The other necessary items will come through. The entire membership has responded magnificently, both financially and otherwise. It took some time for the idea to germinate, but once the snowball started it picked up speed at a great rate.

Ned F--- was literally drafted to run the place, at least until it is on a going basis. We all felt that job demanded a person with more than a year of sobriety in back of him plus a knowledge of how the N.Y. house has been handled. These two qualifications are possessed by Ned with an adequate amount of toughness tempered by tolerance, he damn well got the job. Of course, we all pitched in and helped him and will continue to do so, with the result that a minimum of his time is required for the actual performance of the necessary tasks.

from Best Regards. Martin F.

And so the Group was formed - one week shy of a year after the Alcoholic Foundation had welcomed Fitz to Washington and sent him his first referral.

The group held three formal meetings at the club house each week and the doors were kept open every day. The club became known to the general public through a series of newspaper articles which listed the address and the times and places of meetings.

At the end of the first year, there was a single well established A.A. group in Washington. There would be only one group in the city until 1945, when five new A.A. groups were formed, one of them designated a colored group in the world before integration. At that time, the traditions had not been formally established, and there were many lessons to learn. Many lessons were learned during that first year, but there were more to come.

In a letter dated Nov. 23, 1940, Fitz discussed a variety of topics, including travels, gossip and new developments in the fellowship. He then gave a description of the new committee system that must have developed after the group moved into the club house:

We have at last gotten organized after the usual wave of pros and antis, and with the usual intolerance. Nothing like itto bring consolidation and harmony. God created the world out of chaos.

Committees galore and nobody going to have their feelings hurt for being left out because there are enough committees to take care of them all. When there are not, we'll create some more. The Control Committee of the outfit is likened unto the Supreme Court. It rotates and rotates, by seniority chooses the heads of the other committees. The Program Committee and the leader of the next meeting get together and go to town putting on a good show. (See enclosed card for sample -- The judge happens to be our friend, Casey. He will probably see a lot of very familiar faces. Slippees, who have seen the card will no doubt be conspicuous by their absence). The Membership Committee considers the status of applicants for membership (we intend to make it an honor to be an A.A., so tied up with the liquor interests when things get so then things get so that the normal (?) drinkers can serve. The House Committee, makethe Club House and does the bouncing. Also has charge of The Hospitality and Membership Committee the waterfront. Now that all this is organized, everybody seems to be happy and active. The Committees have yet to be chosen, but are functioning anyway under the wise administration of the chairmen who seem to pick on anyone at anytime.

I have an idea that the time is nearly ripe for us to draft a book of suggestions for the use of new groups. I see no reason why they should not have the opportunity to profit by what has already been learnt.

In this letter he also suggested that some attention should be paid to the wives of alcoholics and that a pamphlet "To Wives of Alcoholics" might be helpful.

Fitz said that "the Thanksgiving feed and frolic at the Washington Club house was a grand success," but he did not fill in the details. It is, however, clear that the members of the new group had a lot to be thankful for.

During the first year the membership grew from six in the winter of 1939 to seventy-eight in the fall of 1940. The group contacted and gained the respect of professionals in the medical, social, and legal institutions that dealt with alcohol problems in the area. One of the major hospitals in the area, Gallingers, even issued special privilege cards to A.A. members to facilitate twelve step work around the clock.

Ruth Hock, the Alcoholic Foundation secretary, commented on the growth of the fellowship and attested to the coming of age of the Washington Group.

I won't go into much detail about how things are going nationally. It is amazing though, and this thing is certainly a rolling stone that gathers no moss, for the larger it grows the faster it rolls, and vice versa. I've been getting together as complete and accurate a list as possible under the circumstances, and out of it arises the amazing figure of 1400 A.A. members coast to coast, with new developments everyday.

She wrote that she was sending along "a mere two inquiries" and that she had received no real calls for help from the Washington area.

She continued, "It looks to me as though you are either catching them all locally, or else you cleaned the city of D.C. all sanitary by this time - all the alkies in the fold so to speak."

Today, as one walks the same streets of Washington, DC, especially the blocks northeast of Farragut Square, it is difficult to imagine the world the founders of the Washington Group lived in. It was a world in which the alcoholic was out of control and hopeless, and in which little help was available anywhere. But, for the founders of the Washington Group of Alcoholics Anonylmous, the world was their oyster.

Their world was filled with the elements of excitement, hope, and fellowship that have always bound together members of A.A. They were pioneers struggling to create a fellowship where none had been and to work the program where it had not worked before. The world they lived in and their mission supplied the components that define true fellowship. Bernard Smith, a past General Service Board Chairman, quoted a noted religious leader's description of this fellowship.

Three conditions are necessary for true fellowship: The possession of common ideal involving a complete release from selfishness and division. The discharge of a common task big enough to capture the imagination and give expression to loyalty. And the comradeship, the "togetherness", thus involved as we find out the joy and power of belonging to an orga society and engaging in a whole-time service. We can find it at its fullest extent where the task extends and integrates every element of our being, where comradeship is so solid and deep that we respond one to another without conscious effort, realize the unspoken need, and react to it spontaneously and at once.

Under such conditions, all vitality that we usually waste upon our jealousies and our vanities - upon keeping up appearances and putting other people in their proper place - becomes available for creative use.

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Chapter 14


Much of the story of the early years of A.A. in Washington is told through the eyes of Fitz M., mainly because he was the central figure in the story and because he was a prolific letter writer.

Fitz's entire life changed in the winter of 1939-40 and he never returned to the life he led before. That winter he left his family in rural Maryland, moved to Washington, DC, founded the A.A. group that would occupy much of his time, and met the woman who became his second wife.

When Fitz met Ruth J., she was the wife of an alcoholic named Norman. In the fall of 1939 she had read the Liberty Magazine article about Alcoholics Anonymous and realized that perhaps the fellowship could help her husband. In response to a letter she wrote to the Alcoholic Foundation, Ruth Hock told her that Fitz M. would be in Washington in the near future and that he could be contacted at his sister Agnes' apartment. When Ruth met him, Fitz had "more or less a temporary home at a boarding house near Florida and Connecticut Avenues. He was always welcome, they tucked him in whenever he happened to be in town."

The story of Fitz and Ruth's relationship provides some enlightening insights into his character and also into A.A. life during this formative year. Many years later, Arabella M. (Ruth) told how she was introduced to the A.A. fellowship and how she came to attend her first meeting.

Then, my husband, Norman, got interested in A.A. and called Bill A., the big lumberman, and rather a political figure in Arlington County. . . . Bill A. invited him to come and said he was coming by for him, which he did, but N.T. [Norman] had never shown up - he had gone off on a binge in the meantime that afternoon. . . So Bill went on to the meeting and Steve M.s' wife called and told me about the medicine to give - to put N.T. out of the picture temporarily, and she came out in the car and took me to the meeting. . . .

In May Ruth J. threw her drunken husband out of the house and made a decision to take in several of the A.A.s who were staying sober and needed a place to sleep. Four of the members, including Fitz, moved into Ruth's house, apparently on the condition that they get jobs and helped to pay the rent. After a few weeks, though, none of the alkies were working and Ruth's good will wore thin.

In a letter dated May 22, Fitz told Bill that he was completely broke financially and was thinking of going to Cumberstone to stay with his old friend E. Churchill Murray. Three days later, Ned's letter to New York told Bill that Ruth evicted all four of her alcoholic tenants.

In August Fitz was hired by the W.P.A. to work on the Historical Records Survey where, as we saw above, he was earning $82.50 per month.

By this time Fitz's wife Elizabeth was thoroughly disgusted with him. His sister Agnes reported that Elizabeth confided to a mutual friend that Fitz had caused her great hardships and that he would not leave her alone. She said that he continued to make her life unhappy and that his children were afraid of him.

According to Ruth, during most of 1940, Fitz was in and out of the Washington area, staying with friends, and that his vagabond lifestyle was part of his way of spreading the A.A. message.

Well, he'd be invited some place and then he'd stay a day or two. If the situation became a little difficult, any wrangling or fussing among the people he was with, he'd say, "Well, God doesn't want me in this irritating situation." So he would just take off, he'd grab his hat, bag and off he went.

He did that practically all up and down the coast, and he never seemed to get a job, every time he thought he had one, right in the palm of his hand, somehow it would slip through his fingers and I believe that God had a lot to do with that. Because Fitz - it brought him into all manner of homes, the poor and the wealthy and where he was one of the family because he had no funds of his own.

As I remember, all he had was one little worn out bag that he used to carry an extra shirt in and a couple of pairs of no funds of his own and in that way he really spread the A.A. gospel and plus, the plus was really the spiritual.

Fitz had been a strongly spiritual man all of his life, and he believed that one must live his beliefs rather than just talk about them. In an oral history interview, Arabella remembered a little exercise she and Fitz did to learn what God's will for them was at that particular time.

. . . I remember how we figured it out - that it didn't matter where we sat in a train or a bus, that we weren't to pick out or chose the ones that we would want to sit by, we were to go on and leave it up to God to set us down where ever we were supposed to. And invariably we would sit down beside - I did that myself, too, a good many years, someone that was very unattractive physically, many times educationally, none of our own choosing, but in the end by sending up a little prayer for this person, God seemed to open up the conversation and shortly we would begin to talk and it was surprising how many, in fact, almost 100% of these instances, the other people were in great need, and through us, God was able to give the help they needed.

Fitz's deeply spiritual nature was remembered by those who knew him, and it permeated his correspondence with A.A. members and other friends. If two themes ran throughout his life, they were spirituality and financial insecurity. Indeed, it seemed that his spiritual side precluded his involvement in such worldly activities as working for money and the accumulation of material possessions -- almost as if he had taken an unspoken vow of poverty. Throughout his A.A. career, Fitz was motivated to do good works, but when it came to "what men call a job," he was not interested. Fitz was a man with a mission, and he was a dreamer.

In his Big Book story, he was able to examine his financial situation and his troubled mental state and find salvation in a higher principle, "Nothing is right." He wrote, "Finances are in bad shape. I must find a way to make some money." He was tempted to drink over his problems and wrote, "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."

One of his letters to Bill W., a letter Bill referred to as the "long letter," provides an opportunity to experience Fitz's character and also to see that A.A. has not changed much over the years. In many ways, the letter could have been written by a member of A.A. in the 1990s. The letter also shows Fitz's interest in A.A. history.

I received your letter of Oct. 30th and appreciate your thoughts. When you were here I was in a state of mental darkness, which condition had been prevalent for some time and which would have prevented any exchange of constructive ideas by the meeting of our minds. I have just recently begun to snap out of it, after reaching a point where I accepted conditions, including failure to understand the darkness, as a part of my education and development of both patience and faith. As you know I am on W.P.A. with the Historical Records Survey. I used to orate about how I would never work for the government, and the idea of being W.P.A. was about as nauseating as they come. On the other hand, I had a great desire to get some income which would enable me to eat and be "off the hook" and pass on to the others who are seeking what I have been finding myself. Your old saying of "being willing to walk up Fifth Ave. in a sheet" is easy to subscribe to usually, but quite different when it appears in another form. I was quite thankful for the W.P.A. job with its $82.50 per month when I started on it. My prayer had been answered for I could now live fairly comfortably, eat regularly, sleep in a bed other than somewhere on somebody's studio couch, and still have time to be in circulation as we are only allowed to work 60 hours per month. I have seen much dizzy thinking in the past three months, and have contemplated a Book of Revelations on the experiences. I can see now that the experience for me has been excellent. First, I have had some of my own thinking verified by observing and analyzing the procedures and thinking (or lack of it) of people with wrong, mixed or no motives; secondly, I have been given an opportunity to exercise my mind which needed an easy beginning along the line of continuity of activity to accomplish little things. I have been practically my own boss so that I've had to hold myself in line in regularity which brings one to the point of accepting things as they are without being disturbed or in a state of wishful thinking. Everything rolled along swell for a while and I stayed on the thankful came ambition to 'make something of myself', 'to be a success' and with that came dissatisfaction and a multiplicity of devils that beset me.

I began taking myself very seriously - conceived the idea that I would do some research work in the libraries and write a book, signed up for a course (night) at the National Archives which requires study, contemplated divorce and remarriage, and became so busy that I was annoyed by A.A.'s and all its works tho' I still forced myself to appear interested when I was braced up by the boys - The net result of this was just what we know it leads to and I just got more confused and unhappy. Yet like the 'alkie' who don't know why he drinks, I was unable to see at the time, why the "blackout". . . .

So Tuesday night I decided that I was a dry cow with no milk so to hell with the meeting - However, about 7:45 PM as I lay on my bed oozing self-pity and blind to its source, I thought of some of the fellows who would be there and suddenly realized they were my friends and that I wanted to see them - As there was only one way to do that, I put my hat on and shoved off and the closer I got to the meeting, the brighter my spirits became. So then Howard C. saw fit to pay me the great tribute which though undeserved was the means of getting me out in the open and I had to come clean with the truth which seems to mean something to some of them. I don't know what others got, but that meeting surely fixed me up. Wednesday I went witsome others to Baltimore and we struck up with Ed, Posey, Bill W., Dr. Hammer, and another man from Philly which was a joy to me. Thursday night I led the meeting for men alcoholics only - and the clouds are certainly lifting. I expect to leave here Saturday and drive with Don S. to his home in Franklin, Pa. and go on with him to Cleveland for a meeting, returning on Tuesday.

Now about the report to the Foundation - I can truthfully say that reviewing the history of the foundation situation, that I have no ideas concerning it at all and have ceased to have for some time. Maybe we are blocked from seeing a new course holding on to any ideas that the Foundation plays any real part in the real growth of this fellowship - The process is the vital thing, not any particular accomplishments that we feel should be achieved . . . . Because the A.A. is a process rather than aachievement, many things that look all cock-eyed and wrong are simply a part of growth . . . I think some day we shall wake up and see that a great deal more has happened than we could possibly conceive is in making.

I woke up at 12:30 and have been going along pretty steady and it is now 3:00 AM. So I shall flop back in bed, thankful that tomorrow is Sunday. Recently, I have begun to see things that lie ahead. Just remember, Bill, out of chaos comes order. Whatever is going to be is going to be. . . .

My best to Lois, Fitz

IIn the fall of 1941 Fitz landed a job that he enjoyed and was good at, only to find it interrupted by the entry of the United States into World War II. He was again working as a school teacher, this time at the Landon School for Boys in Chevy Chase. This was clearly work that Fitz put his heart into and work that he was good at. Arabella recalled the events that cut short this job.

IThe owner, the one who had this school, told him that he had never had things run so smoothly before Fitz came and was anxious for him to stay on permanently and wanted to give him a lot better job and any salary that he would stipulate himself. Also a cottage that they had out there for some of the teachers.

IThe war interrupted that - he was about 45 then, and he knew he would be called, so in the fall of 1942, he decided that rather than start school, it would be better for him to go ahead and enlist and get himself into the service and get it over with, rather than have school interrupted by having to get another teacher to replace him. Which he did, and they took him on and sent him to Florida and various other places and finally, he landed out in Biloxi.

IIn the Army Air Corps, he lost weight, developed severe health problems, and was discharged early to work in war industry. On January 17, 1943, he and Arabella were married. On April 4, 1943, his old A.A. friend, Dr. Bob, did exploratory surgery and discovered the cancer of the rectum that would take his life. Fitz's final letter to his lifelong friend E. Churchill Murray gives the best summary of the events in the last months of his life:

Hines Veterans Hospital,
Hines, Ill,
April 20th, 9AM

Dear Deacon:

'Tis snowing hard and has been doing so all night - Strange to spend a winter among flowers and birds and then see so many snow storms in April. Your letter of April 6th took quite a trip, first to Biloxi, then forwarded to Akron, then to Washington, DC and finally to me. So now I's sending a few lines to tell you a little about myself tho' I believe Arabella has had something to say on the subject of my being here.

I developed rear-end trouble while in the Army about November, it got worse - was to have been operated on at station hospital but an epidemic of something prevented. Was to have gone back to hospital but got a discharge to go into an essential war industry after having been refused it. In the meantime Arabella came on from California and we got married.

I might have stayed in army and demanded medical attention, but I was not impressed with the kind I might get a Keesler Field. Application to Veterans Bureau failed to get me in Vets Hospital at Biloxi so after Arabella got over flu we lit out for Akron, Ohio where a good A.A. friend of mine is a renal doctor. I applied again for admittance to Vets hospital near Cleveland, but couldn't get in even tho the President had signed a bill making Veterans hospital facilities available for the disabled of World War II

My doctor friend was dubious about my working, but I got a job with Goodyear Aircraft and survived 12 hours a day (including to and from work) for 10 days - then went to a private hospital where the doctor, Bob Smith, cut into me and discovered cancer. - That created a new situation with Arabella really out on a limb. Fortunately, she had worked at the Veterans Administration and knew General Hines, the head of it. She phoned him and asked him to get me in Walter Reed. He said yes, then phoned her back that I should come here as its supposed to be one of the greatest cancer hospitals in the country (other troubles also).

As I lost 31 pounds while in the Army, they were trying to fatten me up and get me built up. I believe they intend to operate on me next week. I am very thankful to have gotten in here, believe me, as it answers several problems especially concerning Arabella. I am quite comfortable now tho' my disintegrating chassis was giving me hell. I am enjoying relaxing and reading and rest and can say that I am unconcerned and at peace within.

The tough experiences are simply part of a great adventure and part of a great education. Why separate in our minds the continuity of the life of the soul just because the body in which it is housed for awhile becomes no longer fitting for it? If we could see everything ahead there would be no adventure. Maybe they will patch my chassis up, maybe not. What of it? I am not the master of my destiny, but there is One who is and He loves each one of us tho' ofttimes we would doubt that because we cannot see the whole, the finished plan of the great Builder. Would people feel a need for God were there not trials and tribulations?

These things needs must be, for man has been his own God with his own aims and purposes and he cannot find the realities of eternal life until he seeks them - To do that he must cast out beliefs he has held to and with the mind of a child accept without questioning and with trust the circumstances whatever they appear to be.

I shall close - wish I could get hold of that gill net with you and Bro.

Love to all, As always,

PS. Agnes only one who knows about this cancer.

Less than six months later, on October 4, 1943, Fitz died. He is buried at the Cemetery at Christ Church near his home at Cumberstone. He rests only a few feet from where Jimmy B. was later buried.

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Endnotes and Appendices

Sorry, the endnotes and appendices have not been digitized yet, but will eventually appear on the internet.

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