Meanwhile, Katie realized that many A.A. families needed the program as much as their alcoholics did, and she vigorously carried on the precedent already set by Anne and Lois who—in their homes, in their A.A. travels with Dr. Bob and myself, and even upstairs in New York’s Old Twenty-Fourth Street Club—had urged A.A.’s Twelve Steps upon nonalcoholic wives and husbands as a way of restoring family life to normal.
No one knows exactly when the first Family Group as such started. One of the largest, most vigorous, and best accepted of the early family centers developed in Toronto, Canada. There they wrought so well that many A.A. groups in the area customarily invite Family Group speakers to their meetings. By 1950, the Toronto Family Group had created such a wide and deep impression that their speakers were featured at the Cleveland International A.A. Convention of that year. And what was true of Toronto was equally true of Long Beach, California, and Richmond, Virginia. Indeed, some of these latter Family Groups may quite possibly have antedated Toronto somewhat. In any case it is sure that Anne, Lois, and Katie long ago planted the ideas which have since flowered into hundreds of Al-Anon Family Groups, one of the most encouraging developments in the whole A.A. picture in recent years.
Another early A.A. traveler was Archie T. He had been tenderly nursed back to sobriety in the home of Dr. Bob and Anne at Akron. Still sick, frail, and frightened, he returned to his native city, Detroit, the scene of his downfall, where his personal reputation and financial credit still stood at zero. We saw Archie make amends everywhere he could. We saw him delivering dry cleaning out of a broken-down jalopy to the back doors of his one-time fashionable friends in Grosse Pointe. We saw him, helped by a dedicated nonalcoholic, Sarah Klein, start a group that met in her basement. Archie and Sarah next straightened out a man named Mike, a manufacturer, and a socialite lady named Anne K. These were the ones from whom stemmed Detroit’s huge membership of later years.
Then there was Larry J., a newspaperman who had barely escaped death by d.t.’s and exhaustion. Despite a lung ailment that required him to spend much time in an oxygen tent, he courageously set out from Cleveland to Houston, Texas, and on the train he experienced a spiritual awakening that made him feel, as he said, “all in one piece again.” On his arrival in Houston, Larry wrote a series of pieces for the Houston Press that attracted the attention of the townsmen and their Bishop Quinn, and thus finally, after heartbreaking setbacks, the first group in Texas emerged. Larry’s first good prospects were salesman Ed, who was to carry the message to Austin; Army Sergeant Roy, who made the start at Tampa, Florida, and who later helped greatly in Los Angeles; and one Esther, who presently moved to Dallas, where, with characteristic enthusiasm and energy, she founded A.A. in that town and became dean of all the alky ladies in the astonishing state of Texas.
Meanwhile Cleveland A.A. had sobered up Rollie H., a famous athlete. Newspaper stories about this event were sensational and they brought in many new prospects. Nevertheless this development was one of the first to arouse deep concern about our personal anonymity at the top public level.
Still another famous early itinerant was Irwin M., a Cleveland A.A. who had become a champion salesman of Venetian blinds to department stores in the deep South. He used to range a territory bounded by Atlanta and Jacksonville on one side and Indianapolis, Birmingham, and New Orleans on the other. Irwin weighed 250 pounds and was full of energy and gusto. The prospect of Irwin, as a missionary, scared us rather badly. At the New York Headquarters we had on file a long list of topers in many a Southern city and town, people who had not been personally visited. Irwin had long since broken all the rules of caution and discreet approach to newcomers, so it was with reluctance that we gave him the list. Then we waited—but not for long. Irwin ran them down, every single one, with his home-crashing tornado technique. Day and night, besides, he wrote letters to his prospects and got them to writing each other.
Stunned but happy Southerners began to send their thanks to Headquarters. As Irwin himself reported, many a first family of the South had been an easy pushover. He had cracked the territory wide open and had started or stimulated many an original group.
Still thinking of the South, we remembered the Richmond A.A.’s who believed in getting away from wives and drinking only beer, but who became more orthodox through the ministrations of the Virginia squire, Jack W., and certain A.A. travelers. We thought, too, of the Jersey boiler inspector, the tireless Dave R., who had descended upon Charlotte, North Carolina; and of Fred K., another Jersey man, who set the A.A. ferment going in Miami; and of super-promoter Bruce H., who, working in Jacksonville and its environs, was the first to use radio to carry the message.
Shortly after the beginning of A.A. in Atlanta, that shaky group was sparked by the appearance of Sam, a high-powered Yankee preacher, temporarily minus frock and salary. Sam spoke with great effect from both pulpit and A.A. platform. He created a sort of “Chautauqua” brand of A.A. which was mildly deprecated by some members but cheered on by others. Sam has since passed away, but his work is remembered gratefully.
Many more of these early people and early stories came flooding back to mind as we in St. Louis continued to review the history of A.A.’s growth. We remembered the excitement of the formation of the first A.A. group solely by mail in Little Rock, Arkansas; the first Canadian group in Toronto and soon after those in Windsor and Vancouver, B.C.; the first beginning in Australia and Hawaii, creating a pattern later followed in some seventy foreign lands and U.S. possessions; the affecting tale of the little Norwegian from Greenwich, Connecticut, who had sold all he had to go to Oslo to help his brother and thus started the group there; the Alaskan group that had taken shape because a prospector out in the wilds found an A.A. book in an old oil drum; the Utah alkies who dried up in A.A. and struck uranium in the process; the spread of A.A. to South Africa, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South America, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Holland, and then to Japan and even Greenland and Iceland; the story of Captain Jack in a Standard Oil tanker, spreading A.A. as he sailed. In such happy reminiscences we at St. Louis reviewed A.A.’s crossing of the barriers of distance, race, creed, and tongue and saw our fellowship reaching to the four corners of the earth.
These tales brought Lois and me wonderful recollections of our six weeks’ journey abroad in 1950.
We could remember the heated arguments between the Swedes of Stockholm and the Swedes of Göteborg over whether A.A. should be based on Stockholm’s “Seven Steps” or America’s “Twelve.” We recalled meeting the founder of the wonderful group in Helsinki, Finland. We could still see the Danes at Copenhagen as their “Ring i Ring” wondered whether A.A. or antabuse was their answer. We remembered Henk Krauweel, in whose home we were guests while in Holland. Henk, a social worker and nonalcoholic, was engaged by the city of Amsterdam to see what he could do for the drunks there. He had been able to do very little until one day he ran across A.A.’s Twelve Steps. Translating them into Dutch, he handed them to some of his charges. To his astonishment, several tough cases went dry. And by the time we arrived he could show us plenty more. A.A. was solid in the Netherlands and well on its way. Our great friend Henk Krauweel has since become one of Europe’s leading authorities on the total alcohol problem.
In Paris we found several scattered American A.A.’s who acted mostly as a reception committee for A.A. travelers, some dry and some in deep trouble. The Frenchmen at Paris were still pretty shy about A.A. and they were possessed of the wonderful rationalization that wine was not liquor at all and was therefore quite harmless!
In London and Liverpool we met many very anonymous Englishmen. In those days their meetings had a definite parliamentary atmosphere, including a gavel which was struck at appropriate moments. Of course the Irish A.A. was everything we expected and more. The South-of-Ireland A.A.’s at Dublin were on a most genial basis with the North Irelanders at Belfast, despite an occasional burst of rock throwing among their compatriots in the streets. We watched as the seeds of A.A. pushed up their sprouts in Scotland, and when we encountered Scottish hospitality we knew for sure that the Scotsman A.A. is neither penurious nor dour.
To Lois and me this overseas experience was like turning the clock back to early times at home. Depending on their stage of progress, the foreign groups of that day were either flying blind, were hopefully pioneering, or had reached the fearsome and sometimes quarrelsome state of