In the beginning Alcoholics Anonymous was a men’s only club. Cofounder Dr. Bob particularly objected to the notion of welcoming women alcoholics, on the grounds that only the worst sort of women would qualify as drunkards. Womanizer and founder Bill Wilson however overrode him, and the first women to join were treated by him as fair game for sexual harassment. The Oxford Group had been coed, though like AA even today, predominantly male and inherently sexist.
The “Alcoholic Squad” of the Oxford Group were three meeting groups that all eventually broke off to become Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill Wilson led the New York group, the first to leave in 1937. Dr. Bob Smith headed up the Akron, Ohio meeting which left the Oxford Group the same year the Big Book was published, 1939. Clarence Snyder had started a Cleveland, Ohio chapter which defected from the Group and officially adopted AA theology in 1941. These are the stories of the first women in each of these three cities.
At the cusp of Bill W.’s removal from the Oxford Group, Florence R. was recruited and converted in New York. She tried and failed to establish a Washington D.C. chapter in 1936, before Bill Wilson’s 1937 ouster. Her story was included in the first edition of the Big Book, under the title “A Feminine Victory” but cut from subsequent editions. Many first edition stories were excised either because the author refused to be cheated of royalties a second time, or because they weren’t sober anymore by reprinting.
Florence’s ex-husband was a friend of Bill’s and one night took him and Lois to visit her at the Bellevue mental institution were she had been committed. Florence was discharged from the institution into their care, which included no medical or therapeutic credentials. She lived with Bill and Lois in their home, the site of many AA meetings. She was wholly ensnared and became an AA true believer.
Florence believed in a Higher Power, confessed her sins, and practiced automatic writing to receive “guidance” from the AA God. Yet she never experienced continuous sobriety. After a while she informally left the group, instead spending time drinking with a “hellion” of a younger man. The two drank together though it is unclear to what excess; moderate drinking is not an approved strategy in AA. She died in 1943. AA literature asserts she died of suicide, while other sources indicate pneumonia as the cause.