AA is a Cult, part 66

​In the Spring of 1939, Dr. Bob’s sister wrote that she was coming to see him, and bringing an alcoholic woman with her who needed his “cure”. He was incensed, declaring his group would “NEVER work on a woman!” But when the young, beautiful, wealthy divorced mother of two arrived, the other alcoholic men decided yes, they would quite like to talk to her. Sylvia spent two weeks in the Cleveland home of Clarence S., meeting Dr. Bob and others.

Sylvia, who’d had the group recommended by her doctor during a recent sanatorium stay, wanted to move to Akron to join the group, but Dr. Bob and the wives of the interested men saw her as a distraction. She was also suspected of having an addiction to pills, after years of being prescribed sedatives by brusque and sexist physicians. They suggested she could do the most good in her own city, and were relieved when she returned home to Chicago. 

There she worked with AA member Earl T to start a local chapter. She had her last drink on September 13, 1939 and they held the first Chicago meeting iin his apartment a week later. Sylvia K. was not the first woman to join AA, but the first to maintain lifelong abstinence without relapse as a member of AA. Among Chicago area groups, she ius considered something of a patron saint. Patron is right – as one of the few wealthy members, her generosity helped finance the Midwestern spread of AA. 

The first woman to join Alcoholics Anonymous, relapse, yet remain a member was also one of the most influential on public attitudes and beliefs about addiction. Marty Mann was born to a prominent Chicago family and was presented as a debutante in 1927, then eloped with a wealthy, attractive alcoholic man from New Orleans. Their marriage was brief and unhappy, and over the following decade she became an alcoholic and attempted suicide twice. 

She was committed to multiple mental institutions, including Bellevue and the Blythewood Sanitarium. That was where a doctor gave her a copy of the newly published Big Book. Marty went to her first AA meeting at Bill and Lois Wilson’s home in New York in April of 1939. Bill Wilson himself became her sponsor, and the only AA member she told of her lesbianism. 

Marty established a National Council on Alcoholism which provided public talking points, influenced state and national legislatures on alcohol policy, and shaped addiction treatment discourse to this day. She also published two books on alcoholism. Her impact in bringing mainstream credibility and awareness to Alcoholics Anonymous cannot be overstated. 

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