The story of Ethel M. is the story of the first double alcoholic AA couple. Ethel M. was recruited into the Akron, Ohio chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous (no longer the Oxford Group) in 1941. She is credited with being the first woman member to have continuous sobriety and with starting the first women’s only AA meeting. Ethel was a late in life alcoholic compared with the male members, not older than them when she sought to quit drinking, but older when she started.
She was born to a poor family, the daughter of an alcoholic father and the oldest of seven children. She married Russ, the bad boy from the right side of the tracks who drank too much. After about a decade of marriage and two children together, Ethel had had enough of his drinking. She took the children and moved away. When Russ begged her to take him back, sober, a year later, she gladly did. Russ remained sober, with no familiarity with the Oxford Group, for thirteen years.
After their older daughter had married and moved out of the home and while their younger was in her last year of high school, Russ went out drinking. This time instead of leaving him, Ethel decided to join him. Whatever and however much he drank, she would do the same. In separate events she was arrested for drunk driving and for burning down their house. By 1941 she was eager for both of them to quit.
Russ and Ethel took their last drink together, under the watchful eye of an AA recruiter. Pro AA literature speculates Ethel was accepted despite being a woman because she was married and attended meetings in her husband’s company, and because she was overweight and not considered a beauty by the wives of male AAs. An egalitarian group it was not.
Because there was no more senior alcoholic “oldtimer” woman to be her sponsor, Ethel received her AA accountability, support, and indoctrination from the wife of an alcoholic man in the group, and from the Catholic nurse who enabled Dr. Bob to recruit captive patients to his cults (first the Oxford Group, then Alcoholics Anonymous.) Russ died in 1944 and Ethel dedicated the rest of her life to AA, sponsoring numerous women. She passed sober in 1963.