75 years of Brotherly Love

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Alcoholics Anonymous began in Philadelphia on March 6, 1940, started by traveling salesman Jimmy B. (whose Big Book story is “The Vicious Circle” and who had been instrumental in convincing Bill W. to tone down the “God” references in the Big Book). In mid-February of that year, Jimmy B. had gone to Philadelphia to take a new job. Once there, he contacted Charlie B., whom he had known in New York, and together they hooked in two Oxford Group alcoholics whom Charlie knew, Bayard B. and Edmund P. Next came George S., who had written to the New York office seeking help (George S. had sobered himself up after reading the September 1939 article in Liberty magazine entitled “Alcoholics and God”).

All of these men needed, as Jimmy B. put it, “a few fellow alcoholics around…to stay sober. [And] thus I found myself in the middle of a brand-new group.” The first open meeting of the Philadelphia Group of Alcoholics Anonymous was held March 6, 1940, in George S.’s house. Bill and Lois W. were present (among an automobile load of alcoholics who had come down from New York) and coffee and donuts were served.

The newly formed A.A. group attracted the attention of two Philadelphia physicians, Dr. C. Dudley Saul and Dr. A. Weise Hammer. Saul, who had lost two sons to alcoholism, was chief of staff at St. Luke’s hospital, and began allowing the Philadelphia A.A.s to hold their meetings there. Even more importantly, Saul and Hammer were friends of Judge Curtis Bok, the owner of Curtis Publications, which was the parent company for The Saturday Evening Post. Bok was impressed with A.A. and by December of 1940 he was writing a letter of support to the Philadelphia Group that read in part: “My interest in A.A. is very sincere and you can count on me for as many good words and good deeds in connection with it as I can give.”

True to his word, Judge Bok called in a reporter named Jack Alexander and asked him to investigate this new program for an article for the Post. To aid Alexander, Drs. Saul and Hammer wrote a list of the first names and last initials of 28 alcoholics who had stayed sober through the program. When the Post article appeared on March 1, 1941, A.A. in Philadelphia exploded, as it did in New York and the Midwest. A bigger clubhouse was needed and the Philadelphia Group contacted Ruth Hock, Bill’s secretary, at the Central Office in New York to order 10,000 reprints of Alexander’s piece (at a cost of $175.00).

Only a year had passed since Jimmy B.’s arrival in the City of Brotherly Love, but already A.A. had firmly taken hold.

From the Spring of 2015 issue of Markings, Your Archives Newsletter.

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