1938 Original Manuscript for 1939 1st Edition BigBook Searchable 1976 3rd Edition BigBook On-Line
The Prescription
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Sylvia K.
Chicago, Illinois
"The Keys of the Kingdom"
(p. 304 in 2nd and 3rd editions.)
Pioneers of A.A.

"This worldly lady helped to develop A.A. in Chicago and thus passed her keys to many."

According to member list index cards kept by the Chicago group, Sylvia's date of sobriety was September 13, 1939. Sylvia was probably the first woman to achieve permanent long term sobriety, from then until her death.

The false notion has been perpetuated that Marty M ("Women Suffer Too,") was the first female in A.A. with enduring sobriety. After repeated slips Marty finally was sober from Christmas 1940 until some time around 1960, when she again relapsed. She sobered again and remained so until her death.

Sylvia was raised in a good environment with loving and conscientious parents and given every advantage: the best schools, summer camps, resort vacations and

She was the product of the post-war prohibition era of the roaring '20s. She married at twenty, had two children, and was divorced at twenty-three. This gave her a good excuse to drink. By twenty-five she had developed into an alcoholic.

She began making the rounds of the doctors in the hope that one of them might find a cure for her accumulating ailments, most of whom prescribed sedatives and advised rest and moderation.

Between the ages of twenty-five and thirty she tried everything. She moved to Chicago thinking a new environment would help. She tried all sorts of things to control her drinking: the beer diet, the wine diet, timing, measuring, and spacing of drinks. Nothing worked.

The next three years saw her in sanitariums, once in a ten-day coma from which she very nearly died. She wanted to die, but had lost the courage to try.

For about one year prior to this time there was one doctor who did not give up on her. He tried everything he could think of, including having her go to mass every morning at six a.m., and performing the most menial labor for his charity patients. This doctor apparently had the intuitive knowledge that spirituality and helping others might be the answer.

In the 1939 this doctor heard of the book Alcoholics Anonymous and wrote to New York for a copy. After reading it he tucked it under his arm and called on Sylvia. That visit marked the turning point of her life.

He must have studied the book carefully because he took its advice. He gave her the cold, hard facts about her condition, and that she would either die of acute alcoholism, develop a wet brain, or have to be put away permanently.

Then he told her of the handful of people in Akron and New York who seemed to have worked out a technique for arresting their alcoholism. He asked her to read the book and to talk with a man who experiencing success by using this plan. This was Earl T. ("He Sold Himself Short" – 2nd & 3rd Ed.), the "Mr. T." to whom she refers on page 309.

Earl suggested she visit Akron. According to Bill W., she got off to a slow start there, and may also have been a pill addict. She took a lot of "little white pills" which she claimed were saccharin, and no one could understand why she was so rubber-legged. A nurse was flown in, presumably from Chicago, to take care of her.

Sylvia stayed two weeks at Clarence (Clarence S., "The Home Brewmeister") and Dorothy S.'s home in Cleveland. She met Dr. Bob, who brought other A.A. men to meet her. Dorothy S. said that the men "were only too willing to talk to her after they saw her." Sylvia was a glamorous divorcee, extremely good looking, and rich. But these attractions probably did not help her with the wives of the alcoholics, who were known on occasion to run women out.

After meeting Dr. Bob she wanted to move to Akron, but this caused great consternation, since her presence threatened to disrupt the whole group. Someone told her it would mean a great deal more if she could go back and help in Chicago.

She went back to Chicago where she eventually got sober September 13, 1939. She worked closely with Earl T., and her personal secretary, Grace C., became the first secretary at the Intergroup office in Chicago, the first in the country.

Sylvia updated her story in the January 1969 issue of the "A.A. Grapevine." She tells how busy her first ten years in A.A. were, but how all this tremendous activity, by bringing her into almost constant contact with other members, provided her with everything she most desperately needed to save her life. As she looked back she realized this was the most excitingly beautiful period of her life.

When she wrote this update, Sylvia had been living in Sarasota, Florida, with her husband, Dr. Ed S., and was soon to celebrate their eighteenth wedding anniversary. "He is an alky, too, and our lives have been enriched by our mutual faith and perseverance in the A.A. way of life. Through it we have found a quality of happiness and serenity that, we believe, could not have been realized in any other way. Small wonder our gratitude knows no bounds."

Don't Take Our Word for It
Grapevine – January 1969

An early Chicago member writes the sequel to her story (page 304 in "Alcoholics Anonymous") and clearly spells out the progression of sobriety.

THE FIRST ten years of AA in the Chicago area (1939 through 1949) were years filled with much activity. During the first four or five years, the activity was at times even feverish. Our numbers were small when AA received its first national publicity, so all of us were pressed into service in an effort to answer the flood of requests that poured in from all over the Midwest.

It would be nice to intimate that my part in all this amounted to some kind of noble, self-sacrificing contribution. Nothing could be further from the truth. This tremendous activity, by bringing me into almost constant contact with other members doing likewise, provided me with everything I most desperately needed to save my life--quite literally. As I look back I realize this was the most excitingly period of my life, filled with great humor, incredible thrills, and revelatory happenings. Out of these were born human relationships the like of which I wouldn't have believed possible.

By 1955, when I wrote my story for the revised edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, our membership in the Chicago area alone had grown from six to six thousand. Now, there were many to carry on the work. The group did not need us in the same degree as it had earlier. But our need for the group had not diminished. After we come into AA, after the fog is lifted from our thinking, then we begin to find ourselves. When we have had the time to complete that all-important, searching personal inventory, we must ask, "What is it I really want from life? Sobriety? Yes, of course, for there can be no future without this. But if I can maintain sobriety--then what? What can I do with what remains of my life?" The answers may vary somewhat, but I think there are certain fundamental desires that are much the same in all of us.

We want, first of all, to be liberated from dependence on any human crutch. Next, we want to achieve dependability and trustworthiness, so that our self-respect is restored and we can earn the right of respect from others. Then we must find some reason for our existence, so that we may obtain purpose in our lives--a purpose worth striving to achieve. We need to learn to laugh again, relax again, enjoy living again. We want to be capable of meeting the daily challenges as they come, with courage and good humor. Instead of running from life's problems, we'd like to find we can meet them head-on and them well.

It seems like a pretty big order, and it is. Yet all these wishes and many more can become realities if we will just follow the AA blueprint for living.

The AA concept tends to simplify life. It teaches us how to keep ourselves straightened away by weeding out the crippling attitudes and replacing erroneous premises with true values. It wisely counsels us to turn the inner searchlights on what underlies our motivations before we act, so that the chances for constructive action will be greater. Also, when we learn to take a good look before we leap, we can eliminate the purely emotional decisions we used to act upon, so often to our sorrow and destruction.

The AA approach to life steers us along a maturing course. We become willing to accept the responsibility of our actions. We learn to improve the quality of our living by constantly striving to improve ourselves. Although we cannot change the world, we find that for us relative (yet miraculous) change does occur outside ourselves as we change inwardly. And after a while we begin to realize that we are developing a pretty sound philosophy to live by. The very nature of this approach to life calls for a continuous striving toward the personal goals we have set for ourselves. We will never outgrow the program. Always, as more vistas open up for us, or when we reach a new plateau, we find the need to climb a little higher, or go a bit further.

"What is it I really want from life?" Now we can answer that question.

We want to mature. We want to be able to make a constructive contribution to our world. We want to develop well-integrated, whole personalities. We want balance in our lives; we want to develop all the areas of our being equally. We want to improve our understanding of and appreciation for our fellowman, and thereby learn how we may serve him. We want to earn the privilege and the joy of being wanted, needed, and loved by those around us.

We find that the principles of honesty, purity (of motivation), unselfishness, and love (without ourselves at the center) do work, when we apply them to any and all departments of our living. It often takes courage to make the experiment of applying these principles in our daily affairs, in our personal relationships, or in our business contacts. But by gum these principles do work. They work because everything we have to do in this world involves other people, and people will and do respond to this kind of approach, no matter what the problem at hand. I can make this statement because I have had, not one, but many experiences with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations over the last twenty-nine years.

We never really know anything theoretically. We truly know only that which we have experienced. And this is why we say to the new person, "Don't take our word for it. Instead, try it for yourself. Only then can you be sure you latched on to a design for living can really work for you.

My faith in our program continues to increase through my personal experience with it. The last thirteen years have found me still striving toward the shining goals laid out for me long ago. I now live in Florida with my husband, and we will soon be celebrating, most happily, our eighteenth wedding anniversary. He is an alky, too, and our lives have been enriched by our mutual faith and perseverance in the AA way of life. Through it we have found a quality of happiness and serenity that, we believe, could not have been realized in any other way. Small wonder our gratitude no bounds.

S. B. S.
Sarasota, Florida

Index of AA History Pages on Barefoot's Domain

As in so many things, especially with we alcoholics, our History is our Greatest Asset!.. We each arrived at the doors of AA with an intensive and lengthy "History of Things That Do Not Work" .. Today, In AA and In Recovery, Our History has added an intensive and lengthy "History of Things That DO Work!!" and We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it!!

ABC Page 60 from the Big Book



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