In a home in Midtown Memphis, Katherine N. listened to the broadcast, On October 13, 1939, Katherine N. wrote to the Alcoholic Foundation, explaining to them that she had heard the broadcast, and was so impressed that she bought the book for her brother, whom she described as an "incurable" alcoholic. She also noted she was reading the book before she gave it to him or that she might get someone else to give it to him.
Katherine also inquired if there was anyone in Memphis to contact, or if not in Memphis, the nearest residence?
On October 19, 1939, Ruth, the secretary in the Alcoholic Foundation (as it was called at the time) replied, but it was not too promising. At the time there were no members of A.A. in Tennessee, which of course meant there was no contact in Memphis.
Ruth explained that our largest membership was in New York City and anyone that could reach them there was very welcome. Her letter went on to state that, "at present it is our hope that an alcoholic, beginning with the book will be able to start his own rehabilitation and then work with other alcoholic sufferers in his own community, thereby forming forming a nucleus for another group of Alcoholics Anonymous... If we can be of assistance at any time within our present limited scope, please let us hear from you." BUT, just a short time later, Bern H. in Knoxville had bought the book, was able to go to New York City for personal help and returned to Knoxville for 12th Step work... culminating in the formation of the Knoxville A.A. Group in April, 1941.
Sometime in April or early May, 1941, Mrs. Ellen B., wife of Clark B., residing at a Midtown address on Goodbar, had written to the office in New York City. A.A. was starting to happen in Memphis.
Ellen reported that, "Mr. B. and I are anxious to hear from you to learn whether you've had any inquiries from the people here in Memphis. We are so delighted and thankful for the results ourselves, we are hopeful of passing it on to other... Due to many things we prefer to work anonymously for the time being and I am sure you will understand that."
On May 28, 1941, Ruth wrote back that she had heard from Tom B. in Cleveland, Ohio, a friend of Ellen and Clark B., who talked to them, and respected their wish to remain anonymous, even with her.
Ruth inquired about Mr. E.B.B. of Memphis and had Tom B. given them any information about him. He had been visited in a Memphis hospital by one of the Cleveland traveling members, and Ruth was wondering if they had been able to contact him.
Ruth went on to give them two more names. At this time it seemed that most of the inquiries came from wives concerning their husbands' problem. Ruth assured them of their anonymity and would continue to send along inquiries from Memphis if and when they came in.
Ellen B. wrote back on June 6, 1941, that they had been to see Mr. B. and he seemed quite receptive, stating that "He said he would start today. I hope he pulls through - especially that 5 o' clock urge." She goes on to relate her other contacts and reiterates their desire for anonymity.
Next letter from Ruth is dated July 1, 1941, asking how their prospect Mr. B. was coming along. Then in another letter on July 29, 1941, Ruth gives Ellen and Clark the name of Bob K. who was in Wallace Sanitarium and had written asking for a Memphis contact.
The Clark B.'s were traveling at this time and were unable to make contact. Ellen B. writes, "we are doing well for ourselves, but confidentially only have made some progress with Mr. B. He slips occasionally, in fact, I think he still hasn't gotten the desire to quit completely. Maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps we haven't been adequate."
From 1941 to early 1944, Memphis was listed in the General Service Office as having "one contact, no group" while Knoxville went from 10 members to a lone member and Nashville and Chattanooga started up with around a half dozen members. The lone members of A.A. in Memphis were still Clark and Ellen B. working very anonymously. Ruth, and later her replacement as secretary, Bobbie, continued to supply Clark and Ellen with the names of people who had inquired to New York City regarding the program. We have no record of reported successes or failures.
IN 1943 the fellowship begins to gather in memphis
By February 1943, Harry H. had moved to Memphis from Birmingham, Alabama and the secretary, Bobbie, had written him from New York City.
"We received a letter from Marion H. telling us that you have moved to Memphis. We have two good A.A. members in Memphis but they have stayed very quietly under cover and do not want any publicity about A.A. They have handled inquiries from us and so I suggest that you drop them a note and see if you can arrange a meeting. They went to Cleveland over a year ago to find out about A.A. and have been fine ever since. They do not like having their name given out so I'll appreciate it if you can keep it for your own use alone."
Wally H. also came here from Birmingham, a traveling salesman, and got together with Harry H. They made contact with Ellen and Clark B., and together were making calls at the various sanitariums. Wallace, Gartley-Ramsey and Carroll Turner Sanitariums to name a few. Warren C., who had made his first contact in Houston, Texas, and another traveling man, got in contact with the others through the office in New York City. (We have a group directory from Corpus Christi, Texas stating that a member from Memphis brought the message in 1944, and surmise that it was Warren C.)
Warren seems to be the active correspondent and in January 1944, he wrote - "We may get an active group started here. I am certainly willing and anxious to do my part. For so long as I did my part and was actively at work on the program, I had no trouble at all." He had also called on an attorney in Memphis, Julian B., and asked Bobbie, to send him our book and a note to encourage him.
The time during January 1944 until April, the few members that were here had been meeting in homes and over coffee at restaurants, and of course, the telephone.
On April 28, 1944, there were no fanfares, ribbon cuttings and certainly no champagne bottles were broken as A.A. was officially launched in Memphis with what if regarded as its first Group meeting.
According to the Press-Scimiter, in an article on A.A.'s fourth anniversary... it said... "six men in a Memphis home. One of the six had recently come to Memphis. He had been through a big fight. He believed he had found a way to win. He talked it over with the others and Alcoholics Anonymous came to Memphis." Undoubtedly, Warren C., Harry H. Julian B. and Wally H. were in that original group. (There is more mention in correspondence of Ellen and Clark B.)
Wally H. proved to be the spark plug of the group, as Bobbie wrote to Warren C., "Wally is a spark plug and gets things done. He is one of the rare alkiesas Bill calls them a "do-it-now-drunk". Bill first coined that phrase about me so tell Wally there is no slam in it, at least not much. I know the New Orleans Group took a great spurt ahead when Wally landed there..." This was written on June 1, 1944.
In correspondence to Bobbie, Wally wrote - "I have rarely heard of a finer start than this group has had. Memphis was ready and waiting someone to start the ball rolling. Harry H. and Warren C. have been as helpful as possible and the result is a group of 20-odd established with the blessings of the city's leaders. (To say nothing of the alcoholics.) We are meeting regularly each Friday night at the Chamber of Commerce in the Peabody Hotel. Be sure to get Memphis on your next list with me as secretary for the time being until I can get someone else to take that job over."
The group placed small newspaper ads to make Memphis aware of their existence. It read, "If you have a drinking problem and want help, write P.O. Box 1364, Memphis, Teen." It was that simple, they had gotten a post office box and began getting responses to that ad.
As Wally H. traveled a good bit, he wrote to Bobbie - "in the interest of group harmony I'm asking that you refer to Harry H., he is the current secretary." (Traditions in action before they were written.)
The next notice is a Central Office Request to all groups and lists the group name as Memphis, Tennessee. Group (actually it was called Central Group) and lists 26 members meeting at the Members Lounge in the YMCA in Friday night with Howard U. as the secretary, with P.O. Box 1364. This was dated June23, 1944. In June or July 1944, the group moved to 152 1/2 Madison from the YMCA.
June 4, 1944, Wally H. writes - "six from our group went with me to Birmingham to hear Bill, these people will be intensely 'sold' on A.A. and may write into you directly."
August 8, 1944 Howard U., then secretary, sent in 34 names of members and a check for $34.00 for their contribution.
Sometime in between August 8 1944 and July 23, 1945, the group moved to 152 1/2 Madison Avenue, and the group information sheet listed 150 members, with Maryon H. listed as secretary. Friday was a closed meeting, Tuesday and open meeting and Sunday afternoon was an "educational meeting" for the benefit of new members. On July 23, 1945 the group information sheet lists Oscar O. as secretary still indicating 150 members and stating Friday 8:00 PM, Regular Closed Meeting, Sunday, 3:30 PM, Discussion Meeting and Tuesday, 8:00 PM, Social Evening.
On March 3, 1945 a letter from Bess W. (first woman to stay sober) states she is seeking information on women staying sober. She says, "out of seven women, there are only two of us that have reached thirty days sobriety. The others are older members than I but have slipped."
In January, 1946 Charlie L. wrote to Bill asking about open public meetings, we do not have a copy of his letter, but the answer came from Margaret B., informing him that Bill very seldom came to the office anymore due to health reasons. She told Charlie that they welcome anyone to open meetings, and that she and Bill had traveled the country visiting groups and it was publicized that they would be in a city visiting and if it is handled in a dignified manner then it does not violate any A.A. policies. She suggested a meeting ever so often, by informing people and in this way could cover most of the people he wanted to reach and at the same time not step on the toes of such members against fanfare and any publicity. She further stated that in the East they have often invited members of the press to attend meeting and encouraged them to report on them. We ask only one consideration, that they keep the spirit of anonymity and do not print the names of any members who speak. (Traditions again, before they were written.)
On July 9, 1946, Bess wrote, asking what to do about people coming to the group under the influence, constantly mooching and not staying sober. The answer was of course, that this would be handled according to local conditions and individual cases, and keep a little humor.
On October 11, 1947, Bess wrote again stating some of the wives wanted to start a wives group - (which was the first fore-runner of Al-Anon.) The answer advised that there were non-AA groups being formed and supplied a name and address in California. General Service Office kept a green card file on these groups and send information to them. (Al-Anon Family Groups had not yet been formed.)
By February, 1946 a second group is listed, the Crosstown Group which met in the Characters Builders Hall of a Methodist Church just off Madison, near Cleveland, listing 13 members, while the Central Group continued to list 150 members. These two listings continued through August of 1947, then showing a group meeting in the Overton Park clubhouse (this was short-lived.) That group became the Quonset Group and it met in a Quonset Hut behind a church, on Peabody at Bellevue, thus the name. This group was also called the "Silk Stocking Group."
The Family Group started out either as the East End Discussion Group, or Family Group absorbed that group at 251 S. Camilla, from there to a location on Lamar and finally to 1605 Madison Ave., (a donut shop is there now.) The Family Group went from 1605 Madison to a house on Summer Ave, just past Highland, for a very short time and then to a house on Bowen at the corner of National. It stayed there a long time and then moved in to the Action Club facilities on Malcomb, and the Turning point Group today has the last members of the Family Group.
A report from The Grapevine states Bill W. was in Memphis on September 18, 19, 20, 1947 and spoke at the Third Annual Southeastern Conference and "reviewed the 12 suggested Traditions for the organization."
On March 4, 1951, Charlie L. is writing in answer to a letter explaining the Conference Plan that Bill sent out to people in A.A. for comments. The first Conference of Panel 1 was held on April 20, 1951, in new York City.
There are several newspaper articles available, one describing the 4th Anniversary held on Wednesday night at the Georgian Room of the Peabody Hotel, and they were expecting around 400 members to attend.
On November 2, 1948, the Central Group moved across the street from 152 1/2 Madison to 159 Madison to occupy the second and third floors. The location had formerly been occupied by the American Legion Club which had moved to the Gayoso Hotel. (We understand this was for a short time and it was moved back across the street to 152 1/2 Madison.)
A short story told by an old timer, he said the club decided it would get a place across the street, two stories so that would give the card players a place to play cards and of your dues were paid, and you were in good standing then you could go up to the third floor. If not in good standing you couldn't go up there and it upset some as they had been told there were not dues or fees. There was fellow hollering for money all the time and they called him Father Moremoney (he was Catholic.)
That same old timer said one fellow, David G., would resign from A.A. every Friday. He was not satisfied with the way things were run. One time David invited a bunch of them to his house just to sit around and talk, and no one agreed with David, so he asked them to leave. Well, they wouldn't leave so David left his own house. But he stayed sober from the time he came into A.A. carried the message very well.
This same old timer, Mr. McN. recounted how the message was taken from Memphis to Paris, Brownsville, Jackson, Milan, TN, down to Coffeeville, Clarksdale, Tunica, Grenada, and Greenwood (Greenwood was the first northern Mississippi group to branch off from Memphis). Also over to Blytheville, Arkansas.
Our first time to turn down money was when Mr. Ed Crump gave us a check for $500.00. He had a relative that was an alcoholic, but we returned the check with much thanks and appreciation. Much later a man's wife gave a house to A.A. and Monty M. was then serving as the Intergroup Chairman/Secretary and he had to go to court to turn it down, much to the utter surprise to all, and with much respect toward A.A. for their self-support integrity.
What was to be the forthcoming Intergroup, was at one time, involved with the ALCAN Club at 152 1/2 Madison. (No one seems to know the meaning of ALCAN, not even Mr. McN. when asked.) But, there is a flyer in the Memphis Room at the Main Library, indicting "Memphis Inter-Group Association of Alcoholics Anonymous invites you to the First Public Open-Meeting of A.A. in Memphis. Dr. Will M. of Corsicana, Texas is to be the speaker." This was held at the Goodwyn Institute Auditorium at Madison and Third on Saturday evening, September 17th at 8:00 PM in with 1954 or 1955.
The Tennessee State Conference was held here on April 23, 24, 1955. (All we have is a flyer and it does not say where it was held.)
Also in 1955 there was a small newsletter printed called THE TIPPLER. There is an article entitled MEMPHIS MILESTONE. It reports that nearly fifty visitors were present on May 4, 1955, to help commemorate the second anniversary of the founding of the South Memphis division of Alcoholics Anonymous, Negro group. The principal speaker was Fred M. of Los Angeles, California, a member of the Negro Group there for ten years. One of the early members of the South Memphis Group, Percy J. had a favorite poem he made up, that was quoted by many:
"You can't lead where you don't go, and you can't teach what you don't know, and you can't be what you are not, and you can't give what you ain't got."
Back to the reminiscing - from Alice L. - Bess' description of the first A.A. Christmas party in Memphis: They had no money (there were less than 50 members) so for refreshments they had red and green Jello squares and ate off a card table.
- In 1960 the group was going to elect a new steering committee. They started arguing about card-playing, etc., and everybody was disqualified for one reason or another, until only Mary Elizabeth's name remained on the board, so she comprised the entire steering committee.
- Sam D., a minister, came in downtown, and his story revealed that he once preached a funeral while he was drunk, and fell into the open grave.
- We think that Whitehaven was the first spin off from downtown or midtown, and that group was started by T.B.W.
After the club and group closed down, Paramount Group was opened at 1484 Madison (now Tandy Leather) and the name came from Paramount Dance Studios - as when they moved in they just left the word Paramount on the door and called the group by that name. This group was opened July 2, 1961, with about 12 members. Card playing was allowed, but they had to quit playing one half-hour before the noon and night meetings, and they could not commence playing until one half-hour after the meetings had concluded. The group was open all day, every day and had a custodian. This is where the first noon meeting was held in Memphis. This group had to finally close the doors in 1970, for various reasons, and tried to continue on a house on Forest, right behind Sears, only to stay there about one year.
On June 12, 1960, from the minutes of the ALCAN Club - "much discussion was had on the disassociation of the ALCAN Club, which was formed by representatives from each group in Memphis and that a name be selected best suited for the newly organized intergroup office.
All were in favor of striking the name Central and ALCAN from the records and in no way affiliate the new office with either of these names.
John W. made a motion that the new office be called INTERGROUP OF MEMPHIS, motion seconded by Bill R., motion carried.
Thus, this is when the Intergroup of Memphis was born.
These records are available in the MEMPHIS INTERGROUP OFFICE for more detailed material on the archives of early Memphis A.A.
June 3, 1991
- Kittylu A.
Past State Archivist / Past State Alt. Del.
With assistance from the GSO Archives, Floyd McL., Alice L., Hazel D., Earl A., George A., T.D. McN., Carl K., Joe P., Peter B., Betty C., and many others.