When many of us finally found Al‑Anon, we came because of a family member or friend. I had little gratitude for my circumstances. However, as I grew and found myself becoming grateful for a better way of life, I wanted to know more about the program. I sometimes feel my growth in Al‑Anon is the germination of a seed because Lois decided her way of life was too good to keep to herself. The book Many Voices, One Journey (B-31) documents some of the earlier history of Al‑Anon that began with Bill W. and Lois W.:
Having seen vibrant family groups in his travels across the country, Bill suggested that Lois open a service office in New York, where the Family Groups could register, receive helpful literature, and become more unified. Lois recalled:
“It would also be a place to which any distracted wife could cry out for help, and from which information could spread to the public. Bill’s suggestion did not appeal to me at first, because I was still excited about having a home of our own. Starting such an office would take too much time away from working in my garden and making useful things for the house. But as I began to think about the need, the idea grew more and more intriguing.”
Lois sent a memorandum to Alcoholics Anonymous’ first General Service Conference in 1951. She briefly described how she saw the value of the family groups to A.A.:
“A.A. now recognizes that alcoholism is a family problem and that recovery can be greatly hastened by family understanding…. Although I was very grateful for Bill’s release from alcohol, I now feel that if I had had a family group to turn to I would have been spared three or four years of confusion and perplexity. It wasn’t until I actually practiced the Twelve Steps that our home life became really happy.”
-Many Voices, One Journey, p. 35–36
The A.A. Conference approved her proposal for a clearinghouse, and she immediately reached out to wives of the Delegates for assistance and support. Lois contacted a family group friend—Anne B.—and asked for her help in opening the office. Soon after, they contacted the 87 A.A. family groups to report that the groups now had a post office box in New York City that would serve as the first Clearing House. Lois volunteered to temporarily chair a committee that would inform and coordinate the groups.
The June 1951 edition of The Family Forum—a forerunner of the magazine that would later become The Forum—reported about the Clearing House to nearly 1,000 subscribers in the U.S., Canada and around the world. The A.A. Grapevine published an article encouraging the family groups to contact the new Clearing House. The pioneers believed that “a wider community of shared recovery would strengthen their groups as well as their personal recovery.”
Lois and Anne compiled Al‑Anon’s first piece of literature, Purpose and Suggestions (P-13), in 1951. Because of the large print volume, Lois said they were “dreaming big”—at the time there were fewer than 200 family groups. Lois assembled a group of members “to formulate the future policy of the Al‑Anon Family Groups, on a national basis.” This group would eventually form Al‑Anon’s first Advisory Committee, a predecessor to the World Service Conference. The Advisory Committee made several pivotal decisions at this first meeting, including naming the fellowship “Al‑Anon Family Groups.” They also agreed to ask for financial support from groups, form a steering committee and begin searching for rental space in New York for the office.
On January 9, 1952, the Al‑Anon Family Groups Clearing House moved its activities from Lois’s home, Stepping Stones, to A.A.’s 24th Street Clubhouse in New York City, which had been A.A.’s home since 1940. A room on the second floor served as the Al‑Anon Clearing House during the day and as a recreation room for A.A. at night. This room is where the first Family Group met in 1940, while A.A. members were conducting their closed meetings. Al‑Anon paid a small rental fee for use of the space.
When I came to Al‑Anon, I had no idea of the profound purpose of our organization and how it came into existence. Today when I take the time to re-read our history, I am grateful that our purpose remains as clear today as it was in the beginning—to encourage, assist and serve the families and friends of alcoholics. Although Lois, Anne and their band of pioneers may not have been fully aware of the ultimate impact that they would one day have on each of us, we are all beneficiaries of her words, “…but as I began to think about the need, the idea grew more and more intriguing.”
By Marsha W., Director of Programs
The Forum, November 2018