Through The Grapevine: writing for Alcoholics Anonymous

By Anne Garner, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts

Alcoholics Anonymous first issued The Grapevine in June of 1944, seventy-four years ago this month.  In the journal’s inaugural issue, an uncredited author recounts the founding of the publication “in a big, smoke-filled room” where “six ink-stained wretches sipped at their Cokes … a cashier, a radio script writer: an author: a bookseller: an art director: a wife and mother of two.”  When questioned on the journal’s purpose, the mother of two explains.  It’s about “A.A.’s whole design of living.  There’s going to be a big, full-page on local group doings … and we’re planning to get all the big general stuff on alcoholism into the paper.  Best of all, we think, is the Servicemen’s Letter page…”[1]


While managed by senior advisor and Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W., The Grapevine was conceived and established by a handful of New York “A.A.” women. In “–the story of your magazine – – ” published in the December 1948 issue, the initial idea for the serial publication was credited to “Lois K., a New York member,” who suggested a trial run. A preliminary meeting between Lois K. and three other women in the program, Priscilla P., Grace O. and Marty M. (the latter was the founder of the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism) solved initial questions about content and funding.  They also decided that male representation was needed, and added two men to their staff, Chase H. and Abbott T. Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W. gave the plan his blessing, and in his first editorial for the publication, called The Grapevine, “a lighted lamp.”[2]

The initial print run was 1,200 copies, and demand was steady. Members voted on October 3, 1945 to designate The Grapevine as the initial periodical of A.A.  In 1944 and 1945, the journal was produced entirely by non-paid volunteers; by 1948, The Grapevine was supported by four paid staff.  In September of 1948, a smaller, pocket format was conceived (the earliest editions bear a fruit-heavy vine on the cover with the issue information but no title, in an instance of design safeguarding anonymity.)


The first edition of “Alcoholics Anonymous,” or “the Big Book,” (1939) included only one essay about a female in recovery.  But from the beginning, The Grapevine was more inclusive of women’s stories.  An early article by founding member Grace O. focused on female membership and the perceived challenges by men of women at meetings.  Here, she ticks out some of the complaints expressed by male members, who believed “women talk too much,” “many women form attachments that are too intense,” “women’s feelings get hurt too often,” and that they frequently “are attention demanders;” she concludes that the way forward is with patience and acknowledgement of common purpose.[3]  As Leslie Jamison writes in her 2018 book, The Recovering, “Describing the ‘traditional beliefs’ that inflect how male and female drinking have been understood differently, one clinical textbook puts it like this. ‘Intoxication in a woman was thought to signal a failure of control over her family relationships.’”[4]


A selection of The Grapevine from 1948-1949.

4Grapevine_t_May1949_v5n2_WatermarkedPnina Levy demonstrates that in the earliest years of the organization men and women shared editorial and writing responsibilities for the serial, though the organization wasn’t always able to shake the entrenched cultural and social gender stereotypes of the early post-War period.[5] A May 1949 article, “Lady A.A.s Get Their Heads Together” acknowledged the challenges of “scurrying to fix dinner, wash dishes, prepare kids for bed, dress yourself and make the meeting across town by 8 o’clock.”[6]  In a “Vino Vignette” published in a 1946 issue, Esther E. tells of the difficulties of moving to her new town of San Antonio to kindle a regular meeting because she’s a woman. She’s successful assembling a group of three females and one male; eventually, as she says, “‘evah-thing’ caught fire.”  The December 1955 issue has no less than five articles by women, including articles about co-ed sponsorship, a narrative of a former female prisoner in recovery, and “My Son and I and AA,” written by a New York program mother.[7]

Today, The Grapevine is still in print, along with La Vina, for Spanish audiences.  Current information about subscriptions and excerpts from past issues can be found here.

[1] Anonymous. “Grapevine’ in Bow.” The Grapevine.  June 1944. Vol 1, No. 1.
[2] Anonymous.  “—the story of your magazine—“ The Grapevine. December 1948. Vol 5, No. 7; Bill W., “The Shape of Things to Come,” The Grapevine. June 1944. Vol. 1, No. 1.
[3] Grace O. “Women in A.A. Face Special Problems.” The Grapevine. October 1946. Vol. 3, No. 5, P. 1, pp 6 – 7, 10.
[4] Leslie Jamison. The Recovering.  New York: Little Brown, 2018.
[5] Pnina Levi. “Gender and Alcoholism: Pioneering alcoholic women’s contribution to Alcoholics Anonymous, 1937 – 60.”  Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. 2015. Vol. 29, pp. 112-35.
[6] Anonymous. “Lady A.A.’s Get Their Heads Together.” The Grapevine.  May 1949. Vol. 5, No. 12, p. 11.
[7]  See, “I’ve Changed My Tune,” “My Son and I and AA,” “Adding Up the Score,” “A Lady’s Gripe,” “I’ve Got What I Want for Christmas,” all from The Grapevine. December 1955.  Vol. 12, No. 7.Shop ad_book arts

“She was in love with another man…” History, Heartbreak, and Hysteria in the Academy Archive (Part 2)

Earlier this week, fall archives intern Doris Straus shared highlights from the collections she processed while at the Academy. Today, she presents the rest of her discoveries.

I processed the papers of Dr. Lewis Gregory Cole papers next. Dr. Cole (b. 1874), a radiologist, had an active social life during his time at Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons. His papers (1892–1954) include a large collection of lively personal correspondence from male and female acquaintances, dance cards, wedding invitations, calling cards (mainly from female friends), and other social ephemera of the late 1890s. The correspondence from his university years and the early years of his career are a fascinating look at social interactions between young men and women at the turn of the 20th century.

Dance cards from the Cole archive.

Dance cards from the Cole papers.

There is an invitation for a bicycle ride and mention of a gift of a box of chocolates to a young lady friend, and years of correspondence from “your true chum, Joe,” who was studying at Cornell and who complains about all the weddings they have to go to. Though there is more personal correspondence here than scientific, numerous papers and correspondence relates to Dr. Cole’s work with roentgenology (radiology). A 1931 letter to Dr. Cole from a fellow radiologist at the Cleveland Clinic requests “a signed photograph of yourself for my collection of eminent radiologists.” Dr. Cole wrote two textbooks, contributed to other texts, and authored more than one hundred articles in medical journals. He also developed a table, known as the “Cole table,” for the diagnosis of duodenal ulcers.

Scientific papers in the Cole archive.

Scientific materials from the Cole papers.

The Dr. Joseph R. Kuh papers, 1935–1994, also contain a great deal of personal correspondence, along with diaries and notes documenting Dr. Kuh’s service during World War II and the Korean War.

Dr. Kuh (1919–2012) was a certified internist and practiced privately from his Manhattan brownstone for many years. Of note in the personal correspondence is the reporting of historic events. A June 6, 1944 letter from Dr. Kuh’s father to both his sons reports the events of D-Day as experienced in the Kuh family apartment on West End Avenue. The letter tells of constant prayers being offered on the radio in addition to the news, and of the major department stores “Stern’s, Lord and Taylor, Franklin Simon” closing early. “Their windows bore a notice ‘Due to D Day, we felt that our customers as well as our employees would want to spend the day in prayer, and so we have closed for the remainder of the day.’” Other newsworthy events include Dr. Kuh’s first wife, Jean, a Barnard student, writing about the plane that crashed into the Empire State Building in July of 1945.

Diaries from the Kuh papers.

Diaries from the Kuh papers.

I also processed the Dr. Alfred Braun papers, 1898–1983. Dr. Braun was a native of Hungary, a Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons alumnus who specialized in otolaryngology, and a gifted painter. He was one of the founders and past officers of the NY Physicians Art Club. The collection includes scientific materials, a number of art awards, and correspondence with American businessman Armand Hammer, who appears to have been a friend.

Other personal collections include the Dr. Gustav Aufricht papers, 1922-1963. Dr. Aufricht (1894–1980) was a native of Budapest, Hungary and is considered one of the founding fathers of American Plastic Surgery. He treated wounded soldiers during World War I and studied with the leading practitioners in Europe before arriving in New York in 1923. I also processed the Dorothy Fahs-Beck papers, 1929–1954. Fahs-Beck (1906–2000) was a research statistician who received her doctorate from Columbia University in 1944. Her greatest impact was as an innovator in the areas of human services research and dental practice research. She established the Fahs-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation in 1993.

The papers and records I had the good fortune to process are wide-ranging collections documenting the struggle to conquer diseases such as tuberculosis, polio, and rickets; record psychiatry and neurology as practiced in the early 20th century; chronicle the development and use of X-rays, vaccines, and antibiotics; record advances in diagnostic and surgical procedures; report evolving diet and nutritional issues for children throughout the mid-20th century; and document the beginnings of AIDS research in the early 1980s—all by organizations and individuals at the forefront of these issues. There is also enlightening correspondence and social ephemera from times long past, which help to complete the picture of a person or an era—even if it is just admiring the gift of a box of chocolates 120 years after the fact.

“She was in love with another man…” History, Heartbreak, and Hysteria in the Academy Archive (Part 1)

By Doris Straus, MSLIS, Pratt Institute, Fall 2015 Archives Intern

“She was in love with another man…” These were literally the first words that I read in a random case file from the Charles Loomis Dana papers of the early 1920s. Obviously this was going to be a collection that would be easy to get lost in.

Dr. Dana’s case files from 1919–1929 comprised the first collection of more than a dozen that I processed for the New York Academy of Medicine as an intern this fall. Here are highlights from about 10 of them, which offer an intriguing look into the history of medicine and society in the 19th and 20th centuries. Contact if interested in using any of these collections. Please note, some of these collections are on deposit and have specific rules that govern their use. Finding aids to these collections will be available online in early 2016.

Dr. Charles Loomis Dana was born in 1852 in Woodstock, Vermont to an old and prominent New England family. He studied medicine in Washington, DC, and in New York, graduating from Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons in 1877. He went on to become a professor of physiology at Women’s Medical College and later of nervous and mental disorders at Cornell Medical College. Dana’s case files include individuals of all ages and from all walks of life—from countesses to schoolboys, stenographers, governors, and laborers. There are also many patients with on-the-job injuries whose examinations were requested by the Department of Labor for workmen’s compensation matters.

A case file from the Charles Loomis Dana papers. The patient name has been removed from the image for privacy.

A case file from the Charles Loomis Dana papers. The patient name has been removed from the image for privacy.

Dr. Dana often worked with Dr. Gladys G. Tallman, director of the psychological laboratory at the Neurological Institute of New York at Columbia University, and her detailed and thorough examinations of many patients are part of the files. The most common diagnosis for men seems to be paranoia and for women, depression, hysteria, and anxiety. Elderly men often suffered from depression as well. However, the range of diagnoses was actually quite wide and included tinnitus, insomnia, neuralgia, asthenia, vertigo, dementia praecox, encephalitis, drug addiction (most often morphine), “traumatic psychosis,” and “weak arches.” Patients came from not only the New York area but from all of the Eastern U.S. and some from as far away as Havana.

Like the range of Dr. Dana’s patients, the variety of subject matter and materials preserved in the collections that I processed is wide. What organizations or individuals choose to save and the way they organize and preserve these materials is fascinating and a big part of the appeal of archival work for me. The New York Pediatric Society records, 1930–2011, contain much of what one would expect to find in the records of a medical society. However, these papers, minutes, and correspondence also document the prevalence of tuberculosis in the 1930s. This documentation is followed by the development and use of the antibiotic streptomycin in the 1940s, and then, decades later, the first appearance of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis as shown in the 1967 papers of the society and continuing with the rapid rise of those resistant strains into the 1980s. Papers on the polio epidemic of 1944 are also here, as is the evolving research regarding vaccines, diet, and nutrition for children.

The New York Clinical Society records, 1877–2005, include bound manuscript records of its earliest minutes (1877–1912). At meetings, members offered presentations like the “case of a man with a curious form of venereal disease” and also an “opium habit” (February 22, 1878); a boy with protruding ears who was helped by surgery—“the result is admirable…the lad of 16 years had been subjected to so much mockery at school” (May 27, 1881). On March 25, 1904, “Dr. Gibson presented specimens of gall stones removed from a lady who had symptoms of intestinal obstruction” including “a gall stone about the size of an olive pit.” The minutes of May 27, 1910 document “a peculiar case of typhoid fever” which was “probably not typhoid but ‘New York Fever.’” By the 1980s one of the papers presented included “Orthopedic Aspects of Classical Ballet” and “In-Hospital Nutrition or How to Starve to Death in New York City”—a long way from the gallstone samples of 1904. On October 25, 1982 a paper, “Acquired Immunodeficiency,” was presented—“This recent and fascinating disease picture which has become so prominent in our N.Y. area.” Again, this collection offers primary-source documentation as the story of the epidemic unfolded.

During the 1980s the meetings of the society were held at the Century Club. The menus and wine labels from those occasions have been preserved as well.

"Minutes of the Meetings of the New York Clinical Society."

“Minutes of the Meetings of the New York Clinical Society.”

Other medical society collections that I processed include the New York Cardiological Society records, 1949–1995; the New York Gastroenterological Association records, 1915–1963, which included the reporting of a “surgical member of our group” attempting to “close up the multiple-perforated gut” of a racketeer who had been “badly shot up” in 1943; and the very well organized materials of the American Urological Association, New York Society—the only minutes I processed that were recorded by a stenographer and then transcribed and bound by a transcription service. An enthusiastic 1929 telegram in the collection describes what appears to be a diagnostic procedure for kidney stones: “results unbelievably beautiful.”

Read more about our archival highlights in Part 2 of the blog.

Three Archival Collections Now More Accessible

By Rebecca Pou, Archivist

Three of our archival collections are more accessible: their finding aids are available online, both on our Archives and Manuscripts page and in our online catalog.

MedicalSocietyOfTheCountyofNYCollection_watermarkMedical Society of the County of New York Records, 1806-1989
The Medical Society of the County of New York was founded in 1806 and exists today as the New York County Medical Society. At 68 linear feet, it is one of our largest collections. The records document the society’s changing role over time. In its early years, the society regulated the medical profession in Manhattan; by the 20th century, it focused on education and public health concerns.

The Charaka Club Records, 1898-2012
The Charaka Club is a small, New York-based society of doctors interested in the historical, literary, and artistic aspects of medicine. The collection contains minutes, correspondence, publications, talks, and other materials. The talks, some which were not published in the club’s Proceedings, may be especially interesting.

Physicians Relief Fund Records, 1974-2005
The Physicians Relief Fund was a charitable organization that provided financial relief or loans to physicians and their dependents in times of need.

If you are interested in using any of these collections, please contact us at More finding aids will become available online in 2015.