On March 1, 1941, The Saturday Evening Post published an article titled “Alcoholics Anonymous: Freed Slaves of Drink, Now They Free Others” written by Jack Alexander. The article became a major turning point in Alcoholics Anonymous’ history.
Undated picture of Jack Alexander
The story behind the article begins when the owner of The Saturday Evening Post,Judge Curtis Bok, learned of A.A. from two friends. He was interested in having thePost tell the story of the organization and called upon well-known journalist of The Saturday Evening Post, Jack Alexander, to do so.
Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, eager to publicize the A.A. message, met with Alexander. He gave Alexander access to records, a tour of significant A.A. sights, and set up interviews with both nonalcoholic trustees of the General Service Board and A.A.s.
Correspondence between Jack Alexander and Bill W. from early 1941 shows the excitement felt in anticipation of the article’s release. On January 4, 1941, Alexander wrote to Bill W. and enclosed a manuscript of the article for Bill to read. On January 6 Bill replied and from his response the eagerness for the article’s release is apparent. Bill wrote:
I wish I could adequately convey to you the sense of gratitude that one of us feels towards you and the Saturday Post for what is about to take place. You can not possibly conceive the direct alleviation of so much misery as will be brought to an end through your pen and your good publishers.
For many a day you will be the toast of A.A.- in coca cola, of course!
Following the March 1, 1941 release of the article, inquiries began to flood in, leaving the small staff of the “A.A.Headquarters,” the precursor to the General Service Office, busy. On March 12, 1941 Ruth Hock, first non-alcoholic secretary of A.A., wrote to Dr. Bob, A.A. co-founder, to update him on what was going on in New York. She said that the office had become swamped, 918 inquiries in 12 days as a direct response to the article.
The offices of The Saturday Evening Post also received a large number of inquiries. A March 26, 1941, bulletin by the Post relays the power behind the article.
Following the publication of “Alcoholics Anonymous” by Jack Alexander, the Post floor received an unusually large mail from readers, much of it asking how contact could be established with groups who are doing this work in various cities. There were several instances of calls on our branch offices for information on local organizations of this unusual group.
Eight years after the release of the wildly successful 1941 Saturday Evening Postarticle Bill W. wrote to Jack Alexander with a request. Bill W. was interested in a follow-up article and was hoping Alexander would write one, and on June 8, 1949, Bill W. wrote the following:
If you can spare me a little time, I’d like to come down to Philadelphia and see you. Eight years ago the Saturday Evening Post took AA out of the pioneering stage and made it a movement. Uncounted thousands owe their great good fortune, yes their very lives, to what the Post did then. We still ship reprints of your article by the carload.
Nowadays AA rarely asks for publicity. I suppose we still get it in enormous quantities partly for that reason. Yet the time is here when an exception should be made.
The point of this letter is what I would definitely like to ask you folks a favor. Will you print another piece about us.
The general public has only the vaguest idea what our society really looks like. I think they would be interested in an inside view.
From our standpoint, a vital job has to be done. Now that the recovery formula is above ground and working at a prodigious rate, our main problem is that of maintaining our unity as a movement until every drunk in the world has had a good look at the idea.
So then, if John Q. Public could get an inside view of what our fellowship is really like, and it could become quite clear to him what good AA’s do and what they don’t do in their relationships with each other and with the outside world, the Saturday Evening Post would have written an insurance policy on our future, the value of which no men could ever reckon.
On June 9, Jack Alexander replied that he had always thought about writing a follow-up but had never gotten around to it. He also writes that there is trouble with the idea and says:
There is basic trouble about it, though; I don’t see, offhand, where there is enough new material to justify a second look. True, the number of AA’s has ballooned enormously, but that in itself is merely statistical. The basic story—the psychology of drinkers, how the AA’s work on them, the steps towards arresting the habit—remains unchanged; or so it seems to me.
On December 13, 1949 Bill W. wrote to Jack Alexander outlining the major turning points in the AA movement which included the decision to leave the Oxford Group, about Rockefeller insisting they did not need money, the formation of the Alcoholic Foundation, and the first two chapters of the Big Book.
For the next few months Bill W. and Jack Alexander corresponded regarding corrections that either of them thought needed to be made to the article. Finally, eight months after Bill W. initially presented Jack Alexander with the proposed idea for a follow-up, the article was released. “The Drunkard’s Best Friend” was published in the April 1, 1950 issue ofThe Saturday Evening Post.
“The Drunkard’s Best Friend” was a success, just as its predecessor was. On April 22, 1950, Bill W. wrote to Ben Bibbs, editor of The Saturday Evening Post, in praise of Jack Alexander and the two articles. Bill wrote as follows:
Jack Alexander, in his recent Saturday Evening Post story “The Drunkard’s Friend,” has done it again.
We of Alcoholics Anonymous wish to tell how immensely grateful every man-jack of us is for this happy circumstance. It is not the least exaggeration to say that Jack’s “Alcoholics Anonymous” article of nine years ago brought recovery within the reach of 10000 alcoholics and great happiness to as many homes. Since the public impression of this last piece of Jack’s is tops, we make no doubt that it will accomplish a fine result.
We know that the whole world will one day agree that these two articles of Jack’s about A.A. are to be regarded the greatest public service the Saturday Evening Post has ever done. And that’s saying a great deal, indeed.
When Jack Alexander passed away in 1975 he was credited in his West Texas Register obituary as the newspaperman who made “Alcoholics Anonymous a major organization by the articles he wrote about its work.” Today, the General Service Office Archives still receives inquiries requesting both articles.
Note: [A.A. World Services publishes the 1941 article in pamphlet format and sells approximately 22,000 a year.]