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"The First Woman Kicked Out of AA

Sybil and Matt on her porch.
  The Reason for Tradition 3

  AA early member Sybil Corwin talks about AA history

Here is the story about Irma Livoni. Each year around this time I try to tell this true story about what happened not just on Dec. 7th, 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day) but what happened to one of the few women who was in AA at that time and about a letter she received in the mail on Monday Dec. 8th, which virtually kicked her out of AA.

In Dec. of 1984, I had been sober for 2 1/2 years, and working with my sponsors Bob and Sybil Corwin since Jan. of 84. Sybil had gotten sober in March of 1941 and at the time she was 43 yrs sober. We were driving home from a meeting and she asked me the date ( to her it was just Sunday). I told her it was Dec. 8th, and that yesterday (Dec 7th) was the anniversary of Pearl Harbour Day.
She said "Matt, have I ever told you about Irma Livoni?"  "Nope, who is she?"  She said, "Well, when we get back to the house, come in for coffee and I will tell you a story about AA history and some of the reasons we have tradition 3. Oh, and by the way Matt, did you know that the literature specifically protests 'queers, plain crackpots and fallen women,' and since you and I are at least two out of those three, we should be especially grateful for tradition 3. I'll show you it when we get home."

I laughed out loud, as Sybil had a great sense of humour, and she had been a taxi dancer, back before she got sober, you know one of those "10 cents a dance" ladies, and she was divorced twice, and was a single mom, as well as an alcoholic back then, so the term fallen woman" was something that hit close to home.

She had told me that it was very different back in the 30's and 40's for a woman to be an alcoholic. Sybil said it was a time when women wore hats and gloves, and "respectable women" were not usually found in a bar or at "whoopee parties."  Our Thursday night step study had voted to not cover the traditions after we got to step 12, so I figured they must not be very important and thought I'd probably be bored with the conversation, but she got my attention telling me that "queers, crackpots and fallen women" were mentioned, so I agreed to come in for coffee.  Besides Sybil had been sober longer than I had been alive. I didn't argue with her very much.
Sybil got down her copy of the big book. She said, I want you to find the traditions in there, and read me tradition 3. It was a 1st edition Big Book. Thicker than mine.  I said, "Is this why they call it the Big Book?"  She said, "exactly, Bill had it printed on big paper, with big margins around the type, so that people would think they were really getting something for their money."  I looked in the back of the book, where I thought the traditions were, but couldn't find them. "I can't find them, Sybil."  "Exactly. That's because we didn't have any traditions back in 1941 when I came in, and Matt, AA was in mortal danger of destroying itself, which is why we have traditions now." Then she had me find them in my 3rd edition and in my 12x12.

I didn't read it all, just the caption heading, and then she started telling me the story of IRMA LIVONI.  Irma was a sponsee of Sybil's. She also became a member in 1941, just after Sybil. Sybil took her into her home. (Sybil told me that many people's bottoms were very low then, no home, no job, no watch, no car, nothing).  Sybil said it was different then for a woman to be an alcoholic, That most of them had burned all their bridges with their families, and were looked down upon, even more so than male alcoholics. Sybil said she watched AA help Irma get sober, watched AA help Irma get cleaned up, watched AA help Irma get her first apartment in sobriety.

Then she said that on Dec. 5th, 1941 a self appointed group of the members signed a letter to Irma and mailed it 2 days before Pearl Harbor, on that Friday, Dec. 5th.

Here is a copy of the letter:

Hollywood Station,
Hollywood, California
December Fifth, 1941
Irma Livoni
939 S. Gramercy Place
Los Angeles, California

Dear Mrs. Livoni :
At a meeting of the Executive Committee of  the Los Angeles Group of Alcoholics Anonymous, held Dec. 4th, 1941, it was decided that your attendance at group meetings was no longer desired until certain explanations and plans for the future were made to the satisfaction of this committee. This action has been taken for reasons which should be most apparent to yourself.

It was decided that, should you so desire, you may appear before members of this committee and state your attitude. This opportunity will be afforded you between now and December 15th, 1941. You may communicate with us at the above address by that date. In case you do not wish to appear, we shall consider the matter closed and that your membership is terminated.

Mortimer Joseph
Frank Randall
Edmund Jussen Jr
Fay D. Loomis
Al Marineau

I was stunned. "How could they do this Sybil?"  Because we didn't have any guidelines, any traditions to protect us from good intentions. AA was very new, and people did all sorts of things, thinking they were protecting the fellowship".  

Sybil then said to close my eyes and imagine my being in the following setting. Sybil explained that Dec. 7th, 1941 was Pearl Harbor Day (a Sunday). She said that on that Sunday night everyone in LA was afraid that Los Angeles would also be attacked and bombed. There was a citywide blackout people were so terrified. She said that on Monday Dec.8th President Roosevelt gave the speech that talked about "the date that will live in infamy" and that we were now at war with Japan and Germany.

She said, that was the day that Irma received her letter. There was only one meeting in the entire state of California when Sybil came in, in 1941. By December there may have been 2 or 3, but Irma had nowhere else to go, no one else to turn to, no other group in California that she could ask for help.

Sybil said, "Imagine only 1 or 2 meetings in your entire state, and being shunned by your family and by society and by the only group of people who were on your side, your AA group. Imagine them shutting the door on you and sending you such a letter."
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