Marty Mann (October 15, 1904 – July 22, 1980) was an early female member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and author of the chapter “Women Suffer Too” in the second through fourth editions of the Big Book of AA. In part because of her life’s work, alcoholism became seen as less a moral issue and more a health issue.
It is a common error that Marty Mann was the first woman in AA. The first woman to seek help from Alcoholics Anonymous was “Lil”, who relapsed and later got sober outside A.A.,and the first woman who attained any length of sobriety (although she later relapsed) was Florence R., author of the chapter “A Feminine Victory”, in the first edition of the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Ms. Mann was, however, the first lesbian member of Alcoholics Anonymous at a time when gay and lesbians were not accepted by society.
Marty Mann came from an upper middle class family in Chicago. She attended private schools, traveled extensively, and was a debutante. The social circle in which she moved was a fast-living one and Mann was known for her capacity to drink without apparent effect (often a sign of alcoholism). She married into a wealthy New Orleans family; when in her late twenties, due to financial reverses, she had to go to work, her social and family connections made it easy for her to launch a career in public relations.
Mann’s drinking, however, grew to the point where it endangered not only her business but her life, including at least one suicide attempt. In 1939 her psychiatrist, Dr. Harry Tiebout, gave her a manuscript of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and persuaded her to attend her first AA meeting (at the time there were only two AA groups in the entire United States). Despite several relapses during her first year and a half, Mann succeeded in becoming sober by 1940 and, apart from a brief relapse nearly 20 years later, remained so for the rest of her life.
In 1945 Mann became inspired with the desire to eliminate the stigma and ignorance regarding alcoholism, and to encourage the “disease model” which viewed it as a medical/psychological problem, not a moral failing. She helped start the Yale School of Alcohol Studies (now at Rutgers), and organized the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism (NCEA), now the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence or NCADD.
Three ideas formed the basis of her message:
Alcoholism is a disease and the alcoholic a sick person.
The alcoholic can be helped and is worth helping.
Alcoholism is a public health problem and therefore a public responsibility.
In the 1950s Edward R. Murrow included her in his list of the 10 greatest living Americans. Her book New Primer on Alcoholism was published in 1958.