March is Women’s History Month. Recovery is full of astounding, astonishing, inspiring women. Many of the leaders in our communities are women: mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. One of the great pioneers for both recovery and women’s progress is advocate Marty Mann.
Marty Mann was not anonymous about her recovery. She broke many barriers. She the first female member of Alcoholics Anonymous to achieve long-term recovery. Part of Marty’s legacy is preserved in the literature that’s still used in meetings today. She wrote the story “Women Suffer Too,” which is included in Editions 2, 3, and 4 of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book.
However, Marty did not limit her advocacy work to those in the original 12-step program. She was convinced that alcoholism was a family disease and a chronic one. She decided to spread the message of recovery and attack the stigma of alcoholism. It became her mission to educate people about alcohol and encourage the “disease model,” which emphasized that substance use disorder is a medical problem, not a moral failing. In 1945, she helped start the Yale School of Alcohol Studies (This is now part of Rutgers University). Marty’s ideas were incredibly progressive at the time, and because of her tireless advocacy, millions have received medical care for their problem.
Marty didn’t just work one-on-one with other people in recovery. She organized, and she thought big. For example, she arranged for New York City buses to display public service ads stating that alcoholism is a disease. According to her biographers, in 1949, she also launched a campaign that placed coin boxes in city bars, asking patrons to donate the price of a drink to help those who suffered from the disease of alcoholism. When the American Medical Association finally agreed in 1967 that alcoholism was a disease, Marty said, “Alcoholism was the first disease they ever had to vote was a disease!”
Marty’s community organizing culminated with the founding of the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism (NCEA), which later became known as the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence or NCADD. Facing Addiction recently merged with NCADD to improve, evolve, and expand our network of grassroots organizations that help people affected by addiction. Thanks to Marty, we are able to continue her mission of educating, sharing, and pushing for change. Her influence is felt in our advocacy work to this day, decades after her death.
Marty Mann was one of a kind, and she set a great example for those of us who come after her. She’s shined a light on how to use your personal story in advocacy efforts. Through her hard work, organization, and commitment to education, Marty was able to change the world. We celebrate her this month, and every month, by continuing the movement she started.