The Seventh A. A. International Convention

The seventh AA International Convention was held in New Orleans, LA, in 1980.

The big meetings were held in the immense, air-conditioned Superdome. Nell Wing, Bill's secretary and now AA archivist, said that the Superdome was comfortably chilled and acoustically perfect.

A mock Mardi Gras parade was held on Thursday night, and "famed Bourbon Street turned into ice-cream and coffee street," according to Nell, with mobs of A.A.s taking over. There were signs in the windows of the jazz establishments welcoming A.A.s.

On Friday night, at the opening session, there was a 30 foot-high world map outlined on a blue background behind the stage. The theme of this conference was "Joy of Living," and during the flag ceremony, as each flag bearer spoke these words in his or her native tongue, the country represented was lit up on the map.

An archives workshop -- the first at an international convention -- was held and a large, enthusiastic crowd attended. The films "Bill's Own Story" and "Bill Discusses the Traditions" were shown continuously throughout the convention. Also shown continuously was a recently completed film strip of the archives called "Markings on a Journey." This was the idea of Mike R., a pioneer member from Oklahoma who was also chairman of the Trustees' Archives Committee.

He noted the fact that some 2,000 members visited the archives in New York every year to gain an awareness of how it all began. "But Mike felt that since it was impossible to bring al the fellowship in to see the archives, we should in some way take the archives to the fellowship," Nell wrote. "Markings on a Journey" was their attempt to accomplish that. There were also meetings of archivists after the workshop to discuss the value of circulating a newsletter among the archivists.

Presentations were made by non-A.A. members, including judges, physicians, psychiatrists, clergymen, educators, prison officials, media specialists, government officials, a labor leader, an industrialist and alcoholism agency officials.

Special workshops were scheduled for gay members and for young people as well as for doctors, lawyers, and women.

This convention also was the first to have a marathon meeting running continuously, day and night, from Thursday midnight to Sunday morning. According to Nell, "A man who had sobered up just two days before in the marathon meeting was introduced before the crowd of 23,000."

On Sunday morning Lois gave a brief talk and was presented with the first Big

Book in Italian, by Roberto C., who had done the translation. He told how A.A. was growing in Italy.

Then a surprise guest came to the microphone and introduced himself as Bob S., a member of Al-Anon. He explained that he was probably the only person there who had been present when Bill W. met Dr. Bob first met. He was the only son of Dr. Bob Smith. Bob Smith, "Smitty," shared some of his early memories of Bill's living in their Akron home that summer in 1935.

The 1980 convention was the first to feature women, and Marty Mann, of course, was the keynote speaker. She, like Dr. Bob and Bill before her, was very ill when she gave this last major talk to A.A. Like Bill in 1970, she arrived in a wheelchair. But when she was introduced she rose from the wheelchair and walked slowly to the podium as a prolonged ovation shook the rafters. She stood tall and the old gleam came back in her eye.

When the ovation finally ended, Marty looked out over the thousands of women (and many men, as well) and said: "Talk about tears -- I can't tell you what it feels like to be a great-great-great-great grandmother to so many women. Because that's what you are, all of you. You're my children, and I'm so, so proud of you."

The hall erupted with a roar and gave her a long ovation.

Marty Mann was not only the first woman to achieve long-term sobriety in A.A.

(see her story: "Women Suffer Too" in the Big Book), she was the person most responsible for removing the stigma from the disease of alcoholism by educating the public.

She told a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 1969: "I had discovered the strength of the stigma that lay on alcoholism. I had discovered the conspiracy of silence that existed about it. I had discovered that families were inclined to protect their alcoholic and that they were totally unaware of the fact that this protection was actually preventing their alcoholic from getting help."

Marty had gained the support and backing of two eminent scientists at Yale University, Dr. Howard W. Haggard and Dr. E. M. Jellinek, who had been working on this problem for some years. And they gave her the support and encouragement - as did Bill Wilson - to start an organization originally called the "National Committee for Education on Alcoholism," which later became the National Council on Alcoholism.

Marty Mann died just two weeks after she returned from New Orleans, July 22, 1980, having survived three of the most-often stigmatized health problems of the 20th century: alcoholism, tuberculosis, and cancer. She died suddenly from a massive cerebral hemorrhage.

Sources:

Slaying the Dragon, the History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America,© by William White.

Grateful to Have Been There©, by Nell Wing.

Not God©, by Ernest Kurtz.

With a Lot of Help From Our Friends, the Politics of Alcoholism©, unpublished manuscript by Nancy Olson.


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