The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

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The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby PaigeB » Fri Mar 08, 2013 11:03 am

The Story of Irma Livoni
As related by Matt,M., a sponsee of Sybil C.
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, December 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 January of 84. Sybil had gotten sober in March of 1941, so 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 Harbor 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'll 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 protects '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 humor, 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 "whoopie 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 B.B. and in my 12 &12. 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 job in sobriety, and 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 on that Friday, Dec 5th, 2 days before Pearl Harbor.

Here is a copy of the letter:
ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
Post Office Box 607
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.

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS,
Los Angeles Group
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 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 two or three, 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 one or two 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, Matt." I shivered at the thought of it. It was Christmas time, the stores were decorated and now poor Irma was all alone. I thought about how it was in 1984 with 2000 meetings a week to choose from in Southern California. and then I imagined having no other help for a hopeless alcoholic.

Sybil told me that Irma never came back to another meeting, left AA and died of alcoholism. She wrote to Bill about the incident, and I cannot tell you that this is the reason that the following is a part of the 3rd. Tradition, but it certainly seems to apply.

>From Tradition 3, page 141: ... that we would neither punish nor deprive any AA of membership, that we must never compel anyone to pay anything, believe anything, or conform to anything? The answer, now seen in Tradition Three, was simplicity itself. At last experience taught us that to take away any alcoholic's full chance was sometimes to pronounce his death sentence, and often to condem him to endless misery. Who dared to be judge, jury and executioner of his own sick brother?"

JUDGE JURY AND EXECUTIONER... I remember looking at those words again and again, and they seemed to get larger and larger.

JUDGE, JURY AND EXECUTIONER,
JUDGE, JURY AND EXECUTIONER,
JUDGE, JURY AND EXECUTIONER,
I hadn't really noticed EXECUTIONER when I had read it the first time at my 12 &12 study group. Again I felt so bad for this poor lady.

Wow, those words really had a different meaning than when I had read the traditions before. So here it is, 23 years later, and each December 7th and 8th I always think about Irma Livoni, and how lucky I am, that we have traditions now. I also think of how lucky I was to have met Sybil and so lucky that she appointed herself my sponsor.

Years later I realized how everything she ever taught me was like gold. But in 1984 I had no idea who Sybil really was or how lucky I was to have her as my sponsor. She was like a piece of living history, but I really didn't realize how valuable that was in explaining WHY we do some of the things we do (like the story she told me about how they never said "Hi Sybil" and no one said "Hi my name is Matt and I'm an alcoholic" back then). Besides being one of the first women in AA, Sybil was the first woman west of the Mississippi. She also became the head of LA's central office for 12 years, and she became close friends with Bill and Lois. She and Bob even used to go on vacation with them. She used to tell me all sorts of stories about Bill Wilson and things he said to her. He was very interested in how AA would work for women, as there were very few women worldwide in AA back in 1941. Marty Mann came in before Sybil did, but very few stayed sober....

I learned that night that no one can get kicked out of AA. We can ask a disturbing wet drunk that he needs to settle down or we might have to ask him to step outside for that day, but we don't vote to kick anyone out forever. And we don't shun people because our guidelines, our traditions tell us that no one has to believe in anything (they don't have to be like me) and they don't have to conform to anything(they don't have to dress a certain way, or have no facial hair, or pay anything). Even if I get drunk again, I am still welcome at any AA meeting.....

So that's the story about Irma Livoni. Feel free to pass this along to anyone you know who might be interested in knowing a bit about how and why the traditions got started. I think it sort of puts a face on tradition 3: the face of a woman I never knew, who got kicked out of AA. Who got drunk and died.....

Thank God for Tradition 3, and thank God for all of you. I truly appreciate and cherish all the people in this group.

Best AA love to you all,
Matt
If I'm not able to say how I'm working my program today, then I'm not working my program.
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby becksdad » Fri Mar 08, 2013 2:00 pm

Thank you, Paige.

......... not much else to say after reading that story. Just... thank you.

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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby Sally » Sat Mar 09, 2013 8:39 am

thank you Paige for posting this here-
it is an excellent reminder to me how easily i take AA for granted-
i live where- within an hour- i have hundreds and hundreds of meetings
to choose from- and our instant communication here online has become
an integral part of my life- i don't ever want to lose it!! you guys are great!
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby PaigeB » Sat Mar 09, 2013 5:39 pm

Hi Sally!! Good to "see" and glad to hear you are well! Thanks to Sybil & Irma, we have each other!
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby kenyal » Sun Mar 10, 2013 7:53 am

At a convention in San Luis Obispo I went to an oldtimer meeting where they had 3 guys with over 30 years that split the meeting. It was a memorable meeting for me. One little guy had +-45 years and was named Fay. That would have been mid '80s.

I'm now wondering if he could have been one of the letter's signators? Those men who made that error in judgement each may have carried that for a long time.

Ouch.
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby ezdzit247 » Sun Dec 07, 2014 6:28 pm

kenyal wrote:At a convention in San Luis Obispo I went to an oldtimer meeting where they had 3 guys with over 30 years that split the meeting. It was a memorable meeting for me. One little guy had +-45 years and was named Fay. That would have been mid '80s.

I'm now wondering if he could have been one of the letter's signators? Those men who made that error in judgement each may have carried that for a long time.

Ouch.


Today, December 7, is the anniversary of the day Irma E. Livoni got the letter informing her that her membership in AA had been terminated. According to AA legend, what happened to Irma is a big part of the reason the AA Traditions were finally written in stone, especially the Third Tradition.

And, the answer to your question is no. Fay D. Loomis, one of the signatories on this infamous letter, died in 1956 at the age of 53. Don't know whether he died drunk or sober or whether that self-righteous "error in judgment" committed against Irma had anything to do with his early demise, but Loomis was long gone by the mid 80's.
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby chefchip » Mon Dec 08, 2014 5:33 am

Wow. This is a major reason why I love e-AA -- it is a treasure trove of interesting information. This one is new to me, and reading it actually gave me the shivers. I live in an area where we regularly have debates about "who should or should not" consider themselves members of the various groups. Most of the debate centers around dual addictions, with which we struggle daily, being in an area experiencing a heroin surge.

It is easy -- for me at least -- to get caught up in the "persuasive" arguments, arguments about protecting AA, not diluting the message, sole purposes, etc. All of those are valuable things, but NOT if they are gained at the expense of even one person losing their battle with alcohol. Lately, I've been developing a different perspective. There is no way any of us can maintain anything like "doctrinal purity" in AA. So, when it comes down to a choice between the "letter of the law" and the person suffering before my eyes, there is no choice. The person should always win.

Thanks for resurrecting this thread, and for adding to my understanding.
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby positrac » Wed Dec 10, 2014 6:42 am

My grandmother got sober in 1955 and back then not many women were around and the ones that showed up weren't ones you'd bring home to momma as she said. my grandmother came from a high society back ground and lived in a good life but my grandfather and her were horrible drunks. it took her to leave and to start over in another state and get a job and house wives didn't normally hold many skills. I have her 24 hour book she got from her sponsor in 1957 and though it is well used it reminds me of the hope AA brings to us all. When she died she had well over 50 years sober and she was truly grateful for the second life she had been given and was a good soul to me. She did do some awful things to my mother and my mother never forgave her. But grandma was good to me and gave me a lot of time in my early years in AA and it was cool having a family member in AA who actually lived the program and I could witness her ways and it was a testament to me.

Thanks for the story as times have changed and we are all able to attend meetings freely.
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby ODAAT » Wed Dec 10, 2014 8:34 am

PaigeB wrote: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.

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS,
Los Angeles Group
Mortimer Joseph
Frank Randall
Edmund Jussen Jr
Fay D. Loomis
Al Marineau


This is a cautionary tale. A sad chapter in AA history of unbridled self-righteousness by self-appointed "spiritual" giants.

I hope we never go back to that kind of show trial mentality.
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby avaneesh912 » Wed Dec 10, 2014 9:34 am

Its really sad such incidence happen. But I want to ask what about the people carrying diluted messages like "take it slow", "We didn't get sick overnight"..."90 in 90" while the book at clear cut direction on how to recover. And what about those groups who don't allow people carry their big books into the meetings?
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby PaigeB » Wed Dec 10, 2014 12:19 pm

If I was not allowed to carry my Big Book into a meeting I would never go back and advise people about going there. Maybe even have our District Chair pay them a visit. But they are autonomous and will likely die a death by waning attendance and the power of the dollar in the basket.

Other messages seem to come from treatment - who also try and give AA's message their little twist. In our district we take "bonafide" AA meetings into treatment centers when we can. And we talk A LOT about the Steps as the way to lasting recovery. I have not been to a meeting in my Area that has not been "AA Conference Approved Literature" for the reading, except for speaker meetings. At speaker meetings we can only go with the experience of the person, right? If they went to treatment they might bring the "90 meeting in 90 days" up in the course of their speaking, but that is one person's experience. "Take what you need and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away."

We can only hope to follow the "real" and "undiluted" message. It is a judgment call.

I am excited about going to the International Conference in July 2015!! OH the things we will learn!
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby ODAAT » Wed Dec 10, 2014 1:36 pm

avaneesh912 wrote: And what about those groups who don't allow people carry their big books into the meetings?

I've never heard of this practice. Where has it occurred? What is the rationale?
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby ezdzit247 » Wed Dec 10, 2014 9:59 pm

ODAAT wrote:
PaigeB wrote: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.

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS,
Los Angeles Group
Mortimer Joseph
Frank Randall
Edmund Jussen Jr
Fay D. Loomis
Al Marineau


This is a cautionary tale. A sad chapter in AA history of unbridled self-righteousness by self-appointed "spiritual" giants.

I hope we never go back to that kind of show trial mentality.


I agree that the story of what these AA members did to Irma Livoni should be a cautionary tale to ALL AA members, especially those who entertain the grandiose delusion that they are the "guardians of AA".

While Matt M's version of the Irma Livoni story is urban legend in AA, no one really knows whether or not Irma drank again as result of receiving that infamous letter telling her that she had been kicked out of AA except Irma herself. What is known, thanks to Charles K.'s research over at Yahoo Groups, is that Irma had been incarcerated in a state mental hospital in 1940, joined AA in 1941, and never had anything more to do with the members of the Los Angeles AA group, including her sponsor Sybil, following her receipt of that letter. Public records in California indicate that Irma lived another 33 years after 1941, married Harold T. Craig in 1943, became widowed in 1956, died in Long Beach, CA in 1974 at the age of 67, and was buried with her husband at the Inglewood Park Cemetery in LA county. Since there is no record of Irma ever again being arrested or admitted to another state mental hospital, I am going to presume that God as I understand Him kept her safe, sane, and sober after she was kicked out of AA. Works for me....
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby Tommy-S » Thu Dec 11, 2014 3:21 am

"Self-Appointed Spiritual Giants"?

AA Comes of Age speaks of the Fear those who founded AA suffered from... 'Catering only to the pure alcoholic' is how the 12 x 12 puts it. Even in the Foreward to the 1st Edition, they worded it fearfully with their "we are too few at present..."

I only weigh in on this as it might be rather easy to think it was EGO back then having had the benefit of an AA that has survived decades...those folks had a program only a few years old, not tried and tested, or stretched to the limit with this case or that condition as we have been blessed to inherit.

I can empathize with a Fear of will this or that upset the boat and take us all under, and the thought, "Maybe we need to sacrifice this one for the benefit of all"

It was after the body count that Bill & those folks realized they had 40 left, and began to write it down in 1937... And it was with equally high stakes that the Traditions came to be in 1950. http://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/aa-timeline/to/1

73 years later without a repeat, it would seem AA learned its lesson, though it may have been a costly one for this particular lady.

Thanks... Tommy
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Re: The Story Irma Livoni, circa 1941

Postby positrac » Thu Dec 11, 2014 4:07 am

ODAAT wrote:
avaneesh912 wrote: And what about those groups who don't allow people carry their big books into the meetings?

I've never heard of this practice. Where has it occurred? What is the rationale?

What country is that being done in? I've attended AA in 3/4 of the world less Europe and I never experienced that nor did I ever witness a supreme leader in any one group. have left groups because of a group of over rated egomaniacs and I have witnessed some who thought they controlled the universe but that was taken with a grain of salt. Most of all of the AA meetings I've attended were AA literature based meetings with a lot of context to written facts that we are all familiar with in the rooms and online.
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