May 28, 2006

The Little Red Book

Ed Webster (Minneapolis)

Ed Webster, A.A. author of The Little Red Book

Ed Webster

Edward A. Webster was born on March 21, 1892, so he was twelve and a half years younger than his hero, Dr. Bob (b. August 8, 1879) and closer in age to Bill Wilson (b. November 26, 1895).

Ed was forty-nine years old when he got sober on December 13, 1941. He died of old age and cancer on June 3, 1971, at the age of 79, with twenty-nine years of sobriety.

Ed's wife Hazel, together with Barry Collins' wife, started the Al-Anon group which was associated with the Nicollet Group in 1944. The Nicollet Group emphasized the need for the men to honor and express their love to their wives in ways which would help restore the atmosphere of love and respect in their marriages.

  In Minneapolis, Minnesota, Ed Webster published The Little Red Book in 1946 under the sponsorship of the Nicollet Group. Ed had the help and support of Dr. Bob, who gave numerous suggestions for wording various passages. Ed also wrote Stools and Bottles (1955), Barroom Reveries (1958) and Our Devilish Alcoholic Personalities (in 1970, just a year before his death). In early A.A., Ed was one of the four most widely read A.A. authors.
The "big four" were Bill Wilson in first place, followed by Richmond Walker in Daytona Beach, Florida (the author of Twenty-Four Hours a Day) in second place. In some parts of the U.S. and Canada, Ed Webster was in third place, followed by Ralph Pfau in Indianapolis, Indiana (who wrote Father John Doe's Golden Books) in fourth place. In other parts of the U.S. and Canada, Father Ralph was in third place and Ed was in fourth place.

Ed Webster's book Stools and Bottles

Stools and Bottles (1955)

First edition of The Little Red Book (1946)

  A photocopy of the title page and inside front cover of the first edition. This copy, which belonged to Ed Webster, has Dr. Bobís signature on it. From the collection of Jack H. (Scottsdale, Arizona).  

First edition of Ed Webster's Little Red Book

Note: the Hazelden 50th Anniversary Edition of The Little Red Book which was published in 1996 says that it is a reproduction of the original 1946 edition, but it is actually a reproduction of the 1949 edition. Ed Webster had made some substantial revisions in the book by the time that 1949 edition came out. In Roman numerals, 1946 is MCMXLVI (as we see at the bottom of the title page above) and 1949 is MCMXLIX.
  In good old-time A.A., a book or pamphlet which was sponsored by an A.A. group in one part of the country was automatically considered appropriate for reading in other A.A. meetings in other parts of the country.  

  So The Little Red Book (sponsored by the Nicollet Group in Minneapolis) and Twenty-Four Hours a Day (sponsored by the group in Daytona Beach, Florida) were read from in meetings and made available by A.A. groups to newcomers all over the United States and Canada.

The Little Red Book was published by "the Coll-Webb Co.," which meant that Barry Collins (the founder of Minneapolis A.A., who had gotten sober in A.A. on April 14, 1941) and Ed Webster were paying for publishing it themselves. They were fellow members of the Nicollet Group in Minneapolis.

A letter from Bobby Burger, the secretary at the New York A.A. headquarters (then called the Alcoholic Foundation), dated November 11, 1944, written to Barry Collins in Minneapolis, gives their full approval to the idea of Minneapolis publishing and using an A.A. pamphlet or booklet which the Minneapolis A.A. people had written themselves:

Dear Barry:
. . . The Washington D.C. pamphlet and the new Cleveland "Sponsorship" pamphlet and a host of others are all local projects.*** We do not actually approve or disapprove of these local pieces; by that I mean that the Foundation feels each Group is entitled to write up its own "can opener" and let it stand on its own merits. All of them have good points and very few have caused any controversy. But as in all things of a local nature, we keep hands off, either pro or con. I think there must be at least 25 local pamphlets now being used and I've yet to see one that hasn't had some good points. I think it is up to each individual Group whether it wants to use and buy these pamphlets from the Group that puts them out.
                     Sincerely, Bobby (Margaret R. Burger)
When The Little Red Book did come out, its use in A.A. meetings had the full approval both of Dr. Bob and the New York A.A. office. Dr. Bob actually helped Ed Webster write it, as we have already noted, but in addition, Jack H. (Scottsdale AZ) has discovered from Ed Webster's papers that Dr. Bob was sending large numbers of copies of The Little Red Book to A.A. groups in other parts of the country. Jack H. has also discovered from Ed Webster's papers that in the late 1940's, the New York A.A. office was regularly ordering quantities of The Little Red Book for resale in New York.

Bill W. wrote Barry Collins about the Minneapolis book in November 1950:

The Little Red Book does fill a definite need and has wide circulation. Therefore, its usefulness is unquestioned. AA has a definite place for such a book. Someday I may try to write an introduction book myself which I hope might complement favorably with The Little Red Book. Here at the Foundation we are not policemen; we're a service and AAs are free to read any book they choose.
In other words, in good old-time A.A., nobody ever thought that New York was supposed to decide what books A.A.'s could and could not read -- they were neither "policemen" nor gurus of some authoritarian religious cult -- as Brooklyn Bob, one good old-timer, put it, "We read anything we could get our hands on that might help us get sober." Individual A.A. groups could print any books they wanted to and sell any books which they felt would help their members.

  ***Bill Pittman, in the introduction to the Hazelden Anniversary Edition (the reprinting in 1996 of the 1949 edition of The Little Red Book), gave the text of Bobby Burger's letter, but added a phrase to the end of the first sentence which does not appear on the carbon copy of that letter in the New York A.A. Archives. The phrase which Bill Pittman added is given in italics: "The Washington D.C. pamphlet and the new Cleveland 'Sponsorship' pamphlet and a host of others are all local projects, as is Nicolletís 'An Interpretation of the Twelve Steps.' "

Bill Pittman's added words make it appear that Bobby explicitly mentioned, on November 11, 1944, the title which was given to the first edition of The Little Red Book when it came out in 1946. Since Bobby's letter was addressed to Barry Collins, she was approving of some kind of Minneapolis pamphlet or booklet that was being used or planned in 1944, and it was clearly something different from "the Washington D.C. pamphlet," because she mentioned that as a separate and different work.

The A.A. group in Washington D.C. produced the first printed version of the standard set of early A.A. beginners lessons better known in many parts of the U.S. as the Table Mate or Table Leaders Guide. It was commonly referred to as "the Detroit Pamphlet" in the upper midwest because it was almost certainly originally written in mimeographed form or something of that sort by the A.A. group in Detroit. The same pamphlet was also published later by the A.A. groups in Seattle and Oklahoma City, and later by Minneapolis A.A. as well. It worked better for beginners lessons than anything discovered in A.A. either before or since.
The important thing here however is that we do not know what kind of Minneapolis pamphlet or booklet Bobby Burger had been asked about in 1944, or even whether Ed Webster had any hand in its writing. It is true that it could have been some early mimeographed version of what was ultimately going to become The Little Red Book, or an indication that Ed and Barry were laying plans to write such a book, but it could equally well have been something completely different, such as some trial pamphlet written by somebody in Minneapolis that eventually ended up being discarded and thrown away. At any rate, these words should have been put in brackets in Bill Pittman's introduction, because they mislead us into thinking that we know something that we do not in fact know.

Bill also claimed that the Hazelden Anniversary Edition which he had printed in 1996 was a fiftieth anniversary edition, implying that it was a reprint of the 1946 first edition of The Little Red Book, when it was in fact a reprinting of the 1949 edition (a later edition which included many substantive changes and additions), so we have to use Bill's work here with great caution, as something which may not be a totally dependable source of information.

Ed Webster's book Barroom Reveries

Barroom Reveries (1958)

Ed Webster's book Our Devilish Alcoholic Personalities

Our Devilish Alcoholic Personalities (1970)

  Ken R., who has been the Archivist/Historian of the Alano Society of Minneapolis, Inc., gives some good information about Ed Webster and early Minneapolis A.A. in Message 3941 posted in the AAHistoryLovers on December 11, 2006:

Ed Webster's sobriety date was December 13, 1941, as listed in his story in his book Our Devilish Alcoholic Personalities (Edina, Minnesota: Hamar Publishers, 1970), documented in the Archives Collection of the Alano Society of Minneapolis, Inc.

Ed Webster went to meetings there in his very early sobriety, taught Beginner's Classes (in December, 1942) and only left to join the Nicollet Group when it sought another meeting place along with (but later than) Barry Collins in 1944. His delay in leaving was to offer support to his friend John Harrington until he finished his term as President of the Alano Society (formerly known and referred to as the Minneapolis Group).

Barry Collins (the first known sober member of A.A. in Minnesota) was a signatory to the Articles of Incorporation of the Alano Society on March 28, 1942.


CLICK HERE  To return to the A.A. History home page

CLICK HERE  To return to the Hindsfoot Foundation home page