Historic Heroines

A Century of Women That Defined Addiction & Recovery
Women in the government

IN 1870, Dr. Joseph Parrish organized one of the first patient advocacy groups for people struggling with substances.

The first meeting gathered more than a dozen experts, traveling from five states. The group included physicians, asylum superintendents, authors, professors, and a clergyman.

Actually, it was all men

Within a year of this historic boy’s club, two constitutional amendments would pass, igniting a feminist fire for equal rights. As people stood up for suffrage, fearless female leaders began to emerge in every aspect of society, from education to medicine. 

In honor of Women’s History Month, explore triumphs in America's history with addiction, achieved by historic heroines:

womens history

IN 1897, Dr. Agnes Sparks started publishing articles on women and alcohol use disorder (AUD). Her research found that even though women had greater risk of developing AUD, they had a better chance than men of long-term recovery with gender-specific treatment.

Dr. Agnes Sparks was one of the first female physicians specializing in addiction medicine.

IN 1939, Marty Mann attended her first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting in Brooklyn Heights, NY. It was a simple action that propelled a lifetime of advocacy. Later, Mann founded what is now the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, a leading organization addressing the stigma of alcoholism.

Margaret Marty Mann was known as the first woman to achieve long-term sobriety in AA.

womens history

IN 1949, Susan Anthony hosted a new program, “You and Alcoholism,” on a popular Boston radio station WORL. She used her own recovery and notoriety to educate the public about alcoholism and its treatment as a disease.

Susan B. Anthony II, PhD was the grandniece of famed civil rights activist paved her own path advocacy.

IN 1953, Lillian Roth disclosed her 16-year struggle with alcohol as a guest on NBC’s "This Is Your Life." In response to her story, she received more than 40,000 letters from viewers. A year later, her memoir, "I'll Cry Tomorrow," became a film starring Academy Award-winning actress, Susan Hayward.

Lillian Roth was an American actress and singer whose grave marker reads, “As bad as it was it was good.”

IN 1959, Dr. Ruth Fox became the first medical director of what is now the American Society of Addiction Medicine. It was actually the organization that she had founded five years earlier and led as its first president.

Ruth Fox was an American psychoanalyst who pioneered the research for modern treatment of AUD.

womens history

IN 1962, Frances Kelsey received the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service for refusing to approve an "outstandingly safe" "wonder drug." It's believed that this refusal prevented a national epidemic of birth deformities. Kelsey was able to help shape and enforce Food and Drug Administration laws that still protect patients today.

Frances Oldham Kelsey was a pharmacologist best known for her time at the FDA.

IN 1963, Dr. LeClair Bissell started medical school at Columbia University, motivated by her time with the Yale School of Alcohol Studies. After receiving her MD, Bissell became known as a pioneer advocate for the need of increased training to effectively treat addiction.

LeClair Bissell was an activist, Addiction Medicine Physician, and person living in recovery

IN 1965, Dr. Marie Nyswander published her research on the use of maintenance drugs to treat addiction. Most controversial was her assertion that addiction was a disease, not a psychological disorder.

Marie Nyswander was a psychiatrist known for popularizing methadone as a treatment for addiction.

IN 1969, Mercedes McCambridge testified for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Alcohol and Narcotics after finding her own recovery. That brave decision resulted in new legislation and more awareness around substance use and the special needs of women with AUD.

Mercedes McCambridge was an award-winning actress, dubbed as "the world's greatest living radio actress" by Orson Welles.

womens history

IN 1973, Mary Kreek's work resulted in the FDA approved methadone as a treatment for addiction. Her research changed what was known about addictive behavior. Kreek's techniques made it possible to prove the safety and efficacy of methadone.

Mary Jeanne Kreek was an American neuroscientist specializing in the study and treatment of addiction.

IN 1973, Lillene Fifield authored a grant to open an addiction treatment program for gay women. At the time, addiction had immense social stigma and homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness. Regardless, the project received more than a million dollars from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Lillene Fifield was a social Worker, Psychotherapist, Activist, and Founder of Alcoholism Center for Women.

IN 1975, Jean Kirkpatrick founded Women for Sobriety, the country’s first peer-led program for women with addiction. Based on her on relapse and recovery story, Kirkpatrick's vision was an alternative to AA that supported the specific needs of women in recovery.

Jean Kirkpatrick, PhD was a sociologist and author, published everywhere from Vogue to National Institute of Alcoholism.

IN 1978, Betty Ford accepted help and entered a treatment center. Despite the stigma, Ford used her renown to share her story and become a champion for the power of recovery. Less than five years later, she founded the Betty Ford Center, which remains active to this day.

Betty Ford was a former U.S. First Lady and leader in the changing status of women in American society.

IN 1978, Chaney Allen published the first autobiography of a Black woman in recovery, “I’m Black & I’m Sober.” It set her apart as a leading voice on the impact of discrimination and the obstacles black people face as they become sober.

Chaney Allen is an author, teacher, and counselor who found her sobriety in 1968.

womens history

IN 1988, Hattie Wash published an influential book, “Culturally Specific Treatment: A Model For The Treatment of African American Clients.” Releasing a new edition 20 years later, it remains one of the top texts on Afrocentric direct services for addiction treatment.

Dr. Hattie Wash is a psychologist and Addiction Counselor with more than 40 years of behavioral health experience.

Man in a support group

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