Just a few years after Bill Wilson founded the fellowship in 1939, Felicia Gizycka, daughter of editor Cissy Patterson, stumbled into a meeting.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a three-part series from Amanda Smith about the drinking life of Countess Felicia Gizycka, daughter of famed newspaper editor Cissy Patterson, and the other women involved in the early Alcoholics Anonymous movement.
In 1943, at the age of 38, Countess Felicia Gizycka "divorced" her mother, the notorious Washington, D.C., newspaper publisher and Chicago Tribune heiress, Cissy Patterson. Falling into old habits on that decisive wartime evening during one of Felicia's rare visits home, mother and daughter left the dinner table "in the middle of the night, both of us drunk as skunks," to continue drinking and bickering in the living room. When Cissy began toying with Felicia by proposing to favor others in her will, and taunting her daughter for her personal failings as she had done many times over the years, Felicia finally exploded: "God damn you and may you roast in Hell. If there is a Hell. You've already made my life one long Hell from the time I was a baby, you stupid bitch! ... And you can take all your Goddamn fucking money and stuff it!"
Felicia had lived in luxury up to that point, but in other regards her life had not been an easy one. As a toddler, she had become a pawn in the sensational international custody battle that followed the violent end of her parents' marriage in 1908. Her father, a volatile, hard-drinking Polish aristocrat, kidnapped her and held her for ransom when she was two; only after President Taft and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia intervened did Count Gizycki finally return Felicia, then almost four, to her mother. Although Cissy had fought hard to bring her child safely home to the United States, she was a critical, unpredictable mother. One particularly nasty mother-daughter "knock-down drag-out fight, which included hair pulling and clothing tearing" persuaded Felicia to run away from home in 1924, at the age of 18.