2001: Sally and David R. Brown
rediscover William E. Swegan's alcoholism
treatment programs of the 1940s and 50s

Bill Swegan's pioneering work in the 1940's and 50's in using AA in residential alcoholism treatment programs had become largely forgotten by the end of the century. But then c. 2000, what he had done was rediscovered by Sally and David Brown while they were researching their great book on Mrs. Marty Mann, who had been Bill's mentor and patron.
Sally and David R. Brown, authors of A Biography of Mrs. Marty Mann: The First Lady of Alcoholics Anonymous

Sally and David R. Brown

See Sally Brown and David R. Brown, A Biography of Mrs. Marty Mann: The First Lady of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden, 2001). All of the material below is quoted directly from pp. 170-171 and p. 341 nn. of that book:



An Air Force sergeant, Bill Swegan, initiated an educational program on alcoholism in his squadron soon after he got sober in 1948. A born teacher and counselor, he began to have a positive effect on the men. Bill and his later supervisor, Dr. Louis J. West, then the psychiatrist in charge of psychiatric services at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, submitted a paper on Lackland's comprehensive alcoholism program to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The results were reported in the country's major newspapers.

"Marty ... heard of Swegan's success. She obtamed permission from APA to publish and distribute the paper under NCEA's logo, thus substantially increasing public awareness of the information. Subsequently, she used the persuasive argument of cost savings that helped induce the Department of Defense to adopt similar alcoholism treatment programs for the entire military service.* Bill Swegan later wrote:
[Marty] had been attempting to change the negative attitude toward alcoholism in the military for some time. She had a keen awareness of the insensitivity toward the alcoholic and punishing those who become alcoholic rather than treating them as a sick person. The policy at that time was to deny pay to those who sought assistance for their alcoholism if they were hospitalized or unable to perform their prescribed duties. In addition, those who did not respond to treatment were discharged as undesirable. This caused a breach in those who wanted to recover but were afraid to seek help due to the administrative restrictions placed on their seeking assistance.

Marty was a great crusader and recognized alcoholism as a disease rather than a character defect. She preached this concept worldwide including the military service. Having her as a staunch defender of my work in the field was the motivation needed to continue despite the resistance of some who were non-supportive.**
Marty promptly arranged for Swegan to attend the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies. He was its first military student. It was an unheard-of honor for an enlisted man to attend at all, and Marty had to pull strings with the top military brass at the Pentagon to obtain clearance for Swegan. Whenever necessary over the years, Marty continued to coach Swegan, in the best sense of the word -- from the sidelines with support, encouragement, and educational resources. Gradually, Bill Swegan's groundbreaking example spread to the other armed forces. Marty continued to identify and nurture those programs as well. Today, the military as a whole provides good alcohol and drug intervention and treatment programs. Marty lived to see this system and others make mammoth changes in their attitudes and approaches to the disease of alcoholism.


*Things really changed when Harold Hughes offered an amendment to the Selective Service Act requiring the military to offer treatment and rehabilitation to alcoholics."

**William E. Swegan, The Life of an Air Force Sergeant and His Recovery from Alcoholism (Sonoma, California: self-published, no date), 61-62.