Points readers who have been following my attempts– in diatribes, documents, and interviews— to map out a history of feminist responses (and non-responses) to addiction will be interested in the document transcribed below. A tri-fold pamphlet from 1973 describing the work of W.O.M.A.N.– “the Women’s Organization to ‘Mash’ Alcoholism and Narcotics”–a grassroots organization located in Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood, this explanation/advertisement articulates a distinct, if not a radical, feminist sensibility. It draws attention to social factors influencing female addiction, the need for woman-specific treatment that includes childcare and addresses women’s need for a sense of agency and political investment in the world, and articulates a vision of a “bottom-up” recovery program in which women addicts are co-creators, rather than passive recipients.
The document comes to us from the personal collection of Terry Hluchyj, who wrote a dissertation on W.O.M.A.N. at the University of Michigan in 1982 entitled “Social Movement Strategies in Human Resource Delivery: the Dilemmas of a Community-Based Service Organization.” As the title suggests, the discussion focuses on the tensions within W.O.M.A.N. between what Hluchyj calls social movement and human services impulses/actors– tensions that played out as the organization struggled to evolve from its opportunistic and voluntaristic roots into a more professional and outcome-oriented service provider.
In this regard, W.O.M.A.N. is of a piece with the many feminist community-based projects that burst into existence in the late ’60s and early ’70s to address women’s unmet needs– the best documentation of this phenomenon remains Myra Max Feree and Patricia Yancy Martin’s Feminist Organizations: Harvest of the New Women’s Movement (Temple, 1995). What seems to differentiate W.O.M.A.N. somewhat from some of the organizations Feree and Martin examine is its relatively muted politics. Not “patriarchy,” but “social and emotional ills” factor into women’s addiction. The rehabilitation of the mother-child bond, not women’s self-actualization, takes precedent. This is not to say that W.O.M.A.N. was not political, just that its feminist politics seem differently inflected than those that animated so many early domestic violence or rape crisis or women’s health organizations. Possibly the strongest political statement appears in the section headed “The Program,” which notes that a central consequence of women’s substance abuse is that “women do not strive to realize their potential as a social and political constituent of the working class.”
This is one document from one program in a host of feminist organizations that I am beginning to learn about. Points readers who’ve been there/done that, take Terry Hluchyj as your model and go look out in your garage to see if you’ve got additional materials to add to this archive!
W.O.M.A.N. (Woman’s Organization to ‘Mash’ Alcoholism and Narcotics) is a program of the Cass Corridor in Downtown Detroit.
This woman’s drug program began in March of 1971 in the Park Avenue Community Clinic. It existed for six months with volunteer staff due to the lack of funding. During that time, we learned much about ourselves the unique problems and needs of women addicted to alcohol and heroin as well as other addictive agents. We also learned how to develop a program to speak to the needs expressed.
We have learned that the methods of treatment and rehabilitation of addicts must speak to the social environment that nurtures social and emotional ills. The plight of addicted women with personal-family-social problems gets little attention as they present less of an immediate threat than men who are subject to contribute to more obvious street crime.