Documents: W.O.M.A.N.: “The Women’s Organization to ‘Mash’ Alcoholism and Narcotics” (1973)

Where Women Mash Alcoholism and Narcotics

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.

Feree and Martin (Temple, 1995)

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!

Front Flap (Panel Six), Tri-fold Pamphlet

(Panel One)
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.

We all know that the more covert activities committed by women are as devastating to society as are the immediate crimes committed by men.

We need support, resources and creative input.  If you have an interest, would like more information, or become a part of us, please contact:
145 W. Alexandrine
Detroit, Michigan 48201

(Panel Two [original laid out in two columns])


all I gotta do
is sit and wait
sit and wait
and its gonna find
all I gotta do
is sit and wait
if I can learn

what I need to do
is sit and wait
cause I’m a woman
sit and wait
what I gotta do
is sit and wait
cause I’m a woman
it’ll find me

you get yours
and i’ll get mine
if I learn
to sit and wait
you got yours
i want mine
and i’m gonna get it
cause i’m gonna get it
cause i need to get it
if i learn how

thought about calling
for it on the phone
asked for a delivery
but they didn’t have it
thought about going
to the store to get it
walked to the corner
but they didn’t have it

called your name
in my sleep
sitting and waiting
thought you would awake me
called your name
lying in my bed
but you didn’t have it
offered to go get it
but you didn’t have it
so i’m sitting

all I know
is sitting and waiting
waiting and sitting
cause i’m a woman
all i know
is sitting and waiting
cause i gotta wait
wait for it to find

for it on the phone

— nikki giovanni, 2/19/70

(Panel Three)
1. It is said that one third of all alcoholics and addicts are women. Program statistics do not reveal this percentage.
2. Only one program in Detroit specifically addresses the woman addict. She must be pregnant to enroll and then must drop out 6 weeks past the delivery of her baby.
3. The Cass Corridor has one of the highest rates of prostitution and female addiction in the city.
4. It is difficult to discuss personal problems in mixed groups of men and women. As men predominate in most programs, women tend to drop out of treatment.
5. Women have immediate concerns about rebuilding relationship [sic] with their children. Child care is an immediate problem to be dealt with in programmatic ways.
6. The Cass Corridor has the highest rate of contacts from the Women’s Division of the Police Department. Parental alcohol and drug dependency and parent-child problems go hand-in-hand.
7. Children taken into custody by private and state agencies are often children of alcohol and drug dependent parents.
8. Within the last year, prosecution for shoplifting has risen drastically. Shoplifting is often called “the woman’s crime.”

Interior, Center Panel

(Panel Four)
Most rehabilitation programs that deal with addiction usually separate alcohol and drug addicts. However, there is no consideration given to the whole picture of the problem and the unique concerns of chemically addicted women and their children.

There are some differences between the addict and the alcoholic. However, the deeper feelings of despair, inadequacy and failure are dominant in both.

By the time both groups of women reach the age of thirty, the excessive use of alcohol or heroin shows. Lives are a shambles. In most cases, children, homes, and most important, self-respect is lost. The men whose lives and habits were supported by women’s bodies consider them as trash. If children stay with their mother, they are generally beaten and abused and grow up with the wounds and habits of their childhood. They then, too, often turn to the same escapes to ease their pain.

The women eventually become alienated from almost any possibility to change. Along with family, health and economic problems, she becomes known and spotted wherever she goes as an easy target for exploitation or arrest.

The only answer or possibility for change is to rebuild her life and functioning with all the pieces fitting together in new ways—her attitudes towards herself, her children, her survival and her world.

(Panel Five)
The program will address itself to basic conditions that subject women to alcohol and drug addiction.

  • The multiple social and personal problems which affect a woman easily allow for a feeling of inferiority and degradation.
  • Women tend to accept the socially conditioned environment of being exploited and exploiting others.
  • Given the above conditions that renders one disabled women do not strive to realize their potential as a social and political constituent of the working class.

To overcome disabling social and emotional conditions, women in the program will take part in:
1. Counseling and treatment: individual and group experiences in personal and social self-awareness.
2. Vocational counseling and connecting up with educations, training, and employment where available.
3. Cultural and avocational development of skills and interests for the discovery of self satisfaction.
4. Child care programs for mothers and children to learn and grow together.
5. Program and Community Development: involvement of women in the development of this program as well as developing social concerns in programs in the surrounding community.

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