During March, we celebrate Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the contributions women have made throughout history. In the field of addiction recovery, we recognize the significant strides made by the efforts of three women in particular: Mae Abraham, Marty Mann and Betty Ford. These women worked passionately to improve the quality of treatment for substance use disorders.
Mae Abraham and Ashley Addiction Treatment
Mae Abraham had a chance encounter with Father Joseph Martin in 1964 that would forever alter each of their life’s pathways. Mae had attended a talk on alcoholism given by Father Martin at Johns Hopkins and was so inspired that she quit drinking that night.
Over the next years, Father Martin, who also suffered from alcoholism, and Mae Abraham remained close friends. After one of his infamous “Chalk Talks” on alcoholism, Mae asked him to consider joining her in opening a treatment center.
Although it took about five years to accomplish, Mae’s ardent fundraising efforts and relentless determination to overcome obstacles was the fuel that propelled the project. Father Martin’s Ashley, later renamed Ashley Addiction Treatment, opened its doors in 1983. During the next forty years, Ashley Addiction Treatment has treated more than 45,000 individuals for substance use disorder.
Marty Mann and the National Council on Alcoholism
In 1939, Marty Mann, who struggled with alcoholism, was handed a preprint of the soon-to-be-published Alcoholics Anonymous and was encouraged to attend an A.A. meeting. The meeting happened to be held at the home of co-founder Bill W., who would then become her sponsor. Marty’s story, “Women Suffer, Too,” was included in the second, third and fourth editions of the Big Book.
Alongside Bill W., Marty helped found the High Watch Recovery Center in 1939, the first treatment center to be based on the principles of A.A. Marty Mann was tireless in her efforts to promote the disease model of alcoholism and to eliminate the stigma associated with it. She later formed the National Council on Alcoholism, which later became the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence — while also authoring three books on alcoholism.
Betty Ford and the Betty Ford Center
As the First Lady to President Gerald Ford, Betty Ford had a platform from which to advocate for many social causes. She was very candid about her struggles with mental health in the mid-sixties, her bout with breast cancer and a prescription pill addiction she’d acquired due to a pinched nerve in her neck years prior.
Following Gerald Ford’s tenure as President, Betty Ford’s opioid use disorder worsened, leading the family to stage an intervention. She completed treatment for both opioid and alcohol use disorder. In 1978, the former first lady went public about her substance use challenges and later helped establish the Betty Ford Clinic in Rancho Mirage, California. The center, later renamed as the Betty Ford Center, merged with the Hazelden Foundation in 2014 and now operates seventeen locations in nine states.
Her willingness to be open about these sensitive life experiences helped others who struggled with the same challenges. Betty Ford’s popularity among the citizens was high, reaching 75% and placing her in the top ten most admired women in the country in the Gallup poll each year from 1974 through 1991.
Through the incredible work of these three powerful women, the way was paved for future innovations and development in the field of addiction treatment.