Program Founder, Jean Kirkpatrick, Ph.D.

Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick couldn’t cope with the fact that she was the first woman to receive the Fels Fellowship award at the University of Pennsylvania, so she went out and got drunk. Fearing that a mistake had been made and the funds to write her doctoral dissertation would be taken away, Dr. Kirkpatrick broke 3 years of sobriety with a drunk that lasted 13 years.

In Turnabout: New Help for the Woman Alcoholic, Dr. Kirkpatrick describes these years, the self-destruction, and how she finally was able to stop drinking.

With her own sobriety established by methods other than the traditional AA Program, Dr. Kirkpatrick formed the Women for Sobriety, Inc., organization and the New Life Program, and devoted the remainder of her life to helping women with addictions.

Who would think that this dynamic, intelligent, energetic woman had a history of addiction with suicide attempts and a stay in a psychiatric hospital? What amazed Dr. Kirkpatrick is not that she had a severe drinking problem, but that in all the years of her drinking, not once was she diagnosed as having a Substance Use Disorder.

Coming from a small town in eastern Pennsylvania, Jean was the only child of a prominent family. All through her life she rebelled against authority and the existing systems. At 19, she eloped with a young man in the Signal Corps just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her husband was soon commissioned an officer and the young couple was stationed in numerous airbases in the west and southwest. Jean said that this is where her serious drinking began. Although she was not yet deeply into her Alcohol Use Disorder, the definite signs that she was well on her way were there.

After the war, like so many other wartime marriages, she found herself a young divorcee. She then entered Moravian College for Women, “Because it was the only college that would accept me, I had been thrown out of so many.” She became an honor student and was elected to the Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges in 1950.

Dr. Kirkpatrick continued her education with a Master’s Degree in English from Lehigh University in 1954 after having taught a year in a Kansas high school. In 1955, she entered the University of Pennsylvania’s doctoral program and was awarded the Frances Sargent Pepper Fellowship, Bloomfield Moore Fellow; Joseph M. Bennett Fellowship; the University Women’s Fellowship; and was the University of Pennsylvania’s Woman of the Year in 1958.

During the time of her doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Kirkpatrick came to grips with her alcohol problem, joined AA, and was sober for 3 years. But the final award of the Fels Fellowship was the beginning of a final drinking bout that lasted for 13 years.

When she returned to AA 13 years later, she wanted to hear new ideas and new things. AA just wasn’t saying to her what she needed to hear. The fault was not with the AA Program but was in Jean’s own need to know about herself. And so she continued to drink.

During this time Jean began to read more and more the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and other metaphysical writers. She began to see that by changing her thoughts she could change herself. By changing her thought when she was lonely or depressed, she would manage to string together 2 or 3 days of sobriety. Little by little these days became weeks and soon months. Finally, Jean Kirkpatrick, professional alcoholic, was sober a year. Her sobriety was achieved by realizing that she was a capable woman and that all her problems were the creation of her own mind. Not that problems weren’t there, but she was able to look at them differently and so create her own way of reacting to them or acting upon them.

t this time, her father died and she was forced to move in with her aging mother. Her father’s estate was quite small and she was confronted with the fact that she would have to find some work to help support herself and her mother. She was over 45 with a Ph.D. in sociology and recovered woman alcoholic. The prospects of finding a job weren’t good. She tried various means of self-employment, all of which failed. Then in 1973, Dr. Kirkpatrick realized that she had knowledge of how to recover from Alcohol Use Disorder by a unique means, one that she could share with other women suffering from addiction. She had found her life’s goal.

Armed with her own recovery and an instinctive knowledge that women with addictions had special needs that must be met in order to overcome their Substance Use Disorder and have lasting sobriety, Dr. Kirkpatrick set about establishing the first self-help organization for women in recovery, Women For Sobriety (WFS). From the beginning she felt that women with addictions had the same problems she did, i.e., little or no self-esteem, depression, loneliness and excessive feelings of guilt. She knew that she had found a way to overcome these feelings and felt other women would benefit from her experience.

In 1973 Dr. Kirkpatrick set her plan of recovery into an acceptance program that she called New Life. She felt that New Life groups could meet in homes and women would practice the New Program. In 1975, she used the name Women For Sobriety, Inc., to establish a nonprofit organization. She formalized thirteen affirmations that had been helpful in her own recovery into the thirteen Acceptance Statements which are still used today.

In October of 1977, Woman’s Day magazine ran an article, “When A Woman Drinks Too Much,” that told of a woman’s drinking problem and how she overcame her problem with a new Program, something different from AA. From this article came thousands of letters from women seeking help for their own Substance Use Disorders. After hearing about WFS, an editor at Doubleday Books approached Jean to write a story about her addiction and her recovery. The printed copy of Turnabout is exactly as Jean wrote it –Doubleday editors did not edit the manuscript at all.

By this time, Jean had been quite used to public speaking, radio, and TV interviews. She was becoming a featured speaker at addiction conferences, a good person to interview on radio and TV talk shows, and good newspaper space. People wanted to know about this attractive brunette woman and her horrible drinking past. They were also interested in learning about this new approach to recovery that was so different from the established model. And women and their families were writing letters to WFS at the rate of 100 letters a week for additional information about the program.

In January 1978, Jean’s book was released. She appeared on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” and “To Tell The Truth” to name just a few TV shows. With her appearance on the “Phil Donahue Show”, WFS received 500 letters a day for one week. Those letters expressed the views of women across the country. They said, “Yes, that’s what happened to me; your expressing exactly those things I feel and thank you for telling my story.”

Women For Sobriety has received over 80,000 letters from women and their families. These letters show that what Jean felt from the beginning was true: women do have special problems in recovery and, in order for them to have lasting sobriety, programs for them must address these needs, especially the building of self-esteem.

Dr. Kirkpatrick became recognized as an expert on addiction in women. She twice appeared before Senate sub-committees testifying on the special needs of women in recovery.

Since her recovery, Dr. Kirkpatrick has devoted herself tirelessly to the plight of women in recovery. In June of 1978, the Moravian College Alumni Association awarded her their highest honor — The Raymond Hauper Humanitarian Award for her “outstanding service in the cause of human welfare.” At the time, this award had only been given 3 times in the 145-year history of the college.

The dream of Dr. Kirkpatrick to have women meet in self-help groups throughout the country has become a reality, and treatment facilities also use the program. Thousands of women have written in to say that they finally reached sobriety after years and years of being unsuccessful. Finally, they learned who they were and what they can do, and many end their letters with, “Thank you, Jean, for saving my life.”

On June 19, 2000, Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick passed away at the age of 77. Her life experiences and recovery journey, expressed so well in her books and the WFS New Life Program, have had such a personal and positive impact on many women in recovery. Her desire was to see that WFS continue after her passing so that not one single woman would have to take the journey to recovery alone. WFS participants, staff members, and the Board of Directors are dedicated and committed to keeping the WFS New Life Program available for all those seeking help from their addictions.