Women’s Sober Living: The History of Women in Recovery

Women’s Sober Living: The History of Women in Recovery | Transcend Recovery Community

One of the earliest biographies written about women alcoholics was Confessions of a Female Inebriate in 1842. After the publication of that book, there was a movement in America that attempted to provide addicted women with the treatment services they needed. The American Temperance Movement was a movement that aimed to end the consumption of alcohol in the United States and had a large influence on politics and society in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Perhaps the first womens sober living home was New York’s Inebriate Asylum in 1864 where 400 of the first 4,000 of the applicants were women. And interestingly, the majority of women seeking treatment did so to treat their addictions to opium, morphine, chloral, and chloroform. Other early centers for women’s sobriety included the Water Street Mission in New York City in 1872 and the Christian Home for Intemperate Women.

Since then, leading women across the country continued to fight for the rights of addicted women, including establishing treatment centers for women only and serving as pioneers in addiction medicine. Some female pioneers in the treatment of women’s addiction include Dr. Ruth Fox, Dr. Vernelle Fox, and Dr. Marie Nyswander.

The history of women in addiction treatment is rich and full of stories of achievement. However, it’s important to note that those early pioneers set the stage for the need of gender-specific treatment. In their work, they highlighted the differences between men and women in the following treatment areas. Men and women are different in their:

  • Roots and patterns of addiction.
  • Obstacles and approaches to treatment.
  • Pathways, styles and stages of long-term recovery.

Today, there are many mental health professionals who advocate the necessity for gender based treatment, indicating that men’s sober living homes and women’s sober living homes are not a luxury but a requirement for proper addiction treatment. William White, who has worked in the field of addiction treatment since 1969, wrote, “Gender based treatment and recovery support services exist as an appendage to the addiction treatment system, but have yet to be mainstreamed within that system.” As a strong advocate for gender based addiction treatment, White speaks to communities around the country on the topic.

Perhaps there are obvious reasons for gender based treatment centers and womens sober living homes, but those reasons are not yet woven into addiction treatment methods in the United States. Obviously, women will have a different experience at a womens sober living home than she would where both males and females were attending. When men are not living at the same sober living home, women can keep their thoughts and attention on their recovery without having romantic or erotic distractions. In addition to this clear benefit, being with other women undergoing the same process can be supportive. For example, rooming with another woman, attending group therapy with other women with the same concerns, and working with issues that are specific to the female gender can support the emotional and psychological healing that’s inherent in the recovery process.

Perhaps gender-specific sober living homes have a long way to go before they are integrated into mainstream addiction treatment; however, history of women in recovery has shown that addiction treatment has come a long way.


White, W. (2002). Women, Addiction, and Recovery: A Historical Review.  Counselor. 3(4): 52-54.
White, W. (2004). Women Who Made A Difference. Counselor. 5(5): 25-29.


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