A.A. Origins

The origins of Alcoholics Anonymous can be traced to the Oxford Group, a religious movement popular in the United States and Europe in the early 20th century. Members of the Oxford Group practiced a formula of self-improvement by performing self-inventory, admitting wrongs, making amends, using prayer and meditation, and carrying the message to others.

In the early 1930s, a well-to-do Rhode Islander, Rowland H., visited the noted Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung for help with his alcoholism. Jung determined that Rowland’s case was medically hopeless, and that he could only find relief through a vital spiritual experience. Jung directed him to the Oxford Group.

Rowland later introduced fellow Vermonter Edwin (“Ebby”) T. to the group, and the two men along with several others were finally able to keep from drinking by practicing the Oxford Group principles.

One of Ebby’s schoolmate friends from Vermont, and a drinking buddy, was Bill W. Ebby sought out his old friend at his home at 182 Clinton Street in Brooklyn, New York, to carry the message of hope.

Bill W. had been a golden boy on Wall Street, enjoying success and power as a stockbroker, but his promising career had been ruined by continuous and chronic alcoholism. Now, approaching 39 years of age, he was learning that his problem was hopeless, progressive, and irreversible. He had sought medical treatment at Towns Hospital in Manhattan, but he was still drinking.

Bill was, at first, unconvinced by Ebby’s story of transformation and the claims of the Oxford Group. But in December 1934, after again landing in Towns hospital for treatment, Bill underwent a powerful spiritual experience unlike any he had ever known. His depression and despair were lifted, and he felt free and at peace. Bill stopped drinking, and worked the rest of his life to bring that freedom and peace to other alcoholics. The roots of Alcoholics Anonymous were planted.

The Serenity Prayer

Ruth Hock receives a newspaper clipping of the Serenity Prayer that had been printed in the New York Herald Tribune in June 1941. Ruth and many A.A. members in New York and elsewhere all immediately feel this prayer's relevancy to A.A.'s principles. Soon, the prayer is printed on cards and is being passed out to A.A. members everywhere. The prayer has since become a central part of A.A. heard in meetings around the world. The prayer's authorship is generally attributed to well-known Protestant theologian Dr. Reinhold Neibuhr.

A.A. marches west

A.A. spreads beyond Ohio, with groups beginning to meet in cities as large as Chicago and New Orleans and Houston. Alcoholics in Topeka, Fort Worth, Tucson, Omaha, and Honolulu also “join the club,” as do those in smaller towns in the Midwest and West.

The Saturday Evening Post makes history

The interest of Judge Curtis Bok, owner and publisher of The Saturday Evening Post, is piqued when he learns of A.A. from two Philadelphia friends. Bok then calls on hard-nosed reporter Jack Alexander to tell the organization’s story. The resulting 7,500-word article is published in the magazine on March 1, 1941, putting Alcoholics Anonymous on the map of public consciousness and spurring a dramatic increase in Big Book sales and membership alike.

The first specialized interest group

The first known all-women group is founded in Cleveland in 1941, making it A.A.’s inaugural specialized interest group. Women in New York, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and San Diego soon follow suit, and by the mid 1940s the ratio of women to men in the A.A. population is roughly one in six. Women’s groups light the way for other specialized groups, which will eventually include those for young people, the elderly, gays and lesbians, and doctors, lawyers, and other professionals.

Bill and Lois move to Bedford Hills

Friends in Westchester County, a half-hour north of New York City, help Bill and Lois work out a financial plan that enables them finally to acquire a house in Bedford Hills. On April 11, 1941, the couple spends their first night there. The comfortable shingled, hip-roofed house (right), which they will name Stepping Stones, affords them a measure of privacy for the first time since Alcoholics Anonymous was founded.

Bill hits the road

Membership reaches some 2,000 by Spring 1941, and by the end of the year jumps to approximately 8,000 members in 200 groups across the country. Bill begins what will be three years of traveling to visit groups, getting to know many members individually.

About the Author



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