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.

Ireland joins the program

The decision of a Philadelphia A.A. member and former tavern owner, Connor F., to travel to Ireland leads to the formation of the first Irish group. Connor and his wife visit a Dublin sanitarium, where a doctor introduces them to patient Richard P. of Belfast. After reading the Big Book presented to him by Connor, Richard writes to a number of contacts who had learned of A.A. through Fr. Tom Dunlea. (Dunlea, a nonalcoholic and one of the founders of Australia’s first group, had also spread the message on a trip to Ireland.) Before long, Ireland’s inaugural A.A. group is meeting in a room at the Country Shop on Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green.

The Twelve Traditions

One by one, A.A.'s Twelve Traditions developed by Bill W. are put into print for the first time. The medium for their distribution is The Grapevine.

A.A. in the news

The rapid growth of A.A. is reflected in the increasing press coverage the society receives. The Kings Feature Syndicate article shown at right appeared in newspapers nationwide in the spring of 1946. It focused on women alcoholics, who were joining A.A. in ever-greater numbers.

First known meetings in Mexico

Americans Lester F. and Pauline D. organize a group for Mexico City’s English-speaking community. Meanwhile, a Mexican resident of Cleveland, Ricardo P., translates portions of the Big Book into Spanish. The importation of Spanish-language alcoholism-related publications and the creation of Spanish-speaking A.A. groups is approved at a late-summer conference of Mexico’s Board of Public Information.

Roads into Africa

In 1946, the A.A. movement springs to life in South Africa in three different places. The founders, unknown to one another, are: Arthur S., who reads of A.A. in Reader’s Digest, contacts the Alcoholic Foundation and forms a group in Johannesburg; Pat O’F., of Capetown, who also has consulted the Alcoholic Foundation; and Val D., who achieves sobriety after reading a copy of the Big Book handed to him by a priest and soon starts a group in the town of Springs.

Trustees issue statement on fund-raising

In an effort to halt attempts by various charities to ride the coattails of A.A.’s ascendancy, the Alcoholic Foundation issues a statement aimed at organizations that imply sponsorship by A.A. in their personal appeals to the public. It reads, in part, “Alcoholics Anonymous not only fails to endorse the present solicitations of funds but looks with disfavor on the unauthorized use of its name in any fund raising activity.”

New Zealand’s first group

Ian McE., a resident of the South Island town of Richmond, voluntarily admits himself to a psychiatric hospital in an effort to sober up. There, he comes across the Reader’s Digest article “Maybe I Can Do It Too.” Struck by his identification with the article’s subject, he writes to Bobbie B. of the Alcoholic Foundation. His letter launches a long-term correspondence with (and sponsorship by) Bobbie that will lead to the formation of the first New Zealand group.

About the Author



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