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.

First stirrings in England

Though the first official A.A. group in England won’t be formed until 1948, the ball gets rolling when a visiting American woman, Grace O., writes to five Londoners who are in touch with the Alcoholic Foundation and schedules a meeting at the Dorchester Hotel (right) for March 31, 1947. The eight attendees include two A.A. members from North America: an A.A. from Hollywood, California, whose acquaintance she had made on the voyage across the Atlantic, and “Canadian Bob,” whom Grace had met in a London restaurant and who will figure large in A.A.’s growth. Meetings will continue in restaurants and residences, among them the home of Canadian Bob.

Servicemen launch groups in the Pacific

In the wake of World War II, American servicemen stationed at military bases in the Pacific launch A.A. groups, with the Alcoholic Foundation acting as facilitator. In the summer of 1947, a group in Guam grows from four members to 24 in one month. In Okinawa, the Pioneer Group begins meeting in the fall of 1947.

A mission to Norway

George F., a Norwegian immigrant and coffee shop owner in Connecticut, writes home after many years to share the good news of his sobriety through A.A. When he learns that his brother, a typesetter for an Oslo newspaper, is an alcoholic one step from ruin, George and his wife sell their shop and move to Norway. After initially showing no interest in the Twelve Steps, George’s brother takes the message to heart and becomes sober almost immediately. Through placing small ads in his paper George eventually forms a group of A.A. members — Norway's first.

A.A. becomes self-supporting

Bill W. reports that income from the Big Book and contributions from individual A.A. groups have made the Alcoholic Foundation "self-supporting." The idea of contributions grew from an estimate that all expenses could be met if each group were to send the Foundation a sum equal to $1 per member per year. Contributions were entirely voluntary, and equal service was provided to all groups regardless of their contribution record—a policy still in effect today.

The A.A. Preamble

In the June 1947 edition of the A.A. Grapevine, a statement defining the Fellowship and its mission appears for the first time. The statement, known as the A.A. Preamble, is quickly adopted by A.A. groups and becomes a standard inclusion in A.A. literature.

Expansion in Canada

By late 1947, Alcoholics Anonymous groups begin to form in the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. The Fellowship is now country-wide, with groups having been founded in Ontario in 1943, Quebec in 1944, Alberta and Manitoba in 1945, British Columbia in 1946, and Saskatchewan in 1947. The photo at right shows a meeting place in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia.

A fitful start in Brazil

After two years of sporadic correspondence between the Alcoholic Foundation and a few American residents of Brazil, the Foundation lists Herb D. as an A.A. official contact. In September 1947, Herb requests and receives a batch of A.A. pamphlets and the name of another A.A. member living in Rio de Janeiro. The two men seek members and the first group in Brazil takes shape.

About the Author



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