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.

A.A.’s first International Convention

In July 1950, Alcoholics Anonymous’ 15th anniversary is marked with an international convention in Cleveland, with some 3,000 people in attendance. One of the most significant events is the adoption of the Twelve Traditions. The convention, held at the Cleveland Public Auditorium (right), also features the last public message to the Fellowship by Dr. Bob, who stresses, in his brief remarks, kindness and “keeping it simple.”

Denmark: From Ring i Ring to A.A.

In 1948 a group belonging to a national temperance society called Ring i Ring is founded by Dr. Martensen, a doctor who treats alcoholic patients. It meets in a restaurant (right) at Copenhagen’s zoo. In the summer of 1949, A.A. member Gordon McD. and his wife visits Ring i Ring at a meeting place in Lyngby, a small suburban outside Copenhagen. The group changes its name to “Ring i Ring Danish A.A.” in January 1950 and lists with the Alcoholic Foundation. In the next few years, other Ring i Ring members will break away and hold closed meetings based on the Twelve Steps and other A.A. principles.

Peru’s inaugural group

After reading in Look magazine about ACE, a treatment for acute alcoholism, Percy N., an American living in Lima, writes to the Alcoholic Foundation asking for its view of the treatment. The Foundation responds by sending him three Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlets. In turn, Percy expresses his wish to become a member and start a group, which he proceeds to do in November 1950.

The death of Dr. Bob

Dr. Bob dies of cancer on November 16, 1950. During the Akron physician’s 15 years of sobriety, the Fellowship he started with Bill W. had transformed the lives of close to 100,000 men and women and their loved ones.

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