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.

Joining the fold...

The St. Louis Convention of 1955 affirms the Fellowship’s maturity as Bill W. passes to the members the responsibility for A.A.’s Three Legacies of Recovery, Unity, and Service. The Convention signals a decade of change—one that sees the consolidation of family groups under the name of Al-Anon, a separate fellowship that, like Alcoholics Anonymous, has spread to almost every corner of the world.

A.A. in Argentina

In the early 1950s, Hector G. of Buenos Aires is rescued from alcoholism after reading Alcoholics Anonymous and seeking the aid of a physician. He writes to the Alcoholic Foundation, which sends him A.A. literature in Spanish and asks permission to list him as a contact for referrals. Hector founds Argentina’s first known group, and in 1955 will report that its members are relishing their newfound sobriety.

A bulletin for Loners

Hundreds of Loners — individuals who are listed with A.A. but do not belong to a group — are being mailed G.S.O.’s monthly bulletin, "Twelfth Stepper," each issue of which features personal stories of Loners from around the world. The stated purpose is to enable such members “to share A.A. love and gratitude, strength and faith with one another.” A previous bulletin — "The Internationalists Round Robin," launched in 1949 — had grown out of the efforts of Captain Jack S., a sailor who found sobriety in A.A. and maintained it by exchanging letters with groups he helped start around the world.

Mr. Eddie of El Salvador

Edward F., who has carried the Fellowship’s message to several alcoholics in Boston and San Francisco, moves to San Salvador with his Salvadoran wife. After initially finding it hard to arouse interest in A.A., a friend of his wife introduces Edward to her alcoholic uncle, Don A., and the two men form a group that meets at the home of Atilio, a wealthy alcoholic. As membership grows, meetings are moved to the Garcia Flamenco school building. “Mr. Eddie,” as he becomes known, will later help start groups in other Central American countries.

First meetings in Madrid

A Mrs. Garcia of New York informs G.S.O. New York of the wish of Dr. E. Pelaz, a psychiatrist at a Madrid sanitarium, to launch an A.A. group. The G.S.O. sends Pelaz pamphlets and the name of its Madrid contact, American Ray C. Ray and fellow alcoholic Dan C. begin holding English-language meetings in June 1955. By the end of the year membership has increased fourfold and a Spanish-American group is meeting at Pelaz’s sanitarium. Before long, the Spaniards form a separate group, which quickly attracts more members and spurs the formation of A.A. groups countrywide.

A historic International Convention

In July 1955, some 5,000 people attend the second International Convention in St. Louis (right). President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognizes the occasion with a congratulatory telegram. Among the important events at this 20th anniversary gathering is Bill’s presentation on A.A. history and the importance of understanding it. In addition, the second edition of the Big Book is launched. The Al-Anon Fellowship, now four years old, participates in five workshops.

Second Edition of Big Book published in 1955

The second edition of Alcoholics Anonymous reflects the membership’s growing diversity. The chapters on A.A. principles remain the same, and eight of the stories of early members’ efforts to achieve sobriety are retained in a section called “Pioneers of A.A.” In addition, 24 new stories appear in two separate sections: “They Stopped in Time” and “They Lost Nearly All.” The Twelve Traditions are added as well.

Bill W. passes the torch, July 1955

The St. Louis Convention culminates with Bill officially handing leadership of A.A. over to the members. The resolution he reads is passed with a roar of approval: “Be it therefore resolved that the General Service Conference... should become as of this date... the guardian of the Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, the perpetuators of the world services of our Society, the voice of the group conscience of our entire Fellowship, and the sole successors of its co-founders, Doctor Bob and Bill.”

The Third Legacy

At the St. Louis Convention, Bill speaks of the Fellowship’s Third Legacy, that of Service. In his words “. . . an A.A. service is anything whatever that helps us to reach a fellow sufferer. . .from the Twelfth Step itself to a ten-cent phone call and a cup of coffee, and to A.A.’s General Service Office for national and international action.” Fifty thousand Third Legacy booklets (right), known today as The A.A. Service Manual, will be printed and distributed to A.A. groups.

About the Author



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