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.

North American hospital groups

By the beginning of 1957, the General Service Office in New York is maintaining contact with more than 230 hospital groups in the United States and Canada — the legacy of the pioneering A.A. groups formed two decades earlier at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, and Towns Hospital and Knickbocker Hospital in New York.

India: Loners no more

In January 1957, Charley M., an A.A. member employed by the National Film Board of Canada, contacts Sylvia M. and Supatti M., both New Delhi Loners listed with G.S.O. New York. (Charley had expressed to the office his wish to stay active in A.A. during a 36-month business sojourn in Asia.) The three placed an ad in local newspapers, drawing responses from seven alcoholics— among them Mahindar S. G., who, like Sylvia and Supatti, is already listed. By May, New Delhi meetings are attracting eight to 12 people; by year’s end, groups will be active in Calcutta and Bombay. Shown at right is a greeting card sent by a Bombay group to Bill and Lois in December 1961.

Letters from Greece

An American pilot who is an A.A. member reports to G.S.O. New York that he has presented a copy of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions to Rev. Charles Hanna, pastor of the American Church in Athens. Rev. Hanna begins corresponding with G.S.O. New York in early 1957. His efforts bring together three American Loners living in Athens — Frank O. and servicemen Gus and Cal — who hold Greece’s first A.A. meeting in the port city of Piraeus.

A landmark book

In Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, published October 1, 1957, Bill recounts A.A. history from a personal standpoint and reviews the proceedings of the St. Louis Convention. A section describing the Three Legacies is included, as are talks by A.A. friends in the fields of religion and medicine.

The arrival of Alateen

Concern for the problems of the children of alcoholics was the topic of a special session at the 1955 St. Louis Convention. This concern increases as letters from teenagers (a few of whom had started groups of their peers) begin to flow into the Al-Anon office. As a result, Al-Anon founds Alateen in 1957 and publishes the booklet Youth and the Alcoholic Parent.

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