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 International Conference of Young People in A.A.

In late April 1958, the first conference for A.A.’s younger members (then defined as those under age 40) is held at Hotel Niagara in Niagara Falls, New York. "The A.A. Exchange Bulletin" (the precursor to the newsletter Box 4-5-9) reports that the purpose of the International Conference of Young People in A.A. (ICYPAA) is “to provide delegates with a thorough rundown of the application of our A.A. program to the individual difficulties encountered by young people in dealing not only with alcoholism but also with the other problems peculiar to their generation.” ICYPAA is held annually.

Signing on in Singapore

Dick D., who regularly corresponds with G.S.O. New York, writes in March 1958 that the Singapore group, founded in 1957, now has 12 members and two likely prospects.

Dramatizations of alcoholism

When called upon, Alcoholics Anonymous plays an advisory role in the dramatization of alcoholism on television or in movies. In one instance, G.S.O. New York staff members work closely with scriptwriter J. P. Miller in preparation for the October 1958 broadcast of "The Days of Wine and Roses," a “Playhouse 90” production. The play, examining the lives of an alcoholic married couple seeking help from A.A., will reach an international audience when it is produced as a movie in 1962.

State of the Structure

As a service to readers, the January 1958 Grapevine prints a chart outlining A.A.’s services and the Conference structure. Text in the top box notes that “over 7,000 groups, including 500 in hospitals, prisons, and other institutions and 760 overseas, are registered at the General Service Headquarters.”

A prison group Down Under

A.A. groups in prisons had spread across the U.S. from 1942 onward and had also begun meeting in Canada, Ireland, and Finland. In 1958, Australia’s first known “group behind walls” is formed — the Magpie Prison Group at Fremantle Prison (right) in the port city of Fremantle, Western Australia.

About the Author



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