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.

An international award from the Franciscans

In April 1967, Alcoholics Anonymous receives the International Award of the Conventional Franciscan Fathers and Brothers. Dr. John L. Norris, chairman of the Board of Trustees, accepts the plaque and citation, which notes, in part, “The sympathetic understanding and the patient application of charity toward those afflicted with the disease of alcoholism has brought about the rehabilitation of thousands of alcoholics formerly thought to be hopeless alcoholics.”

Bill's writings printed and bound

The A.A. Way of Life, a collection of Bill’s writings, is published in 1967 as a daily source of comfort and inspiration. The title of the book will be changed in 1971 to As Bill Sees It.

Meeting over the airwaves

Ben L., an Internationalist aboard the S.S. Hudson, writes to Box 4-5-9, in 1967 to report on A.A.’s first known ham radio group. “We have about 10 regular members,” he writes, “and it’s just like any other meeting.” The group brings together members around the world every 24 hours. “Some nights, only a few and other nights the whole gang shows up,” he continues. ”More new men show up from time to time, and it is a thrill to hear a new signal breaking in.”

Switzerland: the message in three languages

The year 1967 sees the creation of Switzerland’s first General Service Office, when the Gremium (German for “committee”) begins serving German-speaking A.A.s. The country’s first known group was French-speaking, however, taking shape in 1956 when an alcoholic in Geneva learned of Alcoholics Anonymous at a lecture, obtained A.A. literature, and arranged a meeting with friends. The first known German-speaking group in Switzerland was launched in 1963 in Lucerne. The first known Italian-speaking group will be formed in the canton of Tessin in 1974. In 1979 another G.S.O., serving French and Italian Switzerland, will open in Geneva.

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