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. takes root in China

In August 2001, two G.S.O. New York staff members and Dr. George Vaillant (nonalcoholic trustee) travel to China to meet with medical practitioners and attend meetings of China's three A.A. groups in existence at the time — two in Beijing and one in Changchun. By invitation, Dr. Vaillant addresses a gathering of some 50 physicians on the subject of alcoholism.

First woman chairs General Service Board

In 2001, a woman is elected to chair the General Service Board for the first time: Elaine McDowell, Ph.D. (right), who had served as a Class A (nonalcoholic) trustee for nine years. As chairperson, Dr. McDowell brings more than 28 years of experience in the prevention and treatment fields as well as abiding faith in A.A.'s basic principles.

A.A. at Ground Zero

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York, exhausted A.A. members among the firefighters, police, and clean-up crews realize the need for A.A. meetings near Ground Zero. At the same time, a Red Cross official reports to G.S.O. New York that many requests for A.A. meetings have been received. The Red Cross then assigns to A.A. a room in a respite center just southwest of the site, its door bearing a circle and triangle. To accommodate everyone, a second room just north is provided. A.A. meetings are organized by Southeast New York Area 49 and New York Intergroup, and the rooms become places where A.A.s can not only meet but also rest, talk, and meditate. Members crafted the iron plaque shown right and presented it to G.S.O. New York and the Intergroup of A.A. as a memento.

The Big Book's Fourth Edition

In November 2001, a new edition of the Big Book — the culmination of four years of development and 25-plus committee meetings — rolls off the presses. While the first 164 pages remain unchanged, the new edition includes the stories of 41 sober alcoholics (24 new stories and 17 “keepers” from the third edition) reaching a wider cross-section of membership by reflecting the breadth of A.A. experiences, ages, beliefs, and ethnicities. G.S.O. New York sends a complimentary copy of the new fourth edition to groups in the U.S. and Canada.

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