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.

The office that will go down in A.A. history

Bill begins to commute to a small office at 17 William Street, Newark, New Jersey (right), joining Hank P. to raise money for a new business venture — Honor Dealers, an attempt to create a cooperative program for gasoline dealers in northern New Jersey. The office secretary is a young woman named Ruth Hock.

Plans for the future

In late 1937, Bill pays another visit to Dr. Bob in Akron. Comparing notes, they are astonished to find that at least 40 of the many alcoholics with whom they’ve worked have stayed sober for two years. This discovery leads to exciting possibilities: Bill and Bob discuss developing a chain of hospitals dedicated to the treatment of alcoholics; employing salaried workers who would spread the word; and literature — especially a book, meant to carry the message far and wide.

Action in Akron

Oxford Group meetings for alcoholics continue at the large home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams (right), with Dr. Bob sometimes joining Mr. Williams to lead meetings. The recovering alcoholics of the group refer to themselves as the “alcoholic squadron of the Oxford Group.”

A momentous meeting

Bill’s attempts to raise money for his and Bob's vision prove unsuccessful. In 1937, his brother-in-law, Dr. Leonard Strong, Jr., is able to set up a meeting with men connected to the philanthropies of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (right). At a December meeting attended by Bill, Dr. Bob, Dr. Silkworth, and a few group members from New York and Akron, the potential backers are moved and impressed by the Fellowship’s work. However, after it is pointed out that money could spoil the movement's purpose, the meeting reaps welcome enthusiasm and moral support, but no funds.

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