Alcoholics Anonymous® is
a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and
hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help
others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is
a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we
are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with
any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not
wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any
causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to
Historical Data: The Birth of A.A. and its growth
A.A. had its beginnings in 1935 at Akron, Ohio, as the outcome of a
meeting between Bill W., a New York stockbroker, and Dr. Bob S., an Akron
surgeon. Both had been hopeless alcoholics. Prior to that time, Bill and
Dr. Bob had each been in contact with the Oxford Group, a mostly
nonalcoholic fellowship that emphasized universal spiritual values in
daily living. In that period, the Oxford Groups in America were headed by
the noted Episcopal clergyman, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. Under this spiritual
influence, and with the help of an old-time friend, Ebby T., Bill had
gotten sober and had then maintained his recovery by working with other
alcoholics, though none of these had actually recovered. Meanwhile, Dr.
Bob’s Oxford Group membership at Akron had not helped him enough to
achieve sobriety. When Dr. Bob and Bill finally met, the effect on the
doctor was immediate. This time, he found himself face to face with a
fellow sufferer who had made good. Bill emphasized that alcoholism was a
malady of mind, emotions and body. This all-important fact he had learned
from Dr. William D. Silkworth of Towns Hospital in New York, where Bill
had often been a patient. Though a physician, Dr. Bob had not known
alcoholism to be a disease. Responding to Bill’s convincing ideas, he soon
got sober, never to drink again. The founding spark of A.A. had been
Both men immediately set to work with alcoholics at Akron’s City Hospital,
where one patient quickly achieved complete sobriety. Though the name
Alcoholics Anonymous had not yet been coined, these three men actually
made up the nucleus of the first A.A. group. In the fall of 1935, a second
group of alcoholics slowly took shape in New York. A third appeared at
Cleveland in 1939. It had taken over four years to produce 100 sober
alcoholics in the three founding groups.
Early in 1939, the Fellowship published its basic textbook, Alcoholics
Anonymous. The text, written by Bill, explained A.A.’s philosophy and
methods, the core of which was the now well-known Twelve Steps of
The book was also reinforced by case histories of some thirty recovered
members. From this point, A.A.’s development was rapid.
Also in 1939, the Cleveland Plain Dealer carried a series of
articles about A.A., supported by warm editorials. The Cleveland group of
only twenty members was deluged by countless pleas for help. Alcoholics
sober only a few weeks were set to work on brand-new cases. This was a new
departure, and the results were fantastic. A few months later, Cleveland’s
membership had expanded to 500. For the first time, it was shown that
sobriety could be mass-produced.
Meanwhile, in New York, Dr. Bob and Bill had in 1938 organized an over-all
trusteeship for the budding Fellowship. Friends of John D. Rockefeller Jr.
became board members alongside a contingent of A.A.s. This board was named
The Alcoholic Foundation. However, all efforts to raise large amounts of
money failed, because Mr. Rockefeller had wisely concluded that great sums
might spoil the infant society. Nevertheless, the foundation managed to
open a tiny office in New York to handle inquiries and to distribute the
A.A. book — an enterprise which, by the way, had been mostly financed by
the A.A.s themselves.
The book and the new office were quickly put to use. An article about A.A.
was carried by Liberty magazine in the fall of 1939, resulting in some 800
urgent calls for help. In 1940, Mr. Rockefeller gave a dinner for many of
his prominent New York friends to publicize A.A. This brought yet another
flood of pleas. Each inquiry received a personal letter and a small
pamphlet. Attention was also drawn to the book Alcoholics Anonymous, which
soon moved into brisk circulation. Aided by mail from New York, and by A.A.
travelers from already-established centers, many new groups came alive. At
the year’s end, the membership stood at 2,000.
Then, in March 1941, the Saturday Evening Post featured an excellent
article about A.A., and the response was enormous. By the close of that
year, the membership had jumped to 6,000, and the number of groups
multiplied in proportion. Spreading across the U.S. and Canada, the
By 1950, 100,000 recovered alcoholics could be found worldwide.
Spectacular though this was, the period 1940-1950 was nonetheless one of
great uncertainty. The crucial question was whether all those mercurial
alcoholics could live and work together in groups. Could they hold
together and function effectively? This was the unsolved problem.
Corresponding with thousands of groups about their problems became a chief
occupation of the New York headquarters.
By 1946, however, it had already become possible to draw sound conclusions
about the kinds of attitude, practice and function that would best suit
A.A.’s purpose. Those principles, which had emerged from strenuous group
experience, were codified by Bill in what are today the Twelve Traditions
of Alcoholics Anonymous. By 1950, the earlier chaos had largely
disappeared. A successful formula for A.A. unity and functioning had been
achieved and put into practice. (See Page 9.)
During this hectic ten-year period, Dr. Bob devoted himself to the
question of hospital care for alcoholics, and to their indoctrination with
A.A. principles. Large numbers of alcoholics flocked to Akron to receive
hospital care at St. Thomas, a Catholic hospital. Dr. Bob became a member
of its staff. Subsequently, he and the remarkable Sister M. Ignatia, also
of the staff, cared for and brought A.A. to some 5,000 sufferers. After
Dr. Bob’s death in 1950, Sister Ignatia continued to work at Cleveland’s
Charity Hospital, where she was assisted by the local groups and where
10,000 more sufferers first found A.A. This set a fine example of
hospitalization wherein A.A. could cooperate with both medicine and
In this same year of 1950, A.A. held its first International Convention at
Cleveland. There, Dr. Bob made his last appearance and keyed his final
talk to the need of keeping A.A. simple. Together with all present, he saw
the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous enthusiastically adopted for
the permanent use of the A.A. Fellowship throughout the world. (He died on
November 16, 1950.)
The following year witnessed still another significant event. The New York
office had greatly expanded its activities, and these now consisted of
public relations, advice to new groups, services to hospitals, prisons,
Loners, and Internationalists, and cooperation with other agencies in the
alcoholism field. The headquarters was also publishing "standard" A.A.
books and pamphlets, and it supervised their translation into other
tongues. Our international magazine, the A.A. Grapevine, had achieved a
large circulation. These and many other activities had become
indispensable for A.A. as a whole.
Nevertheless, these vital services were still in the hands of an isolated
board of trustees, whose only link to the Fellowship had been Bill and Dr.
Bob. As the co-founders had foreseen years earlier, it became absolutely
necessary to link A.A.’s world trusteeship (now the General Service Board
of Alcoholics Anonymous) with the Fellowship that it served. Delegates
from all states and provinces of the U.S. and Canada were forthwith called
in. Thus composed, this body for world service first met in 1951. Despite
earlier misgivings, the gathering was a great success. For the first time,
the remote trusteeship became directly accountable to A.A. as a whole. The
A.A. General Service Conference had been created, and A.A.’s over-all
functioning was thereby assured for the future.
A second International Convention was held in St. Louis in 1955 to
celebrate the Fellowship’s 20th anniversary. The General Service
Conference had by then completely proved its worth. Here, on behalf of
A.A.’s old-timers, Bill turned the future care and custody of A.A. over to
the Conference and its trustees. At this moment, the Fellowship went on
its own; A.A. had come of age.
Had it not been for A.A.’s early friends, Alcoholics Anonymous might never
have come into being. And without its host of well-wishers who have since
given of their time and effort — particularly those friends of medicine,
religion, and world communications — A.A. could never have grown and
prospered. The Fellowship here records its constant gratitude.
It was on January 24, 1971, that Bill, a victim of pneumonia, died in
Miami Beach, Florida, where — seven months earlier — he had delivered at
the 35th Anniversary International Convention what proved to be his last
words to fellow A.A.s: "God bless you and Alcoholics Anonymous forever."
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