Alcoholics Anonymous: In the Beginning...

Early History of Alcoholics Anonymous

Dr. Bob and Bill W.
Dr. Bob and Bill W., A.A. Founders. Mitchell K

The study of the history of Alcoholics Anonymous begins way before its actual founding. Much of the history begins with the Temperance movements of the mid-1800's. One of these movements was the Washington Temperance Society or the Washingtonians.

Several self-admitted drunkards founded this movement not in Washington, D.C. but in Baltimore, Maryland. These men met in, of all places, a tavern to form the movement.

The Washingtonians

It grew in leaps and bounds with parades, Temperance Pledges and hospitals. It eventually grew to such proportions that they forgot what their original intentions were. They recruited politicians and celebrities.

Everyone was "taking the pledge." A movement first started by alcoholics, for alcoholics, eventually became open to everyone and was watered-down so much that eventually it began to disappear.

Several other movements for alcoholics developed afterwards from which AA took several components to incorporate into their program of recovery. One of these, Peabodyism, named after Richard Peabody, a therapist from the Boston, Mass. area.

Later when Mr. Peabody moved to the Gramercy Park area of New York City his office was very close to Calvary Episcopal Church where the Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. was Pastor.

The Oxford Group

The next movement was the Oxford Group. This movement which began around 1908 was originally called "A First Century Christian Fellowship" was begun by Frank N.D.

Buchman, a Lutheran minister from Pennsylvania.

The Oxford Group was focused upon changing the world, "One Person at a Time." At Oxford Group "House Parties," members "surrendered" on their knees and gave testimony (or shared) of their deliverance from their "sin" of alcoholism, smoking, etc.

Around 1940 the Oxford Group changed its name to Moral Re-Armament.

This movement still exists today with offices worldwide.

The Carl Jung Connection

Bill W. was introduced to the Oxford Group by Ebby T., an old boyhood friend in November of 1934. He was a drinking buddy of Bill's who had gotten "religion" through the Oxford Group after being introduced to it by Rowland H.

Rowland reportedly had been in therapy with Dr. Carl G. Jung in Switzerland. Dr. Jung had told Rowland, according to official AA history that there was no hope for him. No hope that is, unless he were to experience a "vital spiritual experience."

Rowland reportedly was introduced to the Oxford Group by Dr. Jung and then passed the message along to Ebby.

Recent research by Wally P., (archivist and historian) has turned up Rowland's personal records, which are at the Providence Historical Society in Providence, Rhode Island. Rowland's personal records do not indicate that he was in Switzerland during the period stated in most AA history books.

Bill W's "Success"

Bill W.'s drinking had progressed to such a point that in 1933 he was admitted to Towns Hospital in New York City.

This was the first of four hospitalizations for alcoholism between 1933-1934. It was at Towns Hospital that Dr. William Duncan Silkworth declared him a hopeless alcoholic.

According to Norman Vincent Peale, Dr. Silkworth said the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, could cure alcoholics who were declared hopeless. Again, another person who said that only a vital spiritual experience would "cure" the alcoholic.

Bill's White Light Experience

Soon after Ebby's visit with him, Bill was admitted for the last time to Towns Hospital in December 1934. It was during this hospitalization that Bill experienced his "white light" spiritual experience. Bill reported this experience to Dr. Silkworth and was soon after released from the hospital never to drink alcohol again until his death in 1971.

Bill attended Oxford Group meetings, went to the Calvary Mission and began working with other Alcoholics. He did not have much success at getting them sober during the first five months, but was told by his wife, Lois, that he had remained sober for the first time in many years.

Though Bill had considered himself a dismal failure due to his inability to get anyone sober, he did finally realize through Lois' help that he was a success. He was a success because he had stayed sober.

More will be revealed…

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