A not-for-profit organization founded in 1993 for the publication
of materials on the history and theory of alcoholism treatment and the
moral and spiritual dimensions of recovery
Alcoholics Anonymous History and Archives
A.A. Historical Materials
Artist's sketch of one of the sessions at the 36th
General Service Conference in New York City in 1986.
Our Greatest Danger: Rigidity
In his farewell speech to the 1986 General Service Conference, Bob P. gave this warning to future generations of A.A. members:
A.A. Success Rates
"Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Recovery Outcome Rates: Contemporary Myth and Misinterpretation." Adobe PDF file. MS Word DOC file. January 1, 2008. By Arthur S. (Arlington, Texas), Tom E. (Wappingers Falls, New York), and Glenn C. (South Bend, Indiana).
Loran Archer, "The 95% First Year Dropout Myth." Archer is one of the top U.S. experts on alcoholism. He has served as Director of the California Office of Alcoholism and as Deputy Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The story of how the AA movement was begun, starts with a wealthy alcoholic named Rowland Hazard (1881-1945) who traveled to Zurich in 1926 and became a patient of the famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jung finally told Rowland that the only way alcoholics of his sort could stop drinking was to immerse themselves in the spiritual life. But like a typical alcoholic, Rowland ignored his advice, and had to go through seven more years of misery (his drinking nearly killed him on his hunting trip to Afica later on) before he was willing to seek a spiritual answer.
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung
By 1933, Rowland was drinking to the point where he could not cope with even simple everyday life. He sought help from a therapist named Courtenay Baylor, who was associated with the Emmanuel Movement and the Jacoby Club. This was the only early twentieth century group other than Alcoholics Anonymous which had had any notable success in getting alcoholics sober and keeping them sober. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, the EM and JC combined spirituality and psychological help through a simple kind of lay therapy. See Richard M. Dubiel, The Road to Fellowship: The Role of the Emmanuel Movement and the Jacoby Club in the Development of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Baylor pushed Rowland into taking Jung's advice seriously. They were too far from Boston for Rowland to become actively involved in the Emmanuel Movment and the Jacoby Club, so he became actively involved instead in an upperclass Protestant evangelical movement called the Oxford Group, and finally got sober.
Rowland Hazard with his wife and their son Peter, around 1943 or 44
This photo of Rowland Hazard comes from A.A. author Mel B. (Toledo, Ohio): "Here is a photo of Rowland Hazard and wife with their son Peter, taken at the family home in Peace Dale, Rhode Island. I got it from Ray G. I believe this photo would have been taken around 1943 or 1944, perhaps just after Peter was commissioned and won his wings as a Naval aviator. His death is reported on page 354 of The Little Giants, by William T. Y'Blood, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1987. This is a book about the Navy's 'baby flattops' during World War II. In early 1945, Peter was piloting an Avenger in pursuit of some Japanese Vals near Okinawa. Unfortunately, he flew right into some of our own anti-aircraft fire and plunged into the sea. Peter was still being listed as 'missing in action' at the time of Rowland's death [in 1945], but it was obvious that he was gone."
In August 1934, Rowland helped rescue an alcoholic named Ebby Thacher who was being involuntarily committed to an insane asylum because of his out-of-control drinking, and Ebby was also able to get sober through participating in the activities of the Oxford Group.
Ebby Thacher (on the right) with Bill Wilson, the
cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1955
Two months after meeting Rowland Hazard and hearing Carl Jung's message, in November 1934, Ebby visited Bill Wilson and sat with Bill in the kitchen of the Wilson's Brooklyn apartment, and talked about the way this new spiritual answer to alcoholism had gotten him sober. Bill W.'s fundamental conversion experience took place while he was talking with Ebby, as "the scales fell from his eyes" and he became willing for the first time to turn to the experience of the holy in prayer and meditation, and let its healing power begin to restore his soul.
Rudolf Otto, author of The Idea of the Holy
Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), one of the two greatest theologians of the early twentieth century, published his formative work Das Heilige: Über das Irrationale in der Idee des göttlichen und sein Verhältnis zum Rationalen in 1917. The English translation was called The Idea of the Holy.
The heart of all of the world's religions, Otto said, lay in the experience of what he called the holy or the sacred. This was the experience of something real and external to ourselves, totally alien to anything human, a numinous reality (underlying everything else in the universe) which overwhelmed us with feelings of awe and majesty and contact with the wholly other. It was the core of all religious experience, even in religions which had no concept of God (like nontheistic Buddhism and the Native American spirituality of tribes like the Navajos and Potawatomis).
In December 1934, Bill Wilson checked himself into Towns Hospital on Central Park West in New York City to be detoxed, and never drank again. He had a second spiritual experience while in the hospital, a vision of light, where God gave him the mission of spreading this new message of hope to alcoholics all over the world. William Duncan Silkworth, M.D., the doctor in charge of the hospital, who liked Bill enormously and had been trying to get him sober for a long time, told him "Something tremendous has happened to you. You are already a different individual. So, my boy, whatever you've got now you better hold on to. It's so much better than what had you, only a couple of hours ago."
Five months later, in May 1935, Bill Wilson met a surgeon in Akron, Ohio, Dr. Bob Smith, who was also an alcoholic, and passed this same message on to him. The two of them began organizing a movement, later called Alcoholics Anonymous, which eventually established groups in countries all around the globe, and brought sobriety and serenity to alcoholics of every race and nationality.
The early A.A. six step program
For pre-Big Book versions of the steps (one in Bill W.'s handwriting) see "Early Six-step Versions of the Steps"
Click here to go to a collection of photos which has just been started of various kinds of pictures relating to A.A. history: Henrietta Seiberling's grave and so on.
Notes and Documents
The phrase "God as we understood Him" in the Twelve Steps seems to have been taken from the writings of the American Oxford Group leader Dr. Sam Shoemaker.
THE BIOGRAPHY OF Dr. Howard who advised Bill W. to remove the words "you" and "must" from the Big Book and replace those words with phrases saying "we" and non-coercive suggestions.
THE FIRST THREE AA BULLETINS, given to us by AA historian Arthur S., who explains: "The 'AA Bulletin' was the precursor to the 'AA Exchange Bulletin' which was the precursor to 'Box 4-5-9.' The bulletins were used to keep the groups informed of important events. They are historical nuggets."
OXFORD GROUP QUIET TIME AND GUIDANCE by going into a trance or semi-trance state and carrying out automatic writing. At least half a million copies of this famous pamphlet by John E. Batterson, How to Listen, were distributed by the Oxford Group.