Knickerbocker Hospital Treats Alcoholics
At New York's Knickerbocker Hospital, a pioneering experiment accepting alcoholic patients for treatment begins. The A.A. ward is headed by our first friend in medicine, Dr. William Silkworth.
Joining the fold...
After World War II ends, A.A. groups begin to spring up in other lands, with word of the fledgling organization spreading south of the border, across the Atlantic, and to the Pacific Rim. The next decade also witnesses the Fellowship’s first international convention and the creation of the General Service Conference.
A.A.’s tenth anniversary
More than 2,500 of the Fellowship’s members and friends from 36 states and two Canadian provinces gather in Cleveland to honor Bill W. and Dr. Bob and to celebrate ten years of Alcoholics Anonymous. Sponsored by the city’s 44 groups, the two-day event includes open-house meetings, parties, a tea, an assembly at Severance Hall (right), and a closing dinner at the Carter Hotel. According to a Grapevine reporter, the speeches of Bill and Dr. Bob trace the development of A.A. with “gratitude, humility, and simplicity.”
A magazine article’s reach
“Maybe I Can Do It Too,” an article about A.A. member Edward G. that ran in the October 1944 edition of Reader’s Digest, appears in translation in several of the magazine’s international editions, as it will for the next four years. As a result, alcoholics from around the globe write to the Alcoholic Foundation seeking to learn more about the Fellowship.
First meetings in Australia
In a letter to Archie McKinnon, a psychiatric nurse interested in helping alcoholics in Sydney, Bobbie B. of the Alcoholic Foundation provides the names of two other men who share the same aim: Dr. Sylvester Minogue and Fr. Tom Dunlea, the founder of Boystown in Australia. The three nonalcoholics band together to form the country’s first A.A. group, with Rex A. the first member to achieve and maintain sobriety.
African-American groups spring up
Early in 1945, five African-American residents of St. Louis form a group that quickly expands. In Washington D.C., Jim S., sponsored by a local A.A. named Charlie, begins to hold meetings in a rented room at a local YMCA; Jim later helps start the first group in Harlem. By 1950, African-Americans will have formed groups in Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and other cities and towns. In a country of great diversity, A.A. groups will welcome all alcoholics who wish to stop drinking.
An Atlantic outpost
After seeking advice from the Alcoholic Foundation, Steve V., an A.A. member formerly of Trenton, N.J., forms a group in St. Georges, Bermuda. It jumps from two to six members within a month and grows quickly thereafter. The next year, the Hamilton Mid-Ocean News will publish a series of twelve articles on Alcoholics Anonymous.
The lighter side
The reports and letters printed in the Grapevine are interspersed with the occasional alcohol-related cartoon, like the “Down Alibi Alley” submission by a member (right). Early editions of the magazine also include a jokes column called “Barley CORN!!”
Overtures from Hollywood
In the wake of the success of The Lost Weekend — the Oscar-winning 1945 film about a struggling alcoholic — three Hollywood studios offer A.A. as much as $100,000 for rights to the Fellowship’s story. The Alcoholic Foundation, fearing such films would amount to a violation of privacy, refuses the offers on behalf of A.A. members.


Ireland joins the program
The decision of a Philadelphia A.A. member and former tavern owner, Connor F., to travel to Ireland leads to the formation of the first Irish group. Connor and his wife visit a Dublin sanitarium, where a doctor introduces them to patient Richard P. of Belfast. After reading the Big Book presented to him by Connor, Richard writes to a number of contacts who had learned of A.A. through Fr. Tom Dunlea. (Dunlea, a nonalcoholic and one of the founders of Australia’s first group, had also spread the message on a trip to Ireland.) Before long, Ireland’s inaugural A.A. group is meeting in a room at the Country Shop on Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green.
The Twelve Traditions
One by one, A.A.'s Twelve Traditions developed by Bill W. are put into print for the first time. The medium for their distribution is The Grapevine.
A.A. in the news
The rapid growth of A.A. is reflected in the increasing press coverage the society receives. The Kings Feature Syndicate article shown at right appeared in newspapers nationwide in the spring of 1946. It focused on women alcoholics, who were joining A.A. in ever-greater numbers.
First known meetings in Mexico
Americans Lester F. and Pauline D. organize a group for Mexico City’s English-speaking community. Meanwhile, a Mexican resident of Cleveland, Ricardo P., translates portions of the Big Book into Spanish. The importation of Spanish-language alcoholism-related publications and the creation of Spanish-speaking A.A. groups is approved at a late-summer conference of Mexico’s Board of Public Information.
Roads into Africa
In 1946, the A.A. movement springs to life in South Africa in three different places. The founders, unknown to one another, are: Arthur S., who reads of A.A. in Reader’s Digest, contacts the Alcoholic Foundation and forms a group in Johannesburg; Pat O’F., of Capetown, who also has consulted the Alcoholic Foundation; and Val D., who achieves sobriety after reading a copy of the Big Book handed to him by a priest and soon starts a group in the town of Springs.
Trustees issue statement on fund-raising
In an effort to halt attempts by various charities to ride the coattails of A.A.’s ascendancy, the Alcoholic Foundation issues a statement aimed at organizations that imply sponsorship by A.A. in their personal appeals to the public. It reads, in part, “Alcoholics Anonymous not only fails to endorse the present solicitations of funds but looks with disfavor on the unauthorized use of its name in any fund raising activity.”
New Zealand’s first group
Ian McE., a resident of the South Island town of Richmond, voluntarily admits himself to a psychiatric hospital in an effort to sober up. There, he comes across the Reader’s Digest article “Maybe I Can Do It Too.” Struck by his identification with the article’s subject, he writes to Bobbie B. of the Alcoholic Foundation. His letter launches a long-term correspondence with (and sponsorship by) Bobbie that will lead to the formation of the first New Zealand group.


First stirrings in England
Though the first official A.A. group in England won’t be formed until 1948, the ball gets rolling when a visiting American woman, Grace O., writes to five Londoners who are in touch with the Alcoholic Foundation and schedules a meeting at the Dorchester Hotel (right) for March 31, 1947. The eight attendees include two A.A. members from North America: an A.A. from Hollywood, California, whose acquaintance she had made on the voyage across the Atlantic, and “Canadian Bob,” whom Grace had met in a London restaurant and who will figure large in A.A.’s growth. Meetings will continue in restaurants and residences, among them the home of Canadian Bob.
Servicemen launch groups in the Pacific
In the wake of World War II, American servicemen stationed at military bases in the Pacific launch A.A. groups, with the Alcoholic Foundation acting as facilitator. In the summer of 1947, a group in Guam grows from four members to 24 in one month. In Okinawa, the Pioneer Group begins meeting in the fall of 1947.
A mission to Norway
George F., a Norwegian immigrant and coffee shop owner in Connecticut, writes home after many years to share the good news of his sobriety through A.A. When he learns that his brother, a typesetter for an Oslo newspaper, is an alcoholic one step from ruin, George and his wife sell their shop and move to Norway. After initially showing no interest in the Twelve Steps, George’s brother takes the message to heart and becomes sober almost immediately. Through placing small ads in his paper George eventually forms a group of A.A. members — Norway's first.
A.A. becomes self-supporting
Bill W. reports that income from the Big Book and contributions from individual A.A. groups have made the Alcoholic Foundation "self-supporting." The idea of contributions grew from an estimate that all expenses could be met if each group were to send the Foundation a sum equal to $1 per member per year. Contributions were entirely voluntary, and equal service was provided to all groups regardless of their contribution record—a policy still in effect today.
The A.A. Preamble
In the June 1947 edition of the A.A. Grapevine, a statement defining the Fellowship and its mission appears for the first time. The statement, known as the A.A. Preamble, is quickly adopted by A.A. groups and becomes a standard inclusion in A.A. literature.
Expansion in Canada
By late 1947, Alcoholics Anonymous groups begin to form in the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. The Fellowship is now country-wide, with groups having been founded in Ontario in 1943, Quebec in 1944, Alberta and Manitoba in 1945, British Columbia in 1946, and Saskatchewan in 1947. The photo at right shows a meeting place in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia.
A fitful start in Brazil
After two years of sporadic correspondence between the Alcoholic Foundation and a few American residents of Brazil, the Foundation lists Herb D. as an A.A. official contact. In September 1947, Herb requests and receives a batch of A.A. pamphlets and the name of another A.A. member living in Rio de Janeiro. The two men seek members and the first group in Brazil takes shape.


A Swedish offshoot
Frank B., a Swedish-American who had become sober in Newark, New Jersey, moves to Sweden and reports to the Newark group that he has joined an A.A. group in the town of Borås — much to the surprise of the Alcoholic Foundation. The group is in fact affiliated with the Links Society. (Founded by an officer of the Temperance Board in Stockholm, the Links Society was loosely based on the A.A. concepts, with which the officer had become familiar on a trip to the U.S. in 1939.) An exchange of letters between the Foundation and the secretary of the Borås Links group ensues, leading to a listing with A.A. in February 1948. In later years, more Swedish groups will shift their affiliation from the Links Society to A.A., and the Swedish G.S.O. will issue the Twelve Steps in booklet form (right).
Finland gets the message
A few alcoholics join weekly meetings at the home of a couple employed by the Helsinki Welfare Office. Along with “Mom and Dad,” as the leaders are called, they learn of Alcoholics Anonymous when “Maybe I Can Do It Too” appears in the Finnish edition of Reader’s Digest. The group soon begins to adhere to the principles of both A.A. and the Sweden-born Links Society. In years hence, Finnish groups will become connected to A.A. The placard at right reads “First Things First.”
Start-ups in Korea
In early 1948, a nonalcoholic priest named Father Mosley starts a group in Seoul after he receives A.A. literature from New York. Two other groups meet sporadically over the next three years, but the first group to be listed with the Alcoholic Foundation will not be formed until 1952: Yong Dong Po, named after the town in which it first meets.
Akron marks its thirteenth anniversary
Some 4,000 A.A. members from Ohio gather in Akron to celebrate another milestone: A.A.'s thirteenth anniversary. The meeting, attended by both Bill W. and Dr. Bob, opens with a prayer from Rev. Walter F. Tunks, the Episcopal rector who had referred Bill to Henrietta Seiberling in 1935.
A.A.’s post-war boom in Japan
After an article on A.A. appears in Pacific Stars and Stripes, the Alcoholic Foundation is flooded with letters from American servicemen based in Japan. The Foundation forwards their names to Harry G., who was in Tokyo writing a book on the War Crime Trials of 1945–48. (Harry had written the Foundation in December 1947, suggesting that Japan was fertile ground for A.A.) He and an A.A. member from Indiana start an English-speaking group, eventually leading to the establishment of native groups across Japan.
Dr. Bob’s illness
In the summer of 1948, Dr. Bob learns he has terminal cancer, leading him to shut down his office and retire from medical practice. In December 1948 Dr. Bob will give his last major talk before a crowd of A.A.s in Detroit, Michigan.


The Scottish messenger
In 1948, Sir Philip D., a Scottish gentleman farmer who has long struggled with alcoholism, travels to the U.S. at the invitation of the Oxford Group. There he meets A.A. member George R., who acquaints him with the Fellowship’s principles. Sir Philip returns home determined to stop drinking and to carry the A.A. message. He succeeds, and Scotland’s first known groups are founded in May 1949 in Edinburgh and in Glasgow, where meetings are held in the St. Enoch Hotel (right).
Bill W. addresses the American Psychiatric Association
At the invitation of Dr. Kirby Collier of Rochester, New York, one of A.A.’s earliest admirers in the psychiatric profession, Bill W. participates in an alcoholism symposium at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting in Montreal, May 1949. His address marks the acceptance of A.A. by yet another major American medical organization. Bill's address is titled "The Society of Alcoholics Anonymous."
Rapid growth in Holland
In January 1949, Henk Krauweel, of the Medical Bureau for Alcohol in Amsterdam, reports to the Alcoholic Foundation that he and two of his patients, John V. and Carel A., intend to organize an A.A. meeting in mid-February. They do so, and with much success. In the next two years, a number of groups will be started in Rotterdam, Haarlem, The Hague, and other Dutch cities.


A.A.’s first International Convention
In July 1950, Alcoholics Anonymous’ 15th anniversary is marked with an international convention in Cleveland, with some 3,000 people in attendance. One of the most significant events is the adoption of the Twelve Traditions. The convention, held at the Cleveland Public Auditorium (right), also features the last public message to the Fellowship by Dr. Bob, who stresses, in his brief remarks, kindness and “keeping it simple.”
Denmark: From Ring i Ring to A.A.
In 1948 a group belonging to a national temperance society called Ring i Ring is founded by Dr. Martensen, a doctor who treats alcoholic patients. It meets in a restaurant (right) at Copenhagen’s zoo. In the summer of 1949, A.A. member Gordon McD. and his wife visits Ring i Ring at a meeting place in Lyngby, a small suburban outside Copenhagen. The group changes its name to “Ring i Ring Danish A.A.” in January 1950 and lists with the Alcoholic Foundation. In the next few years, other Ring i Ring members will break away and hold closed meetings based on the Twelve Steps and other A.A. principles.
Peru’s inaugural group
After reading in Look magazine about ACE, a treatment for acute alcoholism, Percy N., an American living in Lima, writes to the Alcoholic Foundation asking for its view of the treatment. The Foundation responds by sending him three Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlets. In turn, Percy expresses his wish to become a member and start a group, which he proceeds to do in November 1950.
The death of Dr. Bob
Dr. Bob dies of cancer on November 16, 1950. During the Akron physician’s 15 years of sobriety, the Fellowship he started with Bill W. had transformed the lives of close to 100,000 men and women and their loved ones.


A.A.’s first General Service Conference
The first General Service Conference, orchestrated by chairman of the Alcoholic Foundation Bernard Smith, is held in April 1951 at the Commodore Hotel in New York. Bill W. later writes of its significance to A.A.: “The delegates . . . listened to reports from the Board of Trustees and from all of the services. There was warm but cordial debate on many questions of A.A. policy... [It was proved] as never before that A.A.’s Tradition Two was correct: Our group conscience could safely act as the sole authority and sure guide for Alcoholics Anonymous.”
A prestigious award
In San Francisco in October 1951, the American Public Health Association presents Alcoholics Anonymous with the Lasker Award, “in recognition of its unique and highly successful approach” to an “age-old public health and social problem.” The award is made possible through benefactions of Mary and Albert Lasker, New York philanthropists. A ceremony with Bill W. and Board of Trustees chairman Bernard Smith as speakers is attended by some 3,000 A.A.s and family members, physicians, public health experts, and clergymen. In the newspaper photograph to the right, Smith is shown at far left.


The arrival of Al-Anon
In loosely organized Family Groups, loved ones of A.A. members had gathered together and shared their experiences since the Fellowship’s earliest days. At Bill W.’s urging, his wife Lois moves to create a separate fellowship that will formalize these meetings. With Anne B., who had initiated a Family Group in Westchester County, New York, Lois sends a letter to 87 such groups suggesting that they unite under the name of Al-Anon. The response is positive, and Al-Anon Family Groups is born. In January 1952 Lois and Anne shift the growing organization’s office from Stepping Stones to the 24th Street Clubhouse in Manhattan.
Caribbean by way of Canada
Though there had inquiries from the Bahamas as early as 1944, Burton L., an A.A. member from Toronto now living in Nassau, forms the first stable group in the Bahamas in 1952 — four members who meet on Sunday afternoons. The group, one of the first in the Caribbean, makes a contribution of $6 when it registers with the Alcoholic Foundation.


A post-war beginning in Germany
A handful of U.S. servicemen, all recovering alcoholics stationed at U.S. Army Base I Munich after the end of World War II, take on the responsibility of forming the first known A.A. group in Germany. On a mission to sober up local alcoholics, they post notices of a meeting to be held at Hotel Leopold (right) on November 1, 1953. Among the 25 attendees are Max, Kurt, and Heindrich, who will meet with the Americans in what will come to be called Germany’s “mother group.”
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions is first published — 1953
Bill W. becomes increasingly devoted to writing projects, one of which emerges as Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions — the book that sets forth his deepest understanding of A.A.’s basic principles.
Nicaragua’s inaugural group
In the fall of 1953, Grupo de A.A. La Merced is founded in León by Jack M., who took up residence in Nicaragua in 1950, and then joined A.A. while on a brief visit to the United States Groups in the capital city of Managua and other Nicaraguan population centers will start meeting a decade later, facilitated by the Alcoholic Foundation.
The Big Book hits Belgium
At a gathering of English-speaking and Belgian alcoholics in Brussels, Jean L. introduces the Big Book and the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. Within months of the October 1953 meeting, groups start assembling not only in Belgium’s capital but also in cities and towns in Flanders and Wallonia.


Bill W. declines honorary degrees
In the wake of Alcoholic Anonymous’ success, several colleges and universities offer Bill W. honorary degrees. He declines, explaining why in this excerpt from a letter to Yale University, which had proposed an honorary Doctor of Laws degree: “The tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous . . . entreats each member to avoid all that particular kind of personal publicity or distinction which might link his name with our Society in the general public mind.” He then quotes A.A.’s need for anonymity, as stated in Tradition Twelve.
The Alcoholic Foundation becomes the General Service Board
Changing the name of the Alcoholic Foundation to the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous was first proposed at the first General Service Conference in the spring of 1951, but the switch becomes official in 1954. The motivation is to signal that the A.A. membership is taking full responsibility for itself.
Membership exceeds 100,000
By the end of A.A.’s second decade, some 130,000 members are meeting in approximately 6,000 groups on five continents.