History of Twelve-Step Groups

The history of Twelve-Step groups is mostly the history of Alcoholics Anonymous. There is not enough space here to give more than a simple chronology as an overview. A study of the history will help with the spirituality of recovery.

Before AA

1879 — Robert Holbrook Smith is born August 8, in Vermont.

1895 — William Griffith Wilson is born November 26, also in Vermont.

1910 — Bob Smith earns his MD at Rush University. He will become a proctologist.

1915 — Dr. Bob marries Anne Ripley, on January 25.

1918 — January 24, Bill marries Lois Burnham. Lois and Anne will become vital to the development of the Twelve-Step programs, from the support they give their husbands and their contributions to the movement that will become Al-Anon for recovery of the family.

1933 — Dr. Bob begins going to Oxford Group meetings to cope with his alcoholism. In spite of the strong spiritual orientation of this nondenominational Christian movement, Dr. Bob continues to drink. Bill enters Towns Hospital in New York for the first time, where Dr. William Silkworth tells him that alcoholism is like an allergy to alcohol. Bill thinks he has been cured.

l934 — December 11, Bill takes his last drink. He enters Towns Hospital again, but this time he has a spiritual experience. Dr. Silkworth tells him to hang onto it. Bill and Lois start attending Oxford Group meetings. Bill works with dozens of other alcoholics in the next five months, and none of them get sober — but Bill stays sober!

Birth of AA

1935 — May 12, a “fifteen minute” meeting in Akron, Ohio, between Bill and Dr. Bob turns into five hours. June 10 is Bob’s last drink. Dr. Bob later says an important part of this meeting was the sense that Bill needed him as much as he needed Bill. June 10 is later recognized as the birthday of AA.

l939 — April, Alcoholics Anonymous, known as the Big Book, is published, distilling the practical experience of the first hundred (actually ninety-six) members of AA. Two days later Hitler’s Germany invades Poland, inhibiting the early development of AA while the world prepares for war.

l941 — Alcoholics Anonymous is written up by Jack Anderson in the Saturday Evening Post. The interest in AA and the growth from this publicity threaten the fledgling organization.

1944 — Bill begins a bout with depression, which will last about thirteen years.

1949 — June 1, Anne Smith dies.

l950 — July, at the First International AA Convention (in Cleveland, Ohio) the Twelve Traditions are accepted. November 16, Dr. Bob dies of cancer.

Other Groups

1951 — Al-Anon is founded.

1953 — July, Narcotics Anonymous begins. AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written by Bill, is published.

1955 — July, at the St. Louis Convention, Bill gives AA its “formal release into maturity.”

l957 — Friday, September 13, first Gamblers Anonymous meeting. Alateen begins as an integral part of Al-Anon.

l960 — January 19, Overeaters Anonymous begins, founded by Rozanne Skoller and two other women.

1971 — January 24, Bill dies of emphysema. July 6, Emotions Anonymous begins.

l988 — October 5, Lois dies.

2014 — January, Rozanne, founder of OA dies.

History of Twelve-Step groups, see also: Abstinence, Al-Anon & Alateen, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Alcoholism, Children of addicts, Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), Community, Debtors Anonymous (DA), Emotions Anonymous (EA), Families Anonymous (FA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), Humility, Meetings, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Other support groups, Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Paradoxes in addiction, Service & giving, Sex addiction groups, Sponsorship, Steps of AA, Tools of recovery, Traditions of AA, Unity.

Updated 14 Sep 2015

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