|Since the original Foreword to
this book was written in 1939, a wholesale miracle has taken place.
Our earliest printing voiced the hope "that every alcoholic who
journeys will find the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous at his
destination. Already," continues the early text, "twos and threes
and fives of us have sprung up in other communities."
Sixteen years have elapsed between
our first printing of this book and the presentation of 1955 of
our second edition. In that brief space, Alcoholics Anonymous
has mushroomed into nearly 6,000 groups whose membership is far
above 150,000 recovered alcoholics. Groups are to be found in
each of the United States and all of the provinces of Canada.
A.A. has flourishing communities in the British Isles, the Scandinavian
countries, South Africa, South America, Mexico, Alaska, Australia
and Hawaii. All told, promising beginnings have been made in some
50 foreign countries and U.S. possessions. Some are just now taking
shape in Asia. Many of our friends encourage us by saying that
this is but a beginning, only the augury of a much larger future
The spark that was to flare
into the first A.A. group was struck at Akron, Ohio in June 1935,
during a talk between a New York stockbroker and an Akron physician.
Six months earlier, the broker had been relieved of his drink
obsession by a sudden spiritual experience, following a meeting
with an alcoholic friend who had been in contact with the Oxford
Groups of that day. He had also been greatly helped by the late
Dr. William D. Silkworth, a New York specialist in alcoholism
who is now accounted no less than a medical saint by A.A. members,
and whose story of the early days of our Society appears in the
next pages. From this doctor, the broker had learned the grave
nature of alcoholism. Though he could not accept all the tenets
of the Oxford Groups, he was convinced of the need for moral inventory,
confession of personality defects, restitution to those harmed,
helpfulness to others, and the necessity of belief in and dependence
Prior to his journey to Akron,
the broker had worked hard with many alcoholics on the theory
that only an alcoholic could help an alcoholic, but he had succeeded
only in keeping sober himself. The broker had gone to Akron on
a business venture which had collapsed, leaving him greatly in
fear that he might start drinking again. He suddenly realized
that in order to save himself he must carry his message to another
alcoholic. That alcoholic turned out to be the Akron physician.
This physician had repeatedly
tried spiritual means to resolve his alcoholic dilemma but had
failed. But when the broker gave him Dr. Silkworth’s description
of alcoholism and its hopelessness, the physician began to pursue
the spiritual remedy for his malady with a willingness he had
never again up to the moment of his death in 1950. This seemed
to prove that one alcoholic could affect another as no nonalcoholic
could. It also indicated that strenuous work, one alcoholic with
another, was vital to permanent recovery.
Hence the two men set to work
almost frantically upon alcoholics arriving in the ward of the
Akron City Hospital. Their very first case, a desperate one, recovered
immediately and became A.A. number three. He never had another
drink. This work at Akron continued through the summer of 1935.
There were many failures, but there was an occasional heartening
success. When the broker returned to New York in the fall of 1935,
the first A.A. group had actually been formed, though no one realized
it at the time.
A second small group promptly
took shape at New York, to be followed in 1937 with the start
of a third at Cleveland. Besides these, there were scattered alcoholics
who had picked up the basic ideas in Akron or New York who were
trying to form groups in other cities. By late 1937, the number
of members having substantial sobriety time behind them was sufficient
to convince the membership that a new light had entered the dark
world of the alcoholic.
It was now time, the struggling
groups thought, to place their message and unique experience before
the world. This determination bore fruit in the spring of 1939
by the publication of this volume. The membership had then reached
about 100 men and women. The fledgling society, which had been
nameless, now began to be called Alcoholics Anonymous, from the
title of its own book. The flying-blind period ended and A.A.
entered a new phase of its pioneering time.
With the appearance of the new
book a great deal began to happen. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick,
the noted clergyman, reviewed it with approval. In the fall of
1939 Fulton Oursler, the editor of LIBERTY, printed a piece in
his magazine, called "Alcoholics and God." This brought a rush
of 800 frantic inquiries into the little New York office which
meanwhile had been established. Each inquiry was painstakingly
answered; pamphlets and books were sent out. Businessmen, traveling
out of existing groups, were referred to these prospective newcomers.
New groups started up and it was found, to the astonishment of
everyone, that A.A.'s message could be transmitted in the mail
as well as by word of mouth. By the end of 1939 it was estimated
that 800 alcoholics were on their way to recovery.
In the spring of 1940, John
D. Rockefeller, Jr. gave a dinner for many of his friends to which
he invited A.A. members to tell their stories. News of this got
on the world wires; inquiries poured in again and many people
went to the bookstores to get the book "Alcoholics Anonymous."
By March 1941 the membership had shot up to 2,000. Then Jack Alexander
wrote a feature article in the Saturday Evening Post and placed
such a compelling picture of A.A. before the general public that
alcoholics in need of help really deluged us. By the close of
1941, A.A. numbered 8,000 members. The mushrooming process was
in full swing, A.A. had become a national institution.
Our Society then entered a fearsome
and exciting adolescent period. The test that it faced was this:
Could these large numbers of erstwhile erratic alcoholics successfully
meet and work together? Would there be quarrels over membership,
leadership and money? Would there be strivings for power and prestige?
Would there be schisms which would split A.A. apart? Soon A.A.
was beset by these very problems on every side and in every group.
But out of this frightening and at first disrupting experience
the conviction grew that A.A.'s had to hang together or die separately.
We had to unify our Fellowship or pass off the scene.
As we discovered the principles
by which the individual alcoholic could live, so we had to evolve
principles by which the A.A. groups and A.A. as a whole could
survive and function effectively. It was thought that no alcoholic
man or woman could be excluded from our Society; that our leaders
might serve but not govern; that each group was to be autonomous
and there was to be no fees or dues; our expenses were to be met
by our own voluntary contributions. There was to be the least
possible organization, even in our service centers. Our public
relations were to be based upon attraction rather than promotion.
It was decided that all members ought to be anonymous at the level
of press, radio, TV and films. And in no circumstances should
we give endorsements, make alliances, or enter public controversies.
This was the substance of A.A.'s
Twelve Traditions, which are stated in full on page 564 of this
book. Though none of these principles had the force of rules or
laws, they had become so widely accepted by 1950 that they were
confirmed by our first International Conference held at Cleveland.
Today the remarkable unity of A.A. is one of the greatest assets
that our Society has.
While the internal difficulties
of our adolescent period were being ironed out, public acceptance
of A.A. grew by leaps and bounds. For this there were two principal
reasons: the large numbers of recoveries, and reunited homes.
Another reason for the wide
acceptance of A.A. was the ministration of friends -- friends
in medicine, religion, and the press, together with innumerable
others who became our able and persistent advocates. Without such
support, A.A. could have made only the slowest progress. Some
of the recommendations of A.A.'s early medical and religious friends
will be found further on in this book.
Alcoholics Anonymous is not
a religious organization. Neither does A.A. take any particular
medical point of view, though we cooperate widely with the men
of medicine as well as with the men of religion. Alcohol being
no respecter of persons, we are an accurate cross section of America,
and in distant lands, the same democratic evening-up process is
now going on. By personal religious affiliation, we include Catholics,
Protestants, Jews, Hindus, and a sprinkling of Moslems and Buddhists.
More than fifteen percent of us are women.
At present, our membership is
pyramiding at the rate of about twenty percent a year. So far,
upon the total problem of actual potential alcoholics in the world,
we have made only a scratch. In all probability, we shall never
be able to touch more than a fair fraction of the alcohol problem
in all its ramifications. Upon therapy for the alcoholic himself,
we surely have no monopoly. Yet it is our great hope that all
those who have as yet found no answer may begin to find one in
the pages of this book and will presently join us on the highroad
to a new freedom.