They Had AA
How Some Basic AA Ideas Were Tried Out
Nearly A Century And A Quarter Ago...
Copyright © The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., October 1962
AA colleague recently dropped by at the Grapevine office to leave a
tattered and watermarked volume, nearly a century old, called "Six
Nights With the Washingtonians." Thought we might like to look
through it, he said, and see how close drunks had come to hitting on
AA therapy that long before 1935. We began to read.
the spring of 1840, the author, T. S. Arthur, relates, “there
were assembled in a drinking-house in this city (Baltimore) six men,
well advanced in years, who had for a long time been confirmed drunkards,
so wedded to the love of strong drink as to have found it almost impossible
to live without daily resort to it." Though they met accidentally,
and had gone there to drink, there was, that day, "in the mind
of each a strong desire to get out of his enslaved and wretched condition."
They talked. "Soon the feelings of each became known to the others,
and they felt a sudden hope spring up in their minds-a hope in the power
of association. Sad experience had proven to each that alone he could
not stand. But together . . . they would conquer!" They organized
a society, called it The Washington Temperance Society, and "determined
that they would increase in number."
happened to them? By an AA "coincidence" there arrived at
the Grapevine the same week an excerpt from a scholarly treatment of
"The Washingtonian Movement" written by Milton A. Maxwell,
Ph.D. and published in the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol.
The Washingtonians, Dr. Maxwell points out, had certain notable features
later incorporated into AA: (1 ) Alcoholics helping each other (2) Weekly
meetings (3) Shared experience (4) Fellowship of a group or its members
constantly available (5) A reliance upon the Higher Power (6) Total
abstinence from alcohol. Unfortunately, the movement eventually was
torn apart in the political and doctrinal warfare associated with the
temperance and abolition movements.
The Washingtonians lacked vitally important features of AA, among which
Dr. Maxwell lists: (1) a program for personality change (2) anonymity
(3) a steady flow of new ideas into the groups from outside their local
memberships, and (4) avoidance of causes and controversies. Dr. Maxwell
sounds a solemn warning as to the vital importance of unabated, energetic
Twelfth Step work: "Whenever, and as long as, the Washingtonians
were working hard at the reclamation of drunkards, they had notable
success and the movement thrived and grew. This would support the idea
that active outreach to other alcoholics is a factor in therapeutic
success, and a necessary condition for growth-and even for survival."
following pictures (not included), taken from the Arthur book, are typical
of 19th Century efforts to scare people sober. They indicate that old
J. Barleycorn hasn't changed much in the past hundred years.