The Oxford Group Method and The Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous

    Bill Wilson sat in his brother-in-law’s house on Clinton Street in Brooklyn. He had made up his mind to drink himself to death. He was there in his bathrobe and slippers when an old friend, Ebby Thatcher came to his door.

     Ebby had heard that his long time drinking buddy Bill was there trying to drink himself to death. He had stopped by to see if he could help. He wanted to share a change that had happened in his own life. (Links to a talk Bill gave in 1950 are listed below.)

     “I got religion,” he told a horrified Bill.

    “So that was it, I have let a religious nut into my house.” Bill said to himself.

    Ebby had become acquainted with the Oxford Group. Just a few months before, he had driven his automobile into a lady’s living room, and as an habitual drunk driver, was on his way to a prison term. Then friends from the group persuaded the judge to see if they could turn him around.

     Ebby explained to Bill that these people had told him to do five simple things:

     1. Admit that he had a problem.

     2. Talk his problem over with someone else.

     3. Make amends for the wrongs he had done.

     4. Try to share the change with others.

    5. And oh yes “Bill, you’re not going to like this,” Ebby said, "You'll need to find a God of your understanding." A common phrase used at this time. Since people were so condemning of the holiness fundamentalist, and evangelical messages of the day, this was a way to engage the God conversation without causing initial resistance.) (This is carried to an extreme today when people attempt the set up the palm tree or the light bulb etc. as Higher Power.)

     Bill went on to join the Oxford group, then meeting at Calvary Episcopal Church on Park Av. South in NYC. He studied the Oxford Group Literature under the guidance of longtime Oxford group leader, The Reverend Sam Shoemaker.

    Through the Oxford Group, Bill was able to do something he had never been able to do. That is maintain continuous abstinence from alcohol.

     As part of the Life Changing program of the “Groups”, as they were called, he tried to help other men who had a problem with alcohol, with no success.

As part of his recovery, he made an attempt to restart his failed career in the business world by joining with a group that were attempting a takeover of a small tool and dye company that served the big tire makers in Akron Ohio.  The deal fell through, but Bill stayed on to see if something could be salvaged from the efforts already made.

Alone and by himself on Mother’s day, pacing the corridor outside the hotel bar, he says that he randomly called the rector of the local Episcopal church. He was put in contact with Henrietta Seiberling, the daughter-in-law of the founder of the Seiberling Tire Company

     She had became involved with the Oxford group when Bud Firestone, the son of the founder of the tire company was assisted in gaining sobriety from alcoholism through contact with the Rev. Sam Shoemaker. Out of gratitude for helping get Bud’s life back on track, the senior Firestone arranged for an Oxford Group “house party” to be held in Akron.

    It was the social event of the day, and many in Akron became “Groupers.” Akron became a hot bed of Oxford Group activity.

Through the Grace of God, Bill had stumbled onto an active contingent of these ‘OG people.’

     Only a few weeks earlier, Henrietta, “Henry,” Bill later called her, had prayed for a member of the group, an Akron proctologist named Bob Smith. He had, as part of the group sharing, revealed that he had a problem, which everyone in town already knew — he could not stop drinking. He was about to loose his practice and all that depended on it. “Henry” had prayed. Bill was the answer to prayer—a “rum hound” from New York and an Oxford Group member.

      Bill came over to dinner at Henrietta’s place on the Seiberling estate. The good doctor was so sick from the aftermath of his latest binge, that Bill escorted him form the dinner table to the den and told him of his own struggle with the powerlessness of alcoholism. This was news to Bob who was all ears. When the evening was over Bill was invited to stay. He moved in with Bob and Anne, and over the summer Bob got sober. AA counts its founding as June 10, 1935, the day that Bob Smith took his last drink.

    Now there were two. There was a fellowship. A complete telling of this and other stories of the founding of AA can be found on the links listed below.