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They Had A.A.
SOME BASIC A.A. IDEAS WERE TRIED OUT
NEARLY A CENTURY AND A QUARTER AGO ...
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
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. Also, 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.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., October 1962
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