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A Narrative Timeline Of AA History

Public Version vApril 04'

1949 to 1951

A Narrative Timeline Of AA History – 1774 to 2003


As plans for the first Int’l Convention were under way, Earl T suggested to Bill W that the Twelve Suggestred Points for AA Tradition would benefit from revision and shortening. (AACOA 213 says it occurred in 1947) Bill, with Earl’s help, set out to develop the short form of the Twelve Traditions. (AACOA 213, GTBT 55, 77, PIO 334, www)

Apr, Bill W became a member of the Alcoholic Foundation Board which had been increased to 15 Trustees. (GSO)

May, Bill W presented a talk to the American Psychiatric Association’s 105th Annual Meeting in Montreal, Canada. (GSO, LOH 156, SM S9, PIO 334, AACOA 205)

Jun 1, Anne Ripley Smith (age 69) died at St Thomas Hospital. Sister Ignatia had secretly baptized Anne (as an act of love) prior to her death. In a Jul memorial Grapevine article, Bill W wrote that Anne was “quite literally, the mother of our first group, Akron Number One” and “In the full sense of the word she was one of the founders of AA.” (LOH 353, DBGO 327, SI 136, PIO 334, WPR 2)

Jul 14, in a letter to the Rev Sam Shoemaker Bill W wrote “So far as I am concerned, and Dr Smith too, the Oxford Group seeded AA. It was our spiritual wellspring at the beginning.” (AGAA 137)

Oct, Dr William D Silkworth and Fulton Oursler joined the Alcoholic Foundation Board. (GSO)

Nov, the short form of the Twelve Traditions was first printed in the AA Grapevine. The entire issue was dedicated to the Traditions in preparation for the forthcoming Cleveland Convention. Two wording changes were subsequently made to the initial version: “primary spiritual aim” was changed to “primary purpose” in Tradition Six, and “principles above personalities” was changed to “principles before personalities” in Tradition Twelve. (LOH 96)


The NY office moved to 141 East 44th St. (LOH 157, GTBT 106, AACOA 207)

Early (?), Leonard Harrison and Bernard B Smith resolved a 5-year conflict between Bill W and the Alcoholic Foundation Board on having a General Service Conference. Harrison appointed Smith to chair a Trustee’s committee on the proposed Conference. The committee unanimously recommended giving the Conference a try. (AACOA 209-212, PIO 344)

Mar 29, a second Saturday Evening Post article was written by Jack Alexander titled The Drunkard’s Best Friend (GTBT 34)

Jul, AA’s 15th anniversary and first International Convention at Cleveland, OH. Est. 3,000 attendees. Registration was $1.50 per person ($11 today). The published program (likely through the influence of Clarence S) called it “The First International Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous” and described Cleveland, OH as “the birthplace of our movement.” (AACOA 213, BW-RT 308, PIO 338, www)

  • On Jul 30, Dr Bob made a brief appearance for his last talk. Part of his now famous short statement was “There are two or three things that flashed into my mind on which it would be fitting to lay a little emphasis. One is the simplicity of our program. Let’s not louse it all up with Freudian complexes and things that are interesting to the scientific mind but have very little to do with our actual AA work. Our Twelve Steps, when simmered down to the last, resolve themselves into the words love and service.” (GSO, GB 25, PIO 339-342)

  • The attendees adopted the Twelve Traditions unanimously by standing vote. (AACOA 43, LOH 121, PIO 338)

Aug (?) (PIO 344 says Nov12), Bill W’s last visit to Dr Bob in Akron. Bill advised Bob that the board would likely give its consent to the Conference. Dr Bob gave Bill his endorsement for the Conference. (AACOA 213-215, DBGO 325, 342, PIO 342)

Oct, in behalf of himself and Dr Bob, Bill W issued a preliminary document titled Your Third Legacy - Will You Accept It. Bill proposed the General Service Conference (www).


Nov 16, Dr Robert Holbrook Smith (age 70) co-founder of AA, died of cancer at City Hospital in Akron, OH. He was buried in Mount Peace Cemetery beside Anne. The Rev Walter Tunks conducted the funeral service. Over his 15 years of sobriety, Dr Bob helped more than 5,000 alcoholics. (AACOA 7, 9, GSO, DBGO 344) In his eulogy, Bill W described Dr Bob as “the prince of the Twelfth Steppers.” (GTBT 90, GB 69)

50,000 copies of a preliminary pamphlet titled The Third Legacy were distributed by the NY office. It explained the preliminary organization and implementation of the General Service Conference. For the next several months, Bill W stumped the country and attended more than 2 dozen Assemblies electing Area Committees and Conference Delegates. (AACOA 216-217, PIO 347)

AA members were asked to donate $2 per year ($15 today) to support the NY office. (LOH 159)


Jan, Dr John Norris and Earl T joined the Alcoholic Foundation Board as Trustees. (GSO)

Mar 22, William Duncan Silkworth MD (age 78) “the little doctor who loved drunks” and “medical saint” died of a heart attack at his home at 45 W 81st St, NYC. In his service as Medical Director at Towns and Knickerbocker Hospitals, he was credited with treating over 40,000 alcoholics. His funeral was held at the Calvary Episcopal Church in NYC and he was laid to rest in Glenwood Cemetery in West Long Branch, NJ. (AACOA 14, SW 110-111, 127, BB xvi, Gv Apr 1951)

Apr 20-22, the 1st experimental GSC in NYC at the Hotel Commodore (beginning a 5-year experimental period). It was composed of 37 (PIO 349 says 35) US and Canadian Delegates (Panel 1) plus AA’s General Service Hq. staff and Trustees. (LOH 129, SM S99). The delegates took office for a 2-year term. The theme was Not to Govern but to Serve. (NG 129-130). It recommended that:

  • Non-alcoholics should continue to serve on the Board of the Alcoholic Foundation. (Agenda)

  • In future years, AA textbook literature should have Conference approval. (Agenda)

  • The alcoholic members of the board of trustees ought to have a fixed term of office. (Agenda)

  • The Conference initially suggested renaming the Alcoholic Foundation to the General Service Board. (AACOA 218, PIO 349)

  • The Trustees of the Alcoholic Foundation, following Dr Bob’s death, voted to increase Bill’s royalty on the Big Book from 10% to 15% and have the author’s royalty apply to other books that Bill would write in the future. Bill insisted that this increase be submitted to the General Service Conference and the Conference approved the Trustee’s motion unanimously. The Conference also approved unanimously a motion recommending that steps be taken to insure that Bill and Lois receive book royalties so long as either one shall live. (1951 GSC-FR 12)

Apr, at the close of the Conference, Lois W, with her close friend and neighbor, Anne B, invited the delegates’ wives and local family group members to Stepping Stones to discuss an organization for what was then called AA Family Groups. (LR 174-176, WPR 69-70)

Apr, Jack Alexander joined the Alcoholic Foundation Board as a Trustee. (GSO)

The first draft of the Third Legacy Manual by Bill W was published. (SM S1, LOH 164)

Oct 30, the American Public Health Association at the San Francisco, CA Opera House presented the Lasker Award to AA. Originally, the award was to be for Bill W but he asked that it be given to the Fellowship. The Lasker Foundation replied favorably. The Alcoholic Foundation Board polled Conference delegates by mail and they approved. The award was accepted (but not the $1,000 cash grant - $7,000 today). (AACOA viii, 4, LOH 136, PIO 350)

A Narrative Timeline Of AA History – 1774 to 2003

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