1961 - 1980
Bill writes to Carl Jung
In a 1961 letter to Swiss-German psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung, Bill expresses his gratitude for Jung’s long-ago message to Rowland H., who was treated by Jung and who would later lead friend Ebby T. to the Oxford Group. Bill wrote, “You frankly told [Rowland] of the hopelessness of further medical or psychiatric treatment,” [and also of the possibility of] “a spiritual awakening or religious experience — in short, a genuine conversion.” Bill described these statements as “beyond doubt the first foundation stone upon which [A.A.] has been built.” Jung responds with a gracious letter (right) confirming that the most appropriate antidote to alcoholism is spirituality, which is emphasized in the Twelve Steps.
Big Book sales top half a million
By 1961, more than 500,000 copies of Alcoholics Anonymous have been sold, plus editions translated into Spanish, French, and German.
Twelve Concepts for World Service published
In 1962, the General Service Conference accepts Bill’s long-awaited manuscript for Twelve Concepts for World Service. In the introduction, Bill writes that his aim is “...to record the ‘why’ of our service structure in such a fashion that the highly valuable experience of the past, and the lessons we have drawn from that experience, can never be forgotten or lost.”
Island hopping in the Caribbean
A.A. groups in the Caribbean, including those in the Bahamas and Trinidad, receive support in 1962 when the dedicated Gordon MacD. visits the Antilles and meets with secretaries of the groups in the region. The aim of what is called “the Caribbean Crusade,” launched by Gordon and other members in 1959, is to develop and reinforce A.A. in the Caribbean and to facilitate cooperation between Caribbean and Latin American groups. Among the islands joining the fold in 1962 are Barbados and Grenada, both in the Lesser Antilles.
Dr. Norris elected Chairman
Dr. John L. Norris, the medical director of Eastman Kodak and a nonalcoholic trustee of A.A. since 1948, becomes chairman of the General Service Board. “Dr. Jack,” described by Bill as “a most selfless and devoted worker,” will be instrumental in the development of Regional Forums. His involvement with A.A. will continue after he steps down from the Board of Trustees in 1975.
UK island groups
Guernsey gets on board in 1961 when Pru, a Loner, arranges for meetings to be held in the study of the headmaster of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic School in St. Peter Port. When the group moves to a room above a café, membership grows from six to a dozen. But not until the group finds a permanent home at Princess Elizabeth Hospital in 1981 will it undergo significant growth. A group starts meeting in the nearby island of Jersey in 1962, and small inter-island conventions are held for four or five years — in Guernsey in autumn, in Jersey in spring. The first A.A. group on the Isle of Mann, to the north in the Irish Sea, will be formed in 1966.
Two starts in the Dominican Republic
Two A.A. groups begin to meet regularly in Santo Domingo in the spring of 1963. One, the Spanish-speaking Grupo Santa Mercedes, grows from two to 18 members by the end of the year. G.S.O. New York lists as the contact person Abe F., who is also one of two men in the second group, for English speakers; this group, however, will last for only two years.
Anniversaries in Northern Europe
Belgium, by 1963 home to 18 A.A. groups in eight cities and towns, issues invitations (right) to its tenth anniversary celebration. Also marking its tenth anniversary is A.A. in Germany, with 26 groups in 14 cities and towns.
Start-ups in Sri Lanka
A Loner in the former Ceylon had been listed with G.S.O. New York since 1959, but not until 1964 is the first known A.A. group in the country formed. Its site is the capital city of Colombo, where a second group takes shape a year later. Soon A.A. spreads to other Sri Lankan locales. In 1976, a group in the Colombo suburb of Kotahena will mark its third anniversary with the publication of this booklet (right).
Joining the fold...
Alcoholics Anonymous begins its fourth decade on firm footing, garnering respect far and wide. Over the next 20 years, cooperation and sponsorship among A.A. countries will grow, the Fellowship’s International Conventions will expand in size and spirit, and the language of the heart will be spoken in at least 40 different tongues.
Ten thousand-plus in Toronto
In July 1965, more than 10,000 members from around the world meet in Toronto for the 30th Anniversary International Convention. Some 250 members of A.A., Al-Anon, and Alateen, plus 24 internationally known nonalcoholic authorities on alcoholism, are featured speakers at 69 jam-packed sessions. As the Convention ends, attendees clasp hands and recite the newly developed Declaration of Responsibility, led by Bill and Lois. The Convention program and souvenir book are shown at right.
Beginnings in Bolivia
An A.A. group in La Paz, Bolivia, was listed with G.S.O. New York in 1965, but little is known of its origins. Better documented are the two men considered A.A.’s Bolivian pioneers: Oscar G. and Jorge L., who meet in the city of Santa Cruz in 1971. After three years, Oscar will become a Loner when Jorge leaves for a job in La Paz. With a local woman named Dorita, Jorge forms an all-new group in La Paz, planting the seed for the eventual start-up of groups in Cochabamba and again in Santa Cruz. In 1987, the Cochabamba group will host the first national meeting of A.A.s from across Bolivia.
Three start-ups in Ecuador
After a group of physicians from the Ecuadorean city of Cueca observe A.A. groups in neighboring Colombia, they are instrumental in getting a local group off the ground: Grupo Alianza Amiga, listed with G.S.O. New York in March 1966. The second known group takes shape when Eduardo A., who had achieved sobriety through A.A. in Washington, DC, returns home to Guayaquil and arranges with a local priest to hold meetings in his church. In the fall of 1971, the Guayaquil group helps Paulina M., who had gotten sober in Coral Gables, Florida, and Javier J., a businessman from Lima, Peru, to launch the first known group in the capital city of Quito.
The Trustees’ new alignment
In a move that stresses the Fellowship’s full acceptance of responsibility for conducting its own affairs, the 1966 General Service Conference recommends and accepts a new alcoholic-to-nonalcoholic ratio of Trustees on the General Service Board. With the gradual addition of U.S. and Canadian Trustees-at-large, the Board’s membership would now be made up of 14 alcoholics and seven nonalcoholics.
A bulletin changes names
In the 1966 Holiday issue, the name of the newsletter "A.A. Exchange Bulletin" (subtitled “News and Notes from the General Service Office of A.A.”) is changed to Box 4-5-9, named after G.S.O.’s post office box at New York’s Grand Central Station. In 1967, the journal will go trilingual with the launching of French and Spanish editions.
Loners and groups in Vietnam
As war rages in Vietnam, 10 American soldiers there are listed as Loners by G.S.O. New York in 1966. In 1967, soldiers’ groups in Vietnam number 11. By 1971, groups in Saigon, Long Binh, Cam Ranh Bay, and other locations keep in touch through SEA SIDE (SEA standing for South East Asia), a bulletin started by M/Sgt. Andie A. In a letter to G.S.O. New York, a soldier named Frank writes from the battle lines: “For years I prayed for sobriety, but now I pray the Serenity Prayer. God bless you.”
An international award from the Franciscans
In April 1967, Alcoholics Anonymous receives the International Award of the Conventional Franciscan Fathers and Brothers. Dr. John L. Norris, chairman of the Board of Trustees, accepts the plaque and citation, which notes, in part, “The sympathetic understanding and the patient application of charity toward those afflicted with the disease of alcoholism has brought about the rehabilitation of thousands of alcoholics formerly thought to be hopeless alcoholics.”
Bill's writings printed and bound
The A.A. Way of Life, a collection of Bill’s writings, is published in 1967 as a daily source of comfort and inspiration. The title of the book will be changed in 1971 to As Bill Sees It.
Meeting over the airwaves
Ben L., an Internationalist aboard the S.S. Hudson, writes to Box 4-5-9, in 1967 to report on A.A.’s first known ham radio group. “We have about 10 regular members,” he writes, “and it’s just like any other meeting.” The group brings together members around the world every 24 hours. “Some nights, only a few and other nights the whole gang shows up,” he continues. ”More new men show up from time to time, and it is a thrill to hear a new signal breaking in.”
Switzerland: the message in three languages
The year 1967 sees the creation of Switzerland’s first General Service Office, when the Gremium (German for “committee”) begins serving German-speaking A.A.s. The country’s first known group was French-speaking, however, taking shape in 1956 when an alcoholic in Geneva learned of Alcoholics Anonymous at a lecture, obtained A.A. literature, and arranged a meeting with friends. The first known German-speaking group in Switzerland was launched in 1963 in Lucerne. The first known Italian-speaking group will be formed in the canton of Tessin in 1974. In 1979 another G.S.O., serving French and Italian Switzerland, will open in Geneva.
First triennial survey in U.S. and Canada
At the 28th International Congress on Alcohol and Alcoholism, held in late summer 1968 in Washington, D.C., A.A. chairman Dr. John L. Norris reports on the findings of the first survey of members from all states and provinces. Sixty percent of the 11,355 men and women who responded at 466 meetings in 1968 reported that they had gone without a drink for a year or more. The survey, which will be taken every three years, also finds that 41 percent of members said they had not drunk alcohol since their first A.A. meeting.
The First World Service Meeting
For the first time, representatives from countries where A.A.s have established a G.S.O or a literature distribution center convene to share information on service structures, group services, publishing, and finance. The date is October 8-11, 1969, and the place is New York City. Attendees include Bill W., Chairman Dr. John L. Norris, G.S.O. New York manager Bob H., and delegates from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Holland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, United Kingdom, and the U.S.
Hungary’s first open meeting
Midge M., a staff member of G.S.O. New York, travels to Budapest in June 1969 to attend a conference held by the International Institute on Prevention and Treatment of Alcoholism. While there, she arranges Hungary’s first known open A.A. meeting. Members Peter B. of the Netherlands, Inge L. (West Germany), Richard P. (Ireland), and Cecily C. (U.S.) address a group of Hungarian alcoholics as Archer Tongue, director of the Institute, translates. While a small group will be formed in Budapest in 1972, A.A. won’t become firmly established in Hungary until the late 1980s.
Growth of Spanish-speaking groups
As of 1969, 1,500 Spanish-speaking groups are listed at the G.S.O. in New York.
Hospital and prison groups worldwide
A G.S.O. New York report of the 1970 World Service Meeting notes that 54,031 “institution members” belong to the Fellowship worldwide: 20,160 members in 742 hospital groups and 33,871 members in 895 prison groups.
Unity in Miami
Miami is the site of the Fellowship’s fifth International Convention in July 1970, the keynote of which is the Declaration of Unity: “This we owe to A.A.’s future: To place our common welfare first; to keep our Fellowship united. For on A.A. unity depend our lives, and the lives of those to come.” Attending are 11,000 people from 50 states and 27 countries — as reported by Box 4-5-9, “the biggest assemblage of alcoholics the world has ever seen — all of them sober!” The convention marks Bill W.’s last public appearance at an A.A. gathering.
A new home for G.S.O. New York
In April 1970, the G.S.O. takes an 11-year lease on new quarters at 468 Park Avenue South in New York City, gaining more space and saving rent money in the process. The office occupies the entire sixth floor.
Loners gather in Malaysia
In February 1971, Enos C., an A.A. Loner working in Kuala Lumpur, places a notice in the Malay Mail newspaper seeking other Loners interested in holding meetings. Six weeks later, Enos reports to G.S.O. New York that with the addition of two Canadian A.A.s in Kuala Lumpur, the fledgling Pertama Group already numbers five. By the end of the decade, four more groups will have started in Sarawak and other Malaysian cities.
The death of Bill W.
At the age of 75, Bill W. dies on January 24, 1971 at the Miami Heart Institute in Miami Beach, Florida. On February 14, groups around the world hold memorial meetings honoring Bill’s work as co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, author of the Big Book and other publications, and architect and articulator of the Fellowship’s principles.
Italy comes aboard
The start-up of A.A. in Italy is said to be 1972, when a small group of Americans meeting in Rome is joined by locals Giovanni and Ermanno. Assisted by some of the Americans, the two men soon join with Carol C. to form the first known Italian-speaking A.A. group. Two years later, a group will be founded in Florence, and Milan will follow suit in 1976. In 1978, representatives of several groups meet to start negotiations with G.S.O. New York for the sponsorship of the publication of Il Grande Libro (the Big Book), which is already being translated into Italian. They succeed, and Alcolisti Anonimi (droit) is published in 1980.
Big Book distribution reaches one million
The one millionth copy of Alcoholics Anonymous, A.A.'s Big Book, is presented to President Richard Nixon in a ceremony at the White House.
Bangkok’s first known meetings
In Bangkok in 1971, two Americans of Irish descent — Jim L., a businessman with three years of sobriety, and Evelyn K., wife of a civil engineer under contract in Bangkok — team up to form an A.A. group. The next year they are joined by Jack B., a Redemptorist priest. In 1973, the three move their meetings from Evelyn’s apartment to the Holy Redeemer Rectory and welcome new member Joanne — the wife of an American Embassy official — and George, a German-born U.S. military member. The stabilization of the Bangkok group soon gives rise to the founding of A.A. groups in Ubon and other Thai cities.
Lois’s round-the-world trip
In an echo of their 1950 visit to Europe, Lois W. sets out on a nine-week trip around the world a year after Bill’s death. Her traveling companion is Evelyn C., an early volunteer at the Al-Anon Clearing House and later a staff member at the Al-Anon World Service Office. During their journey the women meet with members of A.A. and Al-Anon in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Honolulu. (Shown to the right is a gift later presented to Lois, the Serenity Prayer in Japanese.) In Lois Remembers, Lois will write that “Seeing and feeling the loving devotion and oneness of A.A. and Al-Anon around the world did much to submerge in an overwhelming sea of gratitude my sense of personal loss."
Musings from members
Came to Believe, a 120-page booklet published in 1973 by A.A., is a collection of stories by members who tell in their own words what significance the phrase “spiritual awakening” holds for them. One story describes, “I began to see another part of me emerging — a grateful me, expecting nothing, but sure that another power was beginning to guide me, counsel me, and direct my ways.”
Intergroups in Wales
The first known group in Wales was founded in Abergavenny in 1963. Until then most alcoholics who wanted to attend A.A. meetings had to cross the border into England. A decade later, the Welsh Borders Intergroup is founded to link groups on both sides of the border (shown at right are the towns where the groups meet). An intergroup has also been established in South Wales—the Cymraig Intergroup, composed of groups in Cardiff, Swansea, Llanelli, and Newport.
Poland’s first steps
A group of alcoholics who have been meeting with physicians and therapists since the mid-1960s in the city of Poznan decide in 1974 to meet on their own and follow the principles of A.A. (Earlier meetings had been organized by therapist Maria Grabowska, who had tried to have the Twelve Traditions and Twelve Steps published in Polish newspapers but was thwarted by the censorship office.) Led by Rajmund F., a Pole who became sober in 1973 and was fluent enough in English and German to translate A.A. literature, the group takes the name Eleusis, after the ancient Greek city the Roman Emperors favored as sanctuary. Growth accelerates, and by June 1985 almost 100 groups will be meeting across the country. The decorative plate shown above was presented to G.S.O. New York by grateful Polish members.
A vote in Uruguay
Pablo L., an actor, undergoes detoxification at Montevideo’s Clinica del Prado in 1966, is given a copy of the Big Book, and in turn seeks out an A.A. group to join. The closest is in Buenos Aires, where he frequents A.A. meetings during an extended stay. Returning home, he visits hospitals to carry the message. He then founds ADEA (for Amigos del Enfermo Alcohólico, or friends of the alcoholic patient), where alcoholics and their families share experiences. While some aspects of the A.A. program are used, others—including anonymity—are rejected. After A.A. Argentina urges ADEA to follow all A.A. Traditions and to take the Fellowship’s name, the issue is put to a vote. The ayes have it, and on March 18, 1974, the first known Uruguayan meeting of A.A. is held in Montevideo.
Delegates descend on Denver
“Let It Begin With Me” is the theme of the Fellowship’s 40th Anniversary International Convention, held in Denver, Colorado in 1975. Some 19,500 attendees stream into the city, and Host Committee members register arrivals at the rate of 400 per hour. At the formal opening session, a replica of the Big Book dominates the dais and gives new meaning to the word “big.” It is 28 feet tall.
Living Sober is published
In 1975, A.A. published Living Sober, a book of member experiences that describes methods of living without drinking. The material for the book was gathered in the early 1970s from group and individual correspondence of shared experience, then writers compiled it into a book. The book becomes a popular addition to A.A. literature.
A new beginning in Portugal
English-speaking groups in Portugal had met as early as 1956 in Lisbon and 1959 at Lajes Air Force Base in the nearby Azores. Yet A.A. doesn’t take root in the country until 1975, when American Ed A. returns from rehabilitation in the United States and begins spreading the A.A. message in hospitals. As a result, Portuguese-speaking groups are founded in Lisbon, Oporto, and Algarve. Aiding the growth and stability of the groups is Portuguese-language A.A. literature sent by A.A. Brazil.
A.A. Archives open at General Service Office
In November 1975, Lois W. and Tom S. of Jacksonville, Florida (a trustee who chairs the archives committee), cut a blue ribbon to officially open the A.A. Archives at G.S.O. New York. In a brief speech, Dr. John L. Norris points out that A.A. must continually renew itself by going back to its source, recalling Bill W.’s frequent request that the Board and G.S.O. “should put everything they do on the record.” The archivist is nonalcoholic Nell Wing (right), who served as Bill’s secretary for many years and is described as a “one-woman walking encyclopedia of A.A. lore.”
A.A. in Jerusalem
With the aid of Canadian A.A. members who are part of the UN forces in the Middle East, the Shalom Group is formed in Jerusalem in 1975. The next year, member Jay S. reports to G.S.O. New York that twice-weekly A.A. meetings are being held in Tel Aviv as well as Jerusalem, in both English and Hebrew. The Shalom Group will also host a two-day convention to celebrate the first anniversary of A.A. in Israel. Shown above right are A.A. pamphlets in Hebrew and Arabic.
Fast-forward in Iceland
Though the Reykjavik Group had been meeting in Iceland since 1954, a breakthrough occurs in the early 1970s, when a government-sponsored program begins flying alcoholics to the U.S. for help on a regular basis. Almost invariably they return eager to carry the A.A. message, leading to the 1976 publication of the Big Book in Icelandic. The subsequent explosive growth in membership results in a change in public opinion regarding alcoholism and the establishment of new treatment centers.
JUNAAB created in Brazil
While records show A.A. meetings were held in Brazil as early as 1947, the country’s first General Service Board — Junta Nacional de Alcoólicos Anônimos, or JUNAAB, is created in February 1976.
Third edition of Big Book published in 1976
Thirteen new stories appear in the Third Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. By the summer of 1976, more than 1,450,000 copies of the Big Book’s first two editions had been distributed worldwide, and both a Braille edition and audio tapes have been released.
Membership tops a million
At the opening of the 26th annual meeting of the General Service Conference, held in New York in April 1976, new figures for the Fellowship’s worldwide reach are reported: an estimated 28,000 groups in 92 countries, with membership totaling more than 1,000,000.
A younger Fellowship
An A.A. survey conducted in 1977 shows that over the previous three years the proportion of young members (those under 30) in the U.S. and Canada has jumped 50 percent and now accounts for almost 20 percent of North American membership. Surveys done by A.A. in Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Finland, France, Mexico, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and West Germany yield similar results.
Early meetings in Cambodia
In the wake of the 1975 capture of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge, thousands of Cambodians fill refugee camps along the Thai border. In one camp a U.S. aid worker, whose brother is an A.A. member back in New York, recognizes that alcoholism affects many of the refugees, leading her to order and translate A.A. publications. Though up to 60 people attend daily gatherings based on A.A. principles, these meetings cease when the camp closes. Some 15 years later, A.A. reappears in Cambodia when a few members start a group in Phnom Penh. A.A. Australia responds to a request for sponsorship and also helps members to establish Khmer-speaking groups.
A milestone for the AA Grapevine
With the March 1978 issue, the circulation of the Fellowship’s “meeting in print” reaches 100,000. In June 1944, copies of the periodical’s first edition had numbered 1,200 and had gone out to 165 subscribers and other members of A.A.
The first zonal meeting
Born of an idea brought forward at the 1978 World Service Meeting, the first zonal service meeting — during which countries share experiences, strengthen unity, and offer help to A.A.s where service structures have yet to be set up — takes place in Bogota, Colombia in 1979. Delegates from ten Latin American countries convene in what is called the Ibero-American Service Meeting. Later, this biannual meeting will be called REDELA, a shortened form of Réunion de Las Americas (Meeting of the Americas). Zonal meetings will be launched in Europe in 1981, Asia/Oceania in 1995, and Sub-Saharan Africa in 2003.
A.A.’s first public information film
In the fall of 1979, the first public information film produced by the Fellowship — the 28-minute "Alcoholics Anonymous: An Inside View" — is released to A.A. service entities in the U.S. and Canada, enabling groups to provide it to television stations for airing. A panoramic view of sober living in A.A., the film shows a cross section of members in various settings—at work, at home, and at A.A. get-togethers and meetings.
Groups for the deaf
By the spring of 1979, G.S.O. New York has listed seven A.A. groups for people who are deaf. Also listed is an international deaf group whose members communicate by mail. Box 4-5-9 reports that the use of non-A.A. interpreters, when necessary, “gives rise to the confidentiality question,” but experience has shown that goodwill on both sides usually puts the issue to rest.
Celebrating New Orleans-style
In New Orleans, the sounds of jazz welcome some 22,500 paid attendees as they arrive at the Superdome on July 3, 1980 — the first evening of the 45th Anniversary International Convention. A procession of nations, with A.A. members from around the globe carrying their national flags, is the prelude to two days of workshops, a three-day alkathon (round-the-clock meeting) at the Marriott Hotel, and the appearance at the Sunday morning Spiritual Meeting of Lois W. and “Smitty,” the son of the late Dr. Bob.
A biography of Dr. Bob
A biography of A.A. co-founder Dr. Bob, titled Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, is published in time for the International Convention in New Orleans in 1980. The 382-page book combines Dr. Bob’s life story with recollections of A.A.’s exhilarating and tumultuous early days in Akron and the Midwest.