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Anonymous history in your area
The Third Tradition Group of Northfield, Minnesota
foundations that underpin the Third Tradition Group have
their basis in a combination of events, people, and societies
not often spoken about in our meetings. To truly do justice
to the history of this group, a recounting of those forces
must start on a Thursday evening in Baltimore, Maryland.
The date is April 2nd, 1840 and the place is Chases' Tavern
on Liberty Street. In the tavern that evening were six friends
who drank there almost every evening. They were William
Mitchell - a tailor, John Hoss - a carpenter, David Anderson
and George Steers - blacksmiths, James McCurly - a coach
maker, and Archibald Campbell - a silversmith.
entertainment, these six decided to go to a temperance meeting
being held that night. As the result oftheir attendance,
on the following Sunday, April 5, 1840, these six began
the Washingtonian Society. This society was, in their own
words, "a society for our mutual benefit, and to guard
against a pernicious practice which is injurious to our
health, standing, and families, do pledge ourselves as gentlemen
that we will not drink any spirituous or malt liquors, wine
or cider." It was a society, like Alcoholics Anonymous
who followed it many years later, based on total abstinence
experience of these alcoholics, and the society they began,
has a significant bearing on both the beginning and survival
of the Third Tradition Group of Alcoholics Anonymous. Their
society lasted only a little more than 8 years. In their
first year they sobered up about 1000 drunks. At their peak,
they counted at least 100,000 drunks and 300,000 hard drinking
potential alcoholics among their members. And yet, in only
8 short years their society died, and we can assume that
most, if not all, of their members eventually returned to
the living hell we call alcoholism.
are important to us because of both their similarities to
Alcoholics Anonymous and their differences.
were similar in 7 ways:
They were alcoholics helping each other.
» The needs and interests of alcoholics were
» They held weekly meetings.
» In the meetings they shared their experiences.
» Fellowship of the group or its members was
» They relied on the power of God.
» They practiced total abstinence from alcohol.
were different in 5 ways:
They allowed non-alcoholics, or those with other problems
to become members.
» They had no single purpose. They also attempted
to house & employee alcoholics. They also engaged in
developing opinions outside their society.
» They had no clear-cut program of recovery.
Each member could develop his or her own program.
» They did not believe in anonymity. Their
people were constantly having their names put in the paper.
» They had no Traditions that guided them in
how to preserve unity, and failed to develop any.
understand the basis of what we have in common, and what
they lost, we need only review two stanzas of one of their
worlds not all a fleeting show,
For man's illusion given;
He that hath sooth'd a drunkards woe,
And led him to reform, doth know;
There's something here of heaven.
Washingtonian that hath run,
The path of kindness even;
Who's measr'd out life's little span,
In deeds of love to God and man;
On earth hath tasted heaven.
99 years later another fellowship, Alcoholics Anonymous,
was to include this sentiment in the pre-publication manuscript
of their basic text.
now move ahead to the year 1931 and see a young financial
wizard who has tried several methods to recover from alcoholism.
Finally, in desperation he places himself under the care
of a Swiss psychiatrist by the name of Carl Jung. In the
year that followed he learned all the workings of his mind
and its quirks. Yet upon release from the clinic - he got
drunk. He returned to Zurick and asked the noted man what
else could be done. The doctor pronounced him hopeless.
making this deathly pronouncement, he told Rowland H. that
his only hope was to be found in the following prescription:
"Spiritus contra Spiritum" - a phrase that meant
that a spiritual life was the only remedy for a life of
the spirits. Rowland returned to the U.S. and began to attend
Oxford Group meetings to improve his spiritual life. He
also began active work with other alcoholics, namely one
called Ebby T.
this point in the narration you may be wondering what all
this has to do with the simple task of starting an A.A.
group. These events, people, and principles were what guided
the Third Tradition Group in the early years and if you
listen closely to the start of each of the groups' meetings,
you will be able to identify where those practices originated
forward 2 years, to 1933, and the city of Akron, Ohio, the
Oxford Group there has a new person by the name of Dr. Robert
S. He has begun to attend these meetings in an effort to
recover from alcoholism. Although he is thorough in his
practice of their way of life, he is unable to recover from
his alcoholism - but he continues to attend their meetings.
following year, 1934, a young stockbroker, named Bill W,
is hospitalized again for his alcoholism in Towns Hospital
in New York City. Although he had been there many times,
this was his last journey there. In his previous hospitalization,
Dr. Silkworth has also pronounced him a hopeless case. He
was told that he would have to be institutionalized or his
drinking would result in madness and death within the year.
his brief time at home, before this last hospital stay,
he had been visited by an old friend, Ebby T. Ebby shared
his experience at finding a way to live sober through the
Oxford Groups and Rowland H. Although Bill thought he could
not accept the religious approach proposed by Ebby, during
this hospital stay he became willing to try anything. While
at this low point in his life, Bill had his spiritual experience.
This began his permanent sobriety, and he began to attend
Oxford Group meetings.
months later Bill was in Akron, Ohio to engage in a proxy
fight. This being a difficult task as well as distasteful,
Bill became concerned about his relatively new sobriety.
He called a member of the clergy who put him in touch with
another drunk. Bill was absolutely sure he needed this drunk
to talk to much more than the drunk needed him. Although
Dr. Bob stopped drinking at this time, he was to have one
slip before the first month was over. June 10, 1935 was
Dr. Bob's last drink and the beginning of the A.A. fellowship.
asked, years later, why he had not been able to stay sober
in the Oxford Groups, and Bill had, he explained that Bill
brought him the idea of service to another alcoholic. This,
he felt, was the reason he was now able to stay sober. (It
may be important to note, at this point, that at this time
in history the recovery rate for alcoholics, who sought
help with their problem, was 2%.)
the year 1939 AA had grown to 4 groups with about 100 members.
This was the year our Big Book was first published. It was
also the year that a permanent break was made with the Oxford
Groups. Although the Oxford Groups had a definite program
to follow-they lacked the other four points that separates
A.A. from the Washingtonians.
grew slowly at first and then it expanded in leaps and bounds.
In 1939 and 1941 there were several articles in the newspapers
and magazines that turned the tide. These articles served
to show us the need for, and success of, sponsorship. Before
this the entire group had worked with each new recruit.
Now, this was no longer possible. It was found that one
or two sponsors could be just as effective at conveying
our message as the group was. That message was the same
as it is, here in the Third Tradition Group, today-AA is
not the power that will solve your problems, it is simply
the method by which you can find the power of a loving God
who can give you the courage to live!
we finally come to Northfield. It is Sunday morning, August
15, 1982. Over 400 AA's and their spouses have gathered
at the 34th Annual Southern Minnesota Conference to hear
Paul M., from Riverside, Ill speak. On this day, Paul is
celebrating his 35th AA birthday. During his sharing, he
relates his own experience at trying other forms of self-help
and therapies. He also relates the failure he found with
them. He shares his perspective on AA and the necessity
of keeping it simple and not diluting our program with other
the audience sit six men who had been talking with one another
about the very same things Paul is mentioning. Since most
of the AA groups they had come in contact with were becoming
less structured and more treatment oriented, they were somewhat
reluctant to challenge this turn of events in their own
groups. Perhaps, they thought, this new trend was the right
way to go. However, somewhere deep inside them they sensed
that something was not as it should be. Paul's' talk gave
them the necessary understanding and courage to undertake
the formation of a new AA group. Now they knew they weren't
alone. There were others who understood AA as they did.
What was described in the Big Book could and would happen
in the right environment and with a sincere effort.
following Thursday, August 18, 1982 these six men sat around
a table in the rear of an old bank building, which was being
remodeled, to discuss the formation of a new group. They
included a businessman, carpenter, salesman, draftsman,
and 2 truck drivers. Unknown to them at the time, they wanted
a group that avoided the five points that differentiated
the Washingtonians from A.A. They wanted a group that dealt
with alcoholism and alcoholics only, one which had the single
purpose of helping alcoholics find freedom from alcohol,
one that discussed and attempted to convey the message of
Alcoholics Anonymous only-leaving out any other therapy
or the theory of any institution. They wanted anonymity
in the sense that only those at the meeting would know who
was at the meeting. Foremost in their minds was a return
to the Twelve Traditions, as written, in order that they
the meeting they agreed on several points they felt were
of primary importance for the group. Among them were:
Non-alcoholic drug addicts would be referred to another
fellowship better qualified to be of help with this problem.
» This group, for their meetings, would use
only literature published by Alcoholics Anonymous.
» That the "language of the heart"
would be spoken rather that the language of any institution
or form of therapy.
» In agreement with the General Service Conference
of that year, the group would not hold hands during the
opening or closing of the meetings.
» The group would work hard to establish a
group conscience and maintain it properly so that it could
be an active part of AA worldwide.
beginning of a new group is often difficult in a small community
such as Northfield. The early days of the Third Tradition
Group were no exception. Some, in the other groups, disagreed
with the beliefs of the group, and others took exception
to the method of beginning the group. Tempers flared and
accusations were made.
through studying the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,
the group was able to understand that their fellow AA's
were simply concerned about how this new group would affect
their own group. This, of course, is only natural. The group
stuck to its "primary purpose", which it had clearly
defined before starting. It was careful not to engage in
competition or controversy with other groups. It simply
minded its own business, careful to consider the affect
on the other groups before arriving at any decision or course
has been kind to the Third Tradition Group, as time has
gone by. It outgrew the first meeting place about the same
time the rent agreement ran out. The present home, below
Village Drug, was found at the last minute. The members
struggled with finding a new home, but had to often remind
themselves that God would provide the location if they did
the footwork-and so He did. The owner of this building has
been a great friend of the group and a wonderful landlord.
time, the group has had its difficulties. Sometimes this
has resulted in other new groups in Northfield, and at still
other times members have had to struggle to find the right
approach to tough problems. The number of core members has
always remained about the same, even though many have moved
away from Northfield or started other groups. Today, the
group maintains three meetings per week, provides trusted
servants for local, state and national services, accepts
and meets its financial responsibilities to its landlord
and AA's service entities, and remains an active voice in
the society of Alcoholics Anonymous. This has been accomplished,
not by the "sacred six" (as one member, perhaps
hearing the history one too many times, refers to them),
but by a loving God. Each and every person who has been
a member has in some way found the courage to listen to
the God of his or her understanding. In doing so, he or
she has become active in chairing meetings, sponsorship,
actively participated in the group conscience, and volunteered
for the other duties AA requires from time to time. Through
this, the members of this group ought to be able to identify
with the experience of Dr. Bob and Bill W on that morning
in Akron when they sat counting up the number of sober AA's.
When they had finished the count, they felt somewhat in
awe of the scene before them. Their comment was, as ours
should be, "What has God wrought in our lives?"
© 2006 The Third Tradition Group of Alcoholics Anonymous
Reprinted with permission