Origin of the Twelve Steps

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origin of the Twelve Steps

How Oxford Group Criticism Spawned the Twelve Steps

Bill W., AA co-founder, was the person responsible for the origin of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous a few years after he got sober. Bill was released from Towns hospital in late December 1934. Following, Bill and Lois Wilson attended the New York Oxford Group.

However, all went well until Oxford Group members criticized them for having private meetings for “drunks only” in their home at 182 Clinton Street Brooklyn Heights, New York 11201. They were considered as “not Maximum” (not fully complying with OG principles). Chaos developed! Consequently, during August of 1937, Bill and Lois stopped attending the Oxford Group meetings.

The yet unwritten AA program of action was now on its own in New York! However, Bill W. remembered the Oxford Group’s twenty-eight Main Principles. These are the same “tenets” he would eventually put in our Big Book. Most importantly though, Bill accepted some of these tenets as helpful to alcoholics. Reference page xvi of the Big Book:

  • Moral inventory
  • Confession of personality defects
  • Restitution to those harmed
  • Helpfulness to others
  • Necessity of belief in, and dependence upon, God

This later became a word-of-mouth six step program of action for alcoholics. There were several versions of this. But, this version can be found in the Fourth Edition (p 263) of the Big Book:

  1. Complete deflation
  2. Dependence and guidance from a Higher Power
  3. Moral inventory
  4. Confession
  5. Restitution
  6. Continued work with other alcoholics

In conclusion, the six-step word-of-mouth program was expanded into what we now know as the origin of the Twelve Steps in December of 1938 (Pass it On, pages 197-198). We are so very lucky that Bill was “not Maximum!” Certainly, a Godsend for us all and the future of AA! Further evidence that: “God moves in mysterious ways!

By Bob S.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the AA Cleveland District Office.