On February 28, 1940, seven ex-drunks met in a room at 22nd and Delancey Streets in Philadelphia. The primary purpose of the gathering was to support the resolve of each of those present not to drink alcohol and to discuss a way of helping others like them to find a way to stay sober. They decided to start an Alcoholics Anonymous group in Philadelphia.Thus begins a success story that - one day at a time - has been repeated for many, many days as sober alcoholics help themselves and others to recover from this fatal disease.
Alcoholics Anonymous, A.A. as it is widely known, has carried its message of recovery in the Philadelphia area one day at a time since 1940. Since then, sober alcoholics in the five-county area surrounding Philadelphia have helped themselves and others to recover from their fatal addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous is the most successful self-help program for the treatment of what was once believed to be an incurable illness, that even today is ranked as one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
The February 1940 decision to start an Alcoholics Anonymous group in Philadelphia has grown immensely since its inception. This group would be the fourth A.A. group in the country - only New York, Akron and Cleveland had formed earlier meetings. The book Alcoholics Anonymous had been published only a few months before this first Philadelphia organization meeting. Precious copies of the "Big Book," as it is affectionately known by A.A.'s had been hand-carried that February from New York by Jim B., a traveling salesman who had "been dry in the original New York group for about two years," according to his history of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in Philadelphia. Jim had come to this city on a new job two weeks previously and "knew he had to have other alcoholics to work and play with."
During the next fifty years, that one recovering alcoholic's desire to work and play with other recovering people would become an organization called the Philadelphia Intergroup Association of A.A. with over 760 local A.A. groups in the five-county area, and that first meeting would blossom into over 1500 similar A.A. meetings a week. Along the way, hundreds of thousands of men and women in this area would be saved from lives condemned to end in institutions, prisons or premature death from alcoholism by practicing each day the suggested program for better living of Alcoholics Anonymous, called the 12 Steps or principles of personal recovery, and putting the 12 Traditions, which guide the fellowship, into action.
The Philadelphia A.A. spirit includes many firsts, including the first "complete" clubhouse - with a lunch counter service (Fall, 1940 at 2036 Sansom Street); the first monthly business meeting of an A.A. group (December, 1940); the first Young People's A.A. Group (February, 1946); and the establishment of the first private Alcoholic Clinic (June, 1946) at St. Luke's hospital through the efforts of two Philadelphia physicians who were the earliest medical advisors to endorse A.A. in a national publication (Jack Alexander's famous article in the Saturday Evening Post, 1941). Two traditions in service began within months of the start of A.A. activity in Philadelphia: the establishment of routine Saturday visits to the Philadelphia General Hospital psychiatric unit (then called the "Psychopathic Ward") in April, 1940, and the first visit to the House of Correction at Holmesburg in September of 1940. These commitments to institutions and prisons have been met continuously since then and thanks to the efforts of the committees and members of the Philadelphia Area Intergroup Association, they will continue to meet.