The date chosen by Alcoholics Anonymous as its foundation was not the formation of the 100 Men Company, nor the publication date of the Big Book, nor the occasion of the first meeting. The anniversary celebrated by two million AA members worldwide is June 10, 1935. That’s the date when cofounder Dr. Bob Smith took his last drink “to steady his nerves” before performing surgery.
Bob was born in 1879 to extremely pious parents and attended four church services a week growing up, a habit he gladly dropped in adulthood. Instead he picked up a drinking habit, which greatly interfered with his medical education. After some disastrous exam scores and a visit to the school by his father, frat boy Bob’s diploma was withheld until he could demonstrate sobriety for an additional two semesters.
Residency kept him focused and busy and he was able to stay sober. He married his wife Anne in 1915 and opened a private surgical practice specializing in colorectal procedures in Akron, Ohio. He began drinking to excess once more. He initially supported Prohibition thinking it might save him, but exceptions to the law for medicinal alcohol and bootleg suppliers meant alcohol was still easy for him to access.
Over the next twenty years he drank too much too often. By the time he met Bill Wilson, sixteen years his junior, in 1935 his medical practice was in shambles and his wife and daughter despised his addiction. Anne Smith was the first in the family to hear of the Oxford Group, AA’s spiritual predecessor, in 1933. She attended a talk given by OG founder Frank Buchman that January, and for the next two years the couple attended Oxford Group house parties and meetings.
Bill Wilson was introduced to Dr. Bob in May of 1935 through a network of other Oxford Group members, including Rev. Sam Shoemaker, Rev. Tunks, and Henrietta Seiberling. Henrietta was the one who invited boith men to her home to meet, then extended her invitation to Bill for several months so he could keep Dr. Bob sober. I found no evidence to suggest Dr. Bob, a fraternity brother who thrived when busiest, drank again after finding fraternity and activity in his new alcoholic evangelism.
Bill W. called him “the Prince of AA” (with the unspoken implication Bill was its king). Dr. Bob was a far more effective evangelist than Bill, credited with sponsoring 5,000 men. He was the only Big Book author Bill shared his stolen royalties with. Fifteen years after joining AA, in 1950, Dr. Bob died from colon cancer. Like Bill W. and other early AAs, Dr. Bob was a heavy smoker all his life and never felt that addiction spiritual enough to bother a Higher Power with. Over the past sixty-plus years since then medical researchers have discovered that cigarette smoking worsens survival odds for all cancers.