Through The Grapevine: writing for Alcoholics Anonymous

By Anne Garner, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts

Alcoholics Anonymous first issued The Grapevine in June of 1944, seventy-four years ago this month.  In the journal’s inaugural issue, an uncredited author recounts the founding of the publication “in a big, smoke-filled room” where “six ink-stained wretches sipped at their Cokes … a cashier, a radio script writer: an author: a bookseller: an art director: a wife and mother of two.”  When questioned on the journal’s purpose, the mother of two explains.  It’s about “A.A.’s whole design of living.  There’s going to be a big, full-page on local group doings … and we’re planning to get all the big general stuff on alcoholism into the paper.  Best of all, we think, is the Servicemen’s Letter page…”[1]


While managed by senior advisor and Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W., The Grapevine was conceived and established by a handful of New York “A.A.” women. In “–the story of your magazine – – ” published in the December 1948 issue, the initial idea for the serial publication was credited to “Lois K., a New York member,” who suggested a trial run. A preliminary meeting between Lois K. and three other women in the program, Priscilla P., Grace O. and Marty M. (the latter was the founder of the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism) solved initial questions about content and funding.  They also decided that male representation was needed, and added two men to their staff, Chase H. and Abbott T. Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W. gave the plan his blessing, and in his first editorial for the publication, called The Grapevine, “a lighted lamp.”[2]

The initial print run was 1,200 copies, and demand was steady. Members voted on October 3, 1945 to designate The Grapevine as the initial periodical of A.A.  In 1944 and 1945, the journal was produced entirely by non-paid volunteers; by 1948, The Grapevine was supported by four paid staff.  In September of 1948, a smaller, pocket format was conceived (the earliest editions bear a fruit-heavy vine on the cover with the issue information but no title, in an instance of design safeguarding anonymity.)


The first edition of “Alcoholics Anonymous,” or “the Big Book,” (1939) included only one essay about a female in recovery.  But from the beginning, The Grapevine was more inclusive of women’s stories.  An early article by founding member Grace O. focused on female membership and the perceived challenges by men of women at meetings.  Here, she ticks out some of the complaints expressed by male members, who believed “women talk too much,” “many women form attachments that are too intense,” “women’s feelings get hurt too often,” and that they frequently “are attention demanders;” she concludes that the way forward is with patience and acknowledgement of common purpose.[3]  As Leslie Jamison writes in her 2018 book, The Recovering, “Describing the ‘traditional beliefs’ that inflect how male and female drinking have been understood differently, one clinical textbook puts it like this. ‘Intoxication in a woman was thought to signal a failure of control over her family relationships.’”[4]


A selection of The Grapevine from 1948-1949.

4Grapevine_t_May1949_v5n2_WatermarkedPnina Levy demonstrates that in the earliest years of the organization men and women shared editorial and writing responsibilities for the serial, though the organization wasn’t always able to shake the entrenched cultural and social gender stereotypes of the early post-War period.[5] A May 1949 article, “Lady A.A.s Get Their Heads Together” acknowledged the challenges of “scurrying to fix dinner, wash dishes, prepare kids for bed, dress yourself and make the meeting across town by 8 o’clock.”[6]  In a “Vino Vignette” published in a 1946 issue, Esther E. tells of the difficulties of moving to her new town of San Antonio to kindle a regular meeting because she’s a woman. She’s successful assembling a group of three females and one male; eventually, as she says, “‘evah-thing’ caught fire.”  The December 1955 issue has no less than five articles by women, including articles about co-ed sponsorship, a narrative of a former female prisoner in recovery, and “My Son and I and AA,” written by a New York program mother.[7]

Today, The Grapevine is still in print, along with La Vina, for Spanish audiences.  Current information about subscriptions and excerpts from past issues can be found here.

[1] Anonymous. “Grapevine’ in Bow.” The Grapevine.  June 1944. Vol 1, No. 1.
[2] Anonymous.  “—the story of your magazine—“ The Grapevine. December 1948. Vol 5, No. 7; Bill W., “The Shape of Things to Come,” The Grapevine. June 1944. Vol. 1, No. 1.
[3] Grace O. “Women in A.A. Face Special Problems.” The Grapevine. October 1946. Vol. 3, No. 5, P. 1, pp 6 – 7, 10.
[4] Leslie Jamison. The Recovering.  New York: Little Brown, 2018.
[5] Pnina Levi. “Gender and Alcoholism: Pioneering alcoholic women’s contribution to Alcoholics Anonymous, 1937 – 60.”  Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. 2015. Vol. 29, pp. 112-35.
[6] Anonymous. “Lady A.A.’s Get Their Heads Together.” The Grapevine.  May 1949. Vol. 5, No. 12, p. 11.
[7]  See, “I’ve Changed My Tune,” “My Son and I and AA,” “Adding Up the Score,” “A Lady’s Gripe,” “I’ve Got What I Want for Christmas,” all from The Grapevine. December 1955.  Vol. 12, No. 7.Shop ad_book arts

78 Years of Anonymity

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) celebrates June 10 as the anniversary of its founding. But why and how did the organization form?

As William L White explains in Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, A.A.’s founding occurred soon after the end of Prohibition, a time when there were a lack of places for alcoholics to turn to for help. Most institutions specializing in sobriety closed during Prohibition, and those still open were available only for the upper echelons of society. Overcrowded hospitals and sham home cures only worsened the problem. With the repeal of Prohibition and the start of the New Deal, the time was right for A.A.¹

Alcoholics Anonymous can trace its roots to the Oxford Group, a spiritual movement begun in the early 20th century looking to heal the world “through a movement of personal spiritual change.”¹ In 1934, Bill Wilson (known as Bill W.), a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, heard about the Oxford Group from a member who had stopped drinking with the group’s support. After experiencing a spiritual awakening (which may have resulted from hallucinogenic medications) while at a New York hospital to treat his alcoholism, Bill W. started attending Oxford Group meetings.¹

AlcoholicsAnonymousIn 1935, Bill W. met co-founder Dr. Robert Smith (known as Dr. Bob), an alcoholic trying to remain sober with the help of the local Oxford Group in Akron. The date of Dr. Bob’s last drink—June 10, 1935—marks the founding of A.A, which formally separated from the Oxford Group in 1937 (New York) and 1939 (Akron).¹ In 1939, A.A. published Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism. The book listed and explained A.A.’s 12 steps for the first time. As White notes, it also “broke the mold on earlier books by writing, not only about alcoholism, but to alcoholics.”¹ And by alcoholics, laying out its central tenets in a way that makes it clear that the authors had been through a great deal before regaining sobriety:

“If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: one was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help. This we did because we honestly wanted to, and were willing to make the effort.”²

Today, we know even more about recovery from alcoholism. Treatment options still include support groups like A.A., and now also incorporate medications and behavioral therapies, often used simultaneously. In addition, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s (NIAAA) National Epidemiological Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions found that some people with alcohol dependence may recover without treatment.³ And researchers have identified genes that can both increase and reduce a person’s likelihood of becoming dependent on alcohol.4

The landscape of alcohol recovery has greatly altered since June 10, 1935. And yet tenets first written down in 1939 retain significance for A.A.’s more than two million members.5

For more on alcohol dependence, visit the NIAAA’s site Rethinking Drinking.

1. White, W. (1998). Slaying the dragon: The history of addiction treatment and recovery in America. Bloomington Ill.: Chestnut Health Systems/Lighthouse Institute.

2. Alcoholics Anonymous: The story of how many more than one hundred men have recovered from alcoholism. (1939). New York: Works Pub. Co.

3. In this issue. (2006).Alcohol Research & Health, 29(2), 72–73. Retrieved May 30, 2013 from

4. NIH Fact Sheets – Alcohol Dependence (Alcoholism). (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2013 from

5. A.A. General Service Office. (n.d.). A.A. at a Glance. Retrieved May 30, 2013 from