Close this search box.

History of AA in Philadelphia

Humble Beginnings

On February 28, 1940, seven alcoholics 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 in Philadelphia

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.

Intergroup Chronology

  • February 28, 1940 – First organizational meeting of Philadelphia group of A.A.
  • March 6, 1940 – First open meeting of Philadelphia group of A.A. at George S.’s house, Arnott Street in NE Philadelphia. Bill W. and Lois W. attended this meeting.
  • April, 1940 – Carried message to Philadelphia General Hospital Psychopathic Ward.
  • September, 1940 – Carried message to House of Correction, Holmesburg.
  • Fall, 1940 – First fully functional Clubhouse (2036 Sansom).
  • March, 1941 – Jack Alexander article.
  • February, 1942 – Second Philadelphia A.A. Anniversary Banquet.
  • January, 1946 – Voted to incorporate A.A. of Philadelphia.
  • February, 1946 – First Young People’s Group.
  • March, 1946 – Purchased 4021 Walnut Clubhouse.
  • June, 1946 – First private alcoholic clinic.
  • October, 1948 – Intergroup association of Philadelphia formed.
  • February, 1949 – First Intergroup banquet.
  • February, 1950 – First A.A. meeting at Municipal Court.
  • November, 1958 – Intergroup committees installed.
  • March, 1959 – B. F. Rush Award from Philadelphia Medical Society.
  • February, 1960 – 20th Anniversary of A.A. in Philadelphia.
  • January, 1964 – “Interviews” started.
  • February, 1965 – 25th Anniversary of A.A. in Philadelphia.
  • September, 1967- Public Information committee formed.
  • June, 1968 – 24-Hour Answering Service.
  • September, 1969 – Intergroup contributed $1,000 to GSO.
  • 1971 – “Big Book” provided by Intergroup to prisons.
  • 1972 – Unity Committee formed.
  • January, 1976 – Spanish-speaking meeting started.
  • June, 1976 – Prisons host plan started.
  • September, 1977 – Cooperation with the Professional Committee started.
  • February, 1979 – Interphone sub-committee formed.
  • February, 1984 – Intergroup supports Nat’l Women’s A.A. Conference.
  • 1988 – Automation of Intergroup office.
  • 1989 – Prisons Temporary Contact subcommittee formed.
  • 1990 – 50th Anniversary of Philadelphia area A.A.
  • 1998 – 50th Anniversary of Southeastern Pennsylvania Intergroup Association.
  • 2000 – Office moved to 444 N. 3rd Street, Suite #3E in Philadelphia.
  • 2008 – S.E.P.I.A. celebrates their 60th anniversary with a week of special meetings where members of the five-county fellowship shared their experience, strength and hope and a different 12th step committee presented their service information each day.
  • 2010 – Copy of first edition, first printing Big Book donated to Intergroup from the Hope group.
  • 2020 – Office moved to 1903 S. Broad Street, 2nd Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19148.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Intergroup Association (then called Philadelphia Intergroup Association of A.A.) has a rich history and a legacy of experience, strength and hope which can be passed on to other suffering and recovering alcoholics for many more years, one day at a time. Alcoholics Anonymous is not a medical or religious organization. It is concerned only with the personal recovery and continued sobriety of individual alcoholics who turn to A.A. for help. You can contact SEPIA’s main office here.