Dr. Bob Smith
Dr. Bob was born Robert Holbrook Smith in Vermont in 1879, and
lived until 1950. He was the American surgeon and physician who,
along with Bill Wilson, or Bill W.,
founded Alcoholics Anonymous.
Dr. Bob Smith
His family was very religious, and he had to attend four services
every week. This didn't result in a pious youth. In fact, it caused
him to determine that he would not attend any religious services
after he had grown up.
Smith began his drinking while in college, but he always was
able to recover more quickly from drinking bouts than were his
classmates. He never got headaches after he drank, and he believed
this meant that he was already an alcoholic.
Smith graduated in 1902 from Dartmouth College, and sold hardware
for three years in the United States and Canada. He continued
to be a heavy drinker during these years. Then he went back to
school, this time to pursue education in medicine. He missed classes
because of his drinking, and he left school. He did return and
pass the exams for his sophomore school year.
It's a Rush ...
Robert Smith transferred to another school, Rush Medical College,
but his alcoholism was steadily worsening. He did horribly on
his final exams, and the college insisted that he stay on for
two extra school quarters and stay sober, or he would not graduate.
He did actually graduate, and then worked as an intern in a hospital.
For about two years, he was so busy with work that he did not
drink heavily. He was married to Anne Robinson Ripley in 1915
and then went into private practice in Akron, Ohio. He specialized
in colorectal surgery. But he also began drinking heavily once
By now, Smith recognized his problem, and he checked into over
ten sanitariums and hospitals, to try to stop drinking. He thought
that Prohibition being passed in 1919 would help, since it would
be harder to get alcohol. Actually, he got exemptions for medicinal
alcohol and used bootleggers to feed his habit. For 17 years,
he tried to subvert the efforts of his wife to get him to stop
drinking. He held together a medical practice as best he could,
to support not just his family but also his drinking.
In 1933, Smith's wife attended a Frank Buchman lecture. Buchman
had founded the Oxford Group. Over the next couple years, Anne
and Robert would attend local meetings of this group, to try to
win over alcoholism. He would not recover, though, until 1935
when he met Bill Wilson.
Wilson was an alcoholic who stayed sober by assisting other alcoholics
through the process at the Oxford Group. He was on a business
trip in Akron, and feared a relapse into alcoholism, and someone
referred him to Dr. Smith. After they talked, Smith actually quit
drinking and invited Mr. Wilson to stay with him in his home.
Smith relapsed a short time later while he attended a convention
of physicians in Atlantic City. He returned to Akron and Wilson
gave him several drinks to avoid the onset of delerium tremens.
He actually performed surgery the next day after one beer, and
that would be his last drink. That June 10, 1935 date is celebrated
as the first anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous' founding.
Dr. Bob was dubbed the "Prince of Twelfth Steppers"
by Dr. Wilson, since he was able to help over 5000 alcoholics
before he died. Smith was sober from that founding date until
he died from colon cancer in 1950.