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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 more.

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.

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