AA is an offshoot of the Oxford Group: a non-denominational movement modeled on first century Christianity. Oxford Group members ("Groupers") were not primarily focused on sobriety, but counted alcoholic members. Alcoholic Grouper Ebby Thacher recruited former drinking buddy Bill Wilson to the Group, telling Wilson he was sober because, he said, "I've got religion", and that Wilson could do likewise. To account for Wilson's alienation from religion, Thacher suggested that Wilson fashion a personal version of what Thacher alternately called "God", "another power, or "higher power".
Struck that Thacher was a "hopeless" alcoholic like himself, and feeling that they "shared a kinship of common suffering"; Wilson continued to meet with him. Within days Wilson ceased drinking and, at Thacher's urging, handed himself over to the care of God. Joining the Oxford Group Wilson sought out other alcoholics. None stayed sober until he met in Akron Ohio with Grouper Dr. Bob Smith. Meeting often with Wilson, Smith quit drinking within 30 days, and the date of Smith's last drink June 10th, 1935 is marked by AA for its anniversaries.
Wilson and Smith became convinced that it was through working with other alcoholics that they stayed sober, but the new alcoholic Groupers they worked with seemed less than pious. An associate pastor accused them of being a "secret, ashamed sub-group" engaged in "divergent works". AA historian Ernest Kurtz explained the eventual split from the Group:
"...more and more, Bill discovered that new adherents could get sober by believing in each other and in the strength of this group. Men [the first women member had not yet appeared] who had proven over and over again, by extremely painful experience, that they could not get sober on their own had somehow become more powerful when two or three of them worked on their common problem. This, then, whatever it was that occurred among them, was what they could accept as a power greater than themselves. They did not need the Oxford Group."
According to Wilson: "The Oxford Groupers had clearly shown us what to do. And just as importantly, we learned from them what not to do." Among the Oxford Group practices AA maintained were informal gatherings, a "changed-life" developed through "stages" and working with others for no material gain. AA's analogs for these are meetings, the steps, and sponsorship. Anonymity, however, came about as AA wished to avoid the publicity-seeking practices of the Oxford Group. Wilson said AA was "afraid of developing erratic public characters who through broken anonymity might get drunk and destroy confidence in us."
By 1937 Wilson separated from the Oxford Group to help form Alcoholics Anonymous.