Date of Award

Summer 1999

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History - (M.A.)

Department

Federated Department of History

First Advisor

Lisa Marie Herschbach

Second Advisor

Richard B. Sher

Third Advisor

David Stradling

Abstract

The medicalization of America is typically presented as a top-down, doctor-driven phenomenon. I argue that in the case of alcoholism, this model leaves out the community-level social activism of individuals who were identifying themselves as members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Any description of the popularization of the disease concept of alcoholism that does not take into account the efforts of these individuals is missing a key element. My thesis attempts to incorporate these individuals into the historical narrative.

If we are to focus on the efforts of Alcoholics Anonymous in framing alcoholism as a disease, the 1930s represent a crucial turning point. In 1933, Prohibition was brought to an end. In 1935, the cofounders of A.A., William Wilson and Robert Smith, met for the first time and began working with other alcoholics. In 1939, the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous was published. This series of events is critical to understanding the medicalization of alcohol consumption, and what made alcoholism such a path breaking disease. The period between 1933-1939 represented the turning point when patients finally took the initiative to reintegrate themselves into mainstream society by defining inebriety as a disease. However, this ostensibly medical model continued to rely upon religious underpinnings. This tension is the focus of my study.

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