Editor’s Note: Following up on last week’s post about the Alcoholics Anonymous National Archives Workshop, Points this week welcomes the comments of Guest Blogger Ernie Kurtz, the author of Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous (1979) and the pre-eminent historian of AA– a title that, as he notes below, he is eager to shed.
“What is AA history?” It is (at least) two things: (1) the story of the AA fellowship and its program from its founding in 1935 to the present, as researched, examined, and studied according to the canons of historical investigation; and (2) the equally ongoing research into and investigation of AA antiquities – details apparently only marginally related to the continuing story but of interest to hobbyists and antiquarians. To its credit, the “AA History Lovers” listserv (founded by Nancy Olson in 2000 and maintained by Glenn Chesnut of the Hindsfoot Foundation) generously serves both.
Both kinds of AA history are valuable to understanding the fellowship – perhaps moreso than is the case with many other phenomena that have similarly enthusiastic followers. For one never knows when an apparently context-less antiquity—a stray newspaper article, an amateur publication—will shed sudden new light on a previously ignored aspect of AA’s continuing story, something that may even have resonance for how some practice its program today.
Let me illustrate with examples of each of the three phenomena mentioned: the strictly historical, the pretty solidly antiquarian, and items that straddle those categories.
First, we have strict historical investigation: what actually happened when the struggling fellowship met in Akron in October of 1937 to decide whether to act on co-founder Bill Wilson’s plans for hospitals, paid “missionaries,” and a book? The answer has implications for how we understand AA’s commitment to “forever non-professional” mutual aid. Available evidence suggests that the pages covering those key days in 1937 have been removed from the diary of Wilson’s wife Lois. What can we piece together from what we know of Lois’s diarying habits and other comments on that meeting, then and later? Can more information be found about either of these?
In the second, antiquarian, category there is the precise location of the grave of Henrietta Seiberling, the Akron matron who introduced co-founders Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. Thanks to recent geo-spacing technology, we now have its precise latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates. Fascinating information, to some, but not strictly “history.” And yet . . . .Similarly, what about the arrangement of the furniture in the great room at Stepping Stones, Bill and Lois Wilson’s Westchester home, and the tid-bit that Bill Wilson often lay on the floor near the heating register during conversations with guests. Was Bill chilled? Or is this another example of what Henrietta Seiberling acerbically described as Bill’s habit of “never standing when he could sit, never sitting when he could lie down?” And if either of those, so what?
Finally, those details that sit between the historical and the antiquarian. Now that we have a pretty good idea exactly what books were in the library of co-founder Dr. Bob Smith, can we locate any evidence as to which he read, which he read more than once, and which he particularly loved? “Petty” details like this offer valuable insights into the intellectual traditions that informed AA. Or what about the travel itineraries of the early AA members who were in sales. Can we find more of those, or get more detail about the few that we do have? How AA came to some locations, and how the fellowship spread within them and the surrounding area is still a blank for many places. Establishing with some certainty the migratory habits of early AAs might help to explain commonalities in the way AA is practiced across the nation and around the globe.
For this historian, aged and disabled beyond the requirements of strictly historical research, thinking about that third category arouses the greatest interest: how to harvest the work of the cadre of diligent AA antiquarians in ways that will illuminate our growing knowledge of AA history? When does an apparently miscellaneous fact become the key missing piece in some yet unfinished picture of the early fellowship?
Finally, a confession: I find it almost embarrassing that Not-God remains regarded as “the authoritative” history of Alcoholics Anonymous. That book is now 32 years old! A significant number of the members of at least one AA group here in Ann Arbor are younger than that. And so much has been learned in the interim–some from smaller histories, more from the ceaseless digging by committed antiquarian researchers. I have large hopes that a person who recently completed a film on AA history will now turn to writing a totally new history of the fellowship and its program. We really need one. For history flows: it never stands still. Given the realities of human nature, there is always more to learn. “The whole truth,” about anything, is never available as we trudge this earthly path. And that is not a sadness, but a joy – an ever-present invitation and urging to study that which we love, on any level, from any perspective. The only requirement for how this works is, unsurprisingly, honesty.
13 thoughts on “What is “AA History”?”
Good stuff, Ernie! Please do more Points blogs. I’ve often marvelled — even with a touch of envy — at the great interest shown in esp. the second brand of inquiry on the aa-history-lovers listserv group. I say “envy” because the history of alcohol science in the U.S. and its relation to the modern alcoholism movement garners — as I’ve noted before — much less interest in the alcohol science community. I’ve sometimes mused about what it means about A.A. that so much seeming ephemera, isolated detail, and personal particulars attracts so much sustained interest on the history-lovers list. I suggest two hypotheses on this, the first I stumbled upon some time ago, the second occurred to me only this morning, after reading your piece. Hyp. (1): A.A. is an historical institution in the sense that it endeavors, day in and day out, to keep alive and intact some early body of inspiration and key organizational principles — not unlike Christianity and other religions, or, for that matter, the U.S. Supreme Court! (I would add under this broad heading that a prevailing sense of personal gratitude and appreciation for the institution also lies just behind this historical preoccupation among in A.A.’s membership.) Hyp. (2) It struck me this morning that much of the aa-history-lovers fare is not entirely unlike family conversation about close relatives and ancestorys. Did Uncle Fred actually father a child in South America when he worked on the oil rigs? Did Aunt Ellen move to Ann Arbor before or after she married Uncle Pete? What made great grandma Betty’s rhubarb pie so very unforgetable? There is something irreducibly familial, I’m suggesting, in the aa-history-lovers’ list’s affection for seemingly random particulars. I wonder if others in the Points community or on the aa-history-lovers list might have other hypotheses to offer. Thanks again, buddy. Ron
This is a wonderful post. The distinction between the historical and the antiquarian – and the fuzzy, permeable, ever-changing, boundary between the two is a fascinating issue and one that we all need to think about more seriously. I think Ron is onto something important about antiquarianism being “irreducibly familial” in nature – I’ve noticed a similar dynamic about the interest physicians frequently have in the history of their own discipline, though i haven’t put it in these terms until reading this post. It’s often a very antiquarian type of interest, and also one that seems similar to what Ron describes. Its like they all want to be related to William Osler or something, or at least talk about him as if they somehow were – who, not coincidentally, is sometimes referred to as the “father” of modern medicine.
Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts – and yes, please write more! I especially appreciated this last part:
“For history flows: it never stands still. Given the realities of human nature, there is always more to learn. “The whole truth,” about anything, is never available as we trudge this earthly path. And that is not a sadness, but a joy – an ever-present invitation and urging to study that which we love, on any level, from any perspective. The only requirement for how this works is, unsurprisingly, honesty.”
That’s going on my Facebook page.
I believe the founder of AAHL would have to be Nancy Olsen, not Glenn. Nancy set up History Lovers with a slightly different name several years before Glenn took over as the ‘chief’ unofficial historian of AA. I betcha someone has the exact dates that the group was started by Nancy and when Glenn took over as the ‘chief.’
Charley– you are so right, and that is my error in editing Ernie’s piece. Nancy Olson founded the group that became AA History Lovers in 2000– the information is here in the lovely tribute page on the Hindsfoot site: http://hindsfoot.org/nomem1.html. I will correct the text of the post now. Thanks! tt
I don’t want to claim credit for something I didn’t do. Charley Bill is exactly right. It was originally Nancy’s idea. And Fiona Dodd from County Mayo in Ireland also did a lot of the hard work during those early days.
The AAHistoryLovers was started as the “AAHistoryBuffs” in March 2000 with Nancy Olson as the organizer and moderator. When the name was changed to “AAHistoryLovers” in March 2002, Fiona Dodd carried out a lot of the laborious task of transferring the most important files to the new group. Fiona continues to this day as the backup moderator of the group.
But it is probably better to think of the group as an assembly of extraordinarily competent and extremely dedicated researchers who discovered that the website could provide them a way to share their research findings with one another. I hate to give a list of the names, because I’m afraid I’m leaving key people out. But I do remember how everybody, including especially Nancy, turned to Ernie Kurtz for advice, encouragement, and moral support at all times. Bill White, Arthur S. (Arlington, Texas), Bill Lash, and Jim Blair were also deeply involved. A lot of the research projects were actually group efforts, such as the little biographies of the authors of the stories in the first edition of the Big Book, with one person writing up the results but many people contributing the information.
Going through the names of the people posting messages during the first two years (2000-2002), a number of other names appear frequently: Charles Knapp, Doug B., Mitchell K., Rick Tompkins, Robert Stonebraker, Hank Groat (remcuster), tcumming, Alex H., M. Lee Carroll, Art Boudreault, Tom Enger, Sally Brown, and J. Lobdell.
When I looked for my own name, I found that my own first contribution to the AAHistoryBuffs was not posted until Message #972 on March 10, 2002.
When Nancy Olson’s health began failing in the Spring of 2005, things got pretty disorganized and chaotic, but I eventually ended up assuming the responsibility of moderator.
In keeping with the spirit in which the group has always been run, I have looked at all times to our best AA historians and archivists for their good advice, wisdom, and judgement. I feel pleased that we have not only grown from a few hundred members (mostly from the U.S. and Canada) to 2,394 historians and archivists today from all over the world, but that almost 100% of the people who originally made the group so strong at its beginning — those who remain alive and in good health — are still active and contributing to the group today.
They are still the true strength and foundation of the group. Without them, we would not have anything useful. St. Isidore of Seville said in a famous phrase, “any man who claims to have read all the works of St. Augustine is a liar.” To an even greater degree it can surely be said, any one single person who claims to know everything about AA history is a fool.
i am in a quest to find the grave of Henry G. (Hank) Parkhurst. I have information that his services were handled by Blackwell Funeral Home. They have records that his body was sent to the Pennington Crematorium for presumably cremating. From there my trail is cold. Were the ashes interred? scattered? Is there a stone placed somewhere in memory? Any help by anyone would be greatly appreciated. my trails have come up cold. History of the program that saved my life, especially being able to pay my respects to those “anonymous” pioneers, is a passion.
email@example.com is my email to respond to my search for Hank P
I remember a few years ago Ernie responded on a thread on a different list/blog that he didn’t want to get into the historiography of an issue similar to this. Discussing the history was fine, but not the historiography. So, it’s nice to see him taking us there now. There’s probably no better place than this blog.
About the first type:
“First, we have strict historical investigation: what actually happened when the struggling fellowship met in Akron in October of 1937 to decide whether to act on co-founder Bill Wilson’s plans for hospitals, paid “missionaries,” and a book? The answer has implications for how we understand AA’s commitment to “forever non-professional” mutual aid.”
How facts are inserted into contextualizing the importance of an historical investigation can direct the resulting analysis.
For instance, if Ernie’s last sentence in the quote above ending in “…mutual aid.” had continued with “and how it has been circumvented in reality by two-hatting ‘professional’ AA members who have wreaked vast influence in favor of AA throughout numerous institutions in the United States.” there would probably be a different analytical direction.
More of the first type might include:
“How has AA’s wreaking vast influence in society been taking place without public awareness? The answer has implications for how we understand AA’s commitment to “remain anonymous in radio, press, films, etc”.” Could this commitment have partially derived from a desire to circumvent the loss of influence in the idealized “forever non-professional” compromise commitment ?”
About the second type:
“Valuable because old” is one definition I found for antiquarian. I will be interested to see how antiquarianism fits into historiography as I continue to learn.
About the third in between type:
Ernie includes “…valuable insights into the intellectual traditions that informed AA.”
It’s pretty clear one of the most prominent informers of AA’s intellectual traditions is Frank Buchman’s Oxford Group. Ken Ragge writes about it in “More Revealed” available for free here
I would add a fourth category to “What is AA History” which I would call AA Critical History.
About the fourth type:
Understanding that “AA history” has been about the 1 of 20 people that stay in AA, and not about the 19 of 20 that die trying or leave AA and get on with their lives; wondering if there is bias because AA History Lovers are predominately 12 step group members; one might conclude there could be a whole other branch of AA history that is not so committed to AA. The website just mentioned above has some links to leads for historical investigation along those lines.
And now that I’m back onto it – about 15 years ago I was trying to track down a copy of Father William Kenneally’s “How to Help an Alcoholic Friend” published around 1960. This pamphlet is lambasted and berated in Appendix I of the NCCA (National Clergy Conference on Alcoholism) Blue Book Vol XII, 1960, which happens to come right after the transcript of Bill Wilson’s presentation to that conference. That’s how I learned of it’s existence. Kenneally’s now elusive tract was published by the defunct Barromeo Guild division of the LA Diocese. The closest I got was to a college library in Santa Monica. It should be easier to find today, but publications can go extinct as do living species.
Historiographically, it would seem that this fourth type is the same as the first type, except for which historians are doing it.
It would be interesting to know which AA historians are 12 step group members (in that 5% of committed attendees) and which are not members (the other 95% of attendees + the rest of humanity), but, again, the anonymity tradition seems to limit good results.
As Joe, I also like Ernie’s last four sentences which end with the recognition of the utility of honesty. Bringing more of the truth into view must pay a debt of gratitude to those unique historians who are willing to suffer, if not actually thrive upon, the incessant barrage of inimitable persecutions from the history of the “winners”. Isn’t that what makes good science?
I second Dave’s call for a a history of people who have left AA and lived, happily, to tell their tales. As he points out, this is not uncommon– it’s quite possibly even normative–and yet very little is known about the phenomenon. You would think that at least public health and harm reduction policy/clinical folks would want to try and study it. I would really welcome a post on this blog that compiles a bibliography of works that treat the decision to quit a 12-Step program and/or pursue sobriety without AA. Two I can think of right offhand are Pete Hammill’s *A Drinking Life* (which doesn’t say much about the hows and whys) and Jean Kirkpatrick’s *Turnabout: Help for New Life* (which does). Anybody else?
I also agree that a new ,up to date, history is needed. What an undertaking it would be. It’s size would be enormous due to the growth of AA during the last 4 decades. Parts of the old history need to be updated or replaced as well as further explained because more has been revealed. The day of Dr. Bob’s final drink and his
first day of sobriety would make a nice start.
As for AAHL, I for one would like to see less censorship on the site. I constantly receive e-mails from AAHL members saying that their messages are not posted. I have experienced the same and am interested on knowing what rules regulate the site?
Mr Kurtz and I are friends. I also have the highest regard for his writings. No AA historian has done more for AA history with the possible exception of Mel B. He is a living legend.
I just came back from the 15th NAAAW in Montana and I am amazed at the number of brilliant men and women involved in AA History and Archives. So much of this is due to our co-founders and a wonderful program of recovery . Much is due to the best history book of AA called Not-God. It’s success makes the writing of a follow up book a real challenge because it will be rated against Ernie’s masterpiece.
I hope my i-phone has not auto corrected too much of this post since I can’t review what I have written. If I have not told you personally before , well done Mr Kurtz .
The paper I gave at the AHA/ADHS in 2006 (I think it was) on “Problems in the History and Historiography of AA” (printed in three sections in issues of CASQ — CULTURE ALCOHOL & SOCIETY QUARTERLY Newsletter of the Kirk/CAAS Collections at Brown — I’ll check the refs for next posting) speaks to some of what Ernie brings up — those interested may want to take a look. And btw I think Trysh and Glenn were at one time going to provide a discussion of AA history witing for CASQ.
A new opportunity for those who are not “hobbyists” or “amateurs,” as the main writer likes to call us.
Alcoholics Anonymous History
This article intends to focus readers on accurate, comprehensive Alcoholics Anonymous History—particularly as it extends from the pre-A.A. Christian roots of the 1850’s to the period just after Bill Wilson published his First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939. It will lay out the history in various chunks that can be examined and studied as time permits and that should prove useful to the recovery community.
[Preliminary Draft November 4, 2011]
The final draft will contain full bibliographic references and publication data soon
Let’s Begin with Alcoholics Anonymous General Services Conference-Approved Literature
I began my own search for Alcoholics Anonymous History by reading all the available, accurate, relevant literature published by A.A. itself. I still get grounded there and recommend looking at A.A. literature first—instead of speculating on what A.A. is or isn’t. Once that is done, the reader can fill in the holes, straighten out the distortions, and find out what most in the recovery community have simply not heard.
And the recommended books, in the order of the publication, are:
Alcoholics Anonymous, 1st ed., Works Publishing Company, 1939 (non-approved).
“RHS” The A.A. Grapevine issue dedicated to the memory of the Co-Founder of
Alcoholics Anonymous, DR. BOB, 1951.
Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed., 1956.
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 1957.
The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks (Pamphlet P-53), 1972, 1975.
Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed., 1976.
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 1980.
“Pass It On,” 1984.
The Language of the Heart: Bill W.’s Grapevine Writings, 1988.
Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 2001.
Next, Look at Reliable Alcoholics Anonymous History Books and Other Literature that Can Be Helpful
Piece by piece, manuscript by manuscript, research trip by research trip, archive by archive, library by library, interview by interview, Alcoholics Anonymous History—in its full form, and in a form that is comprehensive, accurate, and able to be used and applied in recovery today—emerged from and is reported in the following Alcoholics Anonymous History literature:
Alcoholics Anonymous: The Original 1939 Edition, Introduction by Dick B., Dover
AA of Akron Pamphlets, n.d., – Available at Akron Intergroup Office (revised several times)
Wally P., But for the Grace of God, 1995, 30-46.
A Guide to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous
Second Reader for Alcoholics Anonymous
Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous
Autobiographies of Bill Wilson:
Bill W.: My First 40 Years
Chapter 1 “Bill’s Story,” Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 2001, 1-16.
The many manuscripts by Bill that I found at Stepping Stones, most of which are
discussed in Dick B., Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual
Roots and Successes,1997.
Biographies of Bill W.:
Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W., 2006.
Susan Cheever, My Name is Bill W., 2004.
Francis Hartigan, Bill W., A Biography. . . , 2000.
Matthew Raphael, Bill W. and Mr. Wilson, 2000.
Tom White, Bill W.: A Different Kind of Hero, 2003.
Nan Robertson, Getting Better Inside Alcoholics Anonymous, 1988.
Robert Thomsen, Bill W., 1975
Biographies of Dr. Bob
The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches, P-53.
“Doctor Bob’s Nightmare,” Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 171-181.
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 1980.
Dick B. and Ken B.,
The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed., 2010.
Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous,
The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1998.
Dr. Bob and His Library, 1998.
“Alcoholics Anonymous and Dr. Bob,” http://mauihistorian.blogspot.com/
“16 Specific Practices Associated with the Original Akron A.A. “Christian
Fellowship” Program,” http://internationalchristianrecoverycoaliti.blogspot.com
“Honest With Yourself, Pray. Alcoholics Anonymous Advise,” The Tidings,
Page 17, Friday, March 26, 1948.
D. J. Defoe, “I Saw Religion Remake a Drunkard” in Your Faith (September
1939), 84-88. (Your Faith is “a McFadden Publication”)–Dr. Bob is called “Dr. X” in this article. http://www.silkworth.net/aahistory/drbob/drbob_interview_fm_0939.html
Biographical on A.A. Number Three, Bill D.
Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed., 2010.
“Alcoholics Anonymous Number Three,” Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 182-192
“Pass It On,” 356-357.
“Bill Dotson: A.A Number Three’s Recovery by the Power of God”
“Bill Dotson – AA’s Number Three”
“Bill Dotson: A.A. Number 3”
Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 2001,
Biographical on Rowland Hazard
[Rowland had been told by Dr. Carl Jung that he had the mind of a chronic alcoholic but could possibly be cured by a conversion. Rowland returned to America, became associated with the Oxford Group, studied with Rev. Sam Shoemaker, and became active in Shoemaker’s Calvary Church. Rowland had been impressed by the simplicity of the early Christian teachings as advocated by the Oxford Group. Rowland made a decision for Jesus Christ. Rowland and two other Oxford Group friends (Cebra Graves and Shep Cornell) had decided to witness to Ebby Thacher and told Ebby many Oxford Group principles and practices. Ebby, an old drinking friend of Bill Wilson’s who had become a “real alcoholic” recalled that two of Rowland’s Oxford Group friends(an old friend of Bill Wilson’s and a “real alcoholic”) had told Ebby “things they had gotten out of the Oxford Group based on the life of Christ, biblical times.” Ebby said: “It was what I had been taught as a child and what I inwardly believed, but had lain aside” The men had suggested that Ebby call on God and try prayer. Rowland and the two others lodged Ebby in Shoemaker’s Calvary Mission. Occasionally, a religious writer—either disdainful of, or unfamiliar with, A.A. facts and origins will say: “Alcoholics Anonymous does not use the words sin or conversion” See Linda Mercadante, Victimsd & Sinners, 1996, 70. Or, as she does on 91: :God does not ask any more than simple acknowledgement of divine existence.” The reader should look at A.A.’s Third Step prayer—“May I do Thy will always” and A.A.’s Seventh Step prayer—“Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.” Then spend a moment with Exodus 15:26, Exodus 20:1-17—the Ten Commandments; Matthew 22:36-40—the two Great Commandments; and James 2:8-11; and read all of Hebrews 11:6 ]
T. Willard Hunter, ‘IT STARTED RIGHT THERE,” 2006
Bill C. and Jay S., Kitchen Table A.A. Sponsorship Workshop, Carlsbad, 2007
Jay Stinnett, “Why Our Lives Were Saved,” A.A. Spiritual History Workshop,
Reykjovik, Iceland, March 11, 2007.
“Pass It On,” 1984.
Mel B., Ebby: The Man Who Sponsored Bill W., 1998.
Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.
Bill W. My First 40 Years
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
Biographical on William D. Silkworth, M.D.
[Silkworth’s name itself may not be well known to most AAs. But they certainly know of the “Doctor’s Opinion” written by Silkworth as an introduction to their Big Book. And they probably have grasped the fact that Silkworth established in Bill Wilson’ thinking that alcoholism was a disease—an allergy of the body kicked into gear by an obsession of the mind. But, as Silkworth’s biographer observed after he had researched Silkworth’s life and papers, Silkworth has not been given credit for the role he played in convincing Bill and others that they could be cured of their alcoholism by the “Great Physician,” Jesus Christ. And that solution—long since tossed aside before the Big Book was published–became the foundation of Bill’s conviction that “conversion” was the answer to alcoholism and that it was manifested by a “spiritual experience.” “Divine Aid,” Bill was still calling it in his address at the Shrine Auditorium in 1948 with Dr. Bob on the stage with him as well. The information about the Great Physician and cure was conveyed to Bill on his third hospitalization when he was given a virtual death sentence promise if Bill did not quit drinking immediately. The specifics of Silkworth’s advice on alcoholism was confirmed by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.]
Dale Mitchel, Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks
Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.
Dick B. and Ken B., The Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed., 2010
Bill W., My First 40 Years, 2001
Norman Vincent Peale, The Positive Power of Jesus Christ
Biographical on Edwin Throckmorton Thacher, “Ebby,” Bill’s Sponsor
[While Ebby was in Calvary Mission, he went to the altar and made a decision for Jesus Christ. He then visited Bill as he himself had been visited by Rowland Hazard, Cebra Graves, and Shep Cornell. Ebby told Bill he had “found religion,” and that he had tried prayer—something he specifically recommended to Bill Wilson. Bill specifically concluded that Ebby had been “reborn.” But taking no chances, Bill went to Shoemaker’s Calvary Church, listened to Ebby’s testimony, and then decided that if the Great Physician had helped Ebby, he (Bill) could probably receive the same help. Armed with Silkworth’s advice and Ebby’s eye-witness testimony, Bill went to Calvary Mission himself. He went to the altar. He made his own decision for Jesus Christ. He quickly wrote, “For sure, I had been born again.” And then, still drunk and still despondent, Bill made his way to Towns Hospital where he decided to call on the Great Physician and had the experience—which Silkworth called a conversion experience—and sensed the presence of God in his room. And never drank again.]
T. Willard Hunter, “IT STARTED RIGHT THERE.” 2006
Bill W., My First 40 Years,
Dale Mitchel, Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks.
Mel B. Ebby: The Man Who Sponsored Bill W., 1998
“Pass It On.”
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
Richard M. Dubiel, The Road to Fellowship, 2004. [Rowland Hazard] “must have
had some sort of influence on early A.A.’s who knew about him, whether at first or second hand. . . it is clear that behind Ebby Thatcher [sic], the messenger who brought the message of salvation to Bill Wilson in the kitchen of Bill’s apartment in November 1934, lay the figure of Rowland Hazard III, the mysterious messenger behind the messenger.” 79-80.
Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W
Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed..
Biographical on Dr. Bob’s Wife, Anne Ripley Smith
Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939, 3rd ed., 1998
Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed., 1998
Bob Smith and Sue Smith Windows, Children of the Healer, 1992
Charlotte Hunter, Billye Jones, Joan Zieger, Women Pioneers in 12 Step
Biography on Bill W.’s Wife
Lois Remembers, 1979.
William Borchert, When Love is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story
Biography on Henrietta Buckler Seiberling
Dick B., Henrietta B. Seiberling: Ohio’s Lady with a Cause
Charlotte Hunter, Billye Jones, Joan Zieger, Women Pioneers
Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d, ed,
Biography of T. Henry and Clarace Williams
Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed.
Biographical on Dr. Frank N.D. Buchman, Founder of the Oxford Group
Garth Lean, Frank Buchman: A Life, 1985
Frank Buchman, Remaking the World, 1961
H. W. “Bunny” Austin, Frank Buchman as I Knew Him, 1975
That Man Frank Buchman, 1946
The World Rebuilt: The true story of Frank Buchman. . . , 1951
Frank Buchman’s Secret, 1961
R.C. Mowat, The Message of Frank Buchman, n.d.
T. Willard Hunter, World Changing Through Life Changing, 1977
Alan Thornhill, The Significance of the Life of Frank Buchman, 1952
Biographical on Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr
New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed.
Good Morning!: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and Early A.A.
The Breeze of the Spirit, 1978.
“S.M. S.—Man of God for Our Time,” Faith at Work, 1964.
Norman Vincent Peale, “The Unforgettable Sam Shoemaker,” Faith at Work,
Louis W. Pitt, “New Life, New Reality: A Brief Picture of S.M.S.’s Influence,
Faith at Work, 1950
Sherwood S. Day, “Always Ready, S.M.S. as a Friend, Calvary Evangel, 1950.
Helen Smith Shoemaker, I Stand by the Door, 1967
Bill Wilson, “I Stand by the Door,” The A.A. Grapevine, 1967
“Ten of America’s Greatest Preachers,” Newsweek, 1955,
“Calvary Mission, “ Pamphlet, NY Calvary Episcopal Church, n.d.
John Potter Cuyler, Jr., Calvary Church in Action, 1934.
Samuel M Shoemaker, Jr.
So I Stand by the Door and Other Verses, Pittsburgh, Calvary
My Life Work and My Will, Pamphlet, 1930
“A First Century Christian Fellowship,” Churchman, 1928
Calvary Church Yesterday and Today, 1936.
“How to Find God,” The Calvary Evangel, 1957.
Get Changed; Get Together; Get Going: A History of the Pittsburgh
Biographical on Clarence H Snyder
Three Clarence Snyder Sponsee Old-timers and Their Wives, Comp & ed. by
Dick B., Our A.A. Legacy to the Faith Community: A Twelve-Step Guide
For Those Who Want to Believe, 2005
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 1980.
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
Going through the Steps, 2d ed., 1985
My Higher Power-The Light Bulb, 1985
Mitchell K., How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H Snyder and the Early Days
of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, 1997.
Dick B., That Amazing Grace, 1996.
Biographical on Sister Ignatia
[Though author Mary Darrah endeavors to select an earlier date for the A.A.-Ignatia connection, it is clear that Ignatia came on the A.A. scene about mid-August 1935. And her contributions were with Dr. Bob at St. Thomas Hospital from that point on. Her book makes clear that Father John C. Ford, S.J. had—like Father Dowling, S.J.—had a real part in editing Bill Wilson’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and his Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age—both published in the 1950’s]
Mary Darrah, Sister Ignatia, 1992, 13, 25-26, 33-37.
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 1980
Biographical on Father Ed Dowling, S.J.
[Though Dowling did not meet Bill until the winter of 1940, he became a friend and sponsor to Bill, and edited Bill Wilson’s Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions]
Robert Fitzgerald, S.J., The Soul of Sponsorship, 1995. See 55-66, 89]
“Pass It On,” 1980, 240-243, 281-282, 354, 371, 387.
Central Bulletin, Volumes I – III, Cleveland Central Committee, Dec. 1942-Dec. 1945
Nell Wing, Grateful to Have Been There, 1992.
Stewart C., A Reference Guide to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1986.
Bill Pittman and Dick B., Courage to Change: The Christian Roots of the Twelve Step
Bill Pittman, AA The Way It Began, 1988.
How to Study and Apply the Historical Elements Today
Utilizing Early AA.’s Spiritual Roots for Recovery Today, 2000.
By The Power of God: A Guide to Early A.A. Groups & Forming Similar Groups
God and Alcoholism: Our Growing Opportunity in the 21st Century, 2002
Cured!: Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts, 2d ed, 2006
Twelve Steps For You: Take the Twelve Steps with the Big Book, A.A. History,
and the Good Book at Your Side, 4th ed., 2005.
Now to Alcoholics Anonymous History: Item by Item, on the Origins of A.A.
Introduction to the Sources and Founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2007
Real Twelve Step Fellowship History: The Old School A.A. You May Not Know,
Making Known the Biblical History and Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed.
The First Nationwide Alcoholics Anonymous History Conference, 2d ed., 2006.
Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes, 1997.
New Wine: The Spiritual Roots of the Twelve Step Miracle, 1991
My Search for Bill W., 2000.
Alcoholics Anonymous History: Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr.
Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed., 1999.
Bill W., I Stand by the Door, The A.A. Grapevine, 1967.
Charles Taylor Knippel, Samuel M. Shoemaker’s Theological Influence on
William G. Wilson’s Twelve Step Spiritual Program of Recovery, 1987
Helen Smith Shoemaker, I Stand by the Door: The Life of Sam Shoemaker,1967.
John Potter Cuyler, Jr., Calvary Church in Action, 1934.
W. Irving Harris, The Breeze of the Spirit, 1978.
Samuel M. Shoemaker, Calvary Church Yesterday and Today, 1936,
Samuel M. Shoemaker, Realizing Religion, 1923
Alcoholics Anonymous History: the Oxford Group
Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous, Newton ed., 1998.
Frank N. D. Buchman, Remaking the World, 1961.
Frank Buchman: A Life, 1985.
Good God, It Works, 1974.
James D. Newton, Uncommon Friends, 1987.
Henry B. Wright, The Will of God and a Man’s Life Work, 1909.
Howard A. Walter, Soul Surgery, 1928.
Harold Begbie, Life Changers, 1927.
Howard J. Rose, The Quiet Time, 1937.
Cecil Rose, When Man Listens, 1937.
Harry J. Almond, Foundations for Faith, 1980.
Peter Howard, That Man Frank Buchman, 1946.
Robert E. Speer, The Principles of Jesus, 1902.
B. H. Streeter, The God Who Speaks, 1930.
Sherwood Sunderland Day, The Principles of the Group, n.d.
T. Willard Hunter,
It Started Right There, 2006.
World Changing Through Life-Changing, 1977.
The Layman with a Notebook, What is the Oxford Group? 1933.
Meeting Moral Re-Armament, 1979.
Beyond the Satellites: Is God Speaking? Are We Listening, 1987.
Alcoholics Anonymous History and the “Temperance Movement”
[Temperance, Abstinence, and the Widespread Concerns of Society: Bill Wilson had made such a fuss over the “failures” of the Washingtonian Movement that it can be said that his A.A. took no position on “liquor” issues. But the Washingtonian Movement was but a speck on the temperance front. It lasted only a short time. It was dismissed by many as not a religious movement, and it is fair to say that its emphasis was on “pledges” and not on healing by God. Nonetheless, the backdrop of Dr. Bob’s and Bill’s boyhood days was temperance—abstinence from drink—however much people may have disagreed on what was really involved—religion, morality, social problems. There are several pieces of literature that may or may not be known by, or of interest to those who might just dismiss the whole picture by saying, “We don’t want to be like the Washingtonians. They failed.” But the failure occurred before the major influences on A.A. background got under way.]
Harry S. Warner, Rev. Francis W. McPeek, and E.M. Jellinek, “Lecture 19,
Philosophy of the Temperance Movement” Alcohol, Science and Society,
As given at the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies, 1945, 267-285; McPeek: “I don’t believe that the temperance movement can be understood in any sense unless the framework in which it developed is understood, and this framework is essentially Christian.,” 279.
Rev. Roland H. Bainton, “Lecture 20, The Churches and Alcohol, Alcohol,
Science and Society, 287-298
Rev. Francis W. McPeek, “Lecture 26 – The Role of Religious Bodies in the
Trreatment of Inebriety in the United States, Alcohol, Science and Society, 1945, 406-411.
Jared C. Lobdell, This Strange Illness: Alcoholism and Bill W., 2004, 30-38.
William L White, Slaying the Dragon, 1998, 4-14.
Alcoholics Anonymous History: the Co-Founder Dr. Bob’s Christian Roots and Upbringing in Vermont
Dick B. and Ken B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in
the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont, 2008..
[The Town of St. Johnsbury—Dr. Bob’s birthplace]
Edward Taylor Fairbanks, The Town of St. Johnsbury, Vt; A Review
Of One Hundred Twenty-Five Years to the Anniversary Pageant, 1912
Claire Dunne Johnson, “I See By the Paper,” 1987.
[The People, including the Fairbanks family and the Smith family]
Albert Nelson Marquis, Who’s Who in New England
Charles G. Ullery, Men of Vermont, 1894.
Hiram Carleton, Geneological and Family History of the State of
Vermont, Vol I.
Lorenzo Sayles Fairbanks, Geneology of the Fairbanks Family… 1897
The “Fairbanks Papers” 1815-1889,.
William H. Jeffrey, Successful Vermonters, 1904.
[Congregationalism and North Congregational Church of St.Johnsbury]
John M. Comstock, The Congregational Churches of Vermont and Their
Ministry, 1762-1942. 1942.
John E. Nutting, Becoming the United Church of Christ in Vermont, 1995
History of North Congregational Church, 2007
Arthur Fairbanks Stone, North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury,
Vermont, 1825-1942, 1942
[Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor]
Francis E. Clark.
Memoirs of Many Men in Many Lands, An Autobiography, 1922
Christian Endeavor in All Lands, 1906
World Wide Endeavor: The Story of the Young People’s
Society of Christian Endeavor and in All Lands, 1895.
Amos R. Wells, Expert Endeavor, A Textbook of Christian Endeavor
Methods and Principles, 1911.
John R. Clements, The Francis E. Clark Year Book: A Collection of Living
Paragraphs From Addresses, Books, and Magazine Articles by the Founder of the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor, 1904.
John Franklin Cowan, New Life in the Old Prayer Meeting, 1906.
[St. Johnsbury Academy]
Arthur Fairbanks et. al. [including Dr. Bob’s mother], An Historical
Sketch of St. Johnsbury Academy 1842-1922
Charles Edward Russell, Bare Hands and Stone Walls, 1933
Richard Beck, A Proud Tradition A Bright Future, 1992
Robert Miraldi, The Pen Is Mightier: The Muckraking Life of Charles
Edward Russell, 2003.
The Academy Student (1897), (1898)
[Young Men’s Christian Association]
Year Book of the Young Men’s Christian Association of North America,
C. Howard Hopkins, John R. Mott, 1865-1955.
Laurence L. Doggett, History of the Young Men’s Christian Association
Richard C. Morse, History of the North American Young Men’s Christian
Sherwood Eddy, A Century with Youth, 1884-1944, 1944
[In Lecture 26, cited below, Rev. McPeek states: “Much work
was done in the city missions and particularly by the Salvation Army. . . . Generally speaking. The Salvationists have capitalized on the same techniques that have made other reform programs work: (1) Insistence on total abstinence. (2) reliance upon God. (3) the provision of new friendships among those who understand. (4) the opportunity to work with those who suffer from the same difficulty. (5) unruffled patience and consistent faith in the ability of the individual and the power of God to accomplish the desired ends.” 414-415]
William Booth, In Darkest England and the Way Out, 1890,
The Life of General William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation
Army (Vol I and II), NY: MacMillan, 1920.
Twice Born Men, 1909
Rev. Francis W. McPeek, “Lecture 26 – The Role of Relisious Bodies in
the Treatment of Inebriety in the United States,” Alcohol, Science and Society, 1945, 403-418.
Howard Clinebell, Understanding and Counseling Persons with Alcohol,
Drug, and Behavioral Addictions, 1998, 184-194.
Alcoholics Anonymous History: the Christian Upbringing of Co-Founder Bill Wilson
Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.
[The conversion that cured Bill Wilson’s grandfather Willie of alcoholism]
Francis Hartigan, Bill W.: A Biography…, 10-11
Robert Thomsen, Bill W., 14
Bill W., My First 40 Years, 6
Susan Cheever, My Name is Bill, 17.
Allen Folger, Twenty-Five Years as an Evangelist, 1906
Bob Holman, F. B. Meyer: “If I Had a Hundred Lives…,” 2007
Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Wonderful Career of Moody and Sankey in
Great Britain and America, 1876.
Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter, The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever, 2000
J. Wilbur Chapman, Life and Work of Dwight L. Moody
Mark O. Guldseth, Streams, 1982.
[East Dorset Congregational Church]
Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed,
Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W., 7-10, 27-28, 72-73
Susan Cheever, My Name is Bill W., 4, 44
Francis Hartigan, Bill W., 175
Robert Thomsen, Bill W., 15, 30-9. 200
[Bible study-in East Dorset and in a 4 year Bible study course at Burr and Burton]
Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed.
Susan Cheever, My Name is Bill, 37-38, 47-48.
Robert Thomsen, Bill W., 30-39, 200.
[Christian Revivals and Conversion Meetings Bill attended]
Bill Pittman, AA The Way It Began, 79
Francis Hartigan, Bill W., 10-11, 53, 58, 59
Matthew Raphael, Bill W., 77
Susan Cheever, My Name is Bill, 44-45,
Mel B., New Wine, 127-28
[Gospel Rescue Missions]
D. Samuel Hopkins Hadley, Down in Water Street: A Story of Sixteen
Years Life and Work in Water Street Mission: A Sequel to the Life of Jerry McAuley, n.d.
J. Wilbur Chapman, S.H. Hadley of Water Street, 1906.
“Pass It On,”
William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1990, 188-9, 146
John Potter Cuyler, Jr., Calvary Church in Action
Howard Clinebell, Understanding and Counseling, 172-193
[Burr and Burton Academy and the Manchester Congregational Churcht]
Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide
Bill W.: My First Forty Years
Frederica Templeton, The Castle in the Pasture: Portrait of Burr and
Burton Academy, 2005,, 25, 42. 44, 56, 67
[Young Men’s Christian Association-Bill as President, girl friend as YWCA
Bill W., My First Forty Years, 29
Robert Thomsen, Bill W., 57
Frederica Templeton, The Castle in the Pasture, 78-79, 69
[Bill’s return to Jesus Christ, the “Great Physician,” Who can cure alcoholics].
Turning Point, 99-100.
The Conversion of Bill W., 47, 94,
A New Way In: Telling the Truth, 61-66.
Norman Vincent Peale, The Positive Power of Jesus Christ. 1980.
Dale Mitchel, Silkworth, The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 60-63.
Ebby: The Man Who Sponsored Bill W.
New Wine: The Spiritual Roots of the Twelve Step Miracle
“Lois Remembers: Searcy, Ebby, Bill & Early Days”: Recorded in Dallas
Texas, June 29, 1973.
T. Willard Hunter, It Started Right There
Bill W., My First Forty Years
W. Irving Harris, The Breeze of the Spirit
“Pass It On”
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
[Bill Wilson’s first unsuccessful attempts for six months to carry a message]
William Borchert, When Love is Not Enough
Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191.
Lois Remembers, 94-95
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 64-65
The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, 9-10, 26.
Alcoholics Anonymous History – The Fellowship Begins
How the First Three AAs Got Sober by simply turning to God for help.
[As a youngster in Vermont, Bill had repeatedly heard the story of how his alcoholic grandfather Willie had been converted to God through Jesus Christ on a mountaintop next to Bill’s village. Willie was saved, said so, and never touched a drop during the remaining years of his life. And Bill was no stranger to revivals, conversion meetings, temperance meetings, and salvation teachings—the latter in his church and Sunday school]
(1) Dr. Carl Jung had told Rowland Hazard that he had the mind of a chronic alcoholic and that a conversion experience might heal him (2) Rowland Hazard made a decision for Jesus Christ and also joined the Oxford Group. (3) Rowland and two other Oxford Group friends told Bill Wilson’s long-time drinking friend Ebby Thacher the solution that Jung had proffered. Rowland taught him about the efficacy of prayer. He informed Ebby of a number of the Oxford Group’s Christian principals. Then Ebby was lodged in Calvary Rescue Mission in New York. (4) Meanwhile, Bill Wilson had made his third visit to Towns Hospital. Dr. William D. Silkworth, Bill’s psychiatrist, had a long talk. Silkworth had given Bill a virtual death sentence contingent upon his continuing to drink. Dr. Silkworth, a devout Christian and a long-time parishioner of Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Church, told Bill Wilson that the “Great Physician” Jesus Christ could cure Bill. (5) In this same period, Ebby Thacher had made a decision for Jesus Christ at Calvary Mission, decided to witness to Bill, visited Bill, and told Bill what had happened at the Mission. (6) Bill decided to check out Ebby’s story and went to hear him give testimony at Calvary Church. (7) Bill decided that if the Great Physician had helped Ebby recover, he might help Bill. (8) Bill W. accepted Jesus Christ at Calvary Mission, wrote in his autobiography that “For sure I had been born again.” (9) Bill continued to drink, became severely depressed, and thought, If there be a Great Physician, I had better call on him. (10) Bill staggered on to Towns Hospital drunk and very depressed and was hospitalized. (11) He said to himself, “I’ll do anything, anything at all. If there be a Great Physician, I’ll call on him.” (12) He cried out, “If there be a God let him show himself.” (13) He said the effect was, instant, electric. Suddenly my room blazed with an indescribably white light. (14) He continued: Then, seen in the mind’s eye, there was a mountain. I stood upon its summit where a great wind blew. A wind, not of air, but of spirit. In great, clean strength it blew right through me. (15) The light and the ecstasy subsided. He became more quiet. A great peace stole over him. (16) Then he became acutely conscious of a presence which seemed like a “veritable sea of living spirit.” (17) He thought, “This must be the great reality.” And in one account, he said this was “the God of the Scriptures.” (18) He said, “I thanked my God who had given me a glimpse of His absolute Self. (19) He said that faith had suddenly appeared—no blind faith—but faith fortified by the consciousness of the presence of God. (20) Briefly He stopped doubting God and said “this great and sudden gift of grace has always been mine.” (21) He never drank again. (22) But he did have his “hour of doubt.” (23) Dr. Silkworth appeared and sat by Bill’s bed. Bill told Silkworth what had happened. Bill asked: “Doctor, is this real? Am I still perfectly sane?” (24) Sikworth assured him that he was sane. He said “You have had some kind of conversion experience.” (25) Ebby showed up at the hospital, agreed with Bill that he and Bill had a release that was a gift, real. He handed Bill a copy of a book by Professor William James. It was called “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” Bill he had read it “all day.”(26) The James book was filled with studies and stories of the cure of alcoholism at missions such as the one founded by Jerry McAuley at 316 Water Street in 1872, and later (in 1882) at 104 West Thirty-second Street, known as Cremorne Mission. In 1886, S.H. Hadley took charge of the Water Street Mission. Hadley had been converted at Jerry McAuley’s Cremorne Mission, and in the years of service in Water Street not less than seventy-five thousand persons came to the mission for help. Hadley died in 1906. (27) Before his discharge from Towns Hospital in December of 1935, Wilson had been inspired to help drunks everywhere. (28) On his discharge, he raced feverishly to the streets, the missions, the hospitals, the Bowery, and flea bag hotels. He went with a Bible under his arm and insisted that drunks give their lives to God. (29) Bill’s story is briefly told as follows in the Big Book: “Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me curing me of this terrible disease that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.” (30) But in his first six months of witnessing, Bill was unable to get a single person sober.]
[Dr. Bob was born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont when the entire state was still swirling from the effect of “The Great Awakening of 1875 in St. Johnsbury.” His parents were married when the events were taking place. They taught Bob about salvation and the Word of God. He heard similar sermons and teachings in the family’s North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury. Temperance was in the air. The Young Men’s Christian Association had been active in bringing about the Great Awakening and was still very active during Bob’s growing-up period. The great evangelists had inspired Vermont with their talk of salvation, the Bible, and God’s healing power. The Salvation Army was becoming well known for its outreach and resulting healing of derelicts and drunks. So too were the rescue mission events involving Jerry McAuley, Water Street Mission, and S.H. Hadley. The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor, in which Dr. Bob was active, had laid out a program of confession of Jesus Christ, conversions, Bible study meetings, prayer meetings, Quiet Hour observances, and reading and speaking on Christian literature. Their program, though not aimed at drunkards, was certainly focused on bringing young people back to their churches. In his early sobriety, Dr. Bob had turned back to church for himself and Sunday school for his children. And the program of the early Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship closely resembled the conversions which were so much a part of Bill’s life, and the principles and practices of Christian Endeavor.]
[Dr. Bob’s road back to sobriety could—like Bill Wilson’s—be said to have begun when he was at the bottom of the heap in 1931. I learned little about him at that time. But I researched an learned a lot about what happened in Akron in 1931. It revolved around the Firestone family, and Harvey’s protégé Jim Newton—a young man from Florida. When Jim arrived in Akron, he befriended Russell Firestone but found that Russell had a serious drinking problem. Jim tried to help Russell by Oxford Group techniques. But finally, the family decided to call in Rev. Sam Shoemaker of New York—an Oxford Group leader of that time. They (Harvey, Russell, Jim and Sam) boarded a train for a Bishop’s conference in Denver—with Russell well supplied with liquor. But on the trip back, Sam Shoemaker took Russell into a train compartment and led Russell to a new birth in Christ. By the time the train arrived back in Akron, Russell was healed, and his doctor felt it was a miracle. Russell and Jim then began traveling together and witnessing to others about the Oxford Group’s life-changing program. By 1933, the family was elated at Russell’s progress. They invited Dr. Frank Buchman and a retinue of some 30 Oxford Group activists to come to Akron, speak in the pulpits and public places, and inform the press. I have personally seen the Akron newspapers of that early 1933 period; and they are alive with talk of Russell and his “miracle,” of Jesus Christ, of the Bible, and of Christianity. And a large part of the town turned out to hear Russell, Jim, Buchman, and others give testimony.]
[The wheels of sobriety began to grind for Dr. Bob. His friend Henrietta Seiberling and his wife Anne attended the 1933 functions. They were excited. They persuaded Dr. Bob to join a small Oxford Group. And, though he continued to drink, Dr. Bob read all the Oxford Group literature he could get his hands on. He studied the Bible extensively once again. He prayed. And he enjoyed the people. But he concluded to Henrietta that he just didn’t want to quit drinking and was a “wanna wanna” guy. But Henrietta was undeterred. She convened a tiny group, including Bob. They all engaged in life-changing stories. Dr. Bob joined in and confessed that he was a “secret drinker.” Henrietta asked him if he wanted to pray for his deliverance. And Bob joined the group on his knees on the rug at the T. Henry Williams home, asking God for help. Help did not come at once. But a seemingly miraculous phone call reached Henrietta from an unknown stranger from New York. It was Bill Wilson saying that he was an Oxford Grouper, a rum hound from New York, and needed to talk with a drunk. Henrietta was sure this was an answer to the prayers and thought of Bill, “This is manna from heaven.” She arranged a visit at her home between Bob and Bill. It lasted six hours. Bob said he had heard it all before, but that Bill talked his language—the story of a drunk. Bob said he picked up on the idea of “service” which was something his religious endeavors had not gotten through to him.
And, after one last binge, Bob quit forever while Bill Wilson was living with the Smiths in their home.
Bill Dotson (A.A. Number Three)
[We have run across very little concerning Bill Dotson, except as set forth in the biographical information above. However, we know for sure that: (1) Dotson was an attorney in Akron. (2) Dotson believed in God, went to church, taught Sunday school, and became a Deacon in the church. (3) His alcoholism had progressed to the point that he had been strapped to a hospital bed eight times in the preceding months. (4) And when Dr. Bob inquired of a nurse whether there was a hospitalized drunk who needed help, she told them she had a dandy—Bill Dotson. (5) Bill and Bob visited Dotson, told him their stories, told him he needed to seek God’s help, and that—upon being healed—he must go out and help others in like situations. (6) Dotson did turn to God for help and was instantly cured. In fact, he subscribed to Bill Wilson’s statement on page 191 of the Big Book that “the Lord had cured” him and that he just wanted to keep talking about it and telling people. He called the statement the “golden text of A.A.” for him and for others. (7) And, when Bill and Bob had returned to the hospital, Dotson had been relieved of his drinking problem, He left the hospital with his wife. The date was July 4, 1935; and Bill Wilson proclaimed that as the founding date for A.A.’s first group—Akron Number One. Dotson remained active in A.A. and often led groups with a Bible in his lap, ready to help someone who needed help.]
The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (Pamphlet P-53)
Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed,, 2010.
Dick B. and Ken B. “Introductory Foundations for Christian Recovery” Class
The Original Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship Program Founded in June, 1935, and the first group—Akron Number One—founded July 4, 1935 when Bill D. was cured.
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers
Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous
Dick B., Turning Point: The Spiritual History of Alcoholics Anonymous
Dick B., Henrietta B. Seiberling: Ohio’s Lady with a Cause
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 66-72.
The Principles and Practices of the Original Akron A.A. Pioneers
Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide
Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers
Sue Smith Windows and Robert R. Smith, Children of the Healer, 1992
The Role of the Bible in Earliest A.A.
The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers
The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible
The Good Book-Big Book Guidebook
The James Club and the Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials
Anne Smith’s Journal 1933-1939
Why Early A.A. Succeeded (A Bible Study Primer)
Cured: Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts
The First Nationwide Alcoholics Anonymous History Conference
“Prayer and Meditation” in Earliest A.A.
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers
Dick B., Good Morning!: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and Early
Howard Rose, The Quiet Time
Donald Carruthers, How to Find Reality in Your Morning Devotions, Penn State
Nora Smith Holm, The Runner’s Bible
The Upper Room
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
E. Stamley Jones, Victorious Living
The “Real Surrender” to Jesus Christ in Early A.A.
The Golden Text of A.A.
When Early AAs Were Cured and Why
That Amazing Grace
A New Way Out: New Path, Familiar Road Signs, Our Creator’s Guidance
Mitchell K., How It Worked
Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide
The Akron Formula
[Bible based, Christ-centered, bringing the Creator’s Power and Cures Back into Focus. And we believe the following are the ingredients common to most all successful Christian efforts to bring deliverance to alcoholics: 1. The choice of abstinence. 2. The choice of avoiding temptation. 3. The choice of entrusting one’s life to the care, direction, and strength of the Creator. 4. The choice of establishing a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. 5. The choice of obeying His commandments and eliminating sinful conduct. 6. The choice of growing in knowledge and fellowship with Him, His son, and His children through Bible study, prayer, religious fellowship, worship, and witness. 7. The choice of passing along to others with love and service the message that will enable those others to help and be helped in the same manner.]
Dick B., A New Way Out, 63-64.
The Daily Meetings, Family Emphasis, and Close Contacts Among Members—Resemblance to First Century Christianity
[A.A. History – A.A. and First Century Christianity. The Multiple First Century Christianity-A.A. Quotes Among The Rockefeller People Who Investigated. Five of the Rockefeller people involved with the Frank Amos report commented as follows on the First Century Christianity nature of the Akron A.A.:
Frank Amos: As stated, Rockefeller’s investigator Frank Amos had observed that the meetings of Akron people had, in many respects, taken on the form of the meetings described in the Gospels of the early Christians during the first century (Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, pp. 135-36)
Albert Scott: In December, 1936. a meeting was held in John D. Rockefeller’s private board room. Bill W., Dr. Bob, Dr. Silkworth, Dr. Leonard Strong, and some alcoholics from New York and Akron met with Rockefeller’s associates Willard Richardson, A. Leroy Chapman, Frank Amos, and Albert Scott. The meeting was chaired by Albert Scott, chairman of the board of trustees of New York’s Riverside Church. Each alcoholic was enjoined to tell his own personal story, after which, the chairman Albert Scott exclaimed, “Why, this is first-century Christianity. What can we do to help?” (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 148)
Nelson Rockefeller: In February of 1940, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. had arranged a dinner for Bill and the AAs. John D. had intended to attend, but was too ill to do so and sent his son Nelson Rockefeller to host the dinner. As Bill’s wife Lois Wilson records in her memoirs, “When Nelson finally got up to talk, there was a great deal of expectancy. He told how impressed his father [John D., Jr..] was with this unique movement, which resembled early Christianity.” (Lois Remembers, pp. 128-29)
Willard Richardson and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., himself: What they’d been hearing, he [Albert Scott] said, was like first century Christianity, where one person carried the word to the next. . . . Willard Richardson was in charge of all John D. Jr.’s philanthropies. . . Willard Richardson added his approval to the report and immediately passed it on to Mr. [John D.] Rockefeller. . . Rockefeller was impressed. He saw the parallel with early Christianity and along with this he spotted a combination of medicine and religion that appealed to all his charitable inclinations (Robert Thomsen, Bill W., pp. 274-75).
The best comparative material can be found in Acts 2:41-47:
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added [unto them] about three thousand souls.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all [men], as every man had need.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread f from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Bob, co-founder of A.A. frequently called the early A.A. Akron program a “Christian Fellowship”
Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed., 2010.
The Counting of Noses in November, 1937 that proved God had shown the founders how to succeed
[DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers also comments on the November 1937 meeting between Bill W. and Dr. Bob which led to the decision that a book about their cure for alcoholism would be needed.
In November of that year [i.e., 1937], Bill Wilson went on a business trip that enabled him to make a stopover in Akron. . . .
Bill’s writings record the day he sat in the living room with Doc, counting recoveries. “A hard core of very grim, last-gasp cases had by then been sober a couple of years,” he said. “All told, we figured that upwards of 40 alcoholics were staying bone dry
Up to then, prospects had come to the founders from other cities. Now, the question was whether every alcoholic had to come to Akron or New York to get sober. Was it possible to reach distant alcoholics? Was it possible for the Fellowship to grow “rapidly and soundly”?
This was when Bill began to think . . . of writing a book of experiences that would carry the message of recovery to other cities and other countries.
Let us now look at this vitally-significant, November 1937 meeting in more detail.
In an October 1945 article in the A.A. Grapevine titled “The Book Is Born,” Bill referred to his meeting with Dr. Bob in Akron in November 1937 as follows:
By the fall of 1937 we could count what looked like forty recovered members. One of us had been sober three years, another two and a half, and a fair number had a year or more behind them. As all of us had been hopeless cases, this amount of time elapsed began to be significant. The realization that we had “found something” began to take hold of us. No longer were we a dubious experiment. Alcoholics could stay sober. Great numbers, perhaps! While some of us had always clung to this possibility, the dream now had real substance. If forty alcoholics could recover, why not four hundred, four thousand — even forty thousand. RHS: Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous: Our Beloved DR. BOB (NY: A.A. Grapevine, Inc., 1951), 8. The article from which this quote is taken also occurs in The Language of the Heart and is titled “Dr. Bob: A Tribute.” This quote appears on page 359 of that article.
In the quote above, Bill spoke of having counted “what looked like forty recovered members.” He also speculated about possible, much larger numbers of alcoholics—”even forty thousand”—recovering.
Bill W. spoke more clearly and at greater length about his November 1937 meeting with Dr. Bob in Akron in his tribute to Dr. Bob in the special memorial issue of The A.A. Grapevine in January 1951 titled “RHS”:
Meanwhile a small group had taken shape in New York. The Akron meeting at T. Henry’s home began to have a few Cleveland visitors. At this juncture I spent a week visiting Dr. Bob. We commenced to count noses. Out of hundreds of alcoholics, how many had stuck? How many were sober? And for how long? In that fall of 1937 Bob and I counted forty cases who had significant dry time — maybe sixty years for the whole lot of them! Our eyes glistened. Enough time had elapsed on enough cases to spell out something quite new, perhaps something great indeed. . . . A beacon had been lighted. God had shown alcoholics how it might be passed from hand to hand. Never shall I forget that great and humbling hour of realization, shared with Dr. Bob.
But the new realization faced us with a great problem, a momentous decision. It had taken nearly three years to effect forty recoveries. The United States alone probably had a million alcoholics. How were we to get the story to them?
Here again, Bill declares that he and Dr. Bob “counted forty cases who had significant dry time” and refers to “forty recoveries.” And note that Bill credited God with having shown them “how it might be passed from hand to hand.” RHS: Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous: Our Beloved DR. BOB (NY: A.A. Grapevine, Inc., 1951), 8. The article from which this quote is taken also occurs in The Language of the Heart and is titled “Dr. Bob: A Tribute.” This quote appears on page 359 of that article.
Bill wrote about his November 1937 meeting with Dr. Bob in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age:
. . . [T]his trip [in the fall of 1937] gave me a much needed chance to visit Dr. Bob in Akron. It was on a November day in that year [of 1937] when Dr. Bob and I sat in his living room, counting the noses of our recoveries. There had been failures galore, but now we could see some startling successes too. A hard core of very grim, last-gasp cases had by then been sober a couple of years, an unheard-of development. There were twenty or more such people. All told we figured that upwards of forty alcoholics were staying bone dry.
. . . [A] benign chain reaction, one alcoholic carrying the good news to the next, had started outward from Dr. Bob and me. Conceivably it could one day circle the whole world. What a tremendous thing that realization was! At last we were sure. . . . We actually wept for joy, and Bob and Anne and I bowed our heads in silent prayer. Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 76. See also: Debra Jay, No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action Against Alcoholism and Drug Addiction (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2006), 287-88.
Here again, we see Bill commenting about the “upwards of forty alcoholics” who “were staying bone dry,” while speaking almost in the same breath about how “it could one day circle the whole world.”
The A.A. General Service Conference-approved book “Pass It On” also discusses this November 1937 meeting.
“Later in 1937, Bill . . . did visit Bob and Anne in Akron. It was on this visit that the two men conducted a “formal” review of their work of the past two years.
What they came to realize as a result of that review was astounding: Bill may have been stretching things when he declared that at least 20 cases had been sober a couple of years; but by counting everybody who seemed to have found sobriety in New York and Akron, they concluded that more than 40 alcoholics were staying dry as a result of the program! “Pass It On”: The Story of Bill Wilson and How the A.A. Message Reached the World (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984), 177-78.
Bill W. also spoke briefly about this meeting with Dr. Bob—without mentioning numbers of recoveries—in his May 1955 article in the A.A. Grapevine titled “How AA’s World Services Grew, Part 1,” in The Language of the Heart, 142.
See also: Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 224-25.
Bill W.’s wife Lois remarked on the 40 in her memoirs:
The business depression returned in 1937, and toward the end of the year Quaw and Foley had to let Bill go. He went to Detroit and Cleveland looking for new job ideas and, of course, stopped off at Akron on the way
He and Bob assessed the current status of the movement. They were surprised to find that, although many of those they had worked with had fallen by the way, forty members enjoyed an average of two years’ solid sobriety. This was flabbergasting, awe-inspiring. They really had hit on a program for helping alcoholics. Now they saw it could develop into something tremendous—if it was not diluted or garbled by word of mouth. Lois Remembers: Memoirs of the Co-founder of Al-Anon and Wife of the Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (New York: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1987), 107.
Here are some key comments about this important tally of successes by other writers:
In November [of 1937] Bill had to make a trip to the Midwest in connection with the brokerage job he was trying to nail down. Although nothing came of his efforts concerning the job—another depression had hit the country in the fall of ’37—the trip gave him an opportunity to visit Dr. Bob in Akron. Bill had been sober almost three years, Bob two and a half, and this, they figured, should be ample time for them to see where they were and even make some sort of informal progress report.
There had been failures galore. Literally hundreds of drunks had been approached by their two groups and some had sobered up for a brief period but then slipped away. They were both conscious of their failures as they settled down in Bob’s living room and began comparing notes. But as the afternoon wore on and they continued going over lists, counting noses, they found themselves facing a staggering fact. In all, in Ohio and in New York, they knew forty alcoholics who were sober and were staying sober, and of this number at least twenty had been completely dry for more than a year. Moreover, every single one of them had been diagnosed a hopeless case.
As they sat, each with a paper in hand, checking and rechecking the score, a strange thing happened; they both fell silent. This was more than a game they were playing, more than a little casual bookkeeping to be used for a report. There were forty names representing forty men whose lives had been changed, who actually were alive tonight because of what had started in this very room. The chain reaction they had dreamed about—one alcoholic carrying the word to another—was a reality. It had moved onward, outward from them. Robert Thomsen, Bill W. (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 266-67.
Although Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith had communicated through dozens of letters, sitting down together again after almost two years turned out to be an astonishing experience. Whey they compared notes in person, they realized that they had actually found something that doctors and laymen had been searching for as long as anyone could remember: a way to help alcoholics get sober that actually worked. Between them they counted forty men who hadn’t had a drink in more than a year Susan Cheever, My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson: His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous (New York: Washington Square Press, 2004), 147.
In November [of 1937], Bill . . . was able to spend some time in Akron. . . .
. . . He and the Smiths decided to take an inventory. Among those they had tried to help, the failures were endless, and many of those who seemed sincerely willing to try their approach were struggling. When they were done counting, though, they realized that between Akron and New York there were now forty alcoholics staying sober, and half of them had not had a drink for more than a year. Francis Hartigan, Bill W.: A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson (NY: St. Martins Press, 2000), 101.]
The Documented 75% Success Rate in the Akron A.A. Program
Richard K., Early A.A.—Separating Fact from Fiction: How Revisionists Have
Led Our History Astray, 2003
Richard K. New Freedom: Reclaiming Alcoholics Anonymous, 2005
The one-page list in the hand of Dr. Bob—now in the Rockefeller Archives
Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide
Bill Wilson’s Preparation for a New, Oxford Group-Oriented Program
The Preparation of the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous
[This story begins with what Bill Wilson had learned from his extensive contacts with the Oxford Group, its meetings, its house parties, its teams, and Oxford Group leaders and activists such as Dr. Frank N.D. Buchman, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Irving Harris and his wife, Rowland Hazard, Shep Cornell, Cebra Graves, Garrett Stearly, Cleve Hicks, Victor Kitchen, Garth Lean, and others. He learned Oxford Group ideas from Shoemaker, Rowland Hazard, Ebby Thacher, and attendance at their meetings. Bill is mentioned personally in some of the Shoemaker personal journals we have seen. He was given a major post in bringing the president of the League of Nations to America. Bill left the Oxford Group in August of 1937, but he soon returned to become a personal friend and collaborator with Sam Shoemaker. Bill had gone to Akron to obtain permission to write a book, and he received it—by a bare majority of those voting. According to Bill, Shoemaker, and Irving Harris, Bill began working with Shoemaker on the contents of the book. They were closeted in Shoemaker’s book-lined study at Calvary House. Bill showed Shoemaker the first manuscript of the book. And he actually asked Shoemaker to write the Twelve Steps though Shoemaker declined. This charts the Big Book connections. And part of the preparations for the book were the so-called six word-of-mouth ideas Bill claimed were being used before the Big Book. Bill said there was no agreement on the contents of the six, and their contents certainly differed.
Here are the various ways Bill’s alleged six “steps” were phrased, for example, as to God:
1. “We prayed to God.” See Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics
Anonymous, 256-257; The Language of the Heart, 200; William White, Slaying the Dragon, 132.
2. “We prayed to whatever God we thought there was.” Dick B., The Akron
Genesis, 256; “Pass It On,” 197; Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. 160; Jared Lobdell, This Strange Illness, 242. .
3. We prayed to God as you understand him.” Jared Lobdell, This Strange
Illness, 242; Dick B., Turning Point, 100.
4. Bill Wilson also said his “six steps” came from the Oxford Group; and Lois
Wilson contended that the Oxford Group said: “Surrender your life to God.”
Lois Remembers, 92; Dick B., The Akron Genesis, 257. But, acting on the research and opinion of Oxford
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