A.A. Timeline (1925 to
1955)—A.A.’s Varied Roots and Offshoots
Dick B. © 2005
PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; Email:
http://www.dickb.com.shtml; Ph/fax: 808 874 4876
A New and Fresh Timeline Approach
Many do not realize that A.A. had two separate and distinct spiritual roots and
several, distinctly different, later offshoots – facts often ignored or
Historical amnesia seems to have obscured the result of A.A.’s having two very
different, albeit totally congenial, co-founders with two very different
backgrounds and viewpoints. The resulting obscurity may well have been due to:
(1) Dr. Bob’s modest reluctance to discuss his own younger days, religious
background and activities, Christian convictions, and highly successful recovery
work. (2) Bill Wilson’s effort to fashion a program for his "Big Book" that
would quietly, yet primarily, incorporate and codify the ideas of the Oxford
Group, the teachings of Rev. Sam Shoemaker, and add a group of ideas calculated
to bring atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers into the A.A. fold and, at the
same time, require no religious commitment from them.
Unquestionably, the now well-known Oxford Group root spawned the fellowship that
A.A.’s two founders developed. But the birthing almost immediately produced a
far different and unexpected outcome considering the Oxford Group origins.
Regrettably, A.A.’s original spiritual program of recovery—developed primarily
from Dr. Bob’s Biblical ideas and his religious affiliation and training as a
youngster—has faded away. That early, simple, astonishingly successful Christian
fellowship program has yielded to a long-honored time-line of events featuring
Bill Wilson’s own story, experiences, and views. The pioneer views were heavily
altered by Bill’s background as a "conservative atheist" (to use his term), his
personal relationship with the Oxford Group and its Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker,
Jr., and as one who attempted to help alcoholics "find God" through what two Big
Book Seminar teachers have termed a "practical program of action." This
Wilsonian approach combined what some have called Dr. Carl Jung’s "solution;"
Dr. William D. Silkworth’s definition of the "problem;" and the Oxford Group’s
life-changing principles and practices. Professor William James was credited by
Bill as the "founder" who validated the conversion experience solution.The end
result of Wilson’s reframing wound up in his Big Book program and Twelve Steps.
See Pass It On (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 196-199; The
Language of the Heart (NY: The AA Grapevine, Inc., 1998, 297-298; Bill Pittman,
AA The Way It Began (Seattle: Glen Abbey Books, 1988) 172-197. The Bible, the
Christian devotionals and literature, conversions, the God of Genesis 1:1, and
Jesus were left on the shelf to gather dust.
Yet, if anyone hopes to understand and accurately interpret A.A. history, its
early A.A. successes and cures, and its easily recognized religious elements of
in the 1930’s, that person need to examine both of A.A.’s separate and distinct
roots as well the progression of events that took place with respect to A.A. and
its component roots and offshoots between 1925 to 1955. Part of the present-day
historical vacuum is caused by the failure of AAs, their society, and historians
even to look at the first root. For prior to 1925, two separate and distinct
societies were emerging in what we shall call the "life-changing" category.
Both, however, could and should better be placed in the "religious" category—one
that today’s revisionists have tried zealously to distance from A.A. itself.
The United Christian Endeavor Society: A.A.’s earliest and virtually unknown,
unrecognized, and unmentioned major root is The United Christian Endeavor
Society. The Christian Endeavor Movement began in 1888 in Williston Maine’s
Congregational Church. It was founded to recapture the enthusiasm of Williston’s
young people for their own local, Protestant Church. The movement spread quickly
to Vermont’s North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury—the church to which
Dr. Bob belonged, as a youngster. Ultimately, Christian Endeavor grew in
world-wide scope and influence to a membership of over 3,500,000 – a number far
greater than the combined peak membership of the prior Washingtonians, the
subsequent Oxford Group, and the still later A.A. Society. Christian Endeavor
still exists today. And it is church-centered. See Francis E. Clark. Christian
Endeavor in All Lands (Boston: The United Society of Christian Endeavor, 1906).
The Oxford Group: A.A.’s second, often discussed, yet much later root in the
timeline was the Oxford Group—first called "A First Century Christian
Fellowship" See Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed.
(Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998). This society was
organized some three decades later than its predecessor Christian Endeavor. It
had no church affiliation and could properly be called the one-man creation, in
1919, of Lutheran Minister Frank N. D. Buchman. Buchman founded the Oxford
Group. His society got under way about 1920 with a small group of followers who
focused on evangelistic personal work that would help individuals eliminate sin
from their lives, gain or regain a relationship with God, and live by moral
principles taken from the Bible. The Oxford Group as such does not exist today
in America where it began. It was never church-centered.
A.A.’s earliest root can be found in the United Christian Endeavor Society—which
stressed confession of Christ, conversion meetings, prayer meetings, Bible
studies, Quiet Hour, reading of Christian literature, and emphasis on love and
service. These specific features can readily be seen in the simple A.A.
practices under way in the 1930’s in the developing Akron A.A. Christian
Fellowship. See Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why (Kihei, HI: Paradise
Research Publications, Inc., 2004). The Akron fellowship, led by Dr. Bob, called
itself a Christian Fellowship and converted members to Christ. Bible study,
prayer meetings, and Quiet Time were stressed. Members read all kinds of
Christian literature. They had no text. They had no steps. Their meetings were
held only once a week. And they certainly had no world, life-changing mission
such as that of the Oxford Group teams that traveled the world over. In fact,
the Akron pioneer fellowship characterized itself as a "clandestine lodge" of
the Oxford Group and really had no significant contact with the Oxford Group,
its leadership in America, or its British activists. The Akron Fellowship
emphasis was on love and service. So was that of Christian Endeavor.
By contrast, the Buchman followers (first known as A First Century Christian
Fellowship) later came to be known as the Oxford Group. Their talk was of a
personal God who had a plan, to whom man must surrender, and of the sin which
they said had blocked man from God. They used "Five C’s"—Confidence, Confession,
Conviction, Conversion, and Continuance—as a process they believed would
eliminate the sin separating man from God. They espoused the Four
Absolutes—Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, and Love—which were to replace sinful
conduct and become standards for moral conduct. They embraced Quiet Time and
Morning Watch practices that had become popular in the 1880’s and involved Bible
study, prayer, guidance, journaling thoughts, and checking. The Group’s avowed
aim was a moral and "spiritual awakenings" and "spiritual experience" through
life-changing procedures among its adherents. Its activists promoted its message
through "sharing for witness," teamwork, loyalty, and fellowship. They were
devoted to changing individual lives, and thereby changing the world, with the
techniques mentioned above. The Group was never church-centered; it really was
This article will trace the impact of A.A.’s two diverse, spiritual, and
distinctly unrelated time-line streams to A.A. as it had developed by 1955—a
time when Bill Wilson believed A.A. had finally "come of age." This was the A.A.
"came of age" in 1955—the A.A. that followed Dr. Bob’s death, and the A.A. that
had begun to accept all members from all manner of religions of every hue,
including atheists, agnostics, and rank unbelievers. This A.A. was most
assuredly far different from the A.A. that Bill had Bob had organized and
developed in Akron between 1935 and 1938. It was the A.A. which prompted Dr. Bob
to state at the close of his personal story in the Big Book: "If you think you
are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual
pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for
you." Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,
Inc., 2001) 181.
We don’t discuss here which of the two A.A. roots was "right" or "better." We
look at a new and fresh timeline of events whose examination by you should aid
in an understanding of both roots, can be used in A.A. today, and can perhaps
help end an increasingly hostile attitude among some AAs today—between so-called
"religious" members and so-called "spiritual" members."
A Review of Events Involving Spiritual Origin Number One
The St. Johnsbury North Congregational Church, United Christian Endeavor, and
Features: Confession of Christ, conversion meetings, prayer meetings, Bible
study meetings, religious topics for discussion, use of religious literature,
Quiet Hour, support for one’s own church of choice, and emphasis on love and
service. For an on-line discussion, see http://www.dickb.com/Christian_Endeavor.shtml.
The time line, beginning at Dr. Bob’s birth, goes as follows:
1879: Dr. Bob Smith was born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
-----: The Smith family’s membership in the North Congregational Church for many
years when Dr. Bob, his parents, sister, and family were all active members of
this St. Johnsbury Congregational Church. Dr. Bob’s father taught Sunday School
there for forty years. Dr. Bob’s mother was a church-going lady busy with social
and religious activities, and the whole family attended church services and
prayer meetings at least four times each. Dr. Bob was, in addition, active in
the church’s Christian Endeavor group.
1888: United Christian Endeavor. Founded in Williston, Maine at its
Congregational Church, pastored by founder Rev. Francis Clark, with the movement
quickly spreading to Vermont and Massachusetts.
1885: From 1885 to 1894, Bob attended elementary school in St. Johnsbury; He
entered the St. Johnsbury Academy—an independent secondary school for the
intellectual, moral, and religious training of boys and girls"—and there
matriculated from 1894 until graduation. In 1898, he went to Dartmouth,then to
University of Michigan as a premed student, then to Rush University medical
school near Chicago, and finally received his medical degree in 1910. Though Dr.
Bob met Anne Robinson Ripley—his wife to be—at a dance in the St. Johnsbuy
Academy gym, the two courted for 17 years and then married on January 25, 1915.
Anne was a student at Wellesley when the pair first met. And Anne taught school
during the long courtship—a period when Dr. Bob was intensely involved both
educational pursuits and the pursuit of liquor.
-----: As a youngster, Bob attended some four prayer and other meetings at his
church each week and was, in addition, actively involved in its Christian
Endeavor Society. He indicated emphatically that he had become horoughly
familiar with the Bible during those years—as did every active Christian
Endeavorer; and he said he had received "excellent training" in the Bible in
those days—days probably spanned a period beginning in 1889 and continued
through his Academy years until 1898. All the while, Christian Endeavor was
growing like wildfire across the United States and abroad and pumping out
literature from such famous Christian leaders as Dwight L. Moody, F. B. Meyer,
Amos Wells, and Charles Sheldon.
The Akron Events from 1931 to 1935 and what they contributed
Features: The conversion of Akron’s Russell Firestone in 1931 and his miraculous
recovery from alcoholism. These events offered proof that help for the alcoholic
was available through turning to God, changing one’s life, and devoting one’s
efforts to God’s will and purposes. In 1933, this solution became widely
publicized when the Firestone family invited Oxford Group founder Frank Buchman
and his entourage to come to Akron and witness. Henrietta Seiberling and Anne
Smith immediately saw hope for Dr. Bob Smith. They formed a tiny "clandestine
lodge" consisting of several Oxford Group people willing to help drunks. This
small group held meetings; and they persuaded Dr. Bob to return to his religious
roots through study of the Bible, prayer, seeking God’s help, and church
membership. Though still drinking, Dr. Bob responded. He also began an intense
three year study of the Bible, immense reading of Christian and Oxford Group
literature, and church attendance. Henrietta Seiberling persisted in her efforts
to help her friend Dr. Bob. When little was known of alcoholism, Henrietta
received Divine revelation that Bob’s problem would only be solved if he did not
take one drop of liquor. She convened a special meeting of the group. After all
shared shortcomings and Dr. Bob shared his drinking problem, Henrietta asked Bob
if he wanted to pray. He said yes, and all prayed with Dr. Bob that his problem
be removed—though Bob thereafter continued to drink. Ere long, however, in what
Henrietta described as "manna from heaven," there came a phone call to her from
Bill Wilson of New York, asking her in finding him a drunk to help. Henrietta
immediately arranged a meeting between Bill and Dr. Bob at the Seiberling Gate
Lodge in Akron. The two (Bill and Bob) met the next day. Bill soon moved in with
the Smiths for three months; and the earliest A.A. was considered founded on
June 10, 1935 (perhaps even a few days later) when Dr. Bob took his last drink.
In a matter of a few days after that, A.A.’s first group, Akron Number One, was
considered founded after Bill and Dr. Bob had witnessed in Akron’s City Hospital
to a very sick alcoholic attorney Henry Dotson. For Dotson had heard their
message, turned to God, and walked from a lingering alcoholism problem to
complete freedom. At that point, the three first AAs (Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob
Smith, and Bill Dotson) all clearly stated that the "Lord" had cured them of
their curse of alcoholism.
Meanwhile, a totally different chain of events had been in progress in New York.
A Review of Events Involving Spiritual Origin Number Two
Features: While most AAs today are induced to begin their time-line story with
the visit of New England businessman Rowland Hazard to Dr. Carl Jung in
Switzerland about 1931 in Switzerland, the fact is that the wheels of Bill
Wilson’s Big Book program had been put in motion several years before. And the
undeniable hub was "A First Century Christian Fellowship" founded by Dr. Frank
N.D. Buchman. Buchman’s ideas had been gathered and simmering from a number of
diverse Christian sources. But the first printed formulation of them was in the
book Soul Surgery, written by H.A. Walter in 1919 in collaboration with Buchman
and Buchman’s mentor Professor Henry B. Wright of Yale. That soul-surgery book
described in detail a method of personal evangelism involving what Buchman had
named the "Five C’s"—Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, and
Conservation (the latter subsequently being called "Continuance"). Buchman’s
thesis was that man’s basic problem was sin.
In Buchman’s view, sin was estrangement from God. That sin was to be "cut out"
by what Buchman called God’s art of "soul surgery." The "Five C" process was
soon accompanied by the other facets of Buchman’s program and was intended to
produce a moral or spiritual awakening which many Oxford Group people simply
called "change"—not "conversion." Buchman and his followers made no particular
point of helping alcoholics, though some had achieved sobriety by following
Buchman’s Biblical principles and practices. The talk was really about what
Oxford Group activist T. Willard Hunter has called "World Changing Through
Life-Changing." And this life-changing was sought through gaining the confidence
of an inquirer, having that person inventory his "immoral" behavior, and
inducing him to confess it to another and become "convicted" of his sins. First,
he was to surrender his life to God and attempt to live by four moral standards
of Christ. Then he was to sally forth and make restitution for wrongs done;
continue his quest for an understanding of, and relationship with, God through
Bible study, prayer, seeking God’s guidance, and right living; and then carry
the message to another so that the awakening process and evangelism process
could again begin by being passed on the a neophyte. Having himself gone through
the process, the new person was considered "converted" or "changed" or brought
to a "spiritual experience and moral awakening." Furthermore, whatever
revisionist historians may reluctantly concede or reject as to these facts
today, the foregoing action process constituted the heart of the program Bill
Wilson codified into the Big Book. And Bill Wilson himself ultimately said so
explicitly. But the story of how that happened involves some other features. And
here we might describe the timeline of the A.A.’s second spiritual origin as
Origins in the work of Reverend Frank N. D. Buchman and the Oxford Group
In the early 1920’s, Buchman gathered several friends around him, utilized the
principles described above, and began traveling the world over to change
lives and bring about a spiritual and moral awakening among those to whom he and
his people witnessed. See Garth Lean. Frank Buchman: a Life (London: Constable,
Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker, Calvary Church, and the Oxford Group
Having met Frank Buchman in China, having inventoried his own life at Buchman’s
suggestion, and having made in January, 1919, what he frequently declared to be
the most important decision of his life, Shoemaker entrusted his life to God.
And Sam Shoemaker was one of the small group that joined Buchman in his personal
In 1925, Shoemaker was called to be Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New
York. But as early as 1921, Shoemaker had already begun writing books based on
Buchman ideas. See Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. Realizing Religion (NY Association
Press, 1923); and Shoemaker soon became the most prolific of the Oxford Group
writers as well as a close friend of Buchman’s. Shoemaker, as Calvary Church’s
rector, was also in charge of the Calvary Rescue Mission which had its role in
A.A.’s founding. Shoemaker also provided Buchman and many other Oxford Group
activists with housing and offices in Calvary’s Church’s Calvary House—a tall
building adjacent to the church. Shoemaker also lived there and hosted many
Oxford Group meetings in its Great Hall.
By 1930, Buchman’s followers had added the Oxford Group name to their previous
First Century name. In fact, they often called themselves: "The Oxford Group: A
First Century Christian Fellowship." And the groups were going great guns. There
were several Shoemaker books in print; and other Oxford Group followers had
contributed books and pamphlets laying out the various life- changing principles
Shoemaker’s Calvary Rescue Mission was housing and feeding thousands (mostly
alcoholics); conducting religious meetings with Bible reading, prayers; and
altar calls and bringing the drunks to repentance and decisions for Christ.
There is scarcely one person in Bill Wilson’s early New York sobriety
experiences who was not an active participant in Calvary Church, in the Oxford
Group, and in the Rescue Mission work. These workers included clergymen from
many Protestant denominations—Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed,
Anglican, Congregational—all active and very much sold on Buchman’s ideas. These
same people were, in large part, members of an Oxford Group businessmen’s team
centered in New York—a team in which Bill Wilson was later active, particularly
in late 1935 and 1936. Therefore, at the 1930 juncture, it could be said that an
Oxford Group life-changing program was very much in effect and widely espoused
by its adherents and teams.
The Rowland Hazard-Carl Jung Episodes and their impact.
Rowland Hazard was an American businessman from a long line of prominent Rhode
Island ancestors. Rowland had a serious alcoholism problem. He finally sought
help from the famed psychiatrist Carl Jung in Switzerland. After extended
treatment, Rowland was still drinking and was advised by Jung that he had the
mind of a chronic alcoholic and that Jung could not help him. Jung recommended
that Rowland associate himself with a religious organization which would enable
him to have a conversion and perhaps thereby be healed. Sometime in the early
1930’s, Rowland associated himself with the Oxford Group, became thoroughly
conversant with its principles and practices, and achieved a victory over his
drinking problem. And part of Rowland’s Oxford Group indoctrination most
certainly involved seeking out others to whom he could witness and help them
also to change their lives.
The Rowland Hazard-Ebby Thacher Episodes and their impact.
[Many, including Bill Wilson, have often misspelled the name Rowland Hazard and
the name Ebby Thacher, but the spelling here is accurate and correct].
Rowland Hazard’s Oxford Group witnessing work led him, with two other Oxford
Group alcoholics (Shepard Cornell and Cebra Graves), to the rescue of a very
sick and practicing alcoholic—Edwin Throckmorton Thacher.
Thacher was from Albany, New York and had previously been well-acquainted with
fellow-alcoholic Bill Wilson. As history shows, Rowland Hazard and his two
Oxford Group companions persuaded a judge to release to their care the about-to-
be-incarcerated Ebby Thacher. These men thoroughly inculcated Ebby with
OxfordGroup ideas. They lodged Ebby at Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Rescue
Mission. And it was at the Rescue Mission that several startling events
While there, Ebby responded to an altar call. He made a decision for Christ, and
later proclaimed in conventional Oxford Group terms: "I got religion." In a
matter of months, Ebby was confirmed as a communicant at Calvary Church, having
previously been baptized under the sponsorship of F. Shepard Cornell and Taylor
L. Francisco, superintendent of Calvary Rescue Mission. And, of course, Ebby had
also gotten sober. In the process, he set out to witness to another drunk who
just happened to be Ebby’s old drinking companion Bill Wilson. At that point,
Wilson was (as Ebby had been) deep in his cups and very despondent.
The Ebby Thacher-Bill Wilson Episodes and their impact.
Perhaps no other person than Ebby could have helped Bill to turn his life
around. Ebby visited his friend, the drunken Bill Wilson. He acquainted Bill
with the Calvary Mission events. He explained to Bill the Oxford Group program;
and he boldly said to Bill: "I’ve got religion." The discussion did not, at
first, find willing ears in Wilson’s home. But Ebby persisted, let Bill rant on
about his religious prejudices, and finally said to Bill that "God had done for
him what he could not do for himself." And that message, in Bill’s words,
"floored me. It began to look as though religious people were right after all."
After Ebby left, Bill reflected on the entire event, and he was winding and
weaving a drunken path to Calvary Mission where he said he wanted what Ebby had
received. And, of course, it was there that Ebby had there been converted and
made his decision for Christ.
Bill Wilson’s two conversion events and their impact
Early in life, Bill had heard of his own grandfather William Wilson’s mountain
top conversion experience which had led grandfather Wilson to the local church,
to a proclamation of his salvation, and to a life that was thereafter free from
drink. And whether this recollection had an effect on what Bill did and
experienced after he had met Ebby and had gone to the Rescue Mission, Bill seems
never to have said. But the Grandfather Wilson mountain-top account has been
mentioned by several A.A.historians.
In any event, Bill went to the Calvary Rescue Mission, just as Ebby had done.
Bill answered an altar call just as Ebby had done. And, according to Bill’s wife
Lois Wilson and Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s wife Helen Shoemaker (who said she was
present), Bill made a decision for Christ. Bill had been converted. He then
wandered about drunk, checked into Towns Hospital where he had been treated
before, not surprisingly announced that he had "found something," later said
"For sure I had been born again," and was hospitalized by his psychiatrist Dr.
William D. Silkworth.
Bill was visited in Towns Hospital by Ebby. Bill had decided he was licked and
was willing to believe God could also help him. In Bill’s own words, "There I
humbly offered myself to God as I then understood Him, to do with me as He
would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care and direction.With Ebby, Bill
went through a life-change process closely resembling Oxford Group life-change
techniques. And before long, in the hospital, Bill cried out:"If there is a God,
let Him show himself now." He had an experience quite similar to that his
grandfather Wilson had described (See Francis Hartigan, Bill W.: A Biography of
Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson. NY: St Martin’s Press, 2000,10-11.
Grandson Bill Wilson’s own conversion experience at Towns came to be called
Bill’s "hot flash" experience. But it caused Bill later to remark that the Great
Physician had healed him and that and to proclaim: "This was the God of the
preachers." Bill never drank again. And he candidly told the wife of A.A. Number
Three (Bill Dotson): "Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me
of this terrible disease. . . " (Alcoholics Anonymous 4th ed. 191. Despite the
events at Calvary Rescue Mission and at Towns Hospital, most historians have
simply spoken of Bill’s "hot flash" experience and let the conversion and
conversion experiences gather dust on the table. Of the whole situation, and
before the Towns incident was over, Bill had written (just as Ebby had earlier
declared), "I’ve got religion."
Either through Ebby Thacher or Rowland Hazard, Wilson had obtained a copy of
Varieties of Religious Experience by Harvard Professor William James. Wilson
felt that the James book’s description of a wide variety of "religious
experiences" validated the reality of Bill’s own religious experience and also
validated the effectiveness of a conversion as the solution to alcoholism
Bill’s OxfordGroup Experiences from 1934 to 1937 and their impact.
Before he got sober in December of 1934, Bill Wilson had declared he was an
atheist. His wife Lois confirmed this in a taped interview with Oxford Group
writer T. Willard Hunter. Bill had never belonged to a church. He had never
studied the Bible. In fact, it is not clear from my personal interviews with his
secretary Nell Wing that Bill ever read any Oxford Group or Sam Shoemaker
literature at all. But Bill sure did dive into the Oxford Group. He and Lois
immediately and "constantly" attended Oxford Group meetings.and several Oxford
Group Houseparties. Bill was in close touch with Rev. Sam Shoemaker from the
very beginning of his sobriety. He attended meetings led by Sam. He attended
House Parties where Sam was a leader. And Bill was further indoctrinated in
Oxford Group ideas by several Oxford Group friends (Rowland Hazard, Shepard
Cornell, Hanford Twitchell, Reverend W. Irving Harris and his wife Julia, Victor
Kitchen, Reverend Sam Shoemaker, Reverend John Potter Cuyler, and others). Bill
also joined in and had a leadership role in some Oxford Group team events. That
fact is clear from Sam Shoemaker’s own personal journal entries which I have
seen and of which I have copies. Most important of all, Bill began almost
immediately seeking out drunks to help. He sought them at Towns Hospital, at
Calvary Rescue Mission, and in Oxford Group meetings. Within 60 days of his
getting sober, he received an admiring letter from Sam Shoemaker commending Bill
for his work with a chemistry professor and the professor’s alcohol problem.
Bill is mentioned several times in Sam Shoemaker’s personal journals for the
period of 1935 and 1936. And Bill was a zealous message carrier for Oxford Group
ideas. But he seemed to lack the ability to bring about conversions and sobriety
as other Oxford Groupers were doing and had done. Not one person that Bill and
Lois brought to their home achieved sobriety. For the first five months of his
witnessing, Bill did not succeed in helping one single person to sobriety. He
was a messenger without an adequate message. And upon consulting Dr. Silkworth,
he was advised to present the alcoholism problem very hard and only then to
carry on his Oxford Group witnessing. Some think this advice enhanced Bill’s
ability as a message carrier; but the evidence does not show any effective
result at all, for he never had real success with early AAs during the period of
his Oxford Group membership which ended in August of 1937; and he said so
several times. See Dick B. New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.
2d ed, (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999)
Bill was carrying a religious message about conversions encumbered a background
of atheism, exposure to Swendenborgianism, lack of religious training, lack of
Bible study, lack of church participation, and an openly expressed hostility
Examining the Completely New Spiritual Direction and Program that emerged from
the meeting of Bill W. and Dr. Bob in Akron
Features: When Bill met Bob in Akron on Mother’s Day of 1935, a completely new
approach to the cure of alcoholism began. The approach neither copied the
youth-group church support mission of Christian Endeavor; nor did it copy the
world life-changing mission. of the Oxford Group. Nor did its "members" actually
belong to either of these groups. Yet it did draw heavily on the principles and
practices of both.
Dr. Bob brought to the drawing table a deep understanding of the Bible and a
wealth of reading about Christianity, other religions, and the Oxford Group. He
also brought entrenched memories of what Christian Endeavor meetings were like.
More than once, Bill Wilson showed he was in awe of Dr. Bob’s spiritual
practices and studies, proclaiming himself to be simply a teacher of
On the other hand, Bill Wilson brought to the table the Oxford Group’s
witnessing zeal – a fervent desire to help others who had been suffering from
alcoholism. This Oxford Group stress on "service" arrested Dr. Bob’s attention
At first, before he began working with Sam Shoemaker and other Oxford Group
people in New York, Bill’s knowledge of the Oxford Group program was limited.
But his participation was steeped in enthusiasm. Enthusiasm for helping others
change their lives for the better.
From the union of A.A.’s two founders emerged a new and very soon successful
approach to curing alcoholism. It would focus on the power of God, build on
basic spiritual ideas from the Bible, adopt some life- changing techniques of
the Oxford Group, and concentrate only on curing alcoholics by working with and
caring for them.
That was something new. Medicine had been unable to effect a cure. Religion had
been unable to focus on drunks. And it fell to the two A.A. founders to bring
these two elements, plus a zeal to serve God and others to bear on the real
alcoholics they sought to help. Astonishing successes resulted and multiplied.
The Basic Bible ideas the new program stressed
Dr. Bob said the A.A. pioneers were convinced that the solution to their
problems could be found in the Bible. Understandably, they insisted on a belief
in God, the acceptance of Christ, study of the Bible, prayer, seeking God’s
guidance, fellowship, and witness. But consistent with some Christian Endeavor
ideas, there was a strong emphasis on love and service as defined in the Book of
James, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. Over and over, the
pioneers were urged to study and apply the materials found in these particular
parts of the Bible. Subsequent historians have almost uniformly failed to
mention, to study, to analyze or to report on any of these basic Bible ideas
that were so much emphasized. You could ask just about any person in the A.A.
fellowship today to tell you what A.A. had taken from James, the Sermon, and
Corinthians, and you would most certainly get a blank stare. Hence there is
little knowledge of understanding of what these chapters offered the pioneers
and can still offer today. See Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s
Roots in the Bible 2d ed (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998)
The Basic Oxford Group principles and practices the pioneers used
Until Bill wrote his Big Book and Steps, it cannot be said that the A.A. program
was an Oxford Group program – certainly not in Akron. But both Dr. Bob and Bill
were associated with the Oxford Group prior to their meeting—Bob for two and a
half years and Bill for about six months.
From his New York associations, Bill was still convinced that a "conversion
experience" like his at Towns Hospital was the ticket to healing. That, Bill had
been taught, would come from an application of the twenty-eight Oxford Group
ideas that impacted on A.A.
Dr. Bob did not entertain this idea and had no such experience. But he firmly
believed that abstinence, reliance on God, improving understanding of God,
adopting Christian moral standards of behavior, and seeking God’s guidance would
answer all their problems. The Oxford Group itself had no particular interest in
helping drunks. It had no basic text. It was a charismatic movement that derived
from the leadership of people like its founder Frank Buchman and the New York
leader Sam Shoemaker. It had no steps. But it did offer surrender to God,
Christian moral standards, life-changing techniques, quiet times with God, and
rectification of misdeeds. See Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics
Anonymous, 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998).
Akron’s A.A. pioneers adopted a pick-and- choose approach to Oxford Group ideas.
Surrender fitted with the Akron idea of conversion. Self-examination,
confession, and conviction were Biblical ideas that also served to challenge
moral mis-behavior. Restitution was Biblical and was a large factor in Oxford
Group practices. Quiet time as such was not only Biblical, but it had emerged
from the same evangelistic sources that fed the YMCA, Christian Endeavor, and
the Oxford Group itself. Yet until Bill Wilson wrote his Twelve Steps, the
Oxford Group impact was not predominant in Akron. The Bible’s was!
What the pioneers in Akron adopted in the development period 1935-1937
In summary, these were their tactics: (1) Seeking out alcoholics to help. (2)
Hospitalizing most of them. (3) Visiting them in the hospital with victory
stories. (4) Having Dr. Bob test their belief in God and willingness to pray
before they were discharged. (5) Urging them to study the Bible, pray, and help
others without charge. (6) Insisting on individual and group quiet times with
God. (7) Attending a weekly Oxford Group meeting. (8) Holding morning Bible
study, prayer, guidance, and teachings sessions with Dr. Bob’s wife every day.
(9) Reading and using devotionals like the Upper Room and other Christian books
such as The Greatest Thing in theWorld, being circulated by Dr. Bob. (10)
Engaging in a "real" surrender where they asked God to take alcohol out of their
lives and to help them llive by Christian principles. They were, in the manner
of James 5:16, led by about three elders who prayed with them in private. (11)
Commencing almost at once to visit and seek out other alcoholics needing help.
(12) In many cases, living in the homes of pioneers such as Dr. Bob and his
wife, Wally G. and his wife, Tom L. and his wife, and others. (13) Attending a
church of their choice. The Oxford Group’s ideas were incorporated primarily in
private meetings with Dr. Bob where the elimination of bad moral behavior was
sought, living by the four absolute standards of Jesus was urged, and
restitution was discussed.
The original, simple, 5 point spiritual recovery program of A.A. as reported by
A.A. trustee-to-be Frank Amos to Rockefeller, with mention of two additional,
optional points. Their impact. And the program Bill Wilson was to place in book
form in 1938
When Bill Wilson sought help from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Rockefeller
dispatched Frank Amos to Akron to determine what the program was, how it was
led, and the success it was having. The whole investigation is adequately
reported in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers at pages 121 -136. Amos described the
program as follows: (1) [Abstinence] An alcoholic must realize that he is an
alcoholic, incurable from a medical viewpoint, and that he must never again
drink anything with alcohol in it. (2) [Surrender] He must surrender himself
absolutely to God, realizing that in himself there is no hope. (3) [Eliminating
sins—including the sin of drunkenness] Not only must he want to stop drinking
permanently, he must remove from his life other sins such as hatred, adultery,
and others which frequently accompany alcoholism. Unless he will do this
absolutely, Smith and his associates refuse to work with him. (4) [Daily Quiet
Time] He must have devotions every morning—a "quiet time" of prayer and some
reading from the Bible and other religious literature.Unless this is faithfully
followed, there is grave danger of backsliding. (5)[Helping other alcoholics] He
must be willing to help other alcoholics get straightened out. This throws up a
protective barrier and strengthens his own willpower and convictions.
In summary, the five point Akron pioneer program simply required the alcoholic
to quit drinking forever, to rely on God for help, to clean up his life, to
maintain daily contact with and understanding of God, and fortify his resistance
by helping other alcoholics.
The two additional, optional points were (6) [Social and religious fellowship
with cured alcoholics] It is important, but not vital that he meet frequently
with other reformed alcoholics and form both a social and a religious
comradeship. (7) [Religious affiliation] Important, but not vital, that he
attend some religious service at least once weekly. This was the program that
had produced cures by Divine help that medicine had been unable to produce. It
was the essence of the program that had enabled the first forty pioneers to
achieve sobriety. It was the essence of the program that AAs voted, with a split
vote, to authorize Wilson to place in book form.
The Entirely Different Program that Bill Wilson fashioned in his writing of the
Big Book and the Twelve Steps—written in 1938, published in early 1939
The fellowship that had evolved in Akron and in New York by the time Bill began
fashioning the Big Book with the approval of Akronites
When the vote was taken in Akron to authorize a basic text, the Akron Fellowship
had no basic text. It had no steps. Its written literature was five-fold in
nature: (1) The Bible. (2) The daily devotionals such as TheUpper Room, My
Utmost for His Highest, and The Runner’s Bible. (3) The popular Christian
literature of the day such as The Greatest Thing in the World by Henry Drummond;
The Sermon on the Mount by Emmet Fox; Love: The Law of Life by Toyohiko Kagawa;
In His Steps by Charles Sheldon; and still others by Glenn Clark, E. Stanley
Jones, Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Oswald Chambers. (4) The major, popular Oxford
Group literature such as Soul Surgery by Howard Walter; Realizing Religion by
Samuel Shoemaker; Children of the Second Birth by Samuel Shoemaker, Life
Changers by Harold Begbie, For Sinners Only by A.J. Russell, and The Guidance of
God by Eleanor Napier Forde (and there soon were dozens of other Oxford Group
writings in circulation). (5) The foundational psychological work by Professor
William James of Harvard –Varieties of Religious Experience. And history makes
it clear that the writing of James very much influenced the ideas of Oxford
Group founder Frank Buchman, Buchman’s mentor Professor Henry Wright, Oxford
Group interpreter Harold Begbie, Rev. Samuel Shoemaker, Bill Wilson, and Dr. Bob
Smith. See Dick B., The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7th ed.
(Kihei: HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998).
Dr. Bob and his Akron pioneers emphasized the basic ideas contained in the
Bible’s Book of James, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13.
The picture was much different in New York. Wilson had returned from Akron after
the summer of 1938. He became much involved with Oxford Group people. Lois
Wilson was not a Christian, did not like "soul surgery," and didn’t think
"conversion" was for her. There were very few that had gotten sober in New York.
Among those who did was Christian John Henry Fitzhugh Mayo, Oxford Group
activist and businessman Henry Parkhurst, and a doubting James Burwell who had
been denouncing God in meetings. Bill and Lois left the Oxford Group in August
of 1937,;and, though Bill Wilson’s personal relationship with Sam Shoemaker grew
immensely, that fact was very much cloaked in silence.. It finally was revealed
primarily by Shoemaker associates and Wilson friends Rev. W. Irving Harris and
his wife Julia Harris—whom Wilson credited with great influence on his ideas.
See Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism.
Lois Wilson has written that there was an agreement to universalize the program
being written since not all drunks were Christian, but there is no specific
verification of her view other than her own claim. Clear today is the fact that
New Thought Movement writings like those of Emmet Fox had intruded on Wilson’s
thinking. See Mel B., New Wine: The Spiritual Roots of the 12 Step Miracle (MN:
Hazelden Foundation, 1991). This despite the fact that, as Shoemaker’s
colleageue Julia Harris told me, Shoemaker and his group were unwilling to
acknowledge that Fox was a Christian. Also, in some way, a lay therapist named
Richard Peabody had clearly cast his net on the Wilson waters and influenced
some of Wilson’s "no cure" and other ideas. See Mel B., New Wine.There were also
strong smatterings of New Age language. Talk of cosmic consciousness, a fourth
dimension of existence, Universal Mind, higher powers, and the like. This may
have been the product of New Thought influences originating with William James,
Ralph Waldo Trine, and Emmet Fox. See Dick B., Henrietta B. Seiberling: Ohio’s
Lady with a Cause (Kihei,:HI: Paradise Reseearch Publications, Inc.;2004,
9-14).It also might have come from Bill’s interest in the subject matter of two
books he mentioned to Mel B.—Cosmic Consciousness by Richard Maurice Bucke and
Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley. See Mel B. My Search For Bill W. (Center City,
MN: Hazelden, 2000), 19-25.
There remained to be added as a complete new creation by Bill the basic
"conversion" prescription by Dr. Carl Jung, the "disease" viewpoints contributed
by Wilson’s physician Dr. William Silkworth, and the experimental work by Bill
and Bob, particularly in the summer of 1935.
As Wilson put his Big Book together, he melded into it some ideas from all the
New York influences. He kept his peace with Akron by submitting drafts as he
went along; and the drafts went unchallenged. Then—unknown to most people even
to this day—Wilson asked Reverend. Sam Shoemaker to write the Twelve Steps, but
Shoemaker declined urging that Bill should write them – which he did.
The end result of Wilson’s Big Book endeavor was (1) A primary and instructional
focus on Bill’s own story, (2) Bill’s thesis that a spiritual experience was
necessary to recovery, (3) An excellent chapter on the vicissitudes of the
alcoholic and his seemingly hopeless condition, (4) A newly introduced concept
designed to make it easy for the agnostic and addict to ooze and ease into the
program on the supposition that they would some day "come to believe" in God (in
fact, however, they have come to believe in just about everything from a chair
to Santa Claus to nothing). (5)The remaining text chapters which amounted to a
modified codification of the Oxford Group’s life changing techniques. And (6)
The many personal stories and the end of the book, including that of Dr.
Bob—stories placed at the end of the book though stories were originally
intended to be the major content of the text Bill was to fashion.
In a word, the Big Book program was not the Akron program. It was not the Oxford
Group program. It was no longer a Christian program. It became a "Twelve Step"
program—a much copied and immensely influential "Twelve Step" program of
The Variety of Principles and Practices that emerged immediately following
publication of the Big Book publication in 1939
The Original Akron Pioneer program began slowly to vanish from A.A.
Dr. Bob and his followers in Akron continued, after the Big Book, to hold the
pioneer fellowship together. It came to be called the "King School Group" where
it had moved from Dr. Bob’s Home. There is no particular evidence that Dr. Bob
abandoned the principles and practices that Frank Amos had reported as to the
original pioneer program. But other factors had entered the scene and with
Akron hospitalizations shifted from the city hospital to St. Thomas Hospital
where Dr. Bob began to work with Sister Ignatia; his own program efforts seemed
focused on the first few days, the first few "steps,"and Sister Ignatia’s own
prescriptions for treatment. This teamwork by Dr. Bob and Sister Ignatia
consumed the major portion of Dr. Bob’s work and efforts from 1940 to the date
of his death.
See Mary C. Darrah, Sister Ignatia: Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous (Chicago:
Loyola University Press, 1992).
Clarence Snyder left the Akron fold in May, 1939, only days after the Big Book
was published. In Cleveland, he organized the first "Alcoholics Anonymous" group
– a group which was designed to eliminate Oxford Group people from the A.A.
scene, confine membership to alcoholics, and modify the Akron program to
eliminate practices offensive to the heavily Roman Catholic Cleveland
The Cleveland groups grew from one to 30 within a year. There was intense
individual work with alcoholics. There were social activities such as
baseball.The Big Book and Twelve Steps were used. But the "Four Absolutes" of
the Oxford Group were strongly emphasized as "yardsticks" for moral behavior.
The continued influence of the Bible is evident as Cleveland literature
frequently quoted the Bible. The Cleveland people achieved a 93 per cent success
rate with their efforts. And the Cleveland groups were neither Akron in
Character, Oxford Group in character, or New York in character. See Mitchel K.
How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and The Early Days of Alcoholics
Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio (NY: Big Book Study Group,1999); Dick B., That
Amazing Grace: The Role of Clarence and Grace S. in Alcoholics Anonymous (San
Rafael, CA: Paradise Research Publications, 1996),
The Seldom Recognized or analyzed factor of Bill Wilson’s deep depression and
virtual total disability in the 1940 decade
Bill Wilson’s battles with depression had begun long before there was an A.A.
See Mel B. My Search For Bill W. (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000,) 10 But the
new A.A.episode spanned the period from 1940 to the early 1950’s. Lasting more
than a decade, Wilson’s disability had a profound, though seldom discussed or
conceded impact on A.A. See Ken Ragge. The Real AA (Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press,
1998) 112-114, 170.
Just when Bill’s mental illness began is not all that clear. Certainly one
depressive three-year period accompanied the loss of his first love, Bertha
Bamford; and this was the second such period in his life See Pass It On (NY:
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984) 36-37.. But, within A.A.
itself, as early as 1939, Bill was noticing an energy diminution. He toyed with
engaging psychiatrist Dr. Harry Tiebot to help him. He had begun talking to
Father Ed Dowling about the problem, but in 1940, Dowling felt Bill didn’t need
psychotherapy. Nonetheless, Bill treated with Dr, Tiebot at least by 1944. In
1945, he was treating with a Jungian psychotherapist. According to one
biographer, Francis Hartigan,
Throughout the period from 1944 to 1953, Bill was seeking help for depression,
writing about it, and trying to help others suffering from it. Besides the days
when he struggled to focus on the task at hand, there were also times when he
fought desperately to keep his despair from descending into an uncontrolled
hysteria. Then there were occasions when he was simply immobilized, unable to do
anything of consequence, and they endured for anywhere from a few days to a
couple of months. Bill described them as times when he was ‘drawing a blank.
Because it captured exactly the way he felt" (Hartigan, Bill W., 169).
[Hartigan states that Bill’s efforts to find relief included psychotherapy,
dietary modification, thyroid supplementation, osteopathy, walking and breathing
exercises, vitaman B-12, male hormones, ACE (an extract of the adrenal gland),
and niacin (Hartigan, Bill W. 165). Hartigan does not mention what Bill’s
secretary Nell Wing told me in the several conferences I personally had with
her. She said, "Dick, the 1940’s were just awful. . . . There were times when
Bill would just sit at his desk smoking and burning holes in the desk. . . . His
ventures into LSD were also part of his quest for a solution."
[What was the impact? If you were able to ask AAs in the 1940’s, they probably
could tell you that Bill was simply not "with it" much of the time. And consider
the other factors in progress. Dr. Bob was proceeding with the original program.
Clarence Snyder was popularizing A.A. and insuring its growth with a
Bible-Oxford Group-Big Book mix. During the 1940 decade, Dr. Bob and Sister
Ignatia were focused on the effective hospitalization during a newcomer’s first
few days. Shoemaker eventually left New York for his Pittsburgh rectorship. And
I think it’s fair to say that not only Bill was "drawing a blank." A.A.’s
leadership by Bill Wilson was drawing a very decided blank in the period of his
long and crippling depression. What else could Nell Wing have meant when she
told me that the 1940’s were "just awful."
[What is the evidence? Bill’s A.A. biographer Mel B. later wrote: "In 1944, for
example, he was invited to address the psychiatric section of the New York
Medical Society. According to Lois, Bill was almost incapable of performing
routine activities—even going for a short walk required great effort" (Mel B. My
Search For Bill W., 36). Calling Bill"The Power Driving Achiever," Mel points to
Bill’s severe depression in 1943, where Bill’s power drive seemed to be stalled.
Mel then trumpets the achievements by Bill in the black years that lasted
through 1955; yet Mel characterized Bill as "totally incapacitated", , , having
frequent depressions and self-doubt",,,to the extent that Bill’s Twelve Steps
and Traditions book "reflects some of his depression" (Mel B., My Search,
[Since I personally have witnessed bouts of severe depression during the life of
my former wife and have myself experienced periods of depression, I can attest
the "total incapacity" that was probably present. Sure, there were periods of
light. But there were long periods of the very dark, self-doubt, melancholia,
and inability to proceed, of which Mel’s people spoke. You can’t tell me that
such periods don’t affect one’s ability, will to proceed, attitude, and the
attitude of all those present. I point to one specific incident when my deeply
depressed wife wanted to boil an egg. She couldn’t figure out how to do it, and
she finally settled on consulting a cook book—to boil an egg!. And this was not
the normal attitude of the chief cook and bottle washer that I had married
several years before.
[Obviously A.A. did not sink during Bill’s depression. Neither, however, did it
have the vitality or organization that had characterized its earliest days and
were to characterize the highly structured, controlled, world-wide movement that
existed at the time of Bill’s death or at the time I entered A.A. in the 1980’s.
And there is one evident A.A. development in the 1940’s and early 1950’s that I
believe accompanied the lack of oomph during Wilson’s depression period. And it
fathered several new offshoots which, though its promulgators were certainly
still loyal and "A.A." in their actions, developed new program attitudes that
were not consistent with the pioneer A.A. ideas espoused by Dr. Bob and Bill in
the formative years.
In many ways, this development seems to have strengthened the A.A. fellowship
and contributed to its growth and outreach.
[This was the development of pamphlets that were published within the A.A.
movement but not by the A.A. organization.]
The Appearance of Area Pamphlets and Guides
There is no need here to go into the details of the many publications that
sprang up shortly after the Big Book was published. They continued throughout
Wilson’s period of disability. A few still exist today The subject is well
handled in Wally P. But, For the Grace of God. . . How Intergroups and Central
Offices Carried the Message of Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1940’s (West
Virginia: The Bishop of Books, 1995)
There were some particularly popular and effective interpretations that should
The Cleveland Central Bulletin and Clarence Snyder’s guides
The surest proof of A.A.’s vitality during the Wilson years of depression is the
work of the Cleveland Central Bulletin which offered all sorts of guidance,
suggestions, and reports on the fast-growing A.A. in that area. See Mitchell K.
How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and The Early Days of Alcoholics
Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio (NY: Big Book Study Group, 1999).
In 1943, Clarence Snyder wrote a pamphlet on sponsorship which was published by
the Cleveland Central Office in 1944. This pamphlet was entitled AA
Sponsorship-Its Opportunities and Its Responsibilities (Mitch K., How It Worked.
In 1941, the Hospital Committee of a large number of Cleveland Groups published
rules and regulations "for general use by the Hospitals and the Sanitariums
accepting A.A. patients" (Mitch K. How It Worked), 248-250.
The Akron AA Pamphlets
According to Wally P.’s research, Evan W. had been an editor of the Akron Beacon
Journal who was fired because of his alcoholism. Evan got sober in May, 1941.
Once Evan was on his feet, Dr. Bob asked him to write some "Blue Collar A.A."
pamphlets for the fellowship. As Dr. Bob explained, "the Big Book was too
complicated for many A.A.’s, and he wanted Evan to present the program in its
most basic terms." Evan evidently wrote four pamphlets—A Manual for Alcoholics;
A Guide to the Twelve Steps; Spiritual Milestoes in A.A.; and Second Reader in
A.A. The first two pamphlets were published prior to 1946, and the second two
were published shortly thereafter. A fifth pamphlet that came out of Akron in
the 1940’s was titled What Others Think of Alcoholics Anonymous; and it was
published by the Friday Forum Luncheon Club of the Akron A.A. Groups (Wally P.,
But For The Grace, 37-47).
Father Ralph Pfau’s Golden Books
Father Ralph Pfau organized the National Clergy Conference, broke his anonymity,
claimed to be the first Roman Catholic priest to join A.A., and
authored a popular pamphlet series for alcoholics called The Golden Books. See
Darrah, Sister Ignatia, 196-197. And to this very day, you can see the Pfau
"John Doe" and "Golden Books" in the Akron area activities.
The Washington, D.C. Group pamphlet, titled Alcoholics Anonymous – An
Interpretation of the Twelve Steps, was first published in September 1944 and
provided twenty pages of specific instructions for leading Beginners’ Meetings
In 1944, an A.A. pioneer in Minneapolis wrote A.A.’s New York headquarters and
asked permission to distribute the book. The reply from Bobby Berger, secretary
to Bill Wilson and the Alcoholic Foundation said that the Washington pamphlet,
like the Cleveland one were neither approved nor disapproved. She opined that
there must be at least 25 local pamphlets then being used; and she said, "I
think it is up to each individual Group whether it wants to use and buy these
pamphlets from the Group that puts them out" (Wally P. Back To Basics" The
Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners’Meetings 2nd ed. Tucson, AZ: Faith With Works
Publishing Company, 1998, 10-12.
Taken as a whole, the many local pamphlets and interpretations seem to provide
evidence that A.A. had taken a totally new turn—veering from the Akron Christian
Fellowship, the specifics of the Big Book, and the specific leadership of both
Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob.
In 1955, Alcoholics Anonymous Came of Age in the eyes of its Co-founder Bill
This article and study conclude with Alcoholics Anonymous as Bill saw it in
1955. Dr. Bob was dead. The Twelve Traditions had been adopted. Bill had framed
a new A.A. picture in through his own, two, new titles Twelve Steps and Twelve
Traditions and Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. Both books were edited with a
fine tooth comb by Fathers John C. Ford, S.J., and Edward Dowling, S.J. And they
set a new course—"higher power" and all. Both books were published at A.A.
expense, became "Conference Approved,"and described an A.A. quite different from
the A.A. of Akron, Ohio. Since that time, there have been a host of publications
by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services and The AA Grapevine. There have been
various biographies and histories written by AAs, scholars, teachers, and
observers. But A.A. itself has yet to approve a new history carrying its story
forward from 1955 to date, though more than one manuscript draft has been
written and paid for, and though Bill himself began, with Nell Wing, to tape his
own recollections as well as those of other old-timers. In fact, though those
tapes have been transcribed, they have not been published despite the fact that
they contain detailed descriptions of the program by some of the best known,
long-term pioneers. With the permission of A.A.’s archivist and trustee archives
committee, I was able to see and copy some of these very valuable documents and
have quoted portions in several of my own historical titles such as The Akron
Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous.
End of Article Number One
Dick B. © 2005
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