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Oxford Group Connection
(Please see bottom of page for credits and details for
article is an effort to put together in sequence the various
events that took place in the years from 1908 to 1935 which
made possible the meeting in Akron, Ohio between the AA
founders, Dr. Bob S. and Bill W., and which resulted in
the subsequent birth of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is an assemblage
of facts gleaned from the following publications:
Dr. Bob and the Good Old Timers
Not God (by Ernest Kurtz)
For Sinners Only (by A.J. Russell)
On the Tail of a Comet (by Garth Lean)
Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous (by Dick B.)
The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous (by Dick B.)
you know any of these names? Frank Buchman--Sam Shoemaker--Rowland
H.--Jim N.--Eleanor F.--Ebby T.--Shepard C.--Henrietta Seiberling--Rev.
Walter Tunks--Norman S.--Russell Firestone--T. Henry & Clarace
Williams?? All of these people were instrumental in a scenario
that contributed to making possible that historic meeting
at the Gate House of the Seiberling Estate in Akron that
became the birthplace of Alcoholics Anonymous. If it were
not for these people, that meeting could never have taken
place, and the fellowship to which we all owe our lives
today might never have been born.
did the steps originate? In AA Comes of Age, (p.39), Bill
AA got it's ideas of self-examination, acknowledgement
of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working
with others straight from the Oxford Groups and directly
from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and
nowhere else." (1)
prepare to start this history with the story of Frank
Buchman, the founder of the Oxford Group. You will see
as we trace the paths of Dr. Bob and Bill W. in the years
before they met, that the Oxford Group and the aforementioned
cast of characters played a part in every twist and turn
of the path that led Bill W. to Akron.
BUCHMAN AND THE OXFORD GROUP
were the Oxford Group (2)? In 1908,
a YMCA secretary named Frank Buchman had a spiritual transformation
that changed his life (3). Upon graduating
in June of that year, he started a streetside church in
Philadelphia (Church of the Good Shepherd) with a donation
of seventeen dollars. The church flourished, and he started
a hospice for young men which spread to other cities, and
then he started a settlement house project. Frank had a
violent argument with his trustee committee because they
cut the budget and the food allotment. He resigned and went
to Europe, ending up at a large religious convention in
Keswick, England. The spiritual transformation occurred
when he heard a woman speaker talk simply about the cross
of Christ. He felt the chasm separating him from Christ,
and a feeling of a will to surrender. He went back to his
house and wrote these words to each of his six trustees
in Philadelphia: "My dear friend. I have nursed ill feelings
against you. I am sorry. Will you forgive me? Sincerely,
Frank." Feeling an urge to share this experience, he went
to nearby Oxford University and formed an evangelical group
there among the student leaders and athletes.
the movement spread, and groups formed over the next twenty
years in England, Scotland, Holland, India, South Africa,
China, Egypt, Switzerland, and North and South America.
Many of the basic things they did have carried over directly
into our program. They practiced absolute surrender, guidance
by the Holy Spirit, sharing bringing about true fellowship,
life changing, faith and prayer. They aimed for absolute
standards of Love, Purity, Honesty, and Unselfishness, which
were an integral part of the first AA programs in Akron
and Cleveland and New York. Above all the group was a fellowship:
"A First Century Christian Fellowship." They carried the
message aggressively to others. They met in churches, universities,
Oxford Group and their principles were carried to the United
States so that in both New York City and Akron, Ohio an
Oxford Group was in place and functioning when Bill W. and
Dr. Bob S. hit their respective bottoms. These two groups
would befriend and teach their principles to our co-founders
before they ever met, and then go on to host the fledgling
groups of newly dry and nameless drunks as they came together.
is how the Oxford Group came to the United States. One early
member at Oxford, Ken Twitchell, had attended Princeton
University and had a brother in New York City who was a
mainstay in the Calvary Episcopal Church. This becomes one
of several amazing coincidences. In 1918 during his travels,
Frank Buchman met a young YMCA worker, Sam Shoemaker, in
China and converted him to the Oxford Group principles.
Years later, Sam became the minister of that Calvary Church
in New York, and that same church became the titular headquarters
for the Oxford Group in the United States. (The name was
changed in 1928 from "A First Century Christian Fellowship"
to the "Oxford Group.")
groups' popularity peaked during this period. There were
10,000 people at one meeting at Stockbridge in the Berkshire
Mountains. Business teams began to have their "house parties"
in various cities (4).
1931 in England, a London newspaper editor, A. J. Russell,
attended an Oxford Group meeting with the intention of exposing
the group. But he wrote, "I came as an observer and became
a convert!" (Russell later edited "God Calling", which may
have found it's way into material used by the early AAs.)
Some 9 years later, in 1940, Richmond W. of the Quincy,
Mass. group wrote the 24-hour book still used by us today.
This was modeled after Russell's "God Calling" but was slanted
away from all spiritual to more of a 24-hour not drinking
theme. Russell's book, "For Sinners Only", described his
journey from prodigal son to the Oxford Group and became
a best seller in the early 1930s in England and the United
States, and was printed in eight languages.
One chapter of the book
was devoted to Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City
and it's rector, Sam Shoemaker. Calvary Church became the
virtual American headquarters for the Oxford Group during
the 1930s. And it was here, (in the church's mission) ,
that Bill W.'s sponsor, Ebby T., was living at the time
of Bill's last drunk.
HOW THE MESSAGE
CAME TO BILL
1932 and 1933, a man named Rowland H., son of wealthy Rhode
Island mill owners and a State Senator, had become a hopeless
alcoholic, and in his quest for help had sought out the
world famous psychiatrist, Carl Jung. Jung told him there
was no hope for him there, and to go home and possibly find
a conversion through some religious group. He did this in
the Oxford Group in the United States and became sober.
They taught him certain principles that he applied to his
life. This story is documented in our Big Book.
In 1934, Ebby T., childhood
friend of Bill W.'s, was about to be locked up as a chronic
drunk in Bennington, Vermont. He was visited by three men
from an Oxford Group; Shep C., Rowland H., and Cebra G.
(A precursor to our Twelve Step work!) They later sent Rowland
H. back alone to see Ebby. He acted as a sort of sponsor
and told his story. He taught Ebby the precepts he had learned
from the Oxford Group. Later, as we know, in December of
that year, Ebby had his chance to relay these precepts to
Bill W. Here they are, transcribed from a tape of one of
Bill's AA talks:
admitted we were licked.
got honest with ourselves.
talked it over with another person.
made amends to those we had harmed.
tried to carry this message to others with no thought
prayed to whatever God we thought there was.
also have Bill's handwritten copy of the above.)
Now we begin to see
the emerging pattern of events in Akron and in the New York
area in the ten year period before the start of AA. We see
how, through the machinery of the Oxford Group and its key
leaders, Frank Buchman and Sam Shoemaker, events conspired
to make possible this meeting between Dr. Bob and Bill W.
in Akron in 1935. Shep, Cebra, and Rowland were all three
Oxford Group members. They were part of the business teams
which were working around the country in various cities.
In November of 1934, Ebby surrendered his life to God at
the Calvary Episcopal Church mission run by Sam Shoemaker.
(Sam had met Frank Buchman in China in 1918, and by 1934
was regarded as a major leader of the Oxford Group movement
in the United States and was hosting their headquarters.)
Ebby is staying at his mission. Bill W. shows up there drunk
looking for Ebby, can't find him, and goes to Towns Hospital.
Bill Duval recalls in
a letter, "Bill W. told us at the mission that he had heard
that Ebby, on the previous Sunday at the Calvary Church,
had witnessed that with the help of God he had been sober
a number of months." Bill said that if Ebby could get help
here, then he (Bill) needed help, and he could get it at
the mission, also. Bill looked prosperous compared to our
usual mission customers, (actually, he was wearing a Brooks
Brother's suit purchased at a rummage sale for $5.00!),
so we agreed that he go to Towns Hospital where Ebby and
others of the group could talk to him.
After his spiritual
experience at Towns, Bill immediately made a decision to
become very active in Oxford Group work, and to try to bring
other alcoholics from Towns to the group. He visited the
mission Oxford Group meetings and the hospital daily for
four or five months, right up to the time of the Akron trip.
No one stayed sober.
BILL W. AND THE
OXFORD GROUP WORK
(Jim Newton enters
H., who rescued Ebby in August 1934, had a thorough indoctrination
in Oxford Group teachings and he passed many of these along
to Ebby and Bill W. Soon after his release from Towns Hospital
at the end of 1934, Bill and the rest of the alcoholic contingent
of the Oxford Group began gathering at Stewart's Cafeteria
in New York following their regular meeting. Shep C., then
a member of the Oxford Group business team that included
Rowland, Sam Shoemaker, and Hanford Twitchell, was also
a recovering alkie. Lois W. talked of regular attendance
at the Oxford Group meetings with Bill, Shep, and Ebby.
James Houck, a nonalcoholic Oxford Group member in Frederick,
Maryland, stated that Bill W. went to many Oxford Group
meetings at the Francis Scott Key Hotel in Frederick and
always centered on alcohol. He was obsessed with the idea
of carrying the message. The conclusion is that Bill had
a wide acquaintance in Oxford Group circles, not just confined
to Sam and Calvary House. Bill told Houck that he worked
on 50 drunks in the first 6 months with no success. Calvary
House was Sam's residence and contained an Oxford Group
bookstore. Calvary Mission was at another location in the
"gas house" district. Thousands of people passed through
the mission where they offered lodging, free meals, and
Oxford Group meetings every night. Tex Francisco was its
superintendent in 1934 when Bill showed up there.
Now enters the man most
certainly responsible for the fateful Akron meetings between
Bill and Dr. Bob. Jim Newton was surely the sole catalyst
that ordained the Oxford Group would be in place in Akron,
Ohio when Bill showed up there in 1935. This amazing string
of circumstances plays out as follows:
Jim, at age 20, was
a luggage salesman in New York who had come upon an Oxford
Group meeting by accident (actually, he was looking for
fun and games that night!) in Massachusetts in 1923 when
he was 18 years old. He was converted at the party, got
on his knees and gave the direction of his life to God at
that time. He met a lady named Eleanor Forde who greatly
influenced his thinking about the movement. (He and Eleanor
were to meet and marry 20 years later in 1943.) (5)
Several twists and turns
of fate placed Jim Newton in Akron, Ohio and installed our
next cast of characters. These were both Oxford Group members
and regular attendees at Oxford Group meetings. We will
be talking about the intertwined relations of Henrietta
Seiberling, Dr. Walter Tunks, Harvey and Russell Firestone,
Sam Shoemaker, Frank Buchman, T. Henry and Clarace Williams,
and Anne and Dr. Bob S.
Jim Newton went to Ft.
Myers, Florida in 1926, at age 21, to visit his father,and
they bought a 35 acre tract of land across the road from
the Thomas Edison estate(6). Jim Newton
became as an adopted son to Mr. and Mrs. Edison, and often
acted as host and toastmaster at Edison's famous birthday
parties which were attended by Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone,
and many world renowned business leaders and public figures.
Here begins another
key circumstance to set the stage in Akron, Ohio. Harvey
Firestone, Sr., offered Jim a job as secretary to the Firestone
Tire and Rubber Company in 1926, and moved him to Akron,
Ohio putting him in residence at the Portage Country Club
adjacent to the Firestone Estate(7)
Jim worked for Firestone eleven years and was being groomed
as president of the company when he resigned and went full
time with the Oxford Groups. Firestone's clergyman was Rev.
Walter Tunks. Jim joined Tunks' church and became active
in raising funds for their birthday committee.
Jim had been in New
York for the Jack Dempsey vs Gene Tunney fight. While there
he confessed to Frank Buchman that his life was in turmoil
and he was about to take a "geographical cure". Buchman
sent him to meet Sam Shoemaker at the Calvary Church an
d he made an Oxford Group confession to Sam and was led
to join one of the Oxford Group business teams.
These were groups of
important men who made attempts to convert others to the
Oxford Group method of spirituality. Jim frequently met
with the aforementioned Shep C. and Rowland H. He met T.
Henry and Clarace Williams, husband and wife Oxford Group
members from Akron and members of Walter Tunks' church.
The business team put on house parties in various cities
at the finest hotels and clubs. In January of 1933, Frank
Buchman, leading a team of thirty men and women, descended
on Akron for the first time to give testimonials at the
Mayflower Hotel and in Akron churches, and initiate the
townspeople in the experiences of the Oxford Group. Here
we can clearly see input from Jim Newton's parties with
Firestone and Tunks' Episcopal Church group to influence
the choice of Akron as the site of this endeavor, rather
than some other city. Had Jim not already been a business
team member and in place in Akron, it is very unlikely that
Buchman would ever have chosen this small, rather unknown
city as a place to pursue his evangelistic efforts. Jim
was the spokesman who introduced Buchman at all the affairs
that week in Akron.
Now our cast of characters
is nearly complete and in place. Still to appear on the
scene, however, are Henrietta Seiberling, Anne and Bob S.,
and T. Henry and Clarace Williams.
When Jim first arrived
in Akron he had been welcomed into the Firestone family,
and had become fast friends with a son, Russell (Bud) Firestone.
Bud had a very bad drinking problem and had already been
sent to several hospitals to no avail. Jim went with Bud
to still another drying-out place, on the Hudson River in
New York, and stayed through the entire 30 day program.
Then he took Bud to an Episcopal Conference in Denver to
which the Oxford Group people had been invited. On the train
East again after the party, he was able to introduce Bud
to his old Oxford Group minister, Sam Shoemaker. Alone with
Sam, Bud surrendered his life to God in a private car on
the train. His life changed, and his family situation and
marriage were saved.
Akron was the place where AA was to be founded. Jim Newton
had helped bring to the city the Oxford Group message
of his alcoholic friend, Bud Firestone. The message led
to Bud's "miraculous" recovery which lasted for a time.
The message and the recovery were broadcast to an interested
community by a grateful father, Harvey Firestone, Sr.,
and by widespread press accounts."(7)
Williams was there, and joined the Oxford Group along with
T. Henry Williams, and began regularly attending the meetings.
About the same time, a lady named Henrietta Seiberling,
the wife of John Seiberling of the Seiberling Tire and Rubber
Company, found herself with personal and marital problems,
and separated from her husband. She turned to the Oxford
Group and attended the first meetings at the Mayflower Hotel.
She went with a woman named Anne S., the wife of a well-known
Akron surgeon who was in deep trouble with his drinking.
The progenitors now
assume their roles. A kindly and missionary-oriented couple,
the Williams, had been impressed with the Oxford Group message,
and had a home to offer for a meeting place. A gifted and
compassionate lady named Henrietta Seiberling, who had mastered
some of the Oxford group principles, had her eye on using
the biblical principles to help her good friend, Dr. Bob
S., with his drinking problem. Add to this mix the efforts
of his wife Anne, who assembled books and spiritual readings
and principles from the Bible, the Oxford Group, and various
other Christian writings, all the while praying for a solution
to her husband's seemingly hopeless drinking problem. The
talented and very alcoholic surgeon became the focus of
all these efforts. He did a lot of spiritual reading, attended
a lot of meetings, but remained drunk.
Now all the earlier
seeming coincidences converge, and this story merges into
the facts we all know from our AA literature.
Onto this scene landed
the "rum hound" from New York, moved by what both Bill W.
and Henrietta Seiberling felt was the guidance of God. Bill
had recovered from his disease, and was determined to stay
sober by seeking out and helping another drunk. The "rum
hound from New York", (Bill's self-description when he made
the fateful phone call to Henrietta), "just happened" to
bring to Akron some solutions heretofore never assembled
in one place and delivered by just one person.
important knowledge about the disease of alcoholism
accumulated through the work of Dr.Silkworth at Towns
Hospital in New York.
important spiritual solution to the problem that had
been passed from Dr. Carl Jung to Rowland H. and then
on to Bill by Ebby T.
validation of this spiritual solution by the scholarly
studies of Professor William James.
linkage between the problem of alcoholism, and this
solution that God could and would solve the problem
if a relationship were sought with Him by using the
Oxford Group's practical program of action, which was
already proven by the results experienced by Rowland
and Ebby when they followed the Oxford Group program.
Akron, T. Henry and Clarace Williams and Henrietta Seiberling
were attending Oxford Group meetings at the Mayflower Hotel
and elsewhere. Dr. Bob S. also attended with his wife, Anne.
He shied away from talking about his problem publicly, and
continued drinking. In her concern for Bob, Henrietta suggested
to T. Henry that if they could set up a smaller, more private
meeting perhaps Dr. Bob might feel more at ease and be able
to make a confession in the Oxford Group fashion, and a
commitment to sobriety. T. Henry's home was chosen for this
special meeting and these meetings started on a Wednesday
in April of 1935--just one month before Bill W. came to
Akron. These meetings were usually led by T. Henry, Henrietta,
or Florence Main, and at one of these Dr. Bob was able to
confess that he was a secret drinker and needed help as
he could not stop. This was the very place that was to become
the home to the "about to begin" Alcoholic Contingent of
the Oxford Group.
We can now see how all
these characters contributed to putting Dr. Bob and Bill
at a meeting in Henrietta Seiberling's home in the Gate
House of the Firestone Estate, and make possible the founding
of Alcoholics Anonymous.
AKRON - MAY 11,
can find no references anywhere to indicate that Bill W.
considered or made any conscious effort to locate an Oxford
Group member when he made his desperation phone call in
the Mayflower Hotel in Akron. Henrietta Seiberling wrote
having been sober five months in the Oxford Group, he said
a prayer. He received guidance to look at a ministers' directory
board and a strange thing happened. He put his finger on
one name--Tunks. The Rev. Walter Tunks was Harvey Firestone's
minister, and Firestone had brought Buchman and thirty Oxford
Group members to Akron for ten days in gratitude for their
help for his son, Russell, a drunkard.
looked into the cocktail room and was tempted and thought,
'Well, I'll just go in there and get drunk and forget
it all and that will be the end of it!' "
Out of the act of gratitude
of this one father, this whole chain started.
AN ATTEMPT TO PAY BACK JUST A LITTLE . . .
article was written in an attempt to preserve and to "pass
on" the accurate history of the beginnings of AA, before
the sands of time obscure them completely as they have a
habit of doing so well.
It was forwarded to
New York and reviewed for accuracy before going to press.
However, if you have any questions or comments, or would
like permission to reprint, I would be delighted to hear
free to call, or better yet, visit me at my home group.
Find Yourself Group
10891 102nd Av. N.
Seminole, Fl. 34648
Please note: The
following was moved from the top of this page to here,
the bottom of the page. The content was not altered in
any way and was left in its original form. The email address
is no longer active.
Subject: The Oxford Group Connection
Date: Mon, 04 Sep 95 20:02:30 GMT
I have recieved quite a few private email requests for
more info on the Oxford Group Since I responded to the
questions posed by another poster. So here, by popular
demand, :) , is "more info"!! It's about 10 pages or so,
so some of you might want to hit the print key before
you start reading.
following article was written by my sponsor, Ray R. (8/25/59),
and edited and published in a limited fashion by myself.
Before going to print, it was sent to New York and checked
for accuracy. Ol' sponce is not an electronic sort of
duck, (though I've tried!), so you can't email him. But
his voice number is attached to the end of the article
for any who care to communicate. Naturally, this has all
been cleared by him first, and he would welcome any contact.
I spent the morning reformatting my Word.doc to ascii,
so hopefully it'll come out OK, however, if anyone would
like the original in Word for Windows 6.0, email me and
I'll be happy to attach it to an individual reply.
Permission to reprint for the benefit of AA or it's individual
members has been granted at large, so long as the text
of the doc is not altered in any way.
So, with "Best Regards" from the Old Man, and sore fingers
from me, here `tis.