Step History Reflections
B. is an active, recovered member of the fellowship
of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Can History Help?
Authors seem recently to have pounced
on12 Step and A.A. history. Our Fellowship
members pour into our web sites asking for
information or sending us comments. And
the search engines have really done the
subject a great service as well.
what good can this interest in history do?
Some charge we have become obsessed with
early A.A. (1935 to 1938 and the 40 pioneers).
Perhaps that's true. Some are troubled that
this rebirth of history interest speaks
of an A.A. of yesteryear, not today. That
is true! Still others seem dismayed that
it will slow the onrush of A.A. and other
12 Step groups toward universalization,
toward idolatry, toward treatment language,
and toward meeting emphasis rather than
upon the original spiritual program of recovery.
Maybe; and, if so, good!
if you put these and other thoughts together,
you may find why the rapidly disappearing
spiritual roots of A.A. are important. The
reflections in this article, however, are
just designed to remind us all of some principal
historical roots of the 12 Steps. And to
show how they can help you, as they did
me, to see what the Twelve Steps are really
about-or at least were, when Bill Wilson
first penned them.
sure, the Twelve Steps did not come from
Akron or the early A.A. program there as
it was reported to Rockefeller by Frank
Amos in 1938. Amos said there were seven
basic points, and they bear no resemblance
to the Steps Bill Wilson wrote (See Dick
B., God and Alcoholism). Nor did the Twelve
Steps arise from any earlier steps of any
kind at all. There were no Steps in Akron
Number One's program. There were no Steps
in the Oxford Group in 1935. There were
no "six steps" either in the Oxford
Group or in early A.A. as some have thought.
And there never have been any steps in the
Oxford Group at all, though there are twenty-eight
Oxford Group principles that impacted on
the Steps as Bill finally wrote them in
a brief period of meditation in late 1938
(See Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics
reiterate the Akron picture: Dr. Bob said
he didn't write the Twelve Steps or have
anything to do with the writing of them.
He said the basic ideas came from the pioneers'
study of the Bible. He specifically pointed
to three Bible segments he said old timers
considered "absolutely essential"
(See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers; and
Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book;
Why Early A.A. Succeeded: The Good Book
in A.A. Yesterday and Today). The three
Bible segments were Jesus's sermon on the
mount (Matthew, Chapters Five to Seven),
the entire Book of James, and 1 Corinthians
then, did the Twelve Steps really come from?
Wilson said many times in many ways that
nobody invented A.A. He often added that
everything in the program was borrowed-from
medicine, religion, and experience. Many
years later, Bill Pittman put his finger
on the button when he wrote AA The Way It
Began. Pittman concluded (and he was correct)
that the Twelve Step program came from Rev.
Sam Shoemaker and from the Oxford Group
writings. Over the years, Wilson himself
began conceding this point but not detailing
it. Remember, however, that there were no
Steps in Calvary Church, in the Oxford Group,
or in pioneer A.A. But the major ideas were
present in 1934. If you will read my title
Turning Point, you will see that Ebby Thacher
(Bill's "sponsor") passed along
to Bill in much detail the basic ideas of
the Twelve Steps. They came from Ebby's
Oxford Group experience. Most don't know
that, but you can see the traces in pages
12 to 15 of the Big Book.
there's the matter of Reverend Sam Shoemaker,
rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New
York, chief lieutenant of Oxford Group founder
Dr. Frank Buchman, and prolific Oxford Group
writer. You'll find Shoemaker ideas and
language sprinkled throughout the Big Book
and the Steps. You'll find the corresponding
words, language, and ideas in Shoemaker's
writings. And you'll find them in Bill's
acknowledgments in letters and talks about
Shoemaker's importance. Twelve years of
reading Shoemaker's books, examining the
Stepping Stones archives, seeing Shoemaker's
personal journals and his papers at the
Episcopal Church Archives in Texas have
made those points quite clear to me. Strikingly
also, I learned that Bill had actually asked
Shoemaker to write the Twelve Steps, and
Shoemaker declined. It's all in my title,
Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam
Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed.
the last principal source is the one I keep
harping on. I do so because no one has been
told much about it in A.A. or in Twelve
Step groups. I stress this source because
it either covered or actually taught most
of A.A.'s Oxford Group, Shoemaker, and Bible
ideas in detail in the 1930's, long before
the Big Book was published. And I do so
because it had a direct daily impact on
Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob, and the A.A. pioneers.
That source is found in the 64 page journal
I was able to obtain from A.A. General Services
in New York, with the help of Dr. Bob's
daughter Sue Smith Windows and Bill Wilson's
secretary Nell Wing. It is laid out in some
detail in my book, Anne Smith's Journal,
1933-1939. And if you want to see A.A. history
in the making, see it as it was shared with
AAs and their families in the earliest days,
and see it as a bona fide explanation of
A.A.'s Twelve Step ideas before the Steps
were written, you should get a copy of Anne
Ripley Smith's journal. You sure won't find
it in A.A. itself!
You ought to learn and know some of the
following basic ideas that fed directly
into the Twelve Steps from their three major
sources (Shoemaker, Oxford Group, Anne Smith,
Dr. Bob's wife):
seems to have little to do with our beginnings.
It was just an expression that fit in with
Wilson's later talk about "lack of
power," and the need to find a "power"
(which Wilson said and which was most assuredly
that of the Creator Yahweh). In the beginning,
the First Step idea was just: "We admitted
we were licked." And that still does
it for me. Then the pioneers often said
this prayer: "O God, manage me because
I can't manage myself." It's from Anne
Smith's Journal, Shoemaker's books, and
the Oxford Group's stories about "Victor."
to believe" was originally phrased:
"believe that God can restore you to
sanity." The "came to believe"
part originated with Shoemaker's emphasis
on John 7:17-"If any man will do his
will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether
it be or God, or whether I [Jesus] speak
of myself. "Shoemaker's thesis: Do
God's will, and then you'll know what God
can do, said he. Good examples can be found
in Shoemaker's Religion That Works and Twice
Third Step called for a "decision"
to entrust your life to God's care. It was
primarily based on "Thy will be done"
from the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:10). And
you can see these points in the Anne Smith,
Shoemaker, and Oxford Group writings. The
addition of God "As we understood Him"
simply came from many of Shoemaker's writings
about surrendering as much of yourself as
you understand to as much of God as you
understand. Good examples can be found in
Children of the Second Birth by Shoemaker.
Fourth Step originated with on the Oxford
Group's Four Absolutes-honesty, purity,
unselfishness, and love. Also with Matthew
7:1-5 of Jesus's sermon on the mount. You
wrote the four absolutes down. You also
wrote down where your life was astray. And
you looked for your part in the wrongdoing.
These ideas can clearly be seen in Anne's,
Shoemaker's, and the Oxford Group's writings.
Fifth Step language can be found in the
same three sources. But all state that the
basic idea came from James 5:16. The pity
is that, by ignoring the Bible, our historians
have missed the point that you not only
"confess" your faults one to another,
but you call in the elders to pray for the
sick person, "and the Lord shall raise
him up" and his sins shall be forgiven
(James 5:15). It continues that you will
be healed because the "effectual fervent
prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
That's something Wilson and A.A. Number
Three (Bill Dotson) specifically claimed
for themselves in the early years before
1939. See Big Book, page 191.
Sixth and Seventh Step language leaves many
bewildered today. Two paragraphs in the
Big Book say very little and omit very much.
They mix up various theological ideas, and
they weren't part of Akron thinking except
for acceptance Jesus Christ as Lord and
Saviour (something totally removed from
today's A.A.). The best understanding of
these two Steps and two paragraphs would
really come to you upon learning and knowing
the "5 C's" that were mentioned
by Anne, by Sam, and by the Oxford Group.
These two Step ideas really come from the
Five C's. They rest primarily on "Conviction"
(Step 6) and "Conversion" (Step
7). You can see these explained in detail
in the early Oxford Group book Soul Surgery
by Walter. But the roots got lost in Bill's
shuffle from his "six" word-of-mouth
"steps" to the "twelve"
he wrote in late 1938 and were supposed
to leave no "wiggle room" as he
and Lois put it. The problem is that they
left little understanding either. Many somehow
think they lose all faults in those two
Steps and then wonder why the remainder
Eighth and Ninth Step ideas of restitution
have their roots in four segments of the
Bible (See Dick B., The Akron Genesis of
Alcoholics Anonymous; The Oxford Group and
Alcoholics Anonymous; By the Power of God;
and The Good Book and The Big Book). This
concept of life-change that involves "restoring,"
making "restitution," taking corrective
action can be seen most vividly in the Oxford
Group book For Sinners Only by A. J. Russell.
Tenth Step derives from the "Continuance"
principle of the Oxford Group's Five C's.
You continue the "surrender,"
the "life change," the self-examination,
confession, conviction, and conversion-as
well as the restitution-you learned in and
undertook in the first nine Steps. To know
the roots and the purpose is to understand
better why there was a Step Ten. And Shoemaker
wrote eloquently about continued "surrender"
as did Anne Smith.
Eleventh Step is a big deal. And the best
references I can give are to the exhaustive
treatment of Quiet Time, Guidance, Bible
study, Prayer, Listening, Checking, Journaling,
and use of devotionals and other literature
that I have covered in my books Good Morning!:
Quiet Time, Morning Watch , Meditation,
and Early A.A.; The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics
Anonymous, New Light on Alcoholism; The
Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous; The
Good Book and The Big Book; and By the Power
of God. In fact, the richness of the Eleventh
Step roots can best be understood by having,
as a reference set, my fifteen titles which
are sold as a group at a substantial discount.
That way, you have the history when you
want to study it, when you want to refer
to it, and when you want to look at the
tremendous amount of bibliography that is
available in those books.
the Twelfth Step. The language "spiritual
awakening" is from the Oxford Group
(See Buchman, Remaking the World). And Shoemaker
wrote a whole chapter in one of his books,
explaining what a "spiritual awakening"
was. He further elaborated at an A.A. Convention
when he said it had four elements: (prayer,
conversion, fellowship, and witness); but
you sure won't find them in A.A. literature
today. The topic "spiritual experience"
is likewise from the Oxford Group. The problem
is that neither Professor William James,
nor Dr. Carl Jung, nor even Bill Wilson
were originally talking about either a spiritual
awakening or a spiritual experience as the
Oxford Group defined them. They were talking
about "religious" experiences
and "conversion." But the distaste
for such ideas in the Oxford Group, the
Roman Catholic Church, the universalists,
the revisionists, and the non-Christians
has slowly but surely buried the conversion
which was a sine qua non of early A.A. What
was the message that 12 Steppers were to
won't find Bill describing it. But the real
message was carried by Ebby to Bill and
found its way into the Big Book in terms
of "God has done for me what I could
not do for myself." To that was added
the Oxford Group/Shoemaker idea of "passing
it on" and "giving it away to
keep it"-both of which derived from
Biblical witnessing. And what were the principles
12 Steppers were to practice? That was left
undiscussed by Wilson. Once he and A.A.
leadership buried the Four Absolutes, they
also quickly buried the simplest, earliest,
clearest statements of the principles. Those
principles-honesty, purity, unselfishness,
and love-were the "yardsticks,"
as Dr. Bob called them. They were the "standards"
as many Oxford Group people called them.
And, since they were based on the teachings
of Jesus, they can also be said to incorporate
all the principles of the Ten Commandments,
the two "Great Commandments" of
Jesus, other commandments in the Bible,
the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians
13. And you will find that many pieces of
literature in early A.A. central offices
© Dick B.
B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; 808
874 4876; email@example.com