New Way In
By Dick B.
New Way In
Reaching the Heart
of a Child of God in Recovery
His Own, Powerful Historical Roots
Akron A.A. Christian Program That Cured
with 1934, A.A. Co-founder Bill Wilson said
many times that he was unable to get a single
person sober in the six months that he ran
from Towns Hospital to Calvary Rescue Mission
to Oxford Group meetings in New York. Bill
feverishly chased drunks, but not one of
them got sober. Furthermore, as Bill began
bringing drunks to the home that he and
Lois Wilson shared, the result was the same
for several years. Not one person got sober.
And even in the earliest years of New York
A.A., the best Wilson could claim was that
his partner Hank Parkhurst got sober—only
to drink at a later point; and that John
Henry Fitzhugh Mayo—son of an Episcopal
minister—was the other newcomer who was
reached successfully by Bill.
Let’s therefore begin with, and focus on,
the Akron program of 1935 to 1938, that
Bill and Co-founder Dr. Bob developed together.
This was the program that, by 1937, had
produced forty alcoholic recoveries among
men with two years or less of continuous
sobriety. Counting noses, Bill and Bob found
they had a total success record of 50% among
these men, with a further, additional 25%
success record among pioneers who relapsed
but returned to sobriety.
Frank Amos Written Summary of the Pioneer
Early AAs’ solution to their problems was
reliance on the Creator. That reliance produced
a documented 75% success rate in Akron,
and very soon a 93% success rate in Cleveland
among the medically incurable alcoholics
who really tried. It’s a story worth learning.
It is simple. The approach was effective.
And, because it worked, it attracted thousands
to A.A. over the ensuing years. Medical
cures and percentages of cure are what attract
patients. Medical failures do not. Fortunately,
we still have a precise and accurate study
of the Akron program that succeeded. Details
that can be used this very day.
Bill Wilson had come to John D. Rockefeller,
Jr., looking for money. Bill told the famous
businessman the results Dr. Bob and his
helpers were achieving in Akron. And Rockefeller
decided to see for himself. He sent his
agent Frank Amos out to Akron to investigate,
and Amos reported back in two different
papers exactly what he found. Amos had spent
about a week in Akron, interviewed Dr. Bob
and members of his fellowship, interviewed
their wives, interviewed an Akron judge,
an Akron attorney, medical colleagues, and
others. And the following is the essence
of the program, as Amos described it to
An alcoholic must realize
that he is an alcoholic, incurable from
a medical viewpoint, and that he must
never drink anything with alcohol in
He must surrender himself
absolutely to God, realizing that in
himself there is no hope.
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.
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.
He must be willing to
help other alcoholics get straightened
out. This throws up a protective barrier
and strengthens his own willpower and
It is important, but
not vital, that he meet frequently with
other reformed alcoholics and form both
a social and a religious comradeship.
Important, but not vital,
that he attend some religious service
at least once weekly.
points, the last two—religious comradeship
and church attendance—were simply recommended,
but not required. The foregoing original
A.A. program in Akron had no steps—twelve,
six, or otherwise. It had no basic text
but the Bible. For reading matter, it did
circulate among the early fellowship members
a large number of Christian books, devotionals,
and articles. And you can read for yourself
the foregoing detailed description of their
program in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers.
NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services,
Inc., 1980, pp. 130-136.
But the Frank Amos reports merely summarized
the requirements of the program. Amos did
not describe its activities with any particularity,
and they need to be examined more fully.
Though accurate as set forth, the importance
of the original requirements and practices
is not clear without a description of several
additional points Amos didn’t cover. Therefore,
we’ve reconstructed from historical research
a picture of the entire spiritual program
of recovery developed in Akron between 1935
and 1938, and we’ve included the details
summarized by Frank Amos.
Specifics of What the Pioneers Did in Akron
located a “real” alcoholic who needed help,
wanted help, and would do whatever was expected
of him: In the case of the first three
AAs—Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, and Bill
Dotson—someone had actually gone searching
for each of the three as a “pigeon” needing
help. Later, wives and relatives would sometimes
bring a new man to Dr. Bob for help. Sometimes
drunks appeared on the scene and asked for
help. But searching out and “qualifying”
the new person as one who was serious and
willing was a critical part of the new program.
He was interrogated to verify these points.
And that very outreach itself contributed
mightily to the success of the searchers.
They usually hospitalized the newcomer
for about seven days: Hospitalization
and/or medical help for a brief period was
virtually a "must" for almost
all the early A.A. members. Then, as now,
there was danger of seizures, severe shaking,
injury to self, and disorientation. Medical
monitoring was considered prudent. During
that period, only a Bible was allowed in
the hospital room. Medications were administered.
There were daily visits and lengthy talks
by Dr. Bob with each patient. There were
regular visits by recovered pioneers who
apprised the newcomer of their own stories
and successes. Just prior to discharge,
there was a visit to the newcomer by Dr.
Bob. He may have covered additional points
about alcoholism, such as they were known
at that time. But, primarily, he asked the
new person to acknowledge his belief in
the Creator. If there was an affirmative
answer, Dr. Bob required the patient to
make a "surrender" to Christ on
his knees and join Dr. Bob in a prayer.
And then there was release from the hospital.
They often offered food, shelter, and
support in the home of some pioneer family.
The two homes that first come to mind are
those of Dr. Bob and his wife Anne Smith,
and Wally G. and his wife Annabelle. In
a sense, these live-in arrangements represented
the first “half-way” houses as they are
often called today. Recovery work in Akron
did not begin or take place in groups or
meetings or treatment centers; nor in rehabs
or therapy or confinement. It took place
primarily in homes, and that, in itself,
constituted a very different situation from
the program of the Oxford Group where Bill
Wilson had previously cut his teeth in the
New York area. As stated, Akron pioneer
efforts took place primarily in the homes
of people like Dr. Bob and Anne Smith. And
in these homes, there were: (1) Daily get-togethers.
(2) Bible studies and the reading of Christian
literature and devotionals circulated by
Dr. Bob and his wife. (3) Quiet times held
by each individual who prayed, studied the
Bible, and sought God’s guidance. (4) Morning
quiet time meetings led by Dr. Bob’s wife
for AAs and their families who listened
to Anne teach from the Bible, prayed together,
heard Anne share from her spiritual journal,
discussed its contents with those present,
and then sought guidance from God for the
day. (5) Residents frequently discussed
problems and Biblical solutions with Dr.
Bob, Henrietta Seiberling, T. Henry Williams,
and Anne Smith. And those who stayed over
many days and nights in this or that home,
broke bread, lived, and fellowshipped together.
(6) Once a week the pioneers held a “regular”
Wednesday meeting with "real"
surrenders upstairs after the manner of
James 5:15-16. (7) Pioneers utilized a few
of some twenty-eight Oxford Group life-changing
practices such as Inventory, Confession,
Conviction, and Restitution. (8) They then
arranged visits to newcomers at the hospital.
(9) They recommended church attendance by
most. (10) They enjoyed social, religious,
and family fellowship. (11) And it all began
There was one “Regular” meeting on Wednesdays
at the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams
in Akron. Though it originally began
as an Oxford Group meeting, it was not conducted
like most Oxford Group meetings. Its members--Oxford
Groupers, alcoholics, wives and children—were
there to help alcoholics get well by spiritual
means. Host T. Henry therefore called the
meeting a “clandestine lodge” of the Oxford
Group because it differed so much from the
movement Frank Buchman and Sam Shoemaker
were leading. Also, before the Wednesday
meeting, leaders such as Dr. Bob, Anne,
Henrietta Seiberling, and Mr. and Mrs. Williams
would hold a Monday “setup” meeting where
God’s guidance was sought as to who should
lead the Wednesday meeting and what its
topic should be. On Wednesdays, there were
none of the conventional Oxford Group testimonials
nor were there any of what have today become
alcoholic drunkalogs. The regular meeting
opened with a prayer. Scripture was read,
then group prayer, and then a brief group
guidance circle. The meeting discussed a
selected topic—whether from the Bible, a
devotional, or a subject involving living
by Biblical principles. The discussion was
led by someone such as Dr. Bob, Henrietta
Seiberling, or T. Henry Williams. There
was intense focus on the study and discussion
of the Bible’s Book of James, Sermon on
the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. There was
a special time for "real" surrenders
upstairs for the newcomers. Following those,
arrangements were made downstairs for some
in the group to visit newcomers at the Akron
City Hospital. The meeting closed with the
Lord's Prayer; socializing; and the exchange
of Christian literature displayed on tables
for the taking. There had been no drunkalogs.
No Steps. No Big Book. No texts at all.
Just the Bible and devotionals like The
Upper Room and the specially valued lessons
taught from James, Corinthians, and Matthew.
“Real Surrenders” to Christ, several
Oxford Group practices, counseling with
the Smiths and Henrietta Seiberling, study
of Christian literature, and church attendance.
(1) In order to belong to the Akron fellowship,
newcomers had to make a “real surrender.”
This was akin to the altar call at rescue
missions or confession of Christ with other
believers in churches, except that it was
a very small, private, action taken upstairs
and away from the regular meeting. Four
A.A. old-timers (Ed Andy, J. D. Holmes,
Clarence Snyder, and Larry Bauer) have all
verified orally and in writing that the
Akron surrenders required acceptance of
Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. They took
place at the regular Wednesday meeting upstairs
in the manner described in James 5:15-16.
Kneeling, with “elders” at his side, the
newcomer accepted Christ and, with the prayer
partners, asked God to take alcohol out
of his life and to help, guide, and strengthen
him to live by cardinal Christian teachings
such as those in the Four Absolutes—Honesty,
Purity, Unselfishness, and Love. (2) Not
so clear as to Akron is just how many of
its pioneers completed such Oxford Group
life-changing practices as Inventory, Confession,
Conviction, and Restitution though there
is mention of some. (3) Many men and women
received counseling from Bob and Anne Smith,
Henrietta Seiberling, and T. Henry Williams.
They frequently studied or listened to Scripture,
prayed, and discussed practical matters
like jobs and family difficulties. Anne
Smith worked extensively with new people
and their families and formed a Woman’s
Group in Akron in A.A.’s second year. (4)
A wide variety of Christian literature on
the Bible, prayer, healing, love, the life
of Christ, Shoemaker’s writings, Oxford
Group books, and daily study topics was
passed around the fellowship and read by
alcoholics and family members alike. (5)
Though A.A. literature is devoid of significant
mention of church, the Amos reports disclose
that attendance at a church of one’s choice
was recommended. There is particular evidence
that Roman Catholics were in touch with
their own priests, and that the leaders—Bob,
Anne, Henrietta, and Mr. and Mrs. Williams—all
Quiet Times: (held by individuals,
by the group, and by the early birds in
the morning with Anne Smith). The first
condition of receiving revelation is not
"listening" to God. The first
condition of effective communication with
the Creator is the establishment of one’s
standing as a child of God by accepting
Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. With that
accomplished, the new Christian is a member
of the body of Christ, able to communicate
with God and His son, and endowed with the
ability to understand spiritual matters
the “natural man” cannot comprehend. Hence,
this was a vital part of the Akron program-evidenced
by the "surrender" at the hospital
and certainly the "real surrender"
in the homes. Then, for born-again believers,
quiet time consisted of reading the Bible,
prayer to and seeking revelation from God,
use of devotionals like The Upper Room,
utilizing Anne Smith's Journal for teaching
and instruction, and reading Christian literature
such as Henry Drummond's The Greatest Thing
in the World, Nora Smith Holm’s The Runner’s
Bible, The Upper Room, and various studies
of the Sermon on the Mount by Oswald Chambers,
Glenn Clark, Emmet Fox, and E. Stanley Jones..
Intensive personal work with newcomers:
Dr. Bob was called the “Prince of Twelfth
Steppers” and worked personally with over
5000 alcoholics. Visits with newcomers by
those who had already made the grade were
a regular occurrence in Akron. And, though
Bill’s personal outreach efforts yielded
little fruit when compared to the results
in Akron, Bill Wilson was the original,
vigorous hustler—seeking out new people
at Oxford Group meetings, Towns Hospital,
and Calvary Rescue Mission. However, the
unquestioned, liveliest individual 12 Stepper
was probably young Clarence H. Snyder. Before
he formed the Cleveland group, Clarence
was bringing alcoholics down to Akron on
a regular basis. In Cleveland, Clarence
was a dynamo seeking out drunks, taking
them through Step classes, and getting new
groups going. Cleveland groups grew from
one to thirty in a year. And Clarence sponsored
hundreds through the years—finally as the
A.A. with the longest period of sobriety.
Self-government, self-decisions, and self-support
within membership groups: Both Dr. Bob
and Bill were raised in the tradition of
the New England Congregational denominations.
This meant that each church was governed
by its members. It was supported by its
members. And it was accountable to no higher
power, official, office, or administration
than the rule and vote of its own congregation.
Whatever the way by which this concept reached
A.A., this system became the rule for local
A.A. groups though Dr. Bob was undeniably
the “leader” in Akron in the early pioneer
days. At the same time, Bob was always opposed
to transferring control of the A.A. fellowship
to New York.
Helping wives and families. Early
AAs were male. Yet the earliest A. A. meetings
in Akron were family affairs. Alkies, their
wives, and their children would attend the
meetings at the home of T. Henry and Clarence
Williams. Oxford Group activists did the
same. Henrietta Seiberling made sure all
her children attended some of the meetings.
The Smith kids attended many. Wives of members
worked shoulder-to-shoulder with their husbands.
Thus the work of T. Henry had the help of
his wife Clarace. The work of Dr. Bob, that
of Anne. The work of Wally G., that of his
wife Annabelle. The work of Tom Lucas, that
of his wife. And the work of Clarence Snyder,
that of his wife Dorothy. But there were
special needs of wives of alcoholics that
began to be recognized right away. Anne
Smith was at the head of the pack in meeting
them. Throughout early A.A. stories, you
find remarks that Anne was legendary with
newcomers, that she was especially kind
to wives, that as early as 1936, she formed
a women’s group, and that she was particularly
helpful to Lois Wilson time and time again.
Her crown jewel, of course, is Anne Smith’s
Journal, 1933-1939, which she wrote and
used for teaching during all of A.A.’s formative
years. It is filled with materials as suitable
for dealing with the problems of family
as with the alcoholic himself. Yet it’s
rarely mentioned even by A.A. historians,
and never in A.A. literature itself. It’s
not my purpose to deal with women’s issues
or rights, or the absence of women as members
of the earliest A.A. But it is quite clear
that Anne Smith, Bob, Bill to some extent,
and Lois later realized that the special
problems of what some now call “the family
disease” of alcoholism needed to be addressed,
both for the sake of individuals, of those
who suffer, and for A.A. itself. Even Lois
Wilson huddled in New York with her little
“kitchen group” for quite some time before
the seeds of Al-Anon and its Family Groups
began to appear and take root.
The Emphasis of Bob and Bill together:
I have several times quoted or summarized
the statements of Bob and Bill together
on the platform of the Shrine Auditorium
in Los Angeles in 1943. Their remarks were
reported in the March, 1943 issue of The
Tidings. About 4500 AAs and their families
were present. Bill spoke about the importance
of Divine Aid, the religious element in
A.A., and prayer. Dr. Bob spoke about the
importance of cultivating the habit of prayer
and reading the Bible. Both men were warmly
received-a testimony to their harmonious
accord, consistency, and simplicity of presentation
when appearing together. The event signaled
the unanimity of intent, if not of experience
and knowledge, between Bill and Bob.
from Akron’s Program Called the Word-of-Mouth
forth above are the seven points of the
original A.A. program, as Frank Amos summarized
them after careful investigation. Set forth
too are quite detailed descriptions of exactly
how AAs conducted their program—in terms
of structure, hospitalization, work with
newcomers, Bible study, prayer, reading
of literature, utilization of some Oxford
Group ideas, utilization of devotionals,
utilization of Anne Smith’s Journal, utilization
of the Four Absolutes, confession of Christ,
reliance on the Creator, obedience to God’s
will, and cleansing sin from one’s conduct.
Dr. Bob said several times that he didn’t
write the 12 Steps and had nothing to do
with writing them. He said their basic ideas
came from A.A.’s study of and effort in
the Bible. He said the Book of James, Jesus’s
Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13
were absolutely essential to the program..
And he specifically said that, when A.A.
began, there were no Steps; there were no
traditions; and that the stories (drunkalogs)
didn’t amount to much. So far, then, we’ve
provided an almost complete composite of
what early AAs did, developed, and accomplished
from their founding on June 10, 1935 through
the publication of their Big Book in the
Spring of 1939.
But there were curious sideshows—call them
“diversions”—that seemed to accompany or
follow the first years of the Akron program.
Bill claimed there were six “word of mouth”
elements being used for recovery. Yet there
is no mention of them by Frank Amos or by
Dr. Bob. Secondly, as Bill went in to a
deep depression in the 1940’s and 1950’s,
Dr. Bob seemed concerned that the principles
and practices of early A.A.—principles and
practices that were to have been made the
subject of the original basic text—be made
available in very simple form. And so it
was that four Akron AA pamphlets emerged;
and the pamphlets far more resembled the
Frank Amos program than Bill’s “six” word-of-mouth
ideas or the elements of the Twelve Steps
he wrote in the Big Book.
For a long time in my research, I kept hearing
that there had been six steps before there
were Twelve. In one way or another, Bill
Wilson suggested this. In another way, Lois
Wilson suggested it by quoting “six” Oxford
Group tenets—tenets which very clearly did
not exist in the history or annals of the
Oxford Group. My tendency, therefore, was
to point to these facts and reject Bill’s
“six” steps as bogus.
But I nonetheless encountered them in several
different ways, phrased in several different
forms, and emanating from several different
alleged sources. The first phraseology appeared
on a piece of paper handed to me in New
York by Bill’s secretary, Nell Wing. It
was scribbled in Bill’s handwriting; and
it appeared to contain material identical
to that which Bill had placed in an A.A.
Grapevine article. Bill stated there, as
“we commenced to form a Society separate
from the Oxford Group, we began to state
our principles something like this:
admitted we were powerless over alcohol.
We got honest with ourselves.
We got honest with another person, in confidence.
We made amends for harms done others.
We worked with other alcoholics without
demand for prestige or money.
We prayed to God to help us do these things
as best we could”
Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics
Anonymous, 3rd ed., 1998, pp. 256-257. Identical
language—specifying “we prayed to God”
can be found elsewhere. Not “a” god. Not
God as you understand Him. Not whatever
kind of God you thought there was. See Bill
W., The Language of the Heart. NY: The AA
Grapevine, Inc. 1988, p. 200; William L.
White, Slaying the Dragon. IL: Chestnut
Health Systems, 1998, p. 132)
Time marched on. Bill shifted gears, seemingly
bent on putting still more distance between
“God,” the Akron program about God, and
Bill’s delegated responsibility to report
the original facts in the new text he proposed.
And Bill still talked about a “word-of-mouth”
program of six steps to achieve and maintain
sobriety. But Bill listed a new and rephrased
“six steps” as follows; and the dutiful
revisionist historians of A.A. followed
admitted that we were licked, that we were
powerless over alcohol.
We made a moral inventory of our defects
We confessed or shared our shortcomings
with another person in confidence.
We made restitution to all those we had
harmed by our drinking.
We tried to help other alcoholics, with
no thought of reward in money or prestige.
We prayed to whatever God we thought there
was for power to practice these precepts.
Dick B., The Akron Genesis, p. 256; Alcoholics
Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 160: Pass It
On., p. 197; Ernest Kurtz, Not-God. MN:
Hazelden, 1991, p. 69. Note the prayer to
“whatever God we thought there was”).
The newly invented six steps were not left
alone, however. Others were tinkering with
them. This even though there was absolutely
no evidence that the Oxford Group had any
steps at all – not two, nor four, nor six,
nor twelve. But Bill’s wife Lois declared
that there were “the Oxford Group precepts”—six
in number—as follows::
your life to God.
Take a moral inventory.
Confess your sins to God and another human
Give of yourself to others with no demand
Pray to God for help to carry out these
Dick B., The Akron Genesis, p. 257; Lois
Remembers. NY: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters,
1987, p. 92. Note the language “surrender
to God” and “Pray to God”).
And then, after Dr. Bob was dead, came the
following unsupported insertion in the Big
Book. It alleged that Dr. Bob had used “six
steps.” In language hardly resembling any
ever used by Dr. Bob (who had also said
there were no steps), the Big Book writer
attributed the following words to Bob (words
containing no mention of God):
Dependence and guidance from a Higher Power.
Continued to work with alcoholics.
Dick B., The Akron Genesis, p. 258; Alcoholics
Anonymous, 2d ed., p. 292; Alcoholics Anonymous
Comes of Age, pp. 22-23; DR. BOB and the
Good Oldtimers, p. 131).
Further Burial of Akron Program Ideas in
the Words of Bill’s New Twelve Steps
is not a Twelve Step or a Big Book study.
My title Twelve Steps for You covers the
diverse origins of each of the Twelve Steps,
examining each, step by step. The Big Book
has been extensively studied and well reviewed
by such venerable AAs as Joe McQ and Charlie
P. in their Seminars, tapes, and books.
What’s been missing is an understanding
of the fact that Bill Wilson was commissioned
to write a basic text conveying the program
details that were so successful in Akron
by 1938. Instead, Wilson and his partner
Hank Parkhurst, formed a corporation, drew
up a stock prospectus, outlined a completely
new and different recovery procedure, and
sold the ultimate product as “the steps
we took.” This despite the fact that there
were no steps, that the predecessor Oxford
Group had no steps, and that no steps were
ever taken by anyone in early 1939—the date
the Big Book was published.
As a starting point, we can look at Bill’s
six word-of-mouth steps and the variant
presentations of them. But it is important
to highlight the things in the ultimate
draft of Twelve Steps that completely changed
A.A.’s ideas on what it took to recover.
The draft threw Dr. Jung’s “conversion”
into a barrel and reworded it a “spiritual
experience.” Here are the highlights (See
Pass It On, pp, 198-199):
The idea that AAs were
somehow “powerless” replaced the original
concept that they were simply “licked.”
Powerless led more neatly to Bill’s
“Power.” Being licked had been a prelude
to a cry to God for help out of the
The idea that AAs “came
to believe” replaced the original concept
that they either believed or they didn’t.
And “Power greater than themselves”
replaced the word “God” to appease two
or three atheists and fit the step into
Bill’s “Power” progression.
The Third Step redefined
“sin,” characterized it as “self-centeredness,”
and put a spin on the surrender as being
a surrender of self instead of a surrender
to God—the kind of surrender involved
in a real conversion.
The Fourth through Seventh
Steps involved action to eliminate offensive
manifestations of self, rather than
adopting the Biblical solution of receiving
the spirit of God, walking by the Spirit,
and disdaining walk by the flesh. Note
the significance of this change in terms
of the “cure” concept. “Self” can’t
be eliminated; hence never “cured.”
Walking in obedience to God’s will is
always possible and an attainable condition
The restitution aspects
of the Eighth and Ninth steps retained
the Biblical ideas of agreeing with
our adversary quickly, righting wrongs
through restoration or reconciliation,
and cleansing hands as suggested in
The Tenth and Eleventh
Steps shifted attention from a daily
walk with the Creator to a daily effort
to eliminate self-centeredness plus
newly minted defects of character—resentment,
self-seeking, dishonesty, and fear.
They ignored the Four Absolute standards
of Jesus that were so important to AAs
and used in Akron—unselfishness, purity,
The Twelfth Step twisted
“conversion” to “spiritual experience”
which later add-on provided no way to
a new man, a new power of the Holy Spirit,
and a new relationship with God. Quite
frankly, no more dramatic shift in emphasis
from God to self can be found elsewhere
in the action steps. The Twelfth Step
emphasized an experience allegedly produced
by action instead of a new creature,
in Christ, produced by the Creator in
the miracle a new birth. Its message
therefore shifted to some undefined
experience resulting from the steps
taken, rather than a demonstration of
what God does for man that man cannot
do for himself. It spoke of principles
but simply left them unspecified even
though, in early A.A., the principles
were taken from the Ten Commandments,
the Sermon on the Mount, the Book of
James, and 1 Corinthians 13, and other
parts of the Bible.
Bill’s Depressions Progressed, Diversionary
Snyder and Cleveland A.A. Perhaps it
all started constructively in May, 1939
when Clarence Snyder took the Bible, the
Oxford Group Four Absolutes, the Big Book,
and the Twelve Steps to Cleveland and made
hay with the old and the new, retaining
strong ties to both. Cleveland’s groups
grew from one to thirty in a year. The success
rate soared to 93%. And Clarence developed
guides to taking the steps and sponsorship.
See Three Clarence Snyder Sponsee Old-timers
and Their Wives: Our A.A. Legacy to the
Faith Community: A Twelve-Step Guide for
Those Who Want to Believe. Comp. ed. by
Dick B. Winter Park, FL: Came to Believe
Dr, Bob, Sister Ignatia, and St. Thomas
Hospital: In 1940, Akron began to be
focused on hospitalization and Twelfth-stepping
as part of the work by Dr. Bob and Sister
Ignatia at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron.
This work retained the important hospitalization
of old. But Sister Ignatia added some new
approaches, and both Dr. Bob and Anne Smith
were moving toward their declining years
in energy and effort. The Ignatia story
is well covered in Mary C. Darrah. Sister
Ignatia: Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1992;
and, while it cannot be said that the A.A.
program thereby changed, it does seem that
a stint with Bob, Ignatia, and St. Thomas
might have inclined St. Thomas patients
to believe they had completed their rehabilitation
even though Akron Group Number One was still
meeting, and Dr. Bob was still active.
Enter four new influences. Their respective
works are covered elsewhere, but each brought
substantial changes to A.A. itself:
(1) Father Ed Dowling, S.J., entered
the scene in late 1940; he communicated
with Bill for the next twenty years. Their
subject matter: Bill’s “second conversion”
when he did a “fifth step” with Dowling,
Dowling’s view of the significance of the
Exercises of St. Ignatius, and a steady
flow of letters. See Robert Fitzgerald.
The Soul of Sponsorship: The Friendship
of Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J., and Bill Wilson
in Letters. Hazelden, 1995. But, by 1942,
Bill had gone into a deep, severe, almost
immobilizing thirteen year depression. And
still other leaders and programs were, for
whatever reason, attempting to fill the
(2) Richmond Walker had a spotty
past as a recycled drunk. He gained an interest
in the Oxford Group and its literature as
early as 1934. He joined the Oxford Group
in 1939 to get sober, but didn’t succeed
for much over two years. But he gained extensive
knowledge of Oxford Group ideas In May of
1942, he entered A.A. and was involved in
three very influential literary works. He
worked with a devotional titled God Calling,
which had been edited by Oxford Group writer
A.A. Russell. In 1945, a Massachusetts A.A
group published Walker’s For Drunks Only
which was filled with Oxford Group ideas,
A.A. principles, and sobriety suggestions.
He offered it to A.A. for publication and
was declined. In 1948, Walker worked with
God Calling and converted it to a recovery
devotional that has sold in the millions,
though also declined by A.A. itself. That
devotional is titled Twenty-Four Hours Book
(3) Father Ralph Pfau Ralph was the
first Roman Catholic priest to get sober
in Alcoholics Anonymous (he came in on November
10, 1943), and under the pen name which
he chose to use, Father John Doe, he wrote
his fourteen Golden Books back in the 1940’s
and 50’s and early 60’s. They are still
being read and used by A.A.’s today: Spiritual
Side (1947), Tolerance (1948), Attitudes
(1949), and others. They were coming out
once a year at the beginning. Then Pfau
changed his writing and published three
much longer books, including Sobriety and
(4) Ed Webster: In 1946, in Minneapolis,
Ed Webster published The Little Red Book
under the sponsorship of the A.A. Nicollet
Group. Its title was "An Interpretation
of the Twelve Steps." Ed had the help
and support of Dr. Bob, who gave numerous
suggestions for wording various passages.
Ed also wrote Stools and Bottles (1955),
Barroom Reveries (1958) and Our Devilish
Alcoholic Personalities (in 1970, just a
year before his death).
Bill’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:
When Bill finally pulled out of his
depression, Anne Smith was dead, Dr. Bob
was dead, the reigns of A.A. were becoming
the property of New York, and Bill had set
about writing a whole new program in his
book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.
It was heavily edited by two Roman Catholic
Jesuit priests who purportedly sought to
eliminate Oxford Group thoughts from its
content. Bill also introduced a second edition
of the basic text and adopted “spiritual
awakening” as the target of the steps—leaving
conversion, religious experience, and spiritual
experience in the dust bin. He completely
replaced “conversion” with a psychological
conclusion that, for most AAs, a mere personality
change sufficient to overcome the “disease”
of alcoholism was all that was required
Finally, recovery centers and literature
substantially pre-empted doctrinal literature
publication and distribution. But, as all
the foregoing developments occurred, the
A.A. success rates became observably more
and more dismal—dropping from its original
rate of at least 75% to about 5%. And these
changes—one and all—provide solid reasons
for returning to, re-examining, and learning
early ideas and history.
OF AKRON rides again through its four later
pamphlets commissioned by Dr. Bob
don’t think anything surprised me more as
an AA from the West Coast than finding the
four AA OF AKRON pamphlets on sale at the
Akron A.A. Intergroup Office--pamphlets
originally commissioned by Dr. Bob. They
had apparently been around for years. They
were filled with the kind of Akron A.A.
I’ve described above. They quoted the Bible,
recommended prayer, discussed the importance
of God, and did so in the context of the
Twelve Steps. Yet how in the world did these
gems come into being when their contents
were virtually unknown where I came from?
They seemed at first to be the product or
property of some “clandestine A.A.” until
I learned what I know today—that they closely
resembled the Frank Amos summary of early
I can’t say and do not know how much research
has been done on their origins. But this
much has been suggested. Dr. Bob felt that
the program in the Big Book was not easy
for “blue collar” AAs to deal with. He asked
Evan W. to prepare some practical guides.
And four emerged. For those who have become
acquainted with early A.A. in Akron, there’s
not a surprise in them even though two of
the four I own were republished, respectively
in 1989 and 1993, while the other two bear
were republished in October, 1997.
Treat yourself to this A.A. program material.
Program principles and practices that were
not written by Bill W., that square with
the A.A. that Frank Amos summarized, that
frequently quote the Bible—just as Dr. Bob
did, and that I described in detail above.
And let’s look at the general ideas in each
of the pamphlets, one by one:
Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous
At the outset, this pamphlet asks and answers
asks the alcoholic, where can I find a simple,
step-by-step religious guide? The Ten Commandments
give us a set of Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt
Nots; the Twelve Steps of AA give us a program
of dynamic action; but what about a spiritual
guide? Of course the answer is that by following
the Ten Commandments and Twelve Steps to
the letter we automatically lead a spiritual
life, whether or not we recognize it.
the pamphlet says: “Here, however, is a
set of suggestions, couched in the simplest
– Eliminate sin from our lives.
2 – Develop humility
3 – Constantly pray to God for guidance.
4 – Practice charity.
5 – Meditate frequently on our newly found
blessings, giving honest thanks for them.
6 – Take God into our confidence in all
7 – Seek the companionship of others who
are seeking a spiritual
the explanatory discussions of these seven
points frequently mention God, Christianity,
the Bible, and prayer. The pamphlet gives
several illustrations of how men have found
God. It concludes with the Prayer of St.
Francis of Assisi.
A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous.
This guide picks up the trail where Spiritual
Milestones left off. It addresses the newcomer,
hospitalization, sponsors, visiting the
hospital, and what the newcomer must do
on his discharge. He is told to read the
Bible and give particular attention to the
Sermon on the Mount, Book of James, 1 Corinthians
13, and the Twenty-third and Ninety-first
Psalms. The guide suggests a prayer life
for each and every day. Then it describes
the thrill of helping someone else. Citing
Matthew 6:34 of the Sermon on the Mount,
it suggests day by day time progress and
acquiring health “one day at a time.” It
quotes Step Twelve as a “Spiritual Experience,”
not the “Awakening” Bill was soon to substitute
as the result of taking the steps.
Second Reader for Alcoholics Anonymous
Its primary topic is, WHAT IS THERE IN AA
FOR ME BESIDES SOBRIETY. And the article
discusses four items: “Work, Play, Love,
and Religion”—substituting A.A. for the
latter. It contends that the good active
AA is practicing Christianity whether he
knows it or not. It devotes a paragraph
to the Bible accounts that children loved
for years: The Lord’s Prayer, David and
Goliath and Samson, Adam and Eve in the
Garden, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan.
And it lays out some very practical and
purposeful ways of sharing a story in A.A.
A Guide to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics
With this fourth pamphlet, Akron AA completes
the circuit of A.A. activity. It offers
the following as a simplified, condensed
form of the complete program:
We honestly admitted
we were powerless over alcohol and sincerely
wanted to do something about it. In
other words, we admitted we were whipped
and had a genuine desire to QUIT FOR
We asked and received
help from a power greater than ourselves
and another human. (NOTE: In almost
all cases that power is called God.
It is, however, God as WE UNDERSTAND
HIM. . . .)
We cleaned up our lives,
paid our debts, righted wrongs.
We carried our new way
of life to others desperately in need
pamphlet discusses each of the Twelve Steps
individually. It concludes with these rules
Remember that you an
alcoholic, and but one drink away from
Remember that you are
completely dependent on God as you understand
Remember to keep your
Remember that a wrong
act will play on your mind until you
either do something to rectify it or
Remember that defects
will creep into your life if given half
Remember that if only
through gratitude, we must help others
in order to help ourselves.
It Any Wonder!
look at the road traveled in A.A. between
1935 and 1955. Just look at how the early
Akron A.A. precepts perished a little more
along each step of the road. And then ask
if it’s any wonder that today’s people don’t
even know their history, and perhaps don’t
even want to know it.
But our educational target is the child
of God in A.A.—the Christian, the believer,
if you wish—who is awash in authoritative
talk about spirituality, higher powers,
powerlessness, personality changes, and
experiences. It is he who needs to be reached
with the simplicity of the early Christian
Fellowship program. He has as much at stake
in that program as any other person in A.A.
It concerns his life, his freedom, and his
happiness which were spiraling down the
tube in his drinking years. And he has as
much need and right as any person in A.A.
to know that his own beliefs—when used to
deliver him from the power of darkness—were
the very beliefs that delivered early AAs
from the curse of alcoholism. It was alcohol
that was the enemy and the key. And the
early pioneers found out how to defeat that
enemy and turn the lock with the help of
B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837, 808
©Dick B. 2006.