Alcoholics Anonymous History
A New Way In
By Dick B.
A New Way In
Reaching the Heart of a Child of God in Recovery
His Own, Powerful Historical Roots
The Akron A.A. Christian Program That Cured Alcoholics
Beginning 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.
The Frank Amos Written Summary of the Pioneer Program
The 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 Rockefeller:
- An alcoholic must realize that he is an alcoholic, incurable from a medical viewpoint, and that he must never drink anything with alcohol in it.
- 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 convictions.
- 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.
Seven 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.
The Specifics of What the Pioneers Did in Akron
They 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 again.
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 attended church.
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.
Diversions from Akron’s Program Called the Word-of-Mouth “Six Steps”
Set 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:
We 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”
(See 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 suit:
We admitted that we were licked, that we were powerless over alcohol.
We made a moral inventory of our defects or sins.
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.
(See 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::
Surrender your life to God.
Take a moral inventory.
Confess your sins to God and another human being.
Give of yourself to others with no demand for return.
Pray to God for help to carry out these principles.
(See 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.
(See 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).
The Further Burial of Akron Program Ideas in the Words of Bill’s New Twelve Steps
This 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 mire.
- 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 to cure.
- 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 James 4:7-10.
- 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, honesty, love.
- 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.
As Bill’s Depressions Progressed, Diversionary Programs Multiplied
Clarence 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 Publications, 2005.
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 gap.
(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 Beyond (1955).
(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 for recovery.
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.
AA OF AKRON rides again through its four later pamphlets commissioned by Dr. Bob
I 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 A.A.
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 the following:
But, 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.
Then the pamphlet says: “Here, however, is a set of suggestions, couched in the simplest of language:
1 – 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 our acts.
7 – Seek the companionship of others who are seeking a spiritual
And 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. meetings.
A Guide to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
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 GOOD.
- 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 of it.
The pamphlet discusses each of the Twelve Steps individually. It concludes with these rules for living.
- Remember that you an alcoholic, and but one drink away from drunkenness again.
- Remember that you are completely dependent on God as you understand Him.
- Remember to keep your thinking straight.
- Remember that a wrong act will play on your mind until you either do something to rectify it or get drunk.
- Remember that defects will creep into your life if given half a chance.
- Remember that if only through gratitude, we must help others in order to help ourselves.
Is It Any Wonder!
Just 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 Almighty God.