Early A.A. Efforts
This article is written by nationally recognized historian and oft-quoted Alcoholics Anonymous archivist Mitchell K.
After Dr. Bob’s last drink, he and Bill continued attempting to “fix” rummies. They met with minimal success in their endeavors.
Eddie R. was one of these men they worked on. He got dry – went out drinking – got dry and went out again. It might not have been because Eddie was resistant; after all he did make his surrender. Apparently, Eddie had other problems to contend with. There may have been some psychological as well as physical ailments, which could not be ascertained.
Eventually, they met with Bill D., who was to be their first success. Bill D. became “AA #3.” He was an attorney and an alcoholic. Dr. Bob had called the hospital and asked if there were any alcoholics there he and Bill W. could speak with. The nurse in charge asked Dr. Bob if he had also tried this new approach to alcoholism treatment. She remembered him and his own problem with alcoholism. He told her that he had and that he was sober.
As was the custom in the early days, they went first to visit Henrietta D., Bill’s wife. They explained to her their plan and elicited her help. They then visited with Bill in the hospital. Bill W. and Dr. Bob then told Bill D. about what alcohol had done to them and how they have found sobriety.
Bill D. listened to their stories and thanked them for their efforts. It took about five days for Dr. Bob to convince Bill D. to admit that he had a problem and couldn’t control his drinking, Bill was very resistant.
After Bill D. had admitted his powerlessness, Dr. Bob and Bill hauled Bill down off of the bed and all three men got on their knees and began to pray. They told him that he had to surrender his life to God and ask that his drinking problem be removed. Bill followed their directions and made his surrender.
Breaking from the Oxford Group
When Bill D. was released from the hospital on July 4, 1935 he had two Independence Days to celebrate. Both Bill and Henrietta D. continued to attend Oxford Group meetings on Wednesday nights at the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams (at first Henrietta couldn’t attend because she worked on Wednesday nights but she eventually did begin attending). When Dr. Bob finally broke away from the Oxford Group in the late fall of 1939, Bill D. and the rest of the alcoholic squad went with him.
Bill W. stayed with Dr. Bob and his family until August 1935. He then returned home to New York and bean developing his own alcoholic squad. They attended the Oxford Group meetings at Calvary Church held by Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. Those meetings continued until the New York group broke off with the Oxford Group.
It isn’t very clear whether they were asked to leave as some old-time member’s state or they left on their own. Either way, the New York group was having a hard time with the Oxford Group because they would rather focus upon alcoholics and leave the rest of the world to the Oxford Group.
During the six months after Bill had returned to New York, he had managed to successfully work with a handful of alcoholics. Among those was Hank P and Fitz M. Hank eventually left the program and is reported to have died under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. Fitz remained sober and in the Fellowship. Bill returned to Akron for a visit in April 1936 to find that Dr. Bob was also having much success.
By February 1937 there were twelve sober members of the alcoholic squad in Akron. Bill in New York continued on with his group. Bill continued to travel back and forth to Akron on several occasions to confer with Dr. Bob and visit with his new friends. He was sure that they had really stumbled on to something.
There were some problems at first. About half the membership had at least one “slip.” Usually, after that initial “slip,” they remained sober. After all, they were all newcomers and were feeling their way with no previous experience, strength and hope to guide them.
There was no Alcoholics Anonymous, no literature other than the Upper Room, a daily devotional, and the Oxford Group literature and other religious and spiritual books available at that time. The Oxford Group members preferred to deal with global sin and the alcoholics were content to deal with the problems of alcohol.
As it is still today, several of the new membership fell away, some drank, some died and some remained sober on their own. For the most part however, the members of what was to become Alcoholics Anonymous remained sober and continued to work with other alcoholics as a way to maintain their own sobriety. The seeds were being planted and only time would tell if the eventual growth would bear fruit.
More will be revealed…