Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA
Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”)—i.e., the whole book, not just “the first 164 pages”—is the basic text for the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous [Alcoholics Anonymous (New York City: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), xi]. The “Personal Stories” section of the first edition of the Big Book published in April 1939 contained 29 personal testimonies by many of A.A.’s pioneers. Those pioneers—17 from A.A.’s first group in the world known as “Akron Number One,” 11 from the New York group, and one from the Los Angeles area—spoke largely of the original, highly-successful recovery program A.A.’s cofounders, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, began developing together over the summer of 1935 in Akron, Ohio, where A.A. was founded.
This original Akron program (which might also be called “the old program”)—as it looked in February 1938, about three months before Bill W. began writing the first two chapters of the Big Book around May 1938 (Lois Remembers, 111)—may be seen on page 131 of the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980). And to get a sense of level of success of that “old program,” here is a statement by the biographer of Clarence S., Dr. Bob’s sponsee who founded A.A.’s third group in the world in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 11, 1939; about one month after the Big Book was published:
Two years after the publication of the book, Clarence made a survey of all of the members in Cleveland. He concluded that, by keeping most of the “old program,” including the Four Absolutes and the Bible, ninety-three percent of those surveyed had maintained uninterrupted sobriety. [Mitchell K., How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio (Washingtonville, NY: AA Big Book Study Group, 1991, 1997, 1999), 108. This book is now available free online on www.Silkworth.net on this page: http://silkworth.net/chs/; accessed 10/24/2014]
As DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers put it:
. . . Clarence said. . . . “Records in Cleveland show that 93% of those who came to us never had a drink again. When I discovered that people had slips in A.A., it really shook me up. Today, it’s all watered down so much.” [DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 261]
And a number of those pioneer testimonies in the Big Book’s first edition highlighted the roles played by God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible in early A.A.’s astonishing success.
Sadly, A.A. decided not to include in the second edition of the Big Book (published in 1955) 22 of the original 29 personal testimonies in the first edition’s “Personal Stories” section. And when A.A. published the fourth edition of the Big Book in 2001, they chose not to include another four of the personal testimonies from the first edition’s “Personal Stories” section. So today, readers of the current edition of A.A.’s “basic text” are only seeing three of the original 29 pioneer testimonies included in the “Personal Stories” section of the 1939 Big Book. And of those three remaining personal stories, one has been retitled and edited in a minor way (“Dr. Bob’s Nightmare”); another has been edited in a major way (“Our Southern Friend”); and the third has been retitled and completely rewritten (“The Man Who Mastered Fear”).
The discarding of 26 of the 29 testimonies contained in the “Personal Stories” section of the 1939 edition of the Big Book, and the retitling, editing, and/or rewriting done to the remaining three stories, worked a great disservice to A.A.’s recovery ideas. The first portion of the 1939 Big Book contained 11 chapters focusing on “the new version of the program, now the ‘Twelve Steps,’” Bill W. wrote. (See Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 161-62.) Bill W. fashioned his “new version of the program” in mid-to-late 1938 mainly from the teachings of Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. [The Language of the Heart: Bill W.’s Grapevine Writings (New York: The AA Grapevine, Inc., 1988), 297-98.] The second, larger portion of the Big Book’s first edition, the “Personal Stories” section, comprised more than one-half of the book (pp. 180-396). That section contained testimonies by early AAs as to how they recovered from their alcoholism from mid-1935 through the end of 1938 primarily through the power of God. As the current edition of the Big Book states in chapter two, “There Is a Solution”:
The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 25]
Many of those A.A. pioneers prayed, studied the Bible, observed Quiet Time, believed in God, came to Him through His Son Jesus Christ, and then helped others. And the 17 of those 29 pioneers who were from the Akron-Cleveland area were testifying to the effectiveness of original, seven-point Akron A.A. “Christian fellowship” program which John D. Rockefeller’s agent, Frank Amos, documented in his February 1938 report to Rockefeller quoted in part on page 131 of DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers.
Thus the first edition of the Big Book gave a divided picture of the A.A. society. On the one hand, the first portion of the book—the portion today called “the first 164 pages”—contained Bill W.’s “new version of the program.” And the second portion of the book—the 217-page “Personal Stories” section—contained many accounts which testified to the original, highly-successful Akron program (also known as “the old program.”) But the original personal stories did not survive for long. They were systematically removed from the Big Book and replaced by what A.A. claimed were stories which better represented the growing diversity among the Fellowship members. Thus the early A.A. accounts of how the pioneers got well using the original “Christian fellowship” program developed in Akron beginning in mid-1935 largely disappeared with the discarded stories.
In Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous: God’s Role in Recovery Confirmed!, Dick B. and Ken B. present relevant selections from the personal stories in the Big Book’s first edition. In their personal testimonies, the A.A. pioneers told how they relied on God and got well. In those early years, there was no Big Book; and, as A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob stated in last major talk:
When we [A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob] started in on Bill D., we had no Twelve Steps, either; we had no Traditions. But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book. [The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches: Their Last Major Talks (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975), 13. It’s available online here: http://mcaf.ee/62m4a]
There were also no “drunkalogs” and no meetings as we know them today. The early AAs just quit liquor for good, sought God’s help, endeavored to obey His will, grew in their understanding of Him, and then helped newcomers. The same Creator of the heavens and the earth who helped early AAs can help AAs and others in recovery programs today. As the current edition of the Big Book states:
Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 98]
Contents of Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous
Preface Chapter 1: Experience, Strength and Hope: Stories from the First Three Editions of Alcoholics Anonymous Chapter 2: Alcoholics Anonymous: The Original 1939 Edition: Part 1 Chapter 3: Alcoholics Anonymous: The Original 1939 Edition: Part 2 Chapter 4: Alcoholics Anonymous: The Original 1939 Edition: Part 3 Appendix 1: "Why Don’t You Choose Your Own Conception of God?” Appendix 2: Key Highlights in the Writing of the Big Book with Approximate Dates Appendix 3: The Expression “Religious Experience” and the “Solution” to Alcoholism Appendix 4: Occurrences of the Phrase “Spiritual Experience(s)” in the Fourth Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous Appendix 5: The 20 Personal Stories in the “Personal Stories” Section of “the Printer’s Copy” of Alcoholics Anonymous