Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA
© 2007 by Anonymous. All rights reserved
All A.A.’s Ideas Were Borrowed, said Bill W.: The Basic Ideas Came From Their Study of the Good Book, said Dr. Bob
Early in its founding years, A.A.’s co-founder Bill Wilson put the torch to the idea that A.A. sprang from just one source. He said frankly that nobody invented A.A. He said all its ideas were borrowed. And Dr. Bob broadened the source picture by pointing out that all the basic ideas came from the Pioneers’ study of the Bible.
Unfortunately, neither co-founder put in writing in one place all the well-springs that produced the streams in A.A. Consequently commentators, both favorable to and critical of A.A., have had a field day with discussions of our roots. Most of them have a number of erroneous concepts so embedded in their historical approaches that they just never tell it like it is or like it was. Those who don’t like the Bible say that we left it behind in Akron. Those who don’t like the Oxford Group say that it taught us more about what not to do than what to do. And those who don’t like either the Bible or the Oxford Group have tried to quiet the waters by diverting the stream. They say A.A. is “spiritual, but not religious” even though any well-informed historian, scholar, clergyman, and semanticist would probably ask: “And what’s the difference?” Nobody really knows, but the distinction without a difference leaves many in a peaceful atheistic no man’s land.
The real difference in how we characterize A.A. is that without a knowledge of A.A.’s various sources—mostly religious—people quickly make up their own sources. It’s called “self-made religion.” And A.A.’s co-founder Rev. Sam Shoemaker pointed out that this self-fabricated stuff leads to all kinds of nonsense—including “absurd names for God” and “half-baked prayers” as Sam described them.
So it is. Those who have spurned our historical facts often say that our Creator can be a tree, or they say that neither the Creator nor the tree is “Conference Approved.” Some capitalize “Higher Power” as if to make it sacred. Others write “higher power” in lower case—timidly offering it as something greater than yourself. Today, A.A. World headquarters often goes go on to say that you really don’t have to believe in anything at all. See A Newcomer Asks. . . ( York, England” A.A. Sterling Area Services, n.d.); This is AA. . . an introduction to the AA recovery program (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984), p. 15. And most AAs are inclined to say, “Don’t analyze, utilize” or “Don’t think and don’t drink,” or “Look for the similarities and discard the differences.” Sometimes, fortunately, they may add that the Big Book is A.A.’s basic text but then let it go at that. “The Big Book says it, and that settles it” is a common A.A. expression. And that leaves us with what the Big Book says, but mostly what it doesn’t say. Most assuredly the “basic text” doesn’t say much about history, roots, or development.
AAs today have seen all “official” mention of the Bible deleted from their basic text. They’ve seen Jesus Christ mentioned only once, and then as a man whose ideas are seldom followed. They’ve seen the Creator turned into a higher power which has been turned into a radiator. At the same time, they hear about prayer and meditation and haven’t the slightest bit of information as to what those ideas meant either in earliest A.A. or even in the Big Book and Steps. Worse, all mention of cure has been obliterated and the following substituted: “We in AA believe there is no such thing as a cure for alcoholism” A Newcomer Asks, p. 2. Bill Wilson didn’t believe there was no cure (Big Book, p.191). Dr. Bob didn’t believe there was no cure for alcoholism (Big Book, p. 180). A.A. Number Three (Bill Dotson) didn’t believe there was no cure (Big Book, p. 191). What happened to God? What happened to cure?
Today, A.A. newcomers are befuddled and confronted with nonsense. Prayer to a rock? Prayer to a chair or a tree? Meditation with a radiator? Meditation as listening to Something? Praying to what! Chanting to what! Listening to what—a light bulb? For assistance, they are told in their basic text that there are “helpful books,” but there is no mention of the Good Book which was the major source for their basic ideas. In fact, most don’t dare mention any of the hundreds of religious books the pioneers read.
Now let’s look at the real record.
The Fifteen Major A.A. Well-Springs Are Not A.A.’s Basic Ideas—Just Its Sources
I’ve spent 18 years looking up the basic ideas. I’ve published at least one book and many articles on each of those ideas. And this article will not repeat the materials in those titles. I will point out here though that you can find the discussion of the basics in the following of my titles: (1) The Bible: The Good Book and The Big Book; Why Early A.A. Succeeded (a Bible Study Primer); The James Club and the Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials; Twelve Steps for You; The Good Book-Big Book Guidebook; (2) Thecontents of Anne Smith’s Journal: Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939; (3) Quiet Time: Good Morning: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and Early A.A.; (4) The Oxford Group’s Life Changing Twenty-Eight Ideas: The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous; Henrietta B. Seiberling: Ohio’s Lady with a Cause; (5) The teachings of Rev. Sam Shoemaker: New Light on Alcoholism; By the Power of God; New Light Guide Book (6) The Christian literature they studied and circulated:Dr. Bob and His Library; The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth; The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous; That Amazing Grace; Making Known the Biblical History and Roots of Early A.A. (7) The Akron Elements from United Christian Endeavor Society: When Early AAs Were Cured and Why; The James Club;Making Known; God and Alcoholism; Cured.
Other basic ideas came from sources I have researched and which are covered in numerous articles I have published on my websites. They are mentioned below in connection with their sources. And they had a particularly great influence on some of the language Bill used in the Big Book and in his other writings. So much so that one of the very few early New York AAs to get sober (John Henry Fitzhugh Mayo) was defeated in his effort to include the early Christian and Biblical materials in the Big Book. At least 400 pages of manuscript were simply tossed out, never to be found—even today. Bill’s secretary Ruth Hock said they were mostly Christian and Biblical materials.
But that’s not what’s at issue here. Here we’ll take a cursory look at Fifteen Major Well-Springs of A.A. They don’t fit in a nice timeline. They are not particularly consistent in belief, nor are they congruous as far as each of A.A.’s historical epochs is concerned. None of them can be found to be present in each and every one of the various streams of A.A. from Switzerland, Harvard, Akron, Cleveland, New York, Gospel Rescue Missions, the Salvation Army, United Christian Endeavor, New Thought writers, Christian devotionals, Christian literature, Quiet Time, Anne Smith, Henrietta Seiberling, Sister Ignatia, Father Ralph Pfau, Ed Webster, Richmond Walker, Father Ed Dowling, Father John C. Ford, or Rev. Sam Shoemaker. They simply ought to be known as part of our history, but not be expected to fit together into a successful program of recovery..
To be brief, our history ought to be known so that recovering people can make intelligent choices and appropriate decisions. Following, then, are the well-springs—some of great importance, some virtually unknown, and many conflicting in direction, meaning, and emphasis. They are presented here with a brief annotated bibliography of each to enable further study.
The Fifteen Well-Springs as Sources of our Basic Ideas
Number One: The United Christian Endeavor Society. Organized in 1881, about the time of Dr. Bob’s birth. Initially focused on the young people in a local Protestant Church in Maine. Then on the church attended by Dr. Bob and his family in Vermont—a supportive Christian Endeavor Group of young people connected with that church. Produced almost all of the major ideas that were carried over into early Akron A.A.’s Christian Fellowship led by Dr. Bob. The ideas? Confession of Christ. Bible study. Prayer meetings. Conversion meetings. Quiet Hours, topical discussions, reading of religious literature, witness, and fellowship—all under the banner of “love and service.” See Dick B. The James Club and The Early A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials; The Good Book-Big Book Guidebook; Making Known the Biblical History and Roots of Early A.A.; A New Way Out. For specific relative other literature, see Francis E. Clark. Christian Endeavor in All Lands (Np: The United Society of Christian Endeavor, 1906); Amos R. Wells. Expert Endeavor: A Textbook of Christian Endeavor Methods and Principles (Boston: United Society of Christian Endeavor, 1911).
Number Two: The Salvation Army. Organized under General William Booth not long after Christian Endeavor and introducing ideas about working with drunks and street criminals. Ideas used in missions, observed by Ebby Thacher and Bill Wilson, and exemplified by the practical program of early Akron A.A. The ideas? Abstinence. Resisting Temptation. Confessing Jesus Christ. Relying on the Creator. Elimination of sin. Employing the power of one saved and recovered drunk to bring effectively to another still-suffering drunk the message of salvation, love, and service. Carrying the message of salvation and questing for truth. Perpetuating the fellowship and witnessing among the ranks of those already saved, recovered soldiers. See Dick B. When Early AAs Were Cured and Why; The First Nationwide A.A. History Conference; A New Way Out. For specific relative other literature, see Harold Begbie. The Gospel Truth: Life of William Booth, Founder and First General of the Salvation Army. 2 vol. (New York: Macmillan, 1920); William Booth, Vols. I and II; Twice Born Men (NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1909); Howard Clinebell, Understanding and Counseling Persons with Alcohol, Drug, and Behavioral Addictsions. Rev. and enl. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998).
Number Three: The Gospel Rescue Missions. Said to have gained ascendancy because of the testimony of Jerry McCauley, they carried into residential and meeting place centers ideas similar to those of the Salvation Army into physical places of rehabilitation and salvation. Bible study and teaching; hymns; testimonies; “soup, soap, and salvation,” altar calls and conversion; shelter, with educational and vocational training as well. Their declarations that “Jesus saves” set the stage for religious services involving testimony, music, Bible, prayer, and then the altar call where the afflicted went to the altar where a brother prayed for and with them and they made their decisions for Christ. See Dick B. Real Twelve Step Fellowship History. For specific relative materials, see Mel B. New Wine: The Spiritual Roots of the Twelve StepMiracle (MN: Hazelden, 1991); Clinebell, Understanding and Counseling; and the excellent website materials of the Association of Gospel and Rescue Missions.
Number Four: Professor William James and the conversions which later came to be called “spiritual experiences.” Just who is the author of Bill’s “spiritual experience” expression is not all that clear. The term was used in the Oxford Group. But the source idea is religious conversion. Carl Jung told Rowland Hazard that Rowland needed a “conversion” experience. William James wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience, which Wilson believed validated his “hot flash” experience at Towns Hospital. Finally, as he looked back on his life, Bill Wilson concluded he had had five spiritual experiences. See Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W. Sam Shoemaker wrote in his first significant book that people needed a “vital religious experience” S. M. Shoemaker, Jr. Realizing Religion (NY: Association Press, 1923). And Oxford Group writings are surfeited with references to “spiritual experience” and “spiritual awakening.” So are Shoemaker’s later books. Wilson liked to attribute the spiritual experience to James and also claimed that James authored the “deflation-at-depth” idea underlying A.A.’s First Step. Historian Kurtz says he can’t find the latter in James’s book, but I don’t think he understood what he was looking for. But Bill Wilson did. Bill saw the starting place for conversions in Missions as a state of despondency and despair, such as his own when he went to Calvary Rescue Mission. I certainly can and did and underline it in my titles. Dick B. Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes and The Conversion of Bill W. For specific relative materials, see William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience (NY: First Vintage Press/The Library of America Edition, 1990); Samuel M. Shoemaker. Realizing Religion. NY: Association Press, 1923.
Number Five: The conversion ideas of Dr. Carl Gustav Jung. Two or three historians who had not really done their homework claimed several years ago that Jung had no connection with A.A.’s beginnings. They assert that Jung never saw Rowland Hazard as a patient and therefore the “conversion” solution so dominant in Bill Wilson’s Big Book program did not come from Jung. But their skimpy research does not support the absurd conclusion that Carl Jung, Rowland Hazard, Ebby Thacher, Bill Wilson, and Sam Shoemaker all lied in order to conjure up a story of the solution for alcoholism. The real problem, however, concerns how badly Wilson missed the point of Jung’s idea of conversion. Conversion, Jung said, was the solution for Rowland’s chronic alcoholism. But conversion, in the mind and words of Carl Jung, did not seem to mean what the Bible describes as a new birth and which Shoemaker and the Akronites were later espousing. Nor was Bill Wilson’s response to the altar call at Shoemaker’s Calvary Mission a conversion of the kind Jung had in mind, although Wilson apparently thought so. See Dick B. New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.; Twelve Steps for You; The Good Book-Big Book Guidebook; The Conversion of Bill W.
For specific relative literature, see C.G. Jung. Modern Man in Search of a Soul (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1933). Among the books owned and studied by Dr. Bob, I found the foregoing Jung book inscribed to Dr. Bob by Bill Wilson. Though reading it is tough sledding, I believe the translator’s preface emphasizes Jung’s view of rebirth. First, the translator talks about those who reach to attain to more knowledge of the inner workings of their own minds, more information about the subtle but none the less perfectly definite laws that govern the psyche. They believe, he said, they can achieve the new attitude without having on the one hand to “regress to what is but a thinly veiled mediaeval theology, or on the other, to fall victims to the illusions of nineteenth-century ideology.” That sounds very little to me like “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” In his monumental work, Psychology, Religion, and Healing (NY: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1951), Dr. Leslie D. Weatherhead examines Jung’s ideas in substantial detail. Jung’s idea of “conversion” is “individuation,” he writes. “Individuation in Jung’s sense, is the wise setting of the house of one’s personality in order, but it is a task at which one is wise to work for the rest of one’s life” (p. 287). Weatherhead states later: “But one wonders where Jung got the idea that the heart of Christianity was ‘imitating Christ’ . . . To advise people to ‘imitate Christ’ is no gospel at all. It puts all the strain on the Christian’s will-power. The Christian Way becomes something the Christian must achieve. But the heart of the Gospel is something God does in Christ through the Holy Spirit; something He has done and is doing and will do for anyone who trusts Him. The power in Christianity is not in man’s effort to imitate Christ, but in Christ’s love for man, forgiveness of man and power to change man. . . . St. Paul would not recognize Jung’s brand of Christianity at all” (pp. 392-393).
Number Six: The medical ideas and Great Physician prescription of Dr. William D. Silkworth. Once again, historians who have not really done their homework now sometimes claim that Dr. Silkworth did not originate the ideas about alcoholism as a disease. And there is evidence that the disease concept may well not have originated with Silkworth. But there is equally strong evidence that it was Silkworth who spelled out for Bill Wilson the idea that Wilson was suffering from a mental obsession and a physical allergy—however the details were or would be characterized in the disease arena. Virtually unmentioned by historians, however, is Silkworth’s belief—explained to Bill Wilson and other patients—that Jesus Christ, the “Great Physician,” could cure them of alcoholism. See Dick B. Cured: Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts; The Conversion of Bill W.; The Good Book-Big Book Guidebook; For further specific relative literature, see Norman Vincent Peale. The Positive Power of Jesus Christ (NY: Foundation for Christian Living, 1980); Dale Mitchel. Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks (Hazelden, 2002); Bill W: My First 40 Years (Hazelden, 2000).
Number Seven: The Oxford Group—A First Century Christian Fellowship. Not really “organized” until about 1919 when the book Soul Surgery was first published. Primarily a movement which drew its ideas from the eclectic life-changing Biblical concepts of Lutheran Minister Frank N. D. Buchman. Each one of the aforementioned well-springs influenced the ideas that were borrowed and adapted by the Akron program. And to these were added catch-words and ideas that Buchman picked up along the way toward the Oxford Group’s actual founding. There were twenty-eight ideas in all that impacted upon A.A.’s Big Book and Twelve Steps and existed in greater or lesser degree in some of the practices in the earlier Akron Fellowship. The 28 ideas can be summarized in eight groupings of the ideas Buchman put together: (1) God—descriptions of Him, His plan, man’s duty, believing. (2) Sin—that which blocks man from God and others. (3) Surrenders—the decision to surrender self and self-will to God’s will. (4) Life-changing art—the Five C’s of the process moving from Confidence to Confession to Conviction to Conversion to Continuance. (5) Jesus Christ—His power and the Four Absolute Standards. Sin was the problem. Jesus Christ was the cure. And the result was a miracle, they said. (6) Growth in fellowship through Quiet Time, Bible study, prayer, and seeking Guidance. (7) Restitution—for the harms caused by sin. (8) Fellowship and witness—working in teams loyal to Jesus Christ to change the lives of others. See Dick B. The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works; The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous; Turning Point: A History of the Spiritual Roots and Successes of Alcoholics Anonymous; A New Way Out.
For further specific relative research, see Garth Lean. Frank Buchman: A Life. (London: Constable, 1985); Howard A, Walter. Soul Surgery (NY: The Oxford Group, 1928); Harold Begbie. Life Changers (NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1926); A.J. Russell. For Sinners Only (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1932).
Number Eight: The teachings of Episcopalian priest Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. Sam teamed up with Frank Buchman about 1919, then began writing an incredibly large series of many books on the OG ideas and Sam’s Bible concepts. He headquartered his efforts at Calvary Church in New York, of which he became Rector in 1925. It is fair to say that the most quoted, the most copied, and the most persuasive influence on Bill Wilson and his Big Book approach came directly from Shoemaker. To the point where Wilson actually asked Sam to write the Twelve Steps, as to which Sam declined in favor of their being written by an alcoholic, namely, Bill. Shoemaker language can be seen throughout the Big Book and in the language of Wilson’s famous Twelve Steps. See Dick B. New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.; The First Nationwide History Conference; When Early AAs Were Cured and Why; By the Power of God; Twelve Steps for You. For specific relative literature, see Samuel M. Shoemaker, Realizing Religion; Children of the Second Birth (NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1927); Religion That Works (NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1928); The Gospel According to You (NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1934); National Awakening (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1936).
Number Nine: The lay therapy ideas of Richard Peabody. Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson both owned and studied The Common Sense of Drinking—a book by lay therapist Richard Peabody. And though Peabody died drunk, Wilson somehow saw fit to adopt almost verbatim certain words and phrases from the Peabody book. Among the two most unfortunate derivates were: (1) There is no cure for alcoholism. (2) Once an alcoholic always an alcoholic. Both concepts flew in the face of a decade of clear and outspoken declarations by the early AAs and their observers that they had found a cure for alcoholism that rested on the power of Jesus Christ. This was not something Peabody embraced. And how Wilson got switched from God to incurable illness on the basis of the writings of a lay therapist who died drunk is currently a mystery to me. See Dick B. Cured: Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts; When Early AAs Were Cured and Why; A New Way Out. Richard Peabody. The Common Sense of Drinking (Atlantic Monthly Press Book, 1939); For further specific literature, see New Wine, pp. 117-120.
Number Ten: The Bible (which early AAs called the “Good Book”). A.A. co-founder Dr. Bob Smith stated emphatically in a major speech in Detroit in 1948 that he didn’t write the Twelve Steps; that he had nothing to do with the writing of them; that A.A.’s basic ideas came from the Bible; that there were no stories (drunkalogs), no Steps, and no basic texts (such as the Big Book). Dr. Bob pointed to the Book of James, 1 Corinthians 13, and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as absolutely essential to their program. They felt, he said, that the Good Book contained all the answers to their problems. For example, early AAs actually wanted to call their Society the James Club because that book was their favorite. Bill Wilson confirmed this fact and also favored Corinthians. Bob was insistent that Henry Drummond’s The Greatest Thing in the World was a “must’ in reading; and it was a study of 1 Corinthians 13. Wilson and Smith both said that the Sermon on the Mount contained the underlying philosophy of A.A. There are many Biblical ideas and phrases in A.A.’s later Big Book; and certainly the emphasis on Bible study in United Christian Endeavor, in Dr. Bob’s youth, in the Akron fellowship, and in the Christian literature A.A. pioneers studied, was proof enough of the Bible’s importance to recovery, cure, and the fellowship long before Wilson took Oxford Group ideas, fashioned his Big Book and Steps, and published Alcoholics Anonymous in the Spring of 1939—four years after A.A. was founded. See Dick B. The Good Book and The Big Book; Turning Point; Why Early A.A. Succeeded;The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth; That Amazing Grace. The Good Book-Big Book Guidebook.
For further specific relative research, see DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers; The Co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical sketches Their last major talks (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975); Four pamphlets published by AA of Akron: A Guide to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous; A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous; Second Reader for Alcoholics Anonymous; Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous.
Number Eleven: The Biblical Emphasis from Dr. Bob’s youth and Christian Endeavor—the heart of the Akron Christian Fellowship’s spiritual program of recovery. A.A. detractors and doctrinaire Christians who dislike the Oxford Group seem impelled to claim that A.A. came from the Oxford Group, that the Oxford Group was an heretical cult, and that its very existence was an example of what A.A. wasn’t, rather than what it was. And these erroneous ideas are so heavily entrenched in religious and recovery thinking and writing they may never be dispelled. But they are fallacious and utterly misleading. If you are a student of Oxford Group writings, you simply can’t escape the obvious: Bill Wilson’s Big Book and Twelve Step program embraced almost every Oxford Group idea—even though Bill Wilson used several ruses which were meant to deny the fact. By contrast, the early Akron program, which produced the documented 75 to 93% success rates among seemingly hopeless “medically incurable” real alcoholics, had very little to do with Oxford Group teams, principles, and practices. The Akron focus was on abstinence—not an Oxford Group principle or practice; hospitalization—not an Oxford Group idea or practice; resisting temptation—not an Oxford Group idea as far as the discussion is Chapter One of the Book of James is concerned; accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour—not an Oxford Group requirement; relying on the Creator for strength and guidance—a universal idea undoubtedly embraced by the Oxford Group; Bible study meetings—not an Oxford Group emphasis; old-fashioned prayer meetings—not an Oxford Group idea; Quiet Time—a universal idea which pre-dated the Oxford Group and was a big item in Christian Endeavor, the YMCA, and the Oxford Group; religious comradeship—not an Oxford Group idea; favored church attendance—not an Oxford Group idea; love and service as a banner—not an Oxford Group expression, but a Christian Endeavor word of art; working with others—not an Oxford Group emphasis when it came to working with other alcoholics, nor was it particularly a Christian Endeavor idea except as to witnessing and conversion. By contrast, the simple Christian Endeavor program appears to represent the heart of what Akron did and what it was reported in official A.A. literature to have done. That program was not incorporated in the Big Book, but it is reported fully by Frank Amos reports to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. that are part of A.A.’s conference approved literature. See Dick B. The First Nationwide A.A. History Conference; The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible; Why Early A.A. Succeeded (A Bible study primer); The Good Book-Big Book Guidebook; and The James Club and The Early A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials; A New Way Out. For other specific relative literature see DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers; Clark, Christian Endeavor; Mitchell K. How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics in Cleveland , Ohio (NY: A Big Book Study Group, 1997).
Number Twelve: The practical records and teachings of Dr. Bob’s Wife. How A.A. could have buried Anne Smith’s role, her importance, and her spiritual journal is a complete mystery. The facts about Anne Smith’s service to early A.A.—housing, cooking, Bible teaching, conducting quiet times, sharing at meetings, counseling alcoholics and their families, organizing the first women’s group, reaching out to newcomers—would stand on their own as vitally important history even if she had never written her journal which spanned nine of A.A.’s formative years. As far as I’ve been able to discover, Bill never ever mentioned Anne’s journal. Yet Bill Wilson and many pioneers called Anne the “Mother of A.A.” The pioneer AAs were housed in her home from the beginning, and those AAs got well. AAs were fed in her home, and it became the first real “half-way” house after hospitalization. Anne read the Bible to A.A.’s founders and to the many who followed them. Anne conducted a quiet time each morning at the Dr. Bob’s Home where she led a group of AAs and their families in Bible study, prayer, listening, and topical discussions. Anne counseled and nursed and taught alcoholics; and her work with newcomers in meetings was legendary. They were her special focus. Her journal records every principle and concept that is part of the A.A. picture—Biblical emphasis, prayer, Quiet Time, Guidance, Literature recommended, Oxford Group principles and practices, and practical guides to working with alcoholics. It seems likely that she not only shared the contents of this journal—written between 1933 and 1939—with Bill Wilson, but also that Bill took many of his Oxford Group and other expressions directly from Anne’s Journal. If so, the fact has never been mentioned. See Dick B. Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939; The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous; A New Way Out.
Number Thirteen: The Devotionals and Christian Literature Read and Circulated. We know that A.A.’s basic ideas came from the Bible. The Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13 were frequently read aloud and studied and were considered absolutely essential. And AAs studied literature that underlined these roots—books on the Sermon by Oswald Chambers, Glenn Clark, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Emmet Fox, and E. Stanley Jones. Devotionals discussing concepts from the Book of James—The Runner’s Bible, The Upper Room, My Utmost for His Highest, Daily Strength for Daily Needs. There were commentaries on 1 Corinthians 13 written by Henry Drummond and Toyohiko Kagawa and studied by pioneers. And various other concepts were fleshed out through the literature of Shoemaker on all aspects of the Bible, prayer, guidance, Quiet Time, and so on. So also through the many Oxford Group books on these subjects—Soul Surgery (and the Five C’s), Quiet Time, The Guidance of God,Realizing Religion, For Sinners Only, When Man Listens, and so on. In addition, there were prayer guides and Bible study guides and healing guides galore—in Dr. Bob’s Library and circulated by him to others. The whole picture can be found in my titles. See Dick B. The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7 th edition; Making Known the Biblical History and Roots of A.A.; Anne Smith’s Journal; The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous;Dr. Bob and His Library.For other specific, relative literature, see: Cecil Rose. When Man Listens (NY: Oxford University Press, 1937); Howard J. Rose. The Quiet Time. NY: Oxford Group at 61 Gramercy Park, North, 1937); Jack Winslow. When I Awake (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1938).
Number Fourteen: Quiet Time and the Guidance of God. A British evangelist, scholar, and Christian Endeavor leader named F. B. Meyer wrote The Secret of Guidance. And his ideas should be given much credit for spawning the “Morning Watch,” as it was called in the YMCA and elsewhere; the “Quiet Hour,” as it was called in Christian Endeavor; and “Quiet Time” as it came to be called in the Oxford Group. Essentially, and apparently unrealized by most historians and AAs, the first requisite was to become a child of God—to be born again, to receive the spirit of God through a second birth. With that, believers sought God’s guidance at every turn. They prepared themselves through prayer, Bible study, group quiet times, seeking guidance, “listening,” “journaling,” “checking,” and discussion. There has been much criticism of the merits of some of these practices. But it is impossible to escape dealing with the Bible verses they cited and which talk of prayer in the morning, or meditation in the morning, of the importance of quietness, of peace, and of asking God for wisdom. Quiet Time was a “must” in early A.A. Its corrupted remnants can be found in the Big Book’s Eleventh Step discussion. And the necessity for seeking God’s guidance can even be found in the A.A. Twelve Traditions today.
How much did AAs seek God’s guidance for their program; and how much did He provide? See Dick B. Good Morning; Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and Early A.A. For further specific relative literature, see Eleanor Napier Forde. The Guidance of God (London: The Oxford Group, 1927); Cecil Rose. When Man Listens;. Hallen Viney. How do I Begin? (The Oxford Group, n.d.); Donald Carruthers. How to Find Reality in Your Morning Devotions ( Pennsylvania State College. n.d.).
Number Fifteen: New Thought. Also beginning to take wing through the impetus of Christian Science and similar movements that started to flower at almost the same period as the first two sources. But the New Thought focus was on a new kind of god—a higher power—that took descriptive words from the Bible but saw God, good, and evil in non-salvation terms. New Thought words and phrases like higher power, cosmic consciousness, fourth dimension, and Universal Mind filtered in to the A.A. stream. The New Thought expositors included Mary Baker Eddy, Waldo Trine, William James, Emmanuel Movement writers, and Emmet Fox. See The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7 th ed; When Early AAs Were Cured and Why; Dr. Bob and His Library; Good Morning: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and Early A.A.; God and Alcoholism. See for further relative research, see New Wine.
The Whole Picture
As Father Paul Blaes, Ph.D., the Roman Catholic theologian who endorsed my Turning Point book, wrote so well: There was a lacuna in A.A. history when I began 18 years ago. A lacuna is a gap, a hole. And Father Blaes had observed for himself the gaping vacuum in accounts of our history. He therefore welcomed and endorsed my new comprehensive history.
When I began, I thought the only missing elements were descriptions of how the Bible was used and what the Oxford Group program really was. And there were plenty of gaps there. Oddly, while the research work was in progress, one historian wrote sarcastically, “Dick loves the Oxford Group.” One protesting historical advocate of “spirituality” has frequently called me a hobbyist dedicated to showing that every line in the Big Book came from the Bible. Still another Episcopalian patristics professor wrote a colleague that my Shoemaker research (far from complete at the time) represented an attempt to find a line from Shoemaker for every line in the Big Book. These naïve comments merely typified the rumblings of revisionists who have reported on A.A. only as they saw it thirty years ago, and have ignored the history of A.A. that has been unearthed in part in the last three decades. But such obstructionism was just the tip of the iceberg. A.A. literature said Dr. Bob’s library had been given away. Yet I discovered about half of it in his daughter’s attic and tracked down the other half to his son’s home in Nocona, Texas. And without these books, you just couldn’t know what early AAs were reading and concluding. Next, I discovered that Anne Smith’s Journal had simply never been mentioned in A.A. history accounts, other than in an Ernest Kurtz footnote and collaterally in a biography of Sister Ignatia. And, thanks to Dr. Bob’s daughter and A.A.’s now deceased archivist Frank Mauser, I was permitted to get a complete copy and publish my title, Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939. Then, I began researching the Oxford Group about 1990, and it was at the suggestion of Frank Mauser, that I later wrote the first edition of my Oxford Group title; and over the years I found hundreds of their books, encountered an intense interest among its leaders in my work, and then realized the whole Big Book program was essentially Oxford Group—something broadly suggested in Joe and Charlie Big Book Seminars. From there I went to the Akron story and realized the importance and differences regarding the early Christian Fellowship there. I tracked down the history and wrote the Akron story. Learning from this research the importance of the Bible to early A.A., I tackled the Biblical roots and am only now getting the entire picture together—the words in A.A. from the Bible, the prayers in A.A. from the Bible, the slogans in A.A. from the Bible, and then the immense study of the Bible that AAs did in the Book of James, Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. Even that, however, was not the end. I stumbled upon Christian Endeavor and began to realize that the whole Akron program was far more founded on Christian Endeavor principles and practices than on those of the Oxford Group. Piece by piece, other details emerged. There was the whole Shoemaker story and my discovery that the words in the Big Book and even the Steps were largely Shoemaker words and that Sam had been asked to write the Twelve Steps, but declined. More? Yes. Lots more research to be done. More on Carl Jung. More on William James. More on Richard Peabody. More on William D. Silkworth. More on Henrietta Seiberling. More on Clarence Snyder. More on the Wilson manuscripts. More on the deleted materials. More on John Henry Fitzhugh Mayo who witnessed the shelving of A.A.’s Christian materials More. More. More.
What we had in 1990 didn’t add up to the whole picture, or even part of the picture. And the gap had left alkies to their own devices in fashioning substitutes. When Bill dumped the Oxford Group in the East, the Oxford Group details were omitted. When Bob and Anne died, the Bible in A.A. died with them. When Clarence Snyder got on the wrong side of Bill Wilson, the Snyder legacy disappeared until recently. When Henrietta Seiberling was put on the shelf, her loud reprimands to Bill Wilson about phony spirituality, séances, substitute psychology, and sick thinking were ignored, along with her futile protests. People began denying the date of Dr. Bob’s sobriety; and they’re doing much more in the trivia realm. People began denying that Jung saw Rowland Hazard; and they’re doing it even more—with totally inadequate research and documentation. People just never even seemed to want to know about Anne Smith nor the early books nor the Bible verses nor the Sam Shoemaker story nor the devotionals.
Too much religion seemed to be the cry. That from those studying a program so obviously religious at its beginnings and so obviously religious today that one court after another has ruled that A.A. is religious, is a religion, and not explicable through the “spirituality” implantatopm.
There’s a lot more. But cheer up. I’ve been able to field 31 published titles, 170 articles, 70 audio talks, seminars at the Wilson House, a talk “near” the Minneapolis convention, several large history conferences and cruises, and three websites where freedom of speech abounds and frequent visits have added up to almost one million six hundred thousand these days. Others interested in history are beginning to let the cats out of the bags. Plural bags.
Good stuff has just begun to come out about Dr. Silkworth. Good stuff has already come out about Clarence Snyder. Interesting facts are emerging from the Lois Wilson stories. Some have dared to mention Bill Wilson’s LSD experiments with his wife, Nell Wing, Father Dowling, and others. Also his spiritualism sessions at Stepping Stones. Also his womanizing and squabbles over his estate. Also his obsession with psychic phenomena, Niacin, and book sales. Also the deadening effect his years of severe depressions had on A.A. ideas and historical accuracy. And more.
For a long time, I felt the foregoing didn’t belong in the picture. They had to do with Bill rather than A.A., I thought. In fact, at Stepping Stones, I was asked to bypass their locked files on drugs and psychic matters; and I did. Yet I found that others had trod that route and even published on it in A.A.’s Pass It On. Then I discovered that he missing records on Shoemaker at the Episcopal Archives in Texas had apparently been trucked off by two A.A. admirers. And that was a real loss because several historians had tried to research them, couldn’t find them, and were astonished at the gap. Some assumed they didn’t exist. But they did and do, I believe. And are these things part of the whole picture?
I certainly think so, but not the picture I’m interested in. I was and am focused on helping the newcomer through our great A.A. Fellowship. I was and am focused on discovering every aspect of the recovery program that was used in Akron, and then in Cleveland, and then in the Big Book, and then by the host of writers who emerged during Bill’s 1943-1955 depression period. It’s what worked that counts. It’s accuracy that counts. It’s the complete picture that counts. And it’s the relevance to our getting sober, getting well, getting delivered from the power of darkness, and loving and serving our Heavenly Father that count.
I think the last 18 years have not only unplugged fifteen well-springs; they’ve started the streams gushing. And I don’t think the flood will stop. More and more history conferences and panels are aimed at obtaining information, rather than perpetuating errors, omissions, and falsehoods. Amen.
Dick’s titles and the foregoing bibliography items can all be found in the title pages of his website:
http://www.dickb.com/titles.shtml. His titles can all be purchased through our new A.A. bookstore:
http://aa-history.com/bookstore. And they can be purchased in bulk and at discounts. You may also arrange for their purchase by contacting Dick B. at
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