Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA

 Last updated:
September 10, 2009

Alcoholics Anonymous History
Alcoholics Anonymous Recovery and Other 12-Step Programs An Introductory History Segment

Dick B.
© 2009 Anonymous. All rights reserved.


We believe every A.A. and other 12-Step program; recovery conference; recovery-oriented study group; treatment approach, counselor agenda; Christian recovery program; Christian recovery counselor; Christian recovery pastor; and recovery outreach program should include in its presentation the five (5) subjects listed in this introductory history segment outline:

  1. The Christian organizations and people that shaped the recovery ideas of A.A. before it began.
  2. The manner in which Alcoholics Anonymous came about on June 10, 1935.
  3. How the first three AAs were cured; the actual practices of the ensuing Akron Christian fellowship; the summary of the original Akron A.A. Christian fellowship program itself; and the astonishing successes achieved by late 1937.
  4. The writing of A.A.’s Big Book; modifications made to the highly-successful, original Akron A.A. Christian fellowship program during the writing of the Big Book; and the resulting “universal” program finally included in the Big Book that embraced newcomers of all faiths, of no faith, and who believed in nothing at all.
  5. Remnants today of A.A.’s Christian origins; and the compatibility of the later, revised ideas in the Alcoholics Anonymous Fellowship with the pursuit by present-day Christians of practices similar to those found in the original Akron A.A. Christian fellowship program.


Subject 1

Christian Organizations and People

That Shaped the Recovery Ideas of A.A. Before It Began

Influences of the seven (7) pre-A.A. Christian organizations and people.

  1. Evangelists and revivalists (1846, when John B. Gough—“an apostle of Temperance”—began his preaching)
  2. The Young Men’s Christian Association (1851, when the first YMCA was established in America in Boston)
  3. Gospel Rescue Missions (1872 when Jerry McAuley founded the Helping Hand for Men, soon to become the Water Street Mission)
  4. The Salvation Army (1880, when Salvation Army General William Booth sent the first official group from England to pioneer it work in America)
  5. The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor (1881, when Rev. Francis Clark, pastor of the Williston Congregational Church in Portland, Maine, formed it)
  6. The Oxford Group and Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman (1919, when Buchman founded “A First Century Christian Fellowship,” later called the Oxford Group, later still Moral Re-Armament, and today known as Initiatives for Change)
  7. The Rev. Dr. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. (1925, when Shoemaker, an associate of Frank Buchman since 1919, was called to be rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York)

The training in the Bible received by A.A. Number One, Cofounder William Griffith Wilson (“Bill W.”), as a youngster in East Dorset and Manchester, Vermont

  1. The conversion and cure of alcoholism received in East Dorset, Vermont, by Bill W.’s paternal grandfather, William C. (“Willie”) Wilson, on Mount Aeolus, adjacent to the East Dorset Congregational Church
  2. The Christian family training Bill W. received from his maternal grandfather, Fayette Griffith, and from his parents, Gilman and Emily Wilson
  3. The participation of the Wilson and Griffith people with Bill in the East Congregational Church and Sunday school in East Dorset, Vermont
  4. Independent Bible study by Bill W., with his maternal grandfather, Fayette Griffith, and with his friend, Mark Whalon
  5. Temperance, conversion, and revival meetings Bill W. attended
  6. Burr and Burton Academy requirements of daily chapel, Scripture reading, weekly church attendance, and a four-year Bible study course
  7. Bill W.’s  participation in, and presidency of, the Burr and Burton YMCA

The training in the Bible received by A.A. Number Two, Cofounder Robert Holbrook Smith (“Dr. Bob”), as a youngster in St. Johnsbury, Vermont

  1. The impact of, and outpourings from, the “Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury 
  2. The Christian family training Bob received from his parents—Judge Walter Perrin Smith and Susan Holbrook Smith
  3. The entire Smith family’s participation in North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury and its Sunday school and prayer meetings
  4. The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor of North Congregational Church
  5. St. Johnsbury Academy where daily chapel, weekly church attendance, and weekly Bible study were required
  6. The role of the YMCA in the “Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury; the long-lasting impact of that “Great Awakening” on the Town of St. Johnsbury [including on Judge Smith—who was president of the YMCA in St. Johnsbury from 1895-1897 (while Dr. Bob was attending St. Johnsbury Academy from 1894-1898)—and his wife]; and YMCA activities at North Congregational Church and St. Johnsbury Academy

Primary reading material:

Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2009)

Suggested additional reading:

Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Alcoholics Anonymous (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006)

Dick B. and Ken B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Bible as a Youngster in Vermont (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2008)The Manner in Which the Alcoholics Anonymous Society Came About


Subject 2

The Manner in Which Alcoholics Anonymous Came about on June 10, 1935

The relevant events in the life of Bill Wilson, beginning with his friendship with Ebby Thacher at Burr and Burton Academy in Bill’s high school days.

  1. Bill’s frequent hospitalizations at Towns Hospital for alcoholism, and the   advice his doctor, William D. Silkworth, gave him on his third visit that the Great Physician could cure Bill
  2. The visits with Bill by his friend Ebby Thacher informing Bill of his (Ebby’s) conversion at Calvary Rescue Mission; Ebby’s apparent sobriety; and the information previously given to Ebby by Rowland Hazard as to Dr. Carl Jung’s suggestion to Rowland about the possibility of a cure of his alcoholism by conversion, followed by Rowland’s joining the Oxford Group to achieve that result, and Rowland’s teaching Ebby the Christian life-changing principles and practices of the Oxford Group
  3. Bill’s trip to Calvary Rescue Mission to attain the same new birth that Ebby had received; Bill’s decision for Christ at the altar; and Bill’s written declaration that, for sure, he had been born again
  4. Bill’s decision to follow Dr. William D. Silkworth’s advice and call on the Great Physician for help; and then, while Bill was still suffering from alcoholism and deep depression, his journey to Towns Hospital.
  5. Bill’s fourth and final trip to Towns Hospital for help, his cry to God for that help, his immediate “white light” spiritual experience, his conviction that he had been in the presence of “the God of the Scriptures,” his personal validation of the legitimacy of his experience through his study of the Professor William James book on the variety of such experiences, Bill’s loss of his doubt about the existence of God, and his complete release from alcoholism
  6. The immediate, frequent, and regular attendance by Bill and his wife Lois at Oxford Group meetings, particularly those led by Rev. Sam Shoemaker.

Bill’s witnessing efforts begun immediately after his release from Towns Hospital

  1. His energetic efforts in the Bowery, the missions, the streets, the hospitals, and Oxford Group meetings with a Bible under his arm telling drunks they needed to give their lives to God.
  2. His participation in processionals from Calvary Church to Madison Square with members carrying a sign that proclaimed, “Jesus Christ changes lives.”
  3. Bill’s oft-repeated testimony that the Lord had cured him of his terrible disease and that he just wanted to keep talking about it and telling people (Big Book, 4th ed., 191)
  4. His complete failure and inability to convert anyone or get anyone sober during the six months following his release from the hospital

The relevant events in the life of Dr. Bob Smith beginning with those in Akron that occurred during the early 1930’s

  1. Russell Firestone’s conversion and concomitant miraculous healing from alcoholism occurred in 1931 when Rev. Samuel Shoemaker, Jr., led him to Christ during a train trip from the Episcopal bishop’s conference in Denver back to Akron
  2. The ensuing Oxford Group meetings and testimonials at a town-wide level in Akron in 1933 in which Russell and many others testified as to their deliverance
  3. The response by Dr. Bob after he had heard of the testimonials and begun three years of spiritual renewal efforts with the Bible, a tiny Oxford Group, the reading of immense amounts of literature, and resumption of church attendance—but with no effective attempt to quit drinking.
  4. The prayers at a meeting of the little alcoholic squad convened by Henrietta Seiberling in which Dr. Bob joined the others in prayers to help him overcome his drinking problem--prayers that did not result immediately in Bob’s cessation of drinking.
  5. The subsequent, quick, and seemingly-miraculous appearance in Akron of Bill Wilson from New York inquiring through the Oxford Group people in Akron for a drunk he could help with his own success story, and Bill’s persistent and successful effort in reaching Oxford Group member Henrietta Seiberling

The meeting between Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob arranged at the home of Henrietta Seiberling in Akron

  1. Henrietta Seiberling’s conclusion that Bill’s call was an answer to the prayers for Bob, and her proclamation that Bill was “manna from heaven”
  2. The six-hour, initial meeting between Bill and Bob
  3. Bob’s reflection that Bill had grasped the idea of, and necessity for, service to another alcoholic—something Dr. Bob had never undertaken
  4. Bill’s stay at the home of Dr. Bob and Anne Smith over the summer of 1935; and the long discussions, the use of devotionals, the reading of the Bible, and the infusion of spiritual ideas into the two men by Dr. Bob’s wife Anne Smith and Henrietta Seiberling
  5. Bob’s release from alcoholism shortly thereafter, following one final binge

Primary reading material:

Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998)

Suggested additional reading:

Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works, 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998);

Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001).


Subject 3

How the first three AAs were cured; the actual practices of the ensuing Akron A.A. Christian fellowship; a summary of the original Akron A.A. Christian fellowship program itself; and the astonishing successes achieved by late 1937

Details as to how the first three A.A. pioneers were healed by turning to God for help

  1. A.A. Number One (Bill W.) accepted Christ at Calvary Rescue Mission, wrote that he had been born again, cried out to God for help at Towns Hospital, had his “white light” experience, and was cured of his alcoholism
  2. A.A. Number Two (Dr. Bob)—very likely a Christian since his youth—joined in prayers for his own deliverance; studied the Bible with Bill Wilson in 1935; concluded they had found a cure for alcoholism; had his last drink on June 10, 1935; and declared in his personal story: “Your Heavenly Father will never let you down”
  3. A.A. Number Three (attorney Bill Dotson)—a Christian, a deacon of his church, and a Sunday school teacher—had nonetheless been hospitalized many times. Bill and Dr. Bob visited Dotson in the hospital and told him their stories and that he needed to turn to God for healing from his alcoholism, and then to help others. Dotson did turn to God and was cured. And he began helping others. He then wrote that he fully endorsed Bill’s statement that he had been cured by the Lord, and that this message was “the golden text of A.A.” for him and others. Akron Number One—the first and original A.A. group—was considered founded the day Bill Dotson left the hospital a free man

The 14 practices of the original Akron A.A. Christian fellowship—detailed and discussed

The seven-point summary of the program by Rockefeller’s agent, Frank Amos—quoted and discussed.

The Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and 1 Corinthians 13 as “absolutely essential” to a successful program; and how they related to the need of AAs.

The 75% success rate early A.A. claimed among the “real” alcoholics who were “seemingly-hopeless,” “medically-incurable,” “last-gasp” cases, and who went to any length to follow the program and establish their relationship with God.

Bill’s continuing failures with the “spiritual” and his varied summaries of six “word-of-mouth” practices (as Bill described them).

Primary reading material:

The Co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975)

Suggested additional reading:

Bill W., Bill W. My First 40 Years (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000)

DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980)

Dick B., The Good Book and fthe Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible, 2d ed. (Kihei HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998)

Dick B., The James Club and the Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials, 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006)

Dick B. , When Early AAs Were Cured and Why (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006)

Dick B., The Golden Text of A.A.: Early A.A., God, and Real Spirituality (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999)


Subject 4

The 1939 Program Embodied in the Big Book and the Twelve Steps,

the Elimination of the Bible and Jesus Christ, and

the “Universal” modifications finally inserted to mollify atheists and agnostics

  1. Bill’s early involvement with the Oxford Group, its meetings, its businessman’s team, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. and Shoemaker’s circle.
  2. The agreement between Bill and Bob that Bob was to handle Twelfth Step work and hospitalizations
  3. The vote to authorize a book, the  partnership between Bill W. and Henry Parkhurst, the Parkhurst book outline of the proposed Big Book, and the Works Publishing Company business venture
  4. Big Book writing by Bill W., and the gathering of personal stories containing primarily the stories of Akronites
  5. The original manuscript containing Christian and biblical materials, the elimination of 400 pages containing such materials, and the major handwritten changes in the multi-lith draft
  6. Three major Big Book sources (William James, Dr. William Silkworth, and Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr.), as described by Bill; all the parallel sources—some 16 in number; the particular input by Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., whom Bill actually asked to write the 12 Steps
  7. The changes the “committee of four” made to Bill W.’s “original draft” of the 12 Steps to appease atheists and agnostics

Primary reading material:

Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A. (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957)

Suggested additional reading:

“Pass It On”: The Story of Bill Wilson and How the A.A. Message Reached the World (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984)

The Language of the Heart: Bill W.’s Grapevine Writings (New York, NY: AA Grapevine, 1988)

Dick B., Turning Point: A History of Early A.A. Spiritual Roots and Successes (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 1997)

Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999)

Dick B., God and Alcoholism: Our Growing Challenge in the 21st Century (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2002)


Subject 5

The Remnants of Early A.A. in Today’s 12-Step Fellowships,

the Key Factors of Support for Christians, and “A New Way Out “

Observable biblical language in today’s Big Book

  1. References to God as Creator, Maker, Father, Spirit, Father of lights
  2. Language of Bible verses (though quoted without attribution). See, for example: “Thy will be done;” “Faith without works is dead;” “Love thy neighbor as thyself”
  3. Several obscured references to passages in the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), 1 Corinthians 13, etc.

The key factors supporting Christian beliefs, practices, and principles still present in today’s Big Book and A.A. itself

  1. The “common solution” for the alcoholic that has probably placed himself beyond human aid, and, unless locked up, may die or go permanently insane (Big Book, 4th ed., 17, 24).
  2. The common solution: Deep and effective spiritual experiences producing a certainty that the Creator has entered their hearts and minds in a way that is indeed miraculous (Big Book, 4th ed., 25)
  3. Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God (Big Book, 4th ed., 29)
  4. Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power—that One is God. May you find Him now! (Big Book, 4th ed., 59)
  5. The abc’s—(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives. (b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism. (c) That God could and would if He were sought (Big Book, 4th ed., 60)
  6. Be quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they offer (Big Book, 4th ed., 87)
  7. [Bill W.:] “Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.” (Big Book, 4th ed., 191)
  8. [Dr. Bob:] “Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!” (Big Book, 4th ed., 181)
  9. Frequent references in A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature to pioneer Bible study, old-fashioned prayer meetings, the required belief in God, the guidance of God, to books and verses in the Bible, and to God and Jesus Christ. See, for example:

·         DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers

·         “Pass It On”

·         The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches: Their Last Major Talks

·         The Language of the Heart

·         Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A.

A New Way Out

            Ken B., A New Way Out (dissertation for D.Min. degree, soon to be published)

Suggested additional reading:

Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B.’s Christian Recovery Guide, 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2009)

Dick B., Good Morning!: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and Early A.A., 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998)

Dick B., By the Power of God: A Guide to Early A.A. Groups & Forming Similar Groups Today (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2000)

Dick B., Twelve Steps for You: Let Our Creator, A.A. History, and the Big Book Be Your Guide (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006)

Gloria Deo


Dick B.'s son Ken
P.O. Box 837
Kihei, Hawaii
Tel.: (808) 276-4945
Fax: (808) 874-4876

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