Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA
The A.A. Backdrop
Bill Wilson was born in East Dorset, Vermont, November 26, 1895. His parents were married in the East Dorset Congregational Church. That church lay on the green between The Wilson House and the Griffith House. Bill was born, and his parents lived briefly, in The Wilson House. His paternal grandparents had been among the founders and attenders at the church. Bill was raised in the Griffith House by his maternal grandparents who considered the church their family church. Bill got sober in November 1934 and never drank again. He died on January 24, 1971. A.A. literature records: “All his life, Bill retained, as did Dr. Bob, a deep affection for and identification with the people of Vermont. . . . [H]e enjoyed sharing with friends many delightful anecdotes about his early years” [The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975), pp. 25-27]
Bill W.’s Unusual Christian Experiences as a Youngster in Vermont
From Bill W.: My First 40 Years: An Autobiography by the Cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000); and Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Early A.A. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc, 2006)
Bill’s Grandpa, Willie Wilson: Willie had been a founder, officer, and regular attender at East Dorset Congregational Church, owning Pew 15. He was also a chronic alcoholic. Before Bill Wilson was born, Grandpa Willie ascended nearby Mt. Aeolus, cried out to God for help, had a spiritual experience, rushed down to the little church, seized the pulpit, and said he had been saved. Grandpa Willie never drank again for the remaining eight years of his life. Bill Wilson’s mother told Bill this story over and over again [The Conversion of Bill W., 24-27, 115, 123]
Bill’s Witnessing of Conversion, Revival, and Temperance Meetings. Bill mentioned that, as a youngster, he had witnessed conversion meetings, attended revivals, and attended Temperance meetings. [The Conversion of Bill W., 8, 10, 26-27, 30, 32, 72, 74, 118]
Bill’s Maternal Grandparents Fayette and Ella Griffith. The Griffiths attended the East Dorset Congregational Church, and—with Emma Griffith, Bill W.’s mother—regarded the little church as the family church. Bill attended this church and its Sunday school during the period he was being raised by the Griffiths. His parents had separated. His mother had sent him to live with her parents. And Bill’s Grandpa Fayette enrolled Bill in the Sunday school next door where he attended church with the Griffiths [The Conversion of Bill W., 6-10, 24-32]
The Confession, Creed, and Teachings of the East Dorset Congregational Church: Our personal visit to this church with its long-time Treasurer and our inspection of the records showed that the church taught about salvation and the importance of studying the Word of God.
Bill’s Bible Study with Grandpa Fayette and with his friend Mark Whalon. There is now documentation that Bill Wilson studied the Bible with his grandfather and also with his friend Mark Whalon [The Conversion of Bill W., 6-19, 29-32, 71-75]
Bill’s Four Years at the Burr and Burton Seminary in Manchester, Vermont. Bill attended this Congregational-influenced Academy for four years, up to the time of his anticipated graduation. He went to the required daily chapel, just as Dr. Bob had at his Academy. Also, as required, Bill attended the Manchester Congregational Church each week. (And there is strong evidence that Dr. Bob had regularly attended North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, while attending his Academy.) Bill took a four-year required Bible study course at Burr and Burton. And Bill became president of the school YMCA; his girl friend Bertha Bamford became president of the school YWCA; and the two attended school YMCA activities, and daily chapel, together. [My son Ken and I gleaned most of this information from an extended interview of archivist Frederica Templeton of Burr and Burton, from the recent book she had written about the Academy, and from a review of the school’s extant archives and records. [See Frederica Templeton, The Castle in the Pasture: Portrait of Burr and Burton Academy (Manchester, VT: Burr and Burton Academy, 2005)]
The Unexpected Death of Bill’s Girl Friend, Bertha Bamford, and Bill’s Turning His Back on God for many subsequent years. Shortly before Bill’s impending graduation, Bill’s lady love Bertha died unexpectedly. Bill was devastated. He went into one of his many deep depressions. He never graduated from Burr and Burton. And he figuratively turned his back on God. [See Susan Cheever, My Name is Bill: Bill Wilson—His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous (NY: Washington Square Press, 2004), 54-55.] For a number of years, he characterized himself thereafter as a “conservative atheist” or as an “agnostic.” [See Dick B., Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes (San Rafael, CA: Paradise Research Publications, 1997), 96; Alcoholics Anonymous (New York City: Works Publishing Company, 1939), 56-58; and Bill W.: My First 40 Years, 50.] This ended at or before his spiritual experience during his fourth hospitalization at Towns where he had his “white light” experience and never drank again [Bill W.: My First 40 Years, 29-31; and Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W., 90-103].