Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA
About 1990, I began looking for the evidence of A.A. history, and I looked in many parts of the United States and England. I found that nobody had unearthed and reported the books in Dr. Bob’s Library. Next, I found that nobody had researched or described Anne Smith’s journal. Next, I found that nobody had adequately described the required “Quiet Time” practices. Next, I found that nobody had described the “surrender” upstairs ceremony where AAs had made the required decision for Christ. Next, I found that nobody had related the immense amount of Oxford Group writings and history to the ideas from that program that Bill Wilson codified in the Big Book and Twelve Steps. Next, I found that nobody had reported on Sam Shoemaker’s personal journal entries about Bill Wilson, nor reported on the substantial correspondence between Bill W. and Sam. And there was a lot more that was hidden under the rocks.
I was not the only one who observed the gap, or “lacuna,” as Father Paul B. described it. And by the time I published my Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes, I was prepared to report many of the facts. Endorsing my work, a Roman Catholic priest, Father Paul B., M.A., Ph.D., Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City, Missouri, observed this:
Though there have been excellent histories of A.A.’s beginning years, each and corporately, have left one major lacuna—the precise origins of A.A.’s spiritual principles [Dick B., Turning Point, 1]
For many years thereafter, I wondered why this glaring gap. Why did it take from 1935 to 1997 to unearth and report the real spiritual history of A.A.? And finally, one noted A.A. historian twice gave his own explanation. He wrote:
Although the breadth of A.A.’s varieties is a new phenomenon, the reality of diversity within Alcoholics Anonymous is not merely recent. AA’s differences were one reason why it developed in so decentralized a fashion. Early researchers were aware of that, but they fell into the easy (and enduring) trap of research. Influenced also by the secularization hypothesis shared by most sociologists of the era (Tschannen, 1991), they tended to overlook the Akron birthplace of AA and its more Oxford Group-oriented offspring, concentrating their attention on New York AA and its derivatives. The affiliations (and so the locations) of those early students also suggest that they found East Coast AA more convenient to research. Then too, the strong personality and central role of Bill Wilson had much to do with this focus (Ernest Kurtz, Research on Alcoholics Anonymous Opportunities and Alternatives, Chapter 2, “Research on Alcoholics Anonymous: The Historical Context” (NJ: Publications Division, Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, 1993, 15)); [Ernie Kurtz, The Collected Ernie Kurtz (Wheeling, WV: The Bishop of Books, 1999), 4]
Add to this admission, three other historical shortcomings. (1) The 400 page deletion from the Big Book prior to publication. This cutting was done by Tom Uzzell, member of the faculty at New York University (“Pass It On,” 204). Bill’s secretary Ruth Hock personally informed historian Bill Pittman that most of the deleted material was Christian and biblical in character. (2) Bill W.’s wife Lois Wilson observed the following: “Shouldn’t the book be written so that it would appeal to them [agnostics, atheists, those of the Jewish faith and, around the world, of other religions] also? Finally it was agreed that the book should present a universal spiritual program, not a specific religious one, since all drunks were not Christian.” See Lois Remembers: Memoirs of the co-founder of Al-Anon and wife of the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (NY: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1987), 113 [bolding added]. (3) Throwing out the original drafts of the Steps and the rest of the Big Book’s fifth chapter. In A.A.’s “Pass It On,” at page 235, A.A. reported that on March 16, 1940, Works Publishing moved its offices from Newark to lower Manhattan. It reported “In the move, much was thrown out.” And the book speculates that the trashed material probably included the original drafts of the Steps and the rest of Big Book chapter 5.
The huge gaps in A.A. historical resource materials do not seem to be due to some subversive conspiracy. The poverty of the early AAs, the subsequent objections to Christian and biblical overtones, the editorial cutting, and the utter failure of early historians to look for the treasures instead of just looking at the conveniently-located repositories, have raised one vital question. Would knowledge of the real, early A.A. history and spiritual roots contribute to A.A.’s primary purpose of carrying the message to the alcoholic who still suffers? There may be many answers and viewpoints. But when I researched and published the facts about the younger days of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob, and when I learned the facts about A.A.’s Christian Endeavor sources, and when I learned the description of the real early A.A. program in Akron by Frank Amos, and when I looked at Akron’s emphasis on the Book of James, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13, a new excitement emerged. I learned I could stay IN Alcoholics Anonymous. I learned I could correctly pass on its truly Christian and biblical roots. And I learned from the hundreds of suffering alcoholics I contacted and sponsored that they deeply profited from knowing and applying the principles and practices of the early A.A. pioneers who attained documented, 75% and 93% success rates (in Akron and in Cleveland, respectively) by applying the historical techniques.