Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA

 Last updated:
December 05, 2011

Alcoholics Anonymous History
Recovery’s Reliance on God: Alcoholics Anonymous History


The Connections and Their Applicability

Dick B. and Ken B.

© 2011 Anonymous. All rights reserved

The Chain of Connections from Bible to 12 Step Fellowships

  • God’s love, power, and healings are a great part of the Bible story.

In the Old Testament, God said He was “the LORD that healeth thee.” Ex. 15:26. The children of Israel were to bless Him and not forget His benefits – which included forgiveness of all sins, healing all diseases, and redeeming lives from destruction as well as showering them with loving kindness and tender mercies. Psalm 103.

  • The miracles continued as God’s Son Jesus Christ healed all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Matthew 4:23

The Apostle Peter told: Acts 10:38 (KJV):
How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.

  • The Apostles, in the First Century, raised the dead and healed the sick. Thus Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. Acts 9:36-42, Most likely, Paul raised Eutychus from the dead. Acts 20:7-12. And the Apostles Peter and John healed a man who was lame from his mother’s womb. Acts 3:1-6. 4:5-22.
  • The so-called “Age of Miracles” never ceased. Miraculous healings continue from the First Century to this very day.
  • The period of Bill W.’s and Dr. Bob’s upbringing was peppered with instances of drunks healed by the power of God. These occurred through conversions, evangelists, Christian organizations, and later in A.A.’s associated precursor—the Oxford Group.
  • The chain of recovery connections that impacted on early Alcoholics Anonymous ideas of healing and cure stemmed from these primary factors:

The Gospel Rescue Missions: In 1826, Glasgow City Mission was established as an interdenominational lay movement. In October, 1872, Jerry McAuley took possession of the Water Street House. Shortly thereafter, the mission named “Helping Hand for Men” was opened at 316 Water Street , New York, New York. The “Water Street Mission” was later supervised by S.H. Hadley, and McAuley opened the Cremone Mission. In September 25, 1897, the Raws family arrived at Keswick and founded the Keswick Colony of Mercy as a spiritual restoration center for men who had become addicted to alcohol. Later, on February 1, 1926, the Rev. Sam Shoemaker, Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York, decided he would reopen the Gallery Mission at the Twenty-third Street Mission Building. Shoemaker put Henry Hadley II in charge of it, and called it the Calvary Mission.There, in 1934, Bill Wilson and (before him) Bill’s sponsor Ebby Thacher became born again Christians at the altar and were relieved of their alcoholism. Thousands upon thousands of derelicts, criminals, and drunks poured through these missions prior to A.A.

The Young Men’s Christian Association: On June 6, 1844, George Williams (later, Sir George Williams)—a draper—founded the first Young Men’s Christian Association in London, England. Its purpose was “to substitute Bible study and prayer for life on the streets.” The first YMCA in the United States was established in Boston on December 29, 1851. It was wholly undenominational, and its work was performed almost wholly by Christian laymen.  The St. Johnsbury Association was formed on October 1, 1855, reorganized in 1858 and again in 1867. Dr. Bob’s father Judge Walter Perrin Smith became president of the St. Johnsbury YMCA and served from 1895 through at least 1897 (the years Dr. Bob was attending St. Johnsbury Academy – which had a very close association with the YMCA at that time. In the fall and early winter of 1874, the five evangelical churches in St. Johnsbury held union meetings and prayed for revival in St. Johnsbury. In November of 1874, the annual State of Vermont YMCA Convention was held in Norwich, Vermont. It made the decision to do a canvass of Eastern Vermont, including St. Johnsbury. They held Gospel Meetings which focused on singing and praying. They hosted the first series of Gospel Meetings February 6 to 8 in St. Johnsbury. It produced an explosion of revival in the village. That became known as “The Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury. A few years later, Bill Wilson matriculated at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont. He became YMCA president. His girl friend Bertha Bamford became YWCA president. And the two attending “Y” functions together.

The Great Evangelists and Revivalists: Long before A.A. was founded in 1935, evangelists and revivalists were helping alcoholics recover through the power and love of God. Charles G. Finney  (1792-1875) might have been an early example. John B. Gough (1817-1886) became known as “an apostle of Temperance.” He became another example about 1846. But in the time just before and after Dr. Bob’s birth in 1879, evangelists such as Dwight L. Moody, Ira D. Sankey, Henry Moorhouse, K.A. Burwell, Henry M. Moore, Allen Folger, and F. B. Meyer helped alcoholics recover. Most of these men had connections with one or more of the Alcoholics Anonymous Christian roots. They were involved or acquainted with each other, with the YMCA, with the United Society of Christian Endeavor founded in 1881 by Rev. Francis Clark in Maine, and the work of General William Booth who founded the Salvation Army. Most were involved with St. Johnsbury’s Great Awakening in one way or another. Some had connections with more than one of the Christian organizations such as the YMCA, United Society of Christian Endeavor, the Salvation Army, and even rescue mission leaders.

The United Society of Christian Endeavor: This new movement “For Christ and For Church” was founded in February of 1881, by Rev. Francis Clark at Williston Church in Maine, It eventually grew to a world-wide membership of 4.5 million. It held huge conventions and numbered in its ranks such evangelists as Dwight Moody, F. B. Meyer, Billy Sunday, J. Wilbur Chapman, and through the years ten American Presidents. It embraced a program of confession of Jesus, conversion meetings, prayer meetings, Bible study meetings, the Quiet Hour, topical reading and discussion of Christian literature, social activities, and outreach to others in “love and service” (a motto that A.A. itself later adopted). The format of its principles and practices was quite similar to that which Dr. Bob—a Christian Endeavor participant in his youth and church—established in the original Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship.

The Salvation Army: This Christian organization was, founded in 1865 out of pastoral work of a Methodist Minister William Booth. It was first called the Christian Revival Association and rechristiened the Salvation Army in 1878. In 1880, General William Booth and a party of Salvationists officially began the work of the Salvation Army in the United States. In its simplest form, as related by Harold Begbie in the popular A.A. book Twice-Born Men, the Army would send a burly reformed Christian alcoholic or derelict into the slums of London. This person would approach a bum on the streets. He would offer the person salvation and the Bible. Often the derelict would accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, become well, and then be enjoined to become a member of “God’s Army.” The Salvation Army became the most effective organization for helping the down and out alcoholics and addicts and, of course, became world-wide in its operations. Those operations continue to this day in a variety of forms. But the Army has a large number of “Adult Rehabilitation Centers” devoted to helping alcoholics and addicts get well. Its program of the early 1900’s offered a simple example of conversion, Bible, and helping others on a one-on-one basis that became a hallmark of early A.A. work with others.

The Oxford Group: This fellowship was founded about 1919 by Lutheran Minister Frank N. D. Buchman, and first called itself “A First Century Christian Fellowship.” Under the leadership of Buchman and Episcopal Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., alcoholics became associated with Oxford Group people in both Akron and New York in the 1930’s. Many of its life-changing ideas were adopted by Bill Wilson and codified into the language of his Big Book and Twelve Steps. The Oxford Group leaders had many ties with the missions, YMCA leaders, and the great evangelists with whom Frank Buchman had been in contact in his beginning days. They included F. B. Meyer, Professor Henry B. Wright, and Dr. Robert E. Speer—in a sense the father of the “Four Absolutes.”

  • The Christian Upbringing of A.A. Cofounders Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith. Both were born and raised in Vermont.

Robert Holbrook Smith (Dr. Bob). Smith’s parents, North Congregational Church and Sunday school, Bible study meetings, prayer meetings, YMCA participation (and Dr. Bob’s father Judge Smith was president of the St. Johnsbury YMCA when Bob was attending the Academy), Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor participation, and St. Johnsbury Academy matriculation with daily chapel, required weekly church attendance, required weekly Bible studies, Congregational polity, and YMCA connections. The entire Smith family—Judge and Mrs. Walter Smith, Mrs. Smith’s mother, young Bob, and his sister Amanda Northrup—attended North Congregational Church which was only a short distance from the Smith family home on Summer Street in St. Johnsbury. All these factors caused “Dr. Bob” to say that he had had excellent training in the Bible as a youngster in Vermont and went, with his family, to his church’s services and functions four and sometimes five times a week. Judge Smith was a deacon in the church as well as a member of its executive group and a Sunday school teacher. Bob’s mother was head of the church’s school program as well as being a Sunday school teacher, church historian, and active in many committees and the choir.

William Griffith Wilson (Bill W.) Bill Wilson’s entire family were Vermonters. His Wilson paternal grandparents were founders and attenders at East Dorset Congregational Church. His maternal grandparents (the Griffiths) lived across the green from the Wilsons. They attended East Congregational Church; their family regarded it as their family church; and Bill Wilson attended that church and its Sunday school with the Griffiths. Bill’s parents were married in that church. Bill studied the Bible with his grandfather Griffith and his friend Mark Whalon. He attended conversion, revival and temperance meetings. He frequently heard how his grandfather Willie Wilson had been cured of alcoholism in a mountain top spiritual experience on Mount Aeolus near East Dorset. Bill matriculated at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont where he took a four year Bible study course, attended daily chapel and weekly Congregational church services, and Bible studies. He was president of the Burr and Burton YMCA; his girl Bertha Bamford was president of its YWCA, and the two attended “Y” activities together.

  • The manner in which each of the first three AAs got sober. Each believed in God. Each was a Christian. Each had studied the Bible. And each turned to God for help and was cured before there were any A.A. Steps, Traditions, guides like the Big Book, drunkalogs, or meetings as we know them today. Each declared he had been cured of alcoholism.
  • The Original Christian Fellowship—and first group—of Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in Akron in June, 1935. Its first group—Akron Number One—was founded July 4, 1935 when the third A.A. pioneer left the hospital a well man.

The fellowship called itself a “Christian Fellowship.”

Its 7 principles were summarized and listed in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers.

Its 16 practices are listed in The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide.

Its 75% success record, followed by a 93% success record in Cleveland are documented in A.A.’s own Conference-approved literature and today by rosters, manuscripts, and studies like that of Richard K. of Massachusetts and Clarence Snyder of Cleveland.

  • The early A.A.’s association with the Oxford Group centered around the individual Oxford Group people in New York and in Akron who played a role in the founding days and also in the Big Book language of Alcoholics Anonymous.

As stated, the Oxford Group was called “A First Century Christian Fellowship.” In Akron, its people were said to be attending a “clandestine lodge of the Oxford Group” probably because it had a local focus on helping drunks, and not on the Oxford Group’s “world changing through life changing.” But Oxford Group founder Buchman was said to be “soaked in the Bible.” And his American chief lieutenant Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. was called by his associate Rev. W. Irving Harris a “Bible Christian.”

  • Though A.A. severed its Oxford Group connections in New York in 1937 and in Akron just after the Big Book was published, it did not sever its connection with the Bible—except covertly. It adopted an Oxford Group program in 1939. It “universalized” A.A. just before its Big Book went to print—appeasing atheists and agnostics. But it retained endless examples of words, language, and ideas from the Bible in its early talks and literature. The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible.


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

© 1999-2017
Paradise Research
Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.

Trademarks and Disclaimer: ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS®, A.A.®, and Big Book® are registered trademarks of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Dick B.'s web site, Paradise Research Publications, Inc., and Good Book Publishing Company are neither endorsed nor approved by nor associated or affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.