The Real Time Lines —Two of Them—That Marked the Beginning of A.A.
March 12, 2012
Russell Firestone gets saved and healed of alcoholism with the help of Rev. Samuel Shoemaker on the train back to Akron from the 50th triennial General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church—a General Convention of the Episcopal Church—held in Denver, Colorado, September 16-30, 1931.
October 1931 through January 1933
Russell and his friend James D. Newton travel widely for the Oxford Group in the ensuing months, giving their testimony in the United States and elsewhere.
At the request of Russell Firestone’s father, Harvey Firestone, Sr., Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman—founder of “A First Century Christian Fellowship” (also known as “the Oxford Group”)—and other Oxford Group members, hold a series of meetings in Akron from January 19-23, 1933. Rev. Walter F. Tunks, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, is actively involved in hosting the meetings. Russell Firestone attends and speaks at several of the many Akron meetings, which are heavily covered by the Akron papers . He and others give testimony as to their Oxford Group life-changes through Jesus Christ.
Henrietta Seiberling (of the well-known rubber dynasty family), Dr. Bob’s wife Anne, and two other ladies who attended the large, January 1933 Akron Oxford Group events, soon start attending the small, weekly, Thursday night West Hill Oxford Group meeting, persuading Dr. Bob to join the group. He attends Oxford Group meetings regularly until Mothers Day, May 12, 1935, when he met Bill W. (and for several years thereafter).
January 1933 through May 1935
During this period, and while still drinking, Bob feels it necessary to “renew” his familiarity with the Bible in which he said he “had had excellent training” as a youngster in Vermont. He reads the Bible three times from cover to cover. He joins a Presbyterian Church. He reads all kinds of Christian literature (which is still available for view at Dr. Bob’s Home in Akron as to one part, and at Brown University as to the other). Bob said he read all the Oxford Group literature he could get his hands on.
Late April, 1935(?)
Henrietta Seiberling feels guided to have a meeting for Dr. Bob and asks Oxford Grouper members T. Henry and Clarace Williams if their home could be used for the meeting. Henrietta then gathers some Oxford Group members to attend. She wants them to share things that were very costly to them to make Dr. Bob lose his pride. She warns Anne Smith about the meeting and tells her: “Come prepared to mean business. There is going to be no pussyfooting around.” But she doesn’t tell her the meeting was for Dr. Bob. At this meeting, Dr. Bob shares: “I am going to tell you something which may cost my profession. I am a secret drinker, and I can’t stop.” The other group members ask if he would like them to pray for him. Dr. Bob says, “Yes,” so they pray for him. That was the beginning of the Wednesday night meetings at the Williams’ home.
The next morning, Henrietta says a prayer for Bob and says, “God, I don’t know anything about drinking, but I told Bob that I was sure that if he lived this way of life, he could quit drinking. Now I need Your help, God.” She said: “Something said to me—I call it ‘guidance’; it was like a voice in my head—‘Bob must not touch one drop of alcohol.’” Henrietta calls Bob and tells him she had guidance for him. He comes over at ten in the morning, and she tells him that her guidance was that he mustn’t touch one drop of alcohol. [See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, pages 53ff. for these details.]
Bob continues to drink excessively until he meets Bill W. He would say to Henrietta Seiberling: “’. . . I think I’m just one of those want-to-want-to guys.” And she’d say, “No, Bob, I think you want to. You just haven’t found a way to work it yet.” [DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 59]
Two weeks later, Bill Wilson arrives in Akron.
Bill Wilson had failed in a business venture and was tempted to drink. Instead, he calls Dr. Walter Tunks from the Mayflower Hotel in Akron. Tunks gives Bill a referral that leads to Henrietta Seiberling. Bill tells her: “I am a rum hound from New York and a member of the Oxford Group. And I need to talk to a drunk.”
Henrietta thinks Bill W. is “manna from heaven.” She arranges to have Dr. Bob come to her home at the Seiberling Gate Lodge to meet with Bill W.
May 12, 1935
Bill W. and Dr. Bob meet on Mother’s Day, May 12, 1935. After talking with Bill W. for six hours, Dr. Bob concludes that, despite his and Bill’s association with the Oxford Groups, only Bill had grasped their idea of “service”—helping others get well. Something Dr. Bob said he had never thought of, considered, or done.
June 1935 through August 1935
Bill W. moves into the Smith home and lives there over the summer of 1935. Bill and Bob listen each day as Dr. Bob’s wife Anne reads the Bible to them. They particularly favor the Book of James. The two men stay up until the wee hours of the morning studying the Bible, discussing a possible program, and developing their ideas for recovery.
June 10, 1935
After one more binge in Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the annual American Medical Association conference, Dr. Bob quits drinking for good—something he had never been able to do. Henrietta and he feel his cure (which is what he called it) was in answer to the prayers.
Late June, 1935
Dr. Bob and Bill W. decide they had better get busy, find another drunk, and help him. And they phone the nurse at Akron City Hospital. Dr. Bob tells her they have found a cure for alcoholism. And they meet Bill D. (A.A. Number Three-to-be). Bill D. tells them he already believes in God, was a Deacon in his church and a Sunday school teacher, and doesn’t need to be sold on religion. Bill W. and Dr. Bob tell him to give his life to God and that he must help another once he is cured. Bill D. gives his life to God, is immediately healed, and steps from the hospital a free man. He participates in A.A. meetings and service for the rest of his life.
July 4, 1935
A.A. Number Three, Bill D., is discharged from the hospital on July 4, 1935; and Bill W. declares that that is the founding date of the first A.A. Group—Akron Number One. As Bob said later, at that time, they had no Steps and no Traditions. There was not yet a Big Book. And there were not yet drunkalogs or meetings as we now know them.
From that point forward, they have daily meetings. Dr. Bob calls their meetings a “Christian fellowship.” All the early AAs are hospitalized. All read the Bible with Dr. Bob in the hospital, are asked to confirm their belief in God, are asked to get out of bed and on their knees, and are asked to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Every morning the AAs, their wives and families gather at the Smith Home for a Quiet Time led by Dr. Bob’s wife. Anne would open with a prayer, read from the Bible, have group prayer, have a group quiet time, and then usually share from her personal journal [See Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939] and have discussions on it. Copies of The Upper Room—a quarterly Christian devotional—are distributed by Mother G.
On Wednesdays, there is one regular meeting of the “self-styled alcoholic squad” at the home of T. Henry Williams. Sometimes the few Oxford Group people would hold their meetings in one room, and the alkies in another. Every single member is required to make a “real surrender.” This means he is taken upstairs with two or three members (usually Dr. Bob and T. Henry). The newcomer would kneel. The others would pray with him and over him. He would ask Jesus Christ to become his Lord and Savior. He would ask God to take alcohol out of his life and guide him to live by Christian principles. Because these meetings are characterized as “old fashioned revival meetings” focused on healing drunks, they are referred to as a “clandestine lodge” of the Oxford Group and distinguish themselves from the Oxford Group which held other kinds of meetings and were focused on teams’ doing “world changing through life changing.”
The daily meetings begin with prayer. There is reading from the Bible, group prayer, group Quiet Time, and a period when newcomers are taken upstairs with two or three old-timers to do a full surrender. In their homes, AAs read Christian devotionals like The Runner’s Bible, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, The Soul’s Sincere Desire by Glenn Clark, and The Christ of the Mount by E. Stanley Jones. These are circulated among them by Dr. Bob and read. So are innumerable Christian books Dr. Bob and Henrietta Seiberling and Anne Smith were reading—Kagawa’s Love: The Law of Life; Henry Drummond’s The Greatest Thing in the World, Healing in Jesus’ Name by Ethel Willitts, Christian Healing, Soul Surgery by Walter, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Oswald Chambers, Twice Born Men and Life Changers by Harold Begbie, and many many others.
In November 1937, Bill and Bob “count the noses” of the recoveries and find that 40 alcoholics they personally know—men who have gone to any lengths to follow the path—have maintained sobriety. Twenty have never had a drink since committing to Bill W. and Dr. Bob’s “program.” And early A.A. claimed a 75% success rate among these “seemingly-hopeless,” “medically-incurable,” “real” alcoholics who had thoroughly followed the early A.A. program and had been cured.
Frank Amos, a representative of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., sends to a report to Rockefeller resulting from Amos’ investigation of Dr. Bob’s work in Akron. The reports presents a seven-point summary of the highly-successful Akron program. [See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 131.]
May 11, 1939
Clarence S., Dr. Bob’s sponsee, founds the third A.A. Group in the world in Cleveland. It is the first meeting called “Alcoholics Anonymous.” Clarence said he brought to Cleveland the Big Book and its 12 Steps, the Four Absolutes, the Bible, and “most of the old program.” The work grew in one year from one group to 30 groups. It took people through the Twelve Steps in a day or so. And its records disclosed that they had attained a 93% success rate with no relapses!
New York Events
Rowland Hazard had developed a serious alcoholism problem. He treats with Dr. Carl Jung in Switzerland. But he relapses. He returns to Jung, who tells him he cannot help him because he has the mind of a chronic alcoholic. Jung suggests that a real conversion might relieve Rowland.
By the summer of 1934
Rowland joins the Oxford Group, begins associating with Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, makes a decision for Christ, and thoroughly masters Oxford Group ideas.
Summer of 1934
Ebby Thacher, Bill W.’s childhood friend and soon-to-be “sponsor,” meets Oxford Group members Shep Cornell, Cebra Graves, and Rowland Hazard. Ebby decides to get sober in Manchester, Vermont. His three Oxford Group friends tell him about the Oxford Group’s Christian principles and about the power of prayer.
Late Summer/Early Fall, 1934
Ebby accompanies Rowland Hazard to New York and stays for a short time with Shep Cornell. He then moves into Calvary Mission in New York which is run by Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Episcopal Church.
Bill’s third stay at Towns Hospital: Dr. William D. Silkworth, a top psychiatrist, tells Bill that if he does not stop drinking, he will die or go insane. Dr. Silkworth, who is a devout Christian, also tells Bill that Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, can cure him of his alcoholism.
November 1, 1934
Ebby Thacher makes his surrender—i.e., he accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior—at Calvary Mission in New York.
Late November, 1934
Ebby visits Bill W. at his 182 Clinton Street home in New York. He tells Bill about the Oxford Group’s Christian message, about the power of prayer they advocated, and about his own rebirth at Calvary Mission, and that God has done for him what he could not do for himself. Bill concludes that Ebby had been born again.
Early December, 1934
Ebby comes back to Bill’s home again, this time bringing with him Shep Cornell of the Oxford Group.
About December 6, 1934
Bill goes to Calvary House (run by Rev. Sam Shoemaker’s Calvary Episcopal Church) and hears Ebby give his testimony.
About December 7, 1934
The next day, Bill W. goes to Calvary Mission. Bill kneels at the altar and accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Bill writes to his brother-in-law that he had “found religion.”
Years later, Bill writes in his autobiography [Bill W., My First 40 Years, 147] and in another manuscript saying, “For sure I’d been born again.”
December 11, 1934
On his way to Towns Hospital, Bill decides that he should probably call on the Great Physician for help.
December 11, 1934
Bill arrives at Towns Hospital for his fourth and final visit.
While there, he says: “If there be a God, let Him show Himself!”
This is when, Bill says, his hospital room filled and blazed with an “indescribably white light.” He says he experienced the presence of God, and he declares that this must be “the God of the Scriptures.”
He declared this, after this event, he never again doubted the existence of God.
He is released from Towns Hospital, permanently cured, on December 18, 1934. He then scours New York City with a Bible under his arm—going to the Bowery, to Calvary Mission, to flea bag hotels, to Towns Hospital, etc.—telling drunks his story (that the Lord had cured him of the terrible disease of alcoholism), and that they too could get healed of their alcoholism by giving their life to God.
May 12, 1935
Bill W. and Dr. Bob meet on Mother’s Day.
June 10, 1935
Bill W. and Dr. Bob identify this date—on which Dr. Bob took his last drink—as the date on which Alcoholics Anonymous was founded.
Dr. Bob stated that the basic ideas for the A.A. Twelve Steps came from the study and effort in the Bible between 1935 and 1938. Details were summarized in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 131