“Stick With The Winners” Old School A.A. Resource Number Six—the Sixteen Practices of Pioneers in the Akron Christian Fellowship
International Christian Recovery Coalition
16 Key Practices of the Real Akron A.A. Program
This chapter presents 16 major practices of the original A.A. “Christian fellowship” in Akron during the period of mid-1935 until at least the publication of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”) on April 10, 1939. These practices supplemented and expanded upon the seven-point Akron program, as summarized by Frank Amos and presented in the previous chapter. Bill W. and Dr. Bob began developing the seven-point “Christian fellowship” program and these 16 related practices in Akron shortly after they met on May 12, 1935. Here are the 16 practices:
1. Qualifying the newcomer. Newcomers—and often their wives—were interviewed by Dr. Bob (and other pioneer AAs) to determine: (a) if they had conceded that they had a seemingly-uncontrollable, medically-incurable, alcoholism problem; (b) if they had shown a desire to quit permanently; and (c) if they had committed themselves to go to any length to stay sober.
2. Hospitalization was a must. Newcomers were hospitalized for a period of some five-to-seven days. Initially, they were medicated to prevent seizures and other problems. During this time, Dr. Bob would visit each extensively each day. Other sober alcoholics would tell the newcomer their stories. The Bible was the only reading material allowed in the hospital room. Dr. Bob would read the Bible with the newcomers. And then, Dr. Bob would offer the newcomer the opportunity to “surrender” before release.
3. “Surrender” by the newcomer before discharge after his five-to-seven-day stay at the hospital. Before the newcomer was discharged from the hospital, Dr. Bob would conduct his final visit and require that the newcomer profess a belief in God—not “a” God, but God. Then the newcomer was told to get out of his bed, get down on his knees, and pray with Dr. Bob– accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in the process.
4. The newcomer was taken to his first Oxford Group meeting at the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams upon being released from his brief hospitalization (at least in the case of Dr. Bob’s sponsee, Clarence Snyder). And Dr. Bob gave the newcomer a Bible and told him to “go out and fix drunks as an avocation.” This practice of telling the newcomer, at the time he surrendered to God, that he must go out and help other drunks was consistent from the very first days of A.A.
5. Most newcomers went to live in the Smith residence or in the residences of other Akron people like Wally G. and Tom L. They stayed as long as needed in order to get steady in their path.
6. There were Christian fellowship meetings every day, with Dr. Bob, his wife Anne, and Henrietta Seiberling very much involved. In fact, an entire chapter of Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, tells in detail the “spiritual infusion” that Henrietta brought to Bob and Bill at the beginning . Her spiritual contributions to early A.A. development included: (a) the Bible and other books she read and discussed, (b) “the inspiring version of First Century Christianity as it paralleled Christ’s own methods,” and (c) her emphasis on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians 13, the Gospel of John, 1 John, “Speak, Lord for thy servant heareth” from 1 Samuel 3:9, “Thy will be done” from the Lord’s Prayer, “give me news, not views, Quiet Times, and the Four Absolutes—honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love. And the daily fellowshipping took place at the Smith Home, Henrietta Seiberling’s home, and the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams. These daily meetings included individual and group Bible study, prayer, counseling and discussion, and Quiet Time observances. And the following personal stories in the Big Book illustrate the practice.
One personal story put it this way:
Then and then only, after a thorough indoctrination by eight or nine individuals, was I allowed to attend my first meeting. This first meeting was held in the living room of a home and was led by Bill D., the first man that Bill W. and Dr. Bob had worked with successfully.
The meeting consisted of perhaps eight or nine alcoholics and seven or eight wives. It was different from the meetings now held. The big A.A. book had not been written and there was no literature except various religious pamphlets. . . . The meeting lasted an hour and closed with the Lord’s Prayer. . . . Every evening we would meet at the home of one of the members and would have coffee and doughnuts and spend a social evening.
I spent a great deal of time with Dr. Bob whenever he had the time to spare, and in the homes of two or three people, trying to see how the family lived the program.
Another personal story said:
Then occurred the event that saved me. An alcoholic who was a doctor came to see me. He didn’t talk like a preacher at all. . . . The doctor imparted his knowledge to just a few other men at the time—not more than four or five. . . . The visits from these men impressed me at once. I could see they were sober. The third man who came to see me was one of the greatest business getters his company had ever employed. From the top of the heap in a few years . . . his business was practically gone, he told me when he discovered the answer.
You’ve been trying man’s ways and they always fail, he told me. You can’t win unless you try God’s way. . . . In a few sentences he made God seem personal to me, explained Him as a being who was interested me, the alcoholic, and that all I needed to do was be willing to follow his way; and that as long as I followed it I would be able to overcome my desire for liquor.
He went on talking and told me he had found the plan has a basis of love, and the practice of Christ’s injunction, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” . . . That day I gave my will to God and asked to be directed. But I have never thought of that as something to do and then forget about. I very early came to see that there had to be a continual renewal of that simple deal with God; that I had to perpetually keep the bargain. So I began to pray; to place my problems in God’s hands.
Another personal story said:
There were only seven or eight people in the group before me and they all visited me during my period in the hospital. The very simple program they advised me to follow was that I should ask to know God’s will for me for that one day, and then, to the best of my ability, to follow that, and at night to express my gratefulness to God for the things that had happened to me during the day.
Another personal story said:
No conviction was necessary to establish my status as a miserable failure at managing m own life. I began to read the Bible daily and to go over a simple devotional exercise as a way to begin each day. Gradually, I began to understand. . . . I can remember the urge of the Prodigal Son to return to his Father. . . . But in those days I had no one to whom I might take my troubles. Today I have. Today I have someone who will always hear me.
. . . I took my last drink in 1937.
7. Dr. Bob’s Wife Led a Daily, Morning Quiet Time: In addition to these activities, each morning alcoholics and their family members gathered at the Smith home for a Quiet Time conducted by Dr. Bob’s wife Anne. It included prayer, Bible reading, seeking guidance, and discussion of portions of Anne’s personal journal.
8. There was also one “regular meeting”—an “Oxford Group” meeting each Wednesday at the home of T. Henry Williams—a meeting unlike any other Oxford Group meeting. These meetings scarcely resembled conventional Oxford Group meetings. Oldtimers Wally and Annabelle G. said they had read a lot about the Oxford Group meetings being held at the Mayflower [in 1933] but that “it wasn’t until later that they realized the meeting at T. Henry’s was ‘sort of a clandestine lodge of the Oxford Group.’” Dorothy S. M., wife of Dr. Bob’s sponsee, Clarence S., observed in 1937 that the meeting was “a regular old fashioned prayer meeting.” Dr. Bob’s son, Robert R. (“Smitty”) Smith, in a telephone conversation with me (Dick B.) from his home in Nocona, Texas, described the meetings as “old fashioned revival meetings.” Author Nan Robertson quoted Dr. Bob’s son, Smitty, as follows: “It was kind of like an old fashioned revival meeting.” Some called the group itself “the alcoholic squad.” Rockefeller’s investigator Frank Amos referred to the group as the “self-styled Alcoholic Group of Akron, Ohio.” Dr. Bob called the group a “Christian fellowship.” Frank Amos declared: “Members did not want the movement connected directly or indirectly with any religious movement or cult; they stressed the point that they had no connection whatever with any so-called orthodox religious denomination, or with the Oxford Movement. (Obviously, Amos meant the Oxford Group).” As to this regular weekly meeting, old-timer Bob E. stated:
Dr. Bob and T. Henry “teamed” the meeting; T. Henry took care of the prayers with which the meeting was opened and closed. “There were only a half dozen in the Oxford Group. We [the alcoholics] had more than that. Sometimes, we’d go downstairs and have our meeting, and the Oxford Group would have theirs in the sitting room.”
This “regular meeting” became the King School A.A. Group in Akron. That followed the break with the Oxford Group people in 1939 which transitioned into the “regular” meeting at Dr. Bob’s home which was full to overflowing before long. Then it moved to the King School in Akron. And here, based on the recollections of A.A. old-timer Duke P., are some snippets as to how the “old-school” A.A. continued in Akron even after the Big Book was published but while Dr. Bob and Anne Smith were still very much involved:
• The meetings were held in an assembly room that contained tables and chairs. There was no podium, so the meeting leader stood at the head of one of the tables.
• For the first 25-30 minutes, the Chairperson would “qualify.”
• After the “lead,” the Chairperson opened the meeting up for discussion. During this period, anyone could say anything that was on his or her mind. Dr. Bob’s wife Anne Ripley Smith always spoke about some aspect of the program or commented on how the speaker’s story had personally affected her. Dr. Bob spoke during some, but not all, of these discussion periods.
• No one read from the Big Book. Once in a while, the chairperson would read something from the Bible if the passage related directly to his story. Duke remembered one Chairperson reading from the Book of James and Dr. Bob’s reading 1 Corinthians 13.
• Everyone dressed up for the meeting. All the men wore a coat and tie—done out of respect for A.A. and as a demonstration that their lives had changed as a result of being “on the program.”
• No refreshments were served and no basket was passed (there was no charge for the use of the King School).
Prior to 1946, Akron AA had published A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous. It contained the following description of the newcomer’s plan of action as soon as he was out of the hospital:
“First off, your day will have a new pattern. You will open the day with a quiet time. This will be explained by your sponsor. You will read the “Upper Room” or whatever you think best for yourself. You will say a little prayer asking for help during the day. . . . Finally, at the end of the day, you will say another little prayer of thanks and gratitude for a day of sobriety.”
9. The “real surrender” by each newcomer at the “regular” meeting on Wednesday: At these weekly meetings, there was a time in which newcomers were required to make a “real surrender” with Dr. Bob and one or two others upstairs. There the newcomer, on his knees, accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, asked that alcohol be taken out of his life, and asked strength and guidance to live according to cardinal Christian teachings. The elders prayed with him after the manner of James 5:16. There are four known eye-witnesses to the fact that acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior was a perquisite to admission to the Akron Christian Fellowship program. I personally talked to two of them on the telephone—Ed Andy or Lorain, Ohio, and Larry Bauer. Clarence Snyder was the third, and his evidence was attested to me by his wife Grace Snyder personally and by his sponsee and biographer Mitchell K. J. D. Holmes of Indiana provided the fourth piece of evidence.
10. There was extensive reading of Christian devotionals and literature provided by Dr. Bob, or recommended by Dr. Bob or his wife, and/or distributed or made available at meetings. Frequently, they were given copies of Henry Drummond’s The Greatest Thing in the World; The Upper Room (a Methodist periodical); Emmet Fox’s The Sermon on the Mount; James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh; and The Runner’s Bible. Dr. Bob’s daughter, Sue Smith Windows, personally told me (Dick B.) that Dr. Bob loaned to early AAs many of the books he owned, and that the early AAs read those books and circulated them widely.
11. There was particular stress on study of the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and 1 Corinthians 13. As to these, see the footnotes to this paragraph 11 on the Book of James, on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and on 1 Corinthians 13.
12. Meetings concluded with invitations to reach out to newcomers in the hospital and elsewhere, and then closed with the Lord’s Prayer.
13. There was frequent socializing in the homes, particularly on Saturday evenings.
14. The little group of members and wives knew each other well and were in daily contact. “Daily contact was emphasized.” They frequently phoned one another. They frequently visited the homes of each other. They gathered for parties, dances, covered-dish suppers, and picnics. They prayed together. And they frequently had meals together. Compare the practices of the First Century Christians as described in Acts 1; 2:38-47; 3; 4:29-35; 5; and 6.
15. Keeping track of names, addresses, phone numbers, and sobriety information about each member was commonplace, as evidenced by their address books and rosters. They kept little address books with the names, phone numbers, and street addresses of the pioneers. Also, this data was listed on some of the rosters which they kept and which are discussed next.
16. Several extant rosters naming many pioneer AAs make it easy today to name and document the successes, relapses, returns, and failures among the original AAs. A key example is Dr. Bob’s hand-written memo and roster on his own office stationery on file in the Rockefeller Archives today. Other rosters listing the names and addresses, sobriety dates, and relapses, if any, of early AAs were kept and still exist today. Richard K. of Massachusetts—author of four major works on early A.A. history, including studies of the “First 40” cures, about early articles on A.A., and about statistics relating to A.A.—has discussed these rosters in his works. Richard spent several months with me [Dick B.] in Maui reviewing the rosters and materials I had. He also had, as well, materials he obtained from A.A. General Services in New York and elsewhere. He carefully examined photocopies of original documents, newspaper accounts, and extant lists of the early A.A. members and their sobriety records. His work is the most important study of early A.A. successes, cures, and announcements written to date. There are also my own copies of the pioneer member rosters which were acquired by me [Dick B.] from several A.A. historians such as Earl Husband, George Trotter, Sue Smith Windows (Dr. Bob’s daughter), and Ray Grumney (former long-time archivist and member of the managing board at Dr. Bob’s Home in Akron). Their value became particularly important when other evidence was reviewed and clearly disclosed that early AAs commonly kept address books—many of which contained names, addresses, phone numbers, sobriety information, and relapse and death notations. As a group, these rosters enable an accurate evaluation of the successes of the original 40 pioneers surveyed by Bill W. and Dr. Bob in November 1937. And they provide important evidence relating to early A.A.’s claims concerning 75% and 93% successes rates (overall, and in Cleveland, respectively). Recently, an anonymous friend from New Jersey supplied my son Ken and me with a copy of a roster in Dr. Bob’s own hand, written on his medical office stationary, and listing all the successful original members, giving names, drinking history, relapses if any, sobriety dates, and age. It came from the Rockefeller Archives in New York. We now possess one secured by us from those archives. It is a vital, new piece of evidence apparently unknown to those who have disputed the early A.A. successes or temporized about the reason for them.