The Five Elements of the Early A.A. (Old School) Program

The Five Elements of the Early A.A. (Old School) Program

The Success of Early A.A. as Reported in Alcoholics Anonymous

Dick B.

Copyright 2012 Anonymous. All rights reserved

“Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses, and among the remainder, those who stayed on with A.A. showed improvement.” [Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, 4th ed. (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), page xx.]

A.A.’s Original “Program” (We call it “old school A.A.) as Reported by Frank Amos in

DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers

· An alcoholic must realize that he is an alcoholic, incurable from a medical viewpoint, and that he must never drink anything with alcohol in it.

· He must surrender himself absolutely to God, realizing that in himself there is no hope.

· Not only must he want to stop drinking permanently, he must remove from his life other sins such as hatred, adultery, and others which frequently accompany alcoholism. Unless he will do this absolutely, Smith and his associates refuse to work with him.

· He must have devotions every morning–a “quiet time” of prayer and some reading from the Bible and other religious literature. Unless this is faithfully followed, there is grave danger of backsliding.

· He must be willing to help other alcoholics get straightened out. This throws up a protective barrier and strengthens his own willpower and convictions.

· It is important, but not vital, that he meet frequently with other reformed alcoholics and form both a social and a religious comradeship.

· Important, but not vital, that he attend some religious service at least once weekly.

[See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc, 1980), 131.]

How this required five element Akron recovery program worked is – though most don’t know it today – simply and persuasively reported in the Personal Stories that were an integral part of the basic text of the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today inexpensively available through Dover Publications, Inc.

Much of this information you won’t find in A.A.’s basic text (Alcoholics Anonymous) today or in our Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. We are here speaking about the pioneer A.A. Christian Fellowship in Akron that–at the hands of Bill W. and Dr. Bob–developed A.A.’s spiritual program of recovery. This was the program which, by common consent, was led by Akron physician Dr. Bob. This Akron “Program”—with its five required elements and two optional ones–was thoroughly investigated, and reported on to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., by Rockefeller’s agent, Frank Amos, who soon became one of A.A.’s first nonalcoholic trustees. [See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980), 128-36—especially 131.]

How It Worked

Abstinence was Number One. Usually there was hospitalization or at least medical help to save the newcomer’s life. At the hospital, the only reading material allowed in the room was the Bible. Dr. Bob read it daily with the hospitalized newcomer. Recovered Alcoholics Anonymous drunks visited the patient and told their success stories. Dr. Bob visited daily. He would explain the “disease” or “illness,” as it was then understood. The newcomer had to identify as an alcoholic, admit that he too was licked, and declare that he would do whatever it took to recover.

Reliance on the Creator was Number Two. DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers records on page 144 the statement of Clarence S. (who brought A.A. to Cleveland) as to how A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob talked with him about God while he (Clarence) was still in the hospital:

“Then he [Dr. Bob] asked, ‘Do you believe in God, young fella?’ (He always called me ‘young fella.’ When he called me Clarence, I knew I was in trouble.)

“‘What does that have to do with it?’

“‘Everything,’ he said.

“‘I guess I do.’

“‘Guess, nothing! Either you do or you don’t.’

“‘Yes, I do.’

“‘That’s fine,’ Dr. Bob replied. ‘Now we’re getting someplace. All right, get out of bed and on your knees. We’re going to pray.’

“‘I don’t know how to pray.’

“‘I guess you don’t, but that’s all right. Just follow what I say, and that will do for now.

“‘I did what I was ordered to do,” Clarence said. “There was no suggestion.”

The Alcoholics Anonymous newcomer would very soon be given the opportunity to make a “real surrender” upstairs in the home of an Akron AA. This “surrender” involved the newcomer’s confessing Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior in a prayer session resembling what is described in James 5:14-16. (This confession of Christ by which the newcomer became born again has been confirmed as a “must” by four different and well-known A.A. old-timers—J. D. Holmes, Clarence Snyder, Larry Bauer, and Ed Andy.) At the time of the newcomer’s “surrender,” the “elders” (usually Dr. Bob, T. Henry Williams, and one other person) prayed with the newcomer that God take alcohol out of his life, and joined him in asking God that he (God) would guide the newcomer so that he might live according to God’s will.

Obedience to God’s will was Number Three. Successful Alcoholics Anonymous members in Akron during the early years were expected to walk in love and to eliminate sinful conduct from their lives. Many newcomers were too sick to venture far from Akron; so they lived with the Smiths (and later others) in Akron homes. They had prayer, Quiet Time, Bible study, and daily fellowship meetings—very much as the Apostles did (as told in the Book of Acts) in First Century Christianity.

Early A.A. members who recovered from alcoholism with the help of Dr. Bob, his wife Anne, Henrietta Seiberling, and other Akron AAs did not do so in an afternoon or in four easy lessons. They shook. They shivered. They fidgeted. They forgot. They were ashamed, insecure, and guilt-ridden. But they learned from the Good Book what a loving God had made available to them and that obedience to God’s will was the key to receiving it.

Growth in Fellowship with their Heavenly Father was Number Four. At the AAs’ homes in Akron, the AAs had daily Quiet Time. This included Bible study, prayer, asking guidance from God, reading a devotional, and discussing selections from Anne Smith’s journal. They shared their woes and problems with Dr. Bob, with Anne (his wife), and with Henrietta Seiberling. They also had personal Quiet Times at their own homes and elsewhere when they were not together with other AAs. Alcoholics Anonymous members had one “regular” meeting a week on Wednesdays. There were no Big Books, Twelve Steps, or Twelve Traditions. There were no “drunkalogs.” There was no “whining.” There was no “psychobabble.” They prayed, read from the Bible, and had Quiet Time. They used The Upper Room, The Runner’s Bible, My Utmost for His Highest, or similar devotionals for discussion.

Intensive help for other alcoholics was the Fifth element. Following the surrender of newcomers upstairs at the weekly meetings, announcements were made downstairs about Alcoholics Anonymous newcomers who had been placed at hospitals with requests for volunteers to visit them.

Religious comradeship and attendance at a church of choice were the two recommended, but not required, elements of the Akron program. Socializing followed an A.A. meeting. And it started all over again. There were sessions with Dr. Bob involving doing a moral inventory (which related to adhering to the Four Absolutes—honest, purity, unselfishness, and love), confession, prayer to have the sins removed, and plans for restitution.

Five simple elements of their recovery program—elements that had worked and been used since the 1850’s by the great evangelists like Moody and Sankey, Young Men’s Christian Association, Gospel Rescue Missions, Salvation Army, and Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor. Elements of salvation and the Word of God that had been emblazoned in the Christian upbringing in Vermont of Dr. Bob and Bill W. and in the lives of their friends—Ebby Thacher, Rowland Hazard, Shep Cornell, Cebra Graves, and the son of Reverend Sidney Perkins whose father was pastor of the Manchester Congregational Church, a supporter of Wilson’s Burr and Burton Seminary, and with whom Ebby Thacher lived while attending Burr and Burton.

See Dick B., Real Twelve Step Fellowship History ( and Dick B. and Ken B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous (

Gloria Deo


About mauihistorian

Uses pen name Dick B.: Writer, Historian, Retired attorney, Bible student, CDAAC, and active and recovered A.A. member with over 25 years of continuous sobriety. Published 42 titles and over 650 articles on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Christian Recovery Movement.
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