A.A. History: The Rest of the Story with Dick B.
By Dick B. and Ken B.
© 2014 Anonymous. All rights reserved
What This Introductory Pamphlet Summarizes for You
Twenty-five years of research, travel, interviews, and writing have now made it possible to provide a simple, accurate set of documented facts that establish how and why the first three AAs successfully developed an effective method of recovery from alcoholism and high powered sedatives by deciding to quit for good, by entrusting their lives to God’s power and love, and by helping others to recover by the same means once the pioneers had recovered. This launches the only vital, but little known, body of details about the role that God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible played in recovery and can play today for those who want God’s help. It introduces the various parts of how it all began: (1) The videos called “Bill W., Dr. Bob, and the Cure of Alcoholism: The Rest of the Story.” (2) The videos that show you by narrated interview the 30,000 A.A. books and materials that gave rise to the sources of A.A. (3) The videos that provide an introductory set of classes on the beginnings. (4) The large collection photos taken by our investigating trips to key historical A.A. locations in Vermont and Massachusetts. (5) Other videos and audios on these topics published by Dick B.
Each of the First Three AAs Contributed His Own Recovery Path
- Bill W., Dr. Bob, and Bill D. succeeded when there were no Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, Big Books, Stories, or meetings like those of today.
- These three believed that the answers to their problem were in the Bible, particularly Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians 13, and the Book of James.
- Their techniques were often called “First Century Christianity” at work because they adopted and practiced many of the principles of the Apostolic Fellowship as described in the Book of Acts.
The Story of Bill W. – AA Number One
- Long before Bill was born, Bill’s grandfather “Willie” Wilson had been cured of threatening alcoholism in a vital religious experience atop Mount Aeolus near Bill’s birthplace at East Dorset, Vermont. Grandpa Willie had cried out to God for help, felt what he believed was the wind of the Spirit, sensed a presence, and was saved–after which Willie never again drank for the rest of his remaining 8 years of life. And Bill was told this story many times by his mother.
- Bill W. himself was born and raised in Vermont, brought up in Congregational churches and a Sunday school, attended a nearby Congregational dominated seminary called Burr and Burton, there attended required daily chapel (which included reading of Scripture, sermons, hymns, and prayers), took a required four-year Bible study course, as required attended events at nearby Manchester Congregational Church, and was president of the seminary Young Men’s Christian Association. He later had similar training at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. As covered below, Congregational churches of Bill’s time (East Dorset Congregational and Manchester Congregational) required baptism and profession of faith in Jesus Christ as a condition of membership.
- Bill’s schooling at Burr and Burton ended abruptly when Bertha Bamford, his lady love and school companion, daughter of the rector of Manchester’s Zion Episcopal Church, died unexpectedly in surgery just before graduation. The result for Bill was despair, blaming God, turning his back on God for many years, and wallowing in alcohol and high powered sedatives for many years thereafter.
- In September, 1934, at the time of his third hospitalization, Bill was told by his Towns Hospital psychiatrist, William D. Silkworth, that he must quit drinking or expect to die or go insane. Nonetheless, Dr. Silkworth—a devout Christian—told Bill that the Great Physician (Jesus Christ) could cure Bill of his alcoholism.
- Meanwhile, Bill’s boyhood drinking friend Ebby Thacher had miraculously stopped drinking. Ebby had been rescued by three friends who were members of A First Century Christian Fellowship (later known as the Oxford Group). These three told Ebby of the vital religious experience Oxford Grouper Rowland Hazard had at the suggestion of the famous Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl G. Jung. Unable to help Rowland with therapy, Dr. Jung told Rowland that a vital religious experience might relieve Rowland of his alcoholism problem.
- The three Oxford Group “missionaries”—Rowland Hazard, Shep Cornell, and Cebra Graves–
told Ebby about Christ and Bible times, principles of the biblical principles of the Oxford Group, and the importance of prayer—all things Ebby had learned as a youngster but laid aside.
- While lodged at Calvary Mission in New York, Ebby heard of his friend Bill’s drunken state and visited Bill at his home. Later with Oxford Group friends, and at Towns Hospital. Sober and glowing, this former drunk told Bill that he (Ebby) had got religion, that God had done for him what he could not do for himself, made it apparent that he had been reborn and transformed, and made clear this had happened while Ebby was residing at Calvary Mission in New York.
- Bill could not get Ebby’s words out of his mind. So Bill went to Calvary Episcopal Church in New York to hear Ebby give the same testimony from the pulpit; and Bill decided that perhaps the Great Physician could do for him what had been done for Ebby if Bill went to the Mission himself and sought Christ.
- Shortly, though drunk, Bill went to Calvary Mission. There Bill heard the Bible read, heard that “Jesus saves,” heard hymns, and heard the “altar call” inviting penitents to come to the “rail” and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Bill did just that. He knelt at the rail, (according to his wife Lois and Mrs. Samuel M. Shoemaker—Mrs. Shoemaker actually having been present and telling Dick B. she had witnessed Bill’s decision for Christ) as Bill handed his life over to Christ. Then Bill wrote a note to his brother-in-law that he too had “found religion.” Bill later wrote twice—once in his autobiography: “For sure, I’d been born again.”
- But still suffering from his drinking problem and depression, Bill decided that he should call on the Great Physician for help. Bill went to Towns Hospital. There, in his hospital room, Bill cried out to God for deliverance. Suddenly his room blazed with an indescribably white light. Bill sensed he was on a mountain top he had not climbed, that he felt the breeze of the Spirit, and that he had been in the presence of his Creator. He thought: “Bill, you are a free man. This is the God of the Scriptures.” Bill was cured, never drank again. Bill never again doubted the existence of God. He was also beset by the idea that he should devote himself to helping other drunks get well.
- Bill was discharged from Towns Hospital in December, 1934. With a Bible under his arm, Bill feverishly sought out drunks in the gutters, the Bowery, flea bag hotels, mental wards, Towns Hospital, and even Oxford Group meetings. He told drunks they must give their lives to God. And his story was, “The Lord has been so wonderful to me curing me of this terrible disease that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.”
- But, despite almost six months of exhausting witnessing, Bill was unable to get a single drunk sober. Dr. Silkworth then told him he should be hitting the drunks with the sledge hammer of possible death or insanity from their disease and then do his witnessing. But Bill’s friend Rev. Samuel Shoemaker of Calvary Episcopal Church urged Bill to keep witnessing. And Bill did just that.
The Story of Dr. Bob—AA Number Two
- Dr. Bob was born and raised in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. It may surprise many to learn how similar to Bill W.’s Congregational religious training was that of Dr. Bob’s. Also, like Bob’s parents, Bill’s paternal and maternal grandparents as well as his father and mother were very active in East Dorset Congregational Church. Bob’s father and mother were both leaders in North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. And it was common among the Congregational churches of those days that profession of faith (a public confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and baptism) be an essential requirement for Congregational membership. Many Congregational churches of the days of Bill W. and Dr. Bob’s youth counted those who had made a profession of faith as saved Christians.
- Church teaching insisted that parents instruct their children as to the nature and importance of the Word of God and of salvation. Similar teachings about salvation and the Word were, of course, present in the Bible, the churches, and the Sunday schools and reached Bob through that route.
- Dr. Bob’s father was a Deacon of North Congregational Church, a member of its executive committee, and a Sunday school teacher. Bob’s mother was in charge of the Church’s educational program, and was a Sunday school teacher, singer in the choir, active in women’s work, and historian.
- The entire Smith family—Dr. Bob’s father, his mother, his maternal grandmother, his foster sister Amanda Northrup, and Bob himself–often attended five church meetings a week: Sunday morning service, Sunday school, Sunday vesper services, a Wednesday evening prayer meeting, and were involved in Christian Endeavor Society in which Bob was active. Bob’s father was president of the St. Johnsbury Young Men’s Christian Association and an examiner at Bob’s Congregational dominated St. Johnsbury Academy. His mother had been both teacher and student there, was active in alumni work, and was one of the historians of the Academy.
- All students were required to attend Daily Chapel—with reading of Scripture, sermons, hymns, and prayers; and all were required to attend a Congregational church once a week. Bob declared (as now published in A.A. literature) his family’s frequent church attendance and also that he had had excellent training in the Bible as a youngster.
- Christian Endeavor (in which Dr. Bob was active, his parents were involved, and which he me described) required of the youngsters that they pledge their trust in Jesus Christ, hold conversion meetings, attend prayer meetings and Bible study meetings. observe Quiet Hour, and conduct outreach. All these practices were quite similar to those of First Century Christians in Apostolic times and also in the activities of the Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship founded in June, 1935.
- Dr. Bob’s own story really begins in Akron in 1931. At that time, Russell Firestone—a son of the rubber tycoon Harvey—suffered from alcoholism. Russell’s friend Oxford Grouper Jim Newton and the Firestones persuaded Russell to join them and Rev. Samuel Shoemaker on a train trip to Denver to a Bishop’s Conference. Russell was kept well oiled and fully supplied with liquor. But on the way back from Denver, Rev. Shoemaker took Russell into a train compartment and led Russell to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Russell was cured of alcoholism then and there.
- Russell Firestone and Jim Newton went on trips witnessing for the Oxford Group. And by 1933, the Firestones were so elated with Russell’s sobriety that they arranged for Oxford Group leader and founder Dr. Frank Buchman to come with an entourage to Akron and give testimonies in churches and public places. Russell’s testimony and the events themselves were widely publicized. Henrietta Seiberling, Anne R. Smith (Dr. Bob’s wife) and two other ladies attended the events. They then joined a small Oxford Group in Akron and persuaded Bob to join as well.
- Bob enjoyed the fellowship and the people, but he could not stop drinking. This went on for two and a half years. Finally, Henrietta got revelation that Bob should not touch a drop of liquor. She so informed Dr. Bob. She convened a “no-nonsense” meeting of the little group. As instructed, the group participants in turn told some of their “costly” shortcomings. Bob was prompted to say that he was a “secret drinker” and could not stop. Asked if he wanted to pray, Bob said, “yes.” And Bob and the group dropped to their knees on the carpet and prayed for his deliverance.
- Shortly, Henrietta received a call out of the blue. It was from Bill Wilson. Bill had been guided to call Henrietta. And Bill said to Henrietta that he was a member of the Oxford Group and a rum hound from New York. He said he needed to talk with another drunk. Bill had been guided to phone Henrietta. And Henrietta said his call to her was the answer to the prayers for Bob; and Bob agreed.
- Henrietta arranged a meeting at her Gate Lodge home in Akron. There, Bill W. and Dr. Bob met for the first time. They talked for six hours. Dr. Bob said he had heard it all before, but that Bill knew what he was talking about and talked Bob’s language. He said that Bill had been associated with the Oxford Group for six months, and he for two and a half years. But, said Dr. Bob, Bill had grasped their idea of service—being helpful to someone else—and that he had not.
- Bill was soon invited to move in with the Smiths in Akron. And there he remained during the summer of 1935. He and Bob stayed up until the wee hours of the morning discussing the Bible and how to help alcoholics. And the rudiments of the original A.A. program were developed. The two listened to Anne Smith read them the Bible each morning; and they concluded that the answers to their problem were in the Bible—particularly Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians 13, and the Book of James.
- Dr. Bob went off on one last binge as he headed toward a medical convention.
- On Bob’s return, Bob was scheduled for surgery. But Bill W. and the Smiths were concerned that Bob was too shaky for the surgery or, if not that, then unfit to perform it.
- However, Bob told Bill that he was going to go through with the recovery. Bill W. thought he meant the surgery. But Bob said he had placed his life and his surgery in God’s hands and would do whatever it took to attain sobriety.
- The surgery was successful. Bob was cured of his alcoholism that day. And Bob never drank again—the date of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in June, 1935.
- The two men decided they had better get busy finding and helping other drunks.
The Story of Bill D. of Akron—AA Number Three
- Dr. Bob phoned Akron City Hospital. He asked a nurse there if they had any drunks to help. He said that he and a man from New York had found a cure for alcoholism.
- The nurse said she hoped Dr. Bob had taken it; and when he said he had, she told him they had a dandy—an attorney who had beaten up on two nurses and been strapped to his bed eight times in six months. So Bob and Bill visited Bill D.
- Bill and his wife Henrietta D. had prayed for some time that someone would appear and help Bill D. get well. And she and Bill D. believed that Bill and Dr. Bob were the right men for the task.
- Bill W. and Dr. Bob told Bill D. their stories, told him he must quit drinking for good, told him that he must surrender his life to God, and told him he must help others when he got well.
- The attorney told them they didn’t need to sell him on religion because he had always believed in God. He pointed out he had been a Deacon in his church; and Dr. Bob remembered that Bill D. had been a Sunday school teacher and probably knew more about the Bible than Bob had forgotten.
- They made Bill D. get down on his knees in the hospital and turn his life over to the care and direction of God.
- Bill D. did surrender to God; and when Bill W. and Dr. Bob returned, the attorney was well. He marched out of the hospital a free man. And that date was July 4, 1935—the date Bill W. proclaimed was the founding of the first A.A. Group—Akron Number One.
- Bill D. thereafter resumed practice of law but devoted the remainder of his life to helping others get well. He frequent led meetings with a Bible in his lap and taught members its application to their lives.
And Thus the First Three Drunks had, in that way, founded Akron Group Number One and formed what Dr. Bob soon called their “Christian Fellowship.”
- They had no Steps, no Traditions, no Big Books, no drunkalogs, and no meetings of the type seen today. But they did meet daily at the house of friends.
- They renounced drinking for good. They entrusted their lives to God’s care, endeavored to obey His commandments, studied the Bible and Christian literature, and helped others get well by the same means.
- They began developing A.A.’s first program of recovery.
- In November of 1937, they counted noses and found that forty men had achieved sobriety and thanked God that He had shown them how to “pass it on.”
- Frank Amos, a representative of the Rockefeller people, visited Akron, interviewed the people there, and filed a report summarizing seven points that constituted the new Christian technique they were using. It is published on page 131 of DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers.
- In addition, they developed sixteen practices that implemented the seven point program. And we have listed and discussed them in Dick B. and Ken B., Stick with the Winners! How to Conduct More Effective 12-Step Recovery Meetings Using Conference-Approved Literature: A Dick B. Guide for Christian Leaders and Workers in the Recovery Arena, pages 27-37.