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The Original Alcoholics Anonymous Program Founded June 10, 1935
By Dick B.
© 2009 Anonymous. All rights reserved
[Note: There were three distinctly different A.A. programs during the first 20-year period from 1935 through 1955. First came the original pioneer Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship recovery program founded by Bill W. and Dr. Bob in 1935, developed by November 1937, and producing a documented 75% success rate. Second, followed the entirely different recovery program written primarily by Bill W., embodied in the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”), and published in the spring of 1939. Its suggested program was grounded in the Big Book and the Twelve Steps. Finally, during the 1940’s, there were numerous offshoot programs culminating in the essays written by Bill W. and published in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions in the mid-1950’s. The points discussed here and upon which is the focus are those used by the pioneers of early A.A. with such astonishing successes and their acknowledged permanent cures.]
The Seven Original Program Ingredients Summarized in the Frank Amos Report
The Frank Amos report to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., dated February 23, 1938, described the Akron “Program” founded in 1935. Amos said it was being carried out faithfully by the Akron group. The men in the group, he said, all looked to Dr. Bob for leadership. And these were the specifics Amos set forth about the “Program” [DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980), 131]:
· 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.
And here are the actual principles and practices of the Akron Christian Fellowship during the period from June 10, 1935, to the publishing of the Big Book in the spring of 1939:
(1) Qualifying: Newcomers were interviewed by Dr. Bob and qualified as to their
Concession that they had an alcoholism problem; their desire to quit permanently; and their commitment that they would go to any length to do so. (2) Hospitalization was a must for a period of some five to seven days. During this time, Dr. Bob would visit extensively each day, other sober alcoholics would tell the newcomer their stories, only a Bible could be read, and then came surrender time with Dr. Bob before release. (3) Just before the newcomer was discharged from the hospital, Dr. Bob would conduct his final visit, require that the newcomer profess a belief in God—not “a” God, God. Then the newcomer would 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) Upon leaving the hospital, the newcomer was given a Bible and told to help others. (5) Most went to live in the Smith residence or in the residences of other Akron people like Wally Gillam and Tom Lucas. 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, Anne Smith, and Henrietta Seiberling, which included group Bible study, prayer, and Quiet Time observances; (7) In addition, each morning, alcoholics and their family members gathered at the Smith home for a Quiet Time conducted by Anne Smith, with prayer, Bible reading, seeking guidance, and discussion of portions of Anne Smith’s personal journal. (8) There was one “Oxford Group” meeting (13) Members knew each other well and actually kept address books with names, addresses, and where possible the telephone numbers. (14) In addition, rosters of the names and addresses, sobriety dates, and relapses if any were kept and still exist today—making possible the calculation of success rates.at the home of T. Henry Williams. These meetings, however, scarcely resembled conventional Oxford Group meetings, were called a “clandestine lodge” of the Group, and actually took on the form of “old fashioned prayer meetings.” And 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, where 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. (9) There was extensive reading of Christian devotionals and literature provided by Dr. Bob and distributed at meetings. (10) There was particular stress on study of the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. (11) Meetings concluded with invitations to reach out to newcomers in the hospital and elsewhere, and then closed with the Lord’s Prayer. (12) There was frequent socializing in the homes, particularly .
What the Cofounders Had to Say
Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., was the rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York; was in close touch with Bill Wilson from the beginning; became Bill’s friend and supporter; and worked with Bill in preparing the Big Book manuscript and Twelve Step ideas of 1939. Moreover, Shoemaker had a hand in the Akron events of 1931 and 1933, and his books were read by Akronites and recommended by Dr. Bob’s wife. Bill dubbed Shoemaker a “cofounder” of Alcoholics Anonymous; and many Shoemaker words and expressions can be found in the Big Book and Twelve Steps. Further, some of Bill’s most basic ideas appeared first in Shoemaker’s 1923 book, Realizing Religion. Shoemaker wrote of the present need of religion, declared that people suffered from spiritual misery, and insisted that the root of the malady is estrangement from God—estrangement from Him in people that were made to be His companions. In words that became embedded in early A.A. thinking and language, Shoemaker wrote:
All three solutions—a conversion experience, finding God, and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior—were the foundation stones of early A.A. principles and practices.
A.A. Cofounder Bill Wilson. After hearing from his doctor, William D. Silkworth, M.D., that Jesus Christ could cure him of his alcoholism; and after going to the altar at Shoemaker’s Calvary Rescue Mission and making a decision for Christ; and after resolving to call on the “Great Physician” for help while in Towns Hospital, Bill had his vital religious experience, after which he never drank again. Bill’s message, still embodied in the Big Book, was:
And this is exactly what Bill Wilson did for many months early in his sobriety. He rushed around to the slums, the Bowery, fleabag hotels, the rescue mission, Towns Hospital, and Oxford Group meetings with a Bible under his arm telling bums they needed to give their lives to God.
A.A. Cofounder Dr. Bob Smith. Dr. Bob was also cured of alcoholism and wrote the following in the Big Book in the last line of his personal story:
A.A. Number Three Bill Dotson walked from the hospital a free man after hearing Bob and Bill’s witnessing and turning to God for help. Dotson is quoted in the Big Book as follows:
Bill was very very grateful that he had been released from this terrible thing and he had given God the credit for having done it, and he’s so grateful about it he wants to tell other people about it. That sentence, “The Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep telling people about it,” has been a sort of a golden text for the A.A. program and for me.
The Potential and Need for a Great Spiritual Awakening in Recovery
The foregoing three sets of facts need to be learned and known today. There is a vital need for a Great Spiritual Awakening in the recovery community, in recovery programs, among churches and clergy, and in recovery fellowships. There is a need to restore our Heavenly Father, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the Word of God to the center of recovery programs, recovery efforts, and recovery literature. For the premise of early A.A.—still to be found in the Big Book—is that the alcoholic cannot manage his own life, that probably no human power can relieve him of his alcoholism, and that God can and will if He is sought. The basic ideas for A.A. came from the Bible, and the potential is described in Hebrews 11:6:
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
As A.A. Cofounder Dr. Bob explained to a member the meaning of the slogan “First things first,” Bob pointed to Matthew 6:23 in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Dick B., Introduction to the Sources and Founding of Alcoholics Anonymous (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2007), 15-23; Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications Inc., 2006); Dick B., The Golden Text of A.A.: God, the Pioneers, and Real Spirituality, 2d impression, 2000); Dick B., The James Club and the Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials. 4th ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2005); and Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, Newton ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998); Mary C. Darrah, Sister Ignatia: Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1992); Mitchell K., How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio (Washingtonville, NY: AA Big Book Study Group, 1999); DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers; The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975).
8. William G. Borchert, The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough (MN: Hazelden, 2008).
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