“Stick with the Winners”
Authoritative Quotes about the Early A.A. Pioneers
Dick B. and Ken B.
© 2010 Anonymous. All rights reserved
Early A.A. claimed a 75% success rate among “seemingly-hopeless,” “medically-incurable,” “last-gasp” case alcoholics who really tried to follow thoroughly the original Akron A.A. “Christian fellowship” program. How do we know this? We go straight the current edition of “the Basic Text for Alcoholics Anonymous,” the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”). The Fourth Edition of the Big Book (first published in 2001) contains on pages xv-xxi a reprint of the “Foreword to Second Edition.” (The Second Edition of the Big Book was first published in 1955.) And the following statement is made on page xx of the “Foreword to Second Edition”:
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.
Why do we use the words “Christian fellowship” in conjunction with the original A.A. program Bill W. and Dr. Bob began developing during the summer of 1935. Again, we go directly to A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature for the answer—in this case, to DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (published in 1980). This book states on page 118:
“[A.A. cofounder] Dr. Bob was a prominent man in Akron. Everybody knew him. When he stopped drinking, people asked, 'What's this not-drinking-liquor club you've got over there?' 'A Christian fellowship,' he'd reply.”
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers states on page 131 that Dr. Bob was the “leader by common consent” of the first Akron group, which was known as “Akron Number One.” (See, for example, page 353 of the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book, The Language of the Heart: Bill W.'s Grapevine Writings, for this name for the first A.A. Group.)
What was the original Akron A.A. “Christian fellowship” program that produced these astonishing successes with the toughest cases imaginable before the publication of the First Edition of the Big Book in April 1939? We find the seven-point original A.A. program summarized by Frank Amos on page 131 of 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
In addition to the seven principles of the original Akron A.A. “Christian fellowship” program, Dick B. has documented in A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature the following 14 practices that were closely associated with the original A.A. program:
1. Qualifying each newcomer.
2. Hospitalizing newcomers was a must.
3. Inviting the newcomer to “surrender” by professing a belief in God and accepting Jesus as his Lord and Savior during his five-to-seven-day stay at the hospital.
4. Upon leaving the hospital, newcomers were often taken to the Oxford Group meeting at T. Henry and Clarace Williams’ house, given a Bible by Dr. Bob, and told by Dr. Bob to “go out and fix drunks as an avocation.”
5. Most newcomers went to live in the Smith residence or in the residences of other Akron people as long as needed in order to get steady in their path.
6. There were Christian fellowship meetings every day, with Dr. Bob, Anne, and Henrietta Seiberling. These 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, with prayer, Bible reading, seeking guidance, and discussion of portions of Anne’s personal journal.
8. There was one “Oxford Group” meeting each Wednesday at the home of T. Henry Williams—a meeting unlike any other Oxford Group meeting—rather like an old-fashioned revival meeting. 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. 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.
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 (Matthew 5-7), 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 on Saturday evenings.
13. Members knew each other well. They phoned and visited each other. And 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.
14. In addition, rosters of the names and addresses, sobriety dates, and relapses, if any, were kept and still exist today.
For extensive documentation in A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature of the 14 practices presented above, see Dick B. and Ken B., The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed. (2010), available at www.DickB.com.
To be able to “stick with the winners,” we must know who they were. Two men immediately stand out. The first is A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob, “the prince of all twelfth-steppers.” Why is he one of the winners? Here is what the other A.A. cofounder, Bill W., had to say about Dr. Bob on page 171 of the Fourth Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous:
To 1950, the year of his death, he [co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous Dr. Bob] carried the A.A. message to more than 5,000 alcoholic men and women, . . ."
Bill W. also stated on page 34 of the A.A. General Service Conference-approved pamphlet, The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (Item P-53):
Between 1940 and 1950, in the company of that marvelous nun, Sister Ignatia, he [Dr. Bob] had treated 5,000 drunks at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron. . . . So Dr. Bob became the prince of all twelfth-steppers. Perhaps nobody will ever do such a job again.
The second is Clarence S., Dr. Bob's sponsee and founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland in May 1939. (See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 161-67--especially 167.) Why is he one of the winners? To begin with, the early Cleveland fellowship had a documented 93% success rate. DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers states on page 261:
"I [Clarence S.] think A.A. was more effective in those days. Records in Cleveland show that 93 percent of those who to us never had a drink again. When I discovered that people had slips in A.A., it really shook me up. Today, it's all watered down so much."
Mitchell K., Clarence S.'s biographer, reported on page 108 of 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) as to the 93% success rate in Cleveland:
Two years after the publication of the book [i.e., of Alcoholics Anonymous (the "Big Book") in April 1939], Clarence made a survey of all of the members in Cleveland. He concluded that, by keeping most of the "old program," including the Four Absolutes and the Bible, ninety-three percent of those surveyed had maintained uninterrupted sobriety.1
And the early Cleveland fellowship grew from one group to 30 groups in one year. As stated in Three Clarence Snyder Sponsee Old-timers and Their Wives, comp. and edited by Dick B., Our A.A. Legacy to the Faith Community: A Twelve-Step Guide for Those Who Want to Believe (Winter Park, FL: Came to Believe Publications, 2005), 9.
Of the first 260 people who came into A.A. in Cleveland, ninety-three percent never drank again! These were the Cleveland groups that grew from one to thirty in a year.
We encourage you to share the positive, power and love of God with people—especially suffering newcomer who may be blessed to hear that message. And “stick with the winners!”