The Real Time-lines (two of them) that marked the beginnings of A.A.
March 11, 2012
Russell Firestone got saved and healed of alcoholism on the train back to Akron from the 50th triennial General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church—a General Convention of the Episcopal Church]held in Denver, Colorado, September 16-30, 1931.
Russell and his friend James D. Newton traveled widely for the Oxford Group in the ensuing months, giving their testimony in the United States and elsewhere.
The Oxford Group (not Groups) founder, Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman, and other Oxford Group members put on a series of meetings in Akron beginning on Thursday, January 19, 1933, and extending to Monday, January 23. Rev. Walter F. Tunks, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, was actively involved in hosting the meetings. [Russell was among the many who attended the huge number of meetings, widely publicized in Akron papers said during these January 1933 meetings in Akron. He and others gave testimony as to their Oxford Group life-changes through Jesus Christ.
Henrietta Seiberling (of the well-known rubber dynasty family), Dr. Bob’s wife Anne, and two other ladies attended the 1933 events and soon started attending a small Oxford Group meeting, persuading Dr. Bob to join the group.
Shortly after the January 1933 events, a small group of Oxford Group members began meeting every Wednesday night in the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams. Henrietta Seiberling, and Dr. Bob and Anne Smith, were among those attending weekly.
Henrietta believed she had received revelation from God that her friend, Dr. Bob, must not touch one drop of liquor—a message she conveyed to Bob. But Bob continued to drink excessively and told Henrietta he guessed he was just one of those “wanna wanna” guys.
During this period, and while still drinking, Bob felt it necessary to “renew” his familiarity with the Bible in which he said he “had had excellent training” as a youngster in Vermont. He read the Bible three times from cover to cover. He joined a Presbyterian Church. He read all kinds of Christian literature (which is still available for view at Dr. Bob’s Home in Akron as to one part, and at Brown University as to the other). Bob said he read all the Oxford Group literature he could get his hands on.
Around the end of April 1934, Henrietta Seiberling asked group members that they be prepared to be straightforward about shortcomings and to “share something costly” at the next meeting.
Dr. Bob shared at that (next) meeting: “This may cost me my profession, but I am a silent drinker and I can’t stop.”
Henrietta asked Bob if he would like the group to pray. Bog agreed; and there in the Williams’ living room they went down on their knees and prayed for Dr. Bob’s deliverance from his drinking problem.
Two weeks later, Bill Wilson arrived in Akron.
Bill Wilson had failed in a business venture, was tempted to drink; but instead he called Dr. Walter Tunks from the Mayflower Hotel in Akron. Tunks gave Bill a referral that led to Henrietta Seiberling. Bill told her: “I am a rum hound from New York and a member of the Oxford Group. And I need to talk to a drunk.”
Henrietta thought Bill was “manna from heaven.” She arranged to have Dr. Bob come to her home at the Seiberling Gate Lodge. And the two agreed.
Bill W. and Dr. Bob met on Mothers Day, May 12, 1935
The principal thing that came out of the six hour meeting was that Dr. Bob concluded that, despite his and Bill’s association with the Oxford Groups, only Bill had grasped their idea of “service”—helping others get well. Something he said he had never thought of, considered, or done.
Soon Bill moved into the Smith home during the summer of 1935. Bill and Bob listened each day as Dr. Bob’s wife read the Bible to them. They particularly favored the Book of James. The two men stayed up until the wee hours of the morning studying the Bible, discussing a possible program, and developing their ideas for recovery.
Dr. Bob went on one more binge and then quit for good – something he had never been able to do. Henrietta and he felt his cure (which is what he called it) t was in answer to the prayers.
Bob and Bill decided they had better get busy, find another drunk, and help him. And they phoned the nurse at Akron City Hospital. Bob told her they had found a cure for alcoholism. And they met Bill D. (A.A. Number Three-to-be). Bill D. told them he already believed in God, was a Deacon in his church and a Sunday school teacher, and didn’t need to be sold on religion. Bill and Bob told him to give his life to God and that he must help another once he was cured. Dotson did just that, was immediately healed, and stepped from the hospital a free man—who participated in A.A. meetings and service for the rest of his life.
As Bob said, at that time, they had no Steps, no Traditions, and (of course) no Big Book, nor drunkalogs, and no meetings as we now know them. The date of Dotson’s discharge from the hospital was July 4, 1935; and Bill declared that that was the founding date of the first A.A. Group—Akron Number One.
From that point forward, they had daily meetings. They called themselves a Christian Fellowship. All were hospitalized. All read the Bible with Dr. Bob in the hospital, were asked to confirm their belief in God, and then got out of bed and on their knees and accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Every morning the AAs, their wives and families would gather at the Smith Home for a Quiet Time led by Dr. Bob’s wife. Anne would open with a prayer, read from the Bible, have group prayer, have a group quiet time, and then usually share from her journal [Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939] and have discussions on it. Copies of the Upper Room—a quarterly Christian devotional—were distributed by Mother G.
On Wednesdays, there was one regular meeting of the “self-styled alcoholic squad” at the home of T. Henry Williams. Sometimes the few Oxford Group people would hold their meetings in one room, and the alkies in another. Every single member was required to make a “real surrender.” This meant he was taken upstairs with two or three members (usually Dr. Bob and T. Henry). The newcomer would kneel. The others would pray with him and over him. He would ask Jesus Christ to become his Lord and Savior. The prayers were that God take alcohol out of his life and guide him to live by Christian principies. Because these meetings were characterized as “old fashioned revival meetings” focused on healing drunks, they were referred to as a “clandestine lodge” of the Oxford Group and distinguished themselves from the Oxford Group which held other kinds of meetings and were focused on teams’ doing “world changing through life changing.”
The daily meetings opened with prayer. There was reading from the Bible, group prayer, group Quiet Time, and a period when newcomers were taken upstairs with two or three oldtimers. In their homes, AAs read Christian devotionals like The Runner’s Bible, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, The Soul’s Sincere Desire by Glenn Clark, The Christ of the Mount by E. Stanley Jones. These were circulated among them by Dr. Bob and read. So were innumerable Christian books Dr. Bob and Henrietta Seiberling and Anne Smith were reading—Kagawa’s Love: The Law of Life; Henry Drummond’s The Greatest Thing in the World, Healing in Jesus’ Name by Ethel Willitts, Christian Healing, Soul Surgery by Walter, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Oswald Chambers, Twice Born Men and Life Changers by Harold Begbie, and many many others.
By November of 1937, Bill and Bob counted noses and found that 40 alcoholics they personally knew—men who had gone to any lengths to follow the path—had maintained sobriety. Twenty had never had a drink. Ten had relapsed but returned and succeeded. This meant that 75% of these seemingly hopeless, medically incurable real alcoholics had been cured.
Clarence Snyder: First meeting called “Alcoholics Anonymous” held on May 11, 1939, in Cleveland, Ohio.
This meeting took to Akron the “best” of the old program—the Bible, the Oxford Group 4 Absolutes, the Big Book, and the 12 Steps. It grew in one year from one group to thirty groups. It took people through the Twelve Steps in a day or so. And its records disclosed that they had attained a 93% success rate.
New York Events
Rowland Hazard had developed a serious alcoholism problem. He treated unsuccessfully with Dr. Carl Jung in Switzerland. But he relapsed. Jung told him he could not help him because he had the mind of a chronic alcoholic. Jung suggested that a real conversion might relieve Rowland.
Rowland affiliated with the Oxford Group, began associating with Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, made a decision for Christ, and thoroughly mastered Oxford Group ideas.
Ebby Thacher, Bill W.’s childhood friend and soon-to-be “sponsor,” meets Oxford Group members Shep Cornell, Cebra Graves, and Rowland Hazard. Ebby had previously decided to get gets sober in Manchester, Vermont. Then his three Oxford Group friends told him about the Oxford Group’s Christian principles, about the power of prayer, and lodged him in Calvary Mission in New York. It was at that Calvary Mission altar that Ebby made a decision for Jesus Christ.
Bill’s third hospital visit was in September 1934. This is when Dr. Silkworth told Bill that if Bill did not stop drinking, Bill would die or go insane. And Dr. Silkworth also told Bill that Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, could cure Bill of his alcoholism.
Ebby Thacher surrendered (accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior) on November 1, 1934, at Calvary Mission in New York.
Ebby then visits Bill at his 182 Clinton Street home in New York in late November, 1934. He told Bill about the Oxford Group’s Christian message, about the power of prayer they advocated, and about his own rebirth at Calvary Mission—Bill concluding that Ebby had been born again.
Ebby came back to Bill’s home again, probably in the first days of December 1934, with Shep Cornell of the Oxford Group.
Bill then heard Ebby give his testimony at Calvary Church.
Then next day, probably about December 7, 1934, Bill went to Calvary Mission as Ebby had done. Bill knelt at the altar and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Bill He wrote his brother in law that he had “found religion.”
Bill wrote in his autobiography and in another manuscript about that event saying, “For sure I’d been born again.”
On his way to Towns Hospital, Bill decided that he should probably call on the Great Physician for help.
December 11, 1934, Bill arrives at Towns Hospital for his fourth and final visit.
While there, he said: “If there be a God, let Him show Himself!”
This is when his hospital room filled and blazed with an “indescribably with white light.” He experienced the presence of God, and declared that this must be “the God of the Scriptures.”
He declared of this event that he never again doubted the existence of God.
He was released—cured--from Towns Hospital on December 18, 1934. He then went everywhere with a Bible under his arm—to the Bowery, to Calvary Mission, to flea bag hotels, to Towns Hospital, etc.—telling drunks his story (that the Lord had cured him of the terrible disease of alcoholism), and that they could get healed of their alcoholism by giving their life to God.