How Early Cleveland A.A. Carried the Original Message, Applied the Big Book and Twelve Steps, Maintained the First Century Christianity Highpoints, and Attained a Documented 93% Success Rate
Cleveland A.A. was not founded until just after A..A.’s First Edition of the Big Book was published in April of 1939. Cleveland followed on the heels of Bill Wilson’s “new” program and therefore adopted the Big Book and the Twelve Steps. But it also brought with it from the original Akron Christian Fellowship the Bible, the Four Absolutes—Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, and Love—and “most of the old program.” Its 93% success rate and fast growth from one group to thirty in a year make its principles and practices of unique importance in conveying the facts through a beginners’ meeting and incorporating them in “carrying this message.”
International Christian Recovery Coalition followed up on its extensive investigation throughout Vermont of the origins, roots, and pioneer history of A.A.. Our researchers unearthed reams of evidence as to what we now call the “New Era of A.A. History in Vermont. The researchers learned and reported how many of A.A.’s Christian pioneer,, the Christian upbringing of Bill and Bob, and the influential pre-A.A. organizations, leaders, principles, and practices moved right into the founding of the Akron A.A. The success of these ideas in old school Akron A.A.’s Christian Fellowship was attested when Bill and Bob conducted their counting of noses in November, 1937, and reported that about forty men had maintained continuous sobriety over the two year period from 1935 to 1937, and that 50% of them continued to remain sober thereafter.
This November of 2012 another group of researches spent several days at the Cleveland Central Office and other A.A. spots of interest and included a visit to the Ohio A.A. archives at the Intergroup Office of A.A. in Akron. And this Appendix will provide a synopsis of the important results of the Cleveland-Akron investigation.
We Begin With Some Major Cleveland A.A. History and Where It Can Be Found
Not only the Cleveland Central Office, but also many writers drew on the statements, writings, and record of Cleveland beginnings by Cleveland A.A. founder Clarence H. Snyder.
And the following resources are vital to an understanding of what the Cleveland AAs did; believed; and practiced in their earliest years. The resources are:
1. Publications specifically detailing the role of Clarence H. Snyder in Cleveland A.A.
Our A.A. Legacy to the Faith Community: A Twelve-Step Guide for Those Who Want to Believe. This guide is the most recent and practical road to details about how Clarence commented on A.A., the Big Book, the Bible, and the Twelve Steps; how he founded retreats for AAs and their families and showed people exactly how to “take” the Steps in an afternoon and “come to believe” as a result.
That Amazing Grace: The Role of Clarence and Grace S. in Alcoholics Anonymous.
This biography of Clarence and his wife Grace was written by A.A. historian Dick B. who, with his son Ken, spent a week in Florida at Grace’s home and questioned her about Clarence, herself, their marriage, what Clarence taught her about A.A. and the Steps, the books Clarence read for growth—including the Bible, Clarence’s A.A. stories and one-liners, and more.
How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and The Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio. Mitchell K. was sponsored by Clarence. At the time of Clarence’s death, Mitchell borrowed almost all of Clarence’s papers from Grace Snyder on the promise to write a biography and then return the papers to Grace. The papers were never returned, but the book was written and contains immense amounts of information on Clarence, Cleveland A.A., and A.A. itself.
My Higher Power The Light Bulb, by Clarence Snyder. Clarence Snyder was a strong Christian believer. And he wrote this paper, saying: “Phrases such as ‘higher power,’ ‘power greater than ourselves,’ or “as we understood Him’ were not created as an enabling device to justify our membership’s continued avoidance of a connection with our Creator (page 7).
Going Through the Steps by Clarence Snyder. There are several renditions of the way Clarence Snyder took people through the Twelve Steps in half a day. This is one.
2. Central Bulletin, Volumes I, II, III, covering 1942 to 1944. Copies of these first three volumes were provided to us by Bob M., archivist at Cleveland Central Office and bore the masthead of the Four Absolutes of the Oxford Group—Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, and Love—in all but the first two editions in 1942 which substituted “Truth” for “Purity.” These Bulletins cover just about every activity we unearthed in our research and tell us much about Cleveland A.A., its groups, its focus on the Bible and Prayer, and its reports on Cleveland principles and practices and activities.
3. Evidence located on our research trip to Cleveland and Akron where we saw the originals of many of the evidentiary items summarized here.
Some Key Points About Cleveland A.A.
Clarence Snyder got sober February 11, 1938. He was sponsored by A.A.’s Dr. Bob. He formed the first Alcoholics Anonymous Group in Cleveland, Ohio on May 10, 1939.
Clarence described his early Akron days as follows:
He was hospitalized and required by Dr. Bob to profess his belief in God. Just prior to his discharge from the Akron City Hospital and also at a later “regular” meeting of the Akron Fellowship, Clarence was introduced to Jesus Christ and led to accept him as Lord and Savior. In the latter event, T. Henry Williams, Dr. Bob, and a couple of other Oxford Group members went into T. Henry’s bedroom. They all got down on their knees. They all placed their hands on Clarence and then proceeded to pray. They led Clarence to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. They explained to him that this was First Century Christianity. Then they prayed for a healing and removal of Clarence’s sins, especially his alcoholism Clarence said that when a new person was invited to the regular Wednesday meeting, he or she, one at a time, was taken aside and had the tenets of the Oxford Group explained to him or her. A major Oxford Group practice involved “Guidance. . . Guidance at a meeting took place during mandatory ‘quiet time.’ New people were told they had to read the Bible. The King James Version of the Bible. They were instructed to do this on a daily basis. Clarence said the newcomers were also told to read The Upper Room daily. . . the new people were then instructed on the Four Absolutes.”
As previously stated, Clarence said that Cleveland brought with it the Big Book the Twelve Steps, the Bible, the Four Absolutes, and “most old program.” And that “old program” has not only been summarized above; it was also covered in this current book, Carry This Message. . .
Two years after the publication of the Big Book, 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.
The Cleveland Groups had the highest percentage of success in A.A. A year after its founding, Cleveland had about thirty groups and several hundred members. Wilson wrote:
Yes, Cleveland’s results were of the best. Their results were in fact so good, and A.A. membership elsewhere was so small, that many a Clevelander really thought A.A. had started there in the first place. The Cleveland pioneers had proved three essential things: the value of personal sponsorship; the worth of the A.A. book in indoctrinating newcomers, and finally the tremendous fact that A.A., when the word really got around, could now grow to great size.
The 1939 Cleveland Plain Dealer Articles
There is a caveat concerning currently circulating versions of these articles. Elrick B. Davis wrote a series of seven articles for the Cleveland Plain Dealer between October and November, 1939. The articles appeared in this main Cleveland newspaper only five months after the first A.A. group was formed in Cleveland. Davis repeatedly referred to the “cures” of the AAs. Yet some time later, an author or editors unknown to us meticulously removed the words “cure” and “cures” from this article.
Carrying the subhead “Cured,” for example, Davis wrote:
The basic point about Alcoholics Anonymous is that it is a fellowship of “cured” alcoholics. And that both old-line medicine and modern psychiatry had agreed on the one point that no alcoholic could cured. Repeat the astonishing fact: These are cured. They have cured each other. They have done it by adopting, with each other’s aid, what they call “a spiritual way of life.”.
Another major subhead is “Prayer.” Davis wrote:
These are the alcoholics that “Alcoholics Anonymous” cures. Cure is impossible until the victim is convinced that nothing he or a “cure” hospital can do, can help. He must know that his disease is fatal. He must be convinced that he is hopelessly sick of body and of mind – and of soul. He must be eager to accept that help from any source—even God. . . .
There is no blinking the fact that Alcoholics Anonymous, the amazing society of ex-drunks who have cured each other of an incurable disease, is religious. Its members have cured each other frankly with the help of God. Every cured member of the Cleveland Fellowship, like every cured member of other chapters now established in Akron, New York, and elsewhere in the country, is cured with the admission that he submitted his plight wholeheartedly to a Power Greater than himself.
His cure is a religious experience. He had to have God’s aid. He had to submit to a spiritual housecleaning.
This reportorial view that alcoholics could be and were cured by God was shared by alcoholics and by writers across the United States. In our book Cured!: Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts, 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006), we have shown how unanimous was the early view that alcoholism was curable by the power of God and that countless sources so proclaimed the cure. Quoting the source, bibliographic information, and the actual statements, we set forth the “cure” words of Bill Wilson (p. 15), Dr. Bob (pp. 15 -16), A.A. Number Three (p. 16), Clarence Snyder (p. 16), The Rev. Dr. Dilworth Lupton (p. 16), Larry Jewell who wrote a series of articles in the Houston Press in 1940 (pp. 16-17), Theodore English in Scribner’s Commentator, in 1941 (p. 17), William D. Silkworth M.D. (p. 17), t he person who drafted one of the early proposed covers for the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (p. 17), Morris Markey whose 1939 Liberty Magazine article called “Alcoholics and God, which spoke of “A Cure that borders on the miraculous—and it works.” It quoted Bill Wilson also as saying: “I’ve got religion. . . And I know I’m cured of this drinking business for good.” (p. 17), and the famous medical writer Paul de Kruif who wrote for A.A.’s own Grapevine that “The A.A. medicine is God and God alone. This is their discovery. . . . It is free as air—with this provision: that the patients it cures have to nearly die before the y can bring themselves to take it (p. 18).
And this array of persuasive writing spread across the best known news and magazine writings in America. See Richard K., So You Think Drunks Can’t Be Cured? Press Releases by Witnesses to the Cure (Haverhill, MA: Golden Text Publishing Company, 2003); New Freedom: Reclaiming Alcoholics Anonymous (Haverhill, MA: Golden Text Publishing, 2005). In fact, A.A. itself sells material quoting almost all of these articles.
Returning to the Vast Amount of Evidence in Cleveland A.A.’s Central Bulletin
As stated, we were provided with the first three volumes of this important record of what was happening in Cleveland; and time here is best served by summarizing the informative contents:
The Masthead: The Four Absolutes of the Oxford Group were prominently displayed in almost all the mastheads of this periodical. They said: “Unselfishness, Honesty, Purity, and Love.”
The featured prayer each issue: Some examples are the prayer based on Psalm 90; the prayer titled “God’s Love;” the prayer at the turning of the year which concluded “Bless this year, O heavenly Father, to Thy glory and to our good, for Jesus’ sake, Amen;” “The Secret: ‘I met God in the morning. . . . You must seek Him in the morning, if you want Him through the day;” “Love’s Supremacy”—quoting from 1 Corinthians 13:3; “A Pledge” that “liquor is anathema and that the love of God shall replace it and ever remain permanent in our hearts. . .”; “The Soldier’s Prayer”—“Where’ere I go, whate’r my task, The counsel of my God I ask. . .;” “A Prayer of Praise”—“When all Thy mercies, O my God, My rising soul surveys. . . Through all eternity to Thee A joyful song I’ll raise. . .” And there are many more.
The Editorial each issue. Volume I – No. 3 writes of tricky habits and speaks often of “the Devil within us.” For example, “The Devil within us is the prompting of our nerves, which leads us either to act without thinking or to think up excuses for denying the lessons we have learned.”
The Steps: Volume I – No. 3 discusses “The First Step” and concludes with this prayer:
Lord, I am powerless over alcohol. Whenever I yield to it, my life is unmanageable. Whenever I yield to it, I no longer am a man, and I harm my family, my neighbors and myself. Lord, deliver me from temptation, and strengthen me as I cast drink from my life,
News From The Camps. Soldiers in the service, including Clarence H. Snyder, wrote messages from their various posts.
Events were numerous and regularly announced. They included: New Year’s Eve Jamborees, The Annual Dinner, the A.A. Male Chorus, A.A. on Radio, the Crawford Men’s Training System, Dr. Lupton’s Lecture, a Boxing Show, a recent booklet published by Akron, a Clergymen Round Table, Community Meetings, A party honors Dr. Smith, Missionary meetings at the Salvation Army Social Center, a Boat Ride, Founders’ Anniversary Party, Annual “All A.A. Picnic,” AA Bowling League, A Workhouse Round Table, Alcoholics Study, AA Mass Meeting, Minstrel Show, Dance, Bowling League, Summer Recreation, Marty Mann visit to Pittsburgh, Saturday Social Group with baseball, games, and even fishing. Yale Clinic. And West Side Social Club with clambake.
Readers could also find listings of meetings, inspirational poems, alcoholic quips, discussion of the Lord’s Prayer, Hospital Committee Reports, Central Office notices and activities. And more
The Spiritual and Structural Emphasis
There was a pamphlet instructing people on the Four Standards. Clarence Snyder said: “These were Biblical principles the Oxford Group people had taken from the teachings of Jesus Christ found in the Bible.
Clarence Snyder said this about how the Cleveland meetings were being conducted: “. . . Not too much stress on spiritual business at meetings. Prayer and Bible reading was a prerequisite, but only at home. The meetings were very simple. They opened with a prayer or the reading of a verse from the Bible. This was followed by the leader’s speaking for one half hour to forty-five minutes. Then the meeting was over. The remainder of the meeting was spent with members and their families in fellowship with each other. Plenty of hot coffee and doughnuts to go around.
Personal contact with prospective members, as well as with those who were attending meetings was what made the membership grow in numbers and in strength of sobriety. Clarence believed that in order for a prospective member to get well, his entire family had to get well also. Members of the group visited the homes of those who had sent in inquiries. AAs spoke with the wives and husbands of alcoholics either prior to, or during their hospitalizations. Family members were invited to attend meetings, were given a copy of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, and were told to read the daily devotional The Upper Room. Members of the A.A. group shared with prospective A.A.’s and their families their own personal stories as to how they got well and how A.A. had restored their family life and belief in God.
The groups began informally meeting in a private home.
Several activities in Cleveland were unique.
1. Rotation of Leadership: The first documented Central Committee Meeting was held on August 1, 1941. Rotation of Committee members was discussed; and “It was decided that one man shall not serve more than four (4) consecutive terms. The term of the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman shall be for three (3) months.
2. Hospitalization and membership procedures: Clarence wrote Bill W. in September 1940. He said several groups “did not permit a rummy to attend meetings unless he had been hospitalized or talked to by ten men.” Later, a person had to either be hospitalized, talked to by five members, or passed on by the Central Committee.
Records showed that the Hospital Committee paid for many of the admissions out of the Central Committee funds.
There were special rules for “retroverts.” or “slippers.” The Hospital Committee laid down this rule: “A man or a woman who has been sponsored, and has attended at least one A.A. meeting and then takes a drink, is considered a retrovert or slipper. . . . Retroverts may not be placed in a hospital unless arrangements can be made for their complete isolation from new patients. Except for visitation by sponsor, retroverts will be left completely alone for two days and two nights. The retroverts will not be permitted to mingle with new patients.
3. There was an announcement in 1944 that a new pamphlet on Sponsorship was being readied for sale. Clarence Snyder wrote it. The authors of Our Legacy guide have included this pamphlet in full, and it was printed under the title, A.A. Sponsorship . . . Its Opportunities and Responsibilities. This pamphlet stands today as an excellent guide for those undertaking sponsorship, and it is far superior in content to the materials since published by A.A. itself.
4. Clarence summarized to Mitchell K. his view of the difference between New York and Mid-West A.A. Clarence felt that the approach in Ohio was, “Trust God, Clean House, and Help Others.” He felt that the approach in New York was, “Don’t Drink and Go To Meetings. Clarence felt the emphasis on spirituality was what made Ohio A.A. so successful.
5. Two years after the publication of the [Big] book, 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. Clarence opined that even with New York’s ‘moral psychology’ approach to recovery ‘had nowhere near our recovery rate.
6. Clarence had the following significant things to say about A.A.’s Eleventh Step:
How do we listen? God’s revealed will and love for us are in the Bible. Reading and learning God’s word gives us the material on which to meditate. . . . We all know how to meditate; if you have worried, you have meditated. Worry is meditating on the negative. A positive slogan or an uplifting Bible truth can be run through your mind in the same way . . . as a positive meditation . . . . When we get receptive, God speaks to us through other people, through answered prayers, and through opened and closed doors. If it’s from god, it will not disagree with or contradict the Bible.
Insights That Came from our Week Spent with Clarence’s Wife Grace
When the Big Book was published in the Spring of 1939 and Clarence had founded the first meeting of “Alcoholics Anonymous” in May of 1939, Clarence began developing specific methods for using the Good Book, the Big Book, and the Four Absolutes in taking newcomers through the Twelve Steps. But Clarence always “qualified” new people in the same way that he had qualified Grace before he would take her through the Steps.
Clarence made clear that the prayer and meditation in the Eleventh Step were the means by which you “build spiritual contact with God.”
A vital part of the highly-successful Cleveland recovery program was the development of full social lives for the newly recovered men and their families. As Clarence put it to Grace, ”They had t o replace their drinking life with something of substance with their wives and family included.” The Cleveland AAs had seven bowling leagues. They had softball teams. Clevelanders had house parties along Oxford Group house party lines. And they frequently held picnics.
Clarence had many expressions he passed along to Grace. We called them “Life Lines;” and here are a few:
In response to the statement, “I’m in a relationship,” Clarence would often reply , “God does not honor relationships. He only honors holy matrimony.”
In response to the question, “Where did that come from in the Bible:” Clarence would reply, “Do you own a Bible?” If the person didn’t, Clarence would give him or her a Bible. He would say, “That’s a textbook. Not a novel. Not something to spot read here and there. It’s a study. Get the Word in your heart. ‘Thy word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee’” (Psalm 119:11).
Clarence said, “You know from experience that when you run around, are in a hurry and get busy , you need to get physically quiet so that God can speak to you, and you can hear Him. God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10).
Clarence said: “Don’t ever open your Bible to read until you have first asked the Holy Spirit to illuminate what you need to know for that day.”
Clarence said, “The Bible and the Big Book are textbooks. You never get finished. There is always new revelation when you ask for it.”
Clarence said, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. That‘s why Grace and I would read the Bible aloud together, attend church, and listen to good teachings.”
Clarence said: “Call him who he is. ‘Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walking about seeking whom he may devour.’” (1 Peter 5:8)
Clarence explained why he took people through the Steps in two days. He said: “In early A.A., people were coming in so fast there was no time for slow recovery and taking a long time to work the Twelve Steps.” He simply asked: “How long do you want to stay sick?”
Clarence said: “A.A. is like a dessert--like a cake. We have our Big Book, which is the cake. We have our Steps which are the icing on the cake. Going through the Steps is like whipping cream. But the cherry on top is getting this living God—the baptism of the Holy Spirit. You want all the goodies of A.A. The ‘Prayer and Praise’ portion after the retreat is where you get the cherry on top!” In acts 1:8, Jesus gave as his last message: But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.