Day with the Akron A.A. Pioneers
eleven years of personal research,
and through generous sharing by
those such as Dr. Bob’s kids, the
Seiberling children, and T. Henry’s
daughter, coupled with diligent
writings of historians and archivists
who have really delved into the
guts of early A.A. in "Akron
Number One" (as Bill Wilson
called it), we can piece together
a picture of the earliest A.A. days.
And enjoy "a day with the Akron
A.A. pioneers." Virtually!
of our information sources have
never seen the light of day as far
as the average AA is concerned--Anne
Smith’s Journal, Dr. Bob’s Library,
the transcripts of Akron oldtimers
lodged in GSO archives in New York,
the papers of people like Clarence
Snyder and Bob E., and even the
four AA of Akron pamphlets that
have been on sale for a number of
years in Akron and Cleveland. A
number of us have had the opportunity
to interview some of the survivors
of our earliest days, or their immediate
friends or families. And the results
enable a picture, albeit reconstructed
by this author, of what a single
day in the period of 1935 to 1938
was really like.
Morning Quiet Time at Dr. Bob’s Home
start with Quiet Time at the home of
Dr. Bob and Anne Smith. Dr. Bob’s daughter
told me that the "guys" who
came over often said they were coming
to Anne’s place for "spiritual
pablum." Let’s also start with
some documented descriptions of Anne’s
early Quiet Time, as well as those conducted
by other pioneers individually and in
[an alcoholic] 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
(From the report of Rockefeller’s
investigator Frank Amos, published
in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers,
A.A. members of that time did not
consider meetings necessary to maintain
sobriety. They were simply "desirable."
Morning devotion and "quiet time,"
however, were musts (DR. BOB,
supra, p. 136).
Quiet Time. This cannot be emphasized
too much. Not a day should be missed.
The early morning hours are best.
It may be that more than one quiet
time will be needed during the day.
Whenever need arises one should stop
and pray and listen. The method of
holding quiet time varies some with
each individual. All include prayer
and Bible reading and study and patient
listening to God (Quoted from Anne
Smith’s Journal: Dick B., Anne
Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939,
3rd ed., p. 61; see also
Dick B., Good Morning! Quiet Time,
Morning Watch, Meditation,
and Early A.A., 2d ed, pp. 6-9).
that time [when "Dad and Mom
and Bill were working out the program"]
I [Dr. Bob’s daughter Sue] was getting
involved with the quiet times they
had in the morning. The guys would
come, and Mom would have quiet time
with them. There was a cookie salesman
and he’d bring the stale cookies over,
and we’d take up a collection for
three pounds of coffee for 29 cents.
They’d have their quiet time, which
is a holdover from the Oxford Group,
where they read the Bible, prayed
and listened, and got guidance. Then
they’d have coffee and cookies. This
was early in the morning, when the
sky was starting to get light. Sometimes
they’d get us out of bed to do this
(Bob Smith and Sue Smith Windows,
Children of the Healer, pp.
43-44; Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal,
supra, p. 54).
also remembered the quiet time in
the mornings–how they sat around reading
the Bible. Later, they also used
The Upper Room, a Methodist publication
that provided a daily inspirational
message, interdenominational in its
approach. "Then somebody said
a prayer," she recalled. "After
that, we were supposed to say one
to ourselves. Then we’d be quiet.
Finally, everybody would share what
they got or didn’t get. This lasted
for at least a half hour and sometimes
went as long as an hour" (DR.
BOB, supra, pp. 71-72; Dick B.,
The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics
Anonymous, pp. 204-08).
R., Akron pioneer, remembered] Before
one of these meetings [at DR. Bob’s
home in the morning], Anne used to
pull out a little book [her journal]
and quote from it. We would discuss
it. Then we would see what Anne would
suggest from it for our discussion
(Dick B., The Akron Genesis
of A.A., supra, p. 110;
Anne Smith’s Journal, supra,
a segment from Anne’s journal. Picture
some reading from the Bible. Then
a prayer. Then a Quiet Time, sharing
what was received. Then Anne’s reading
the following from her journal and
inviting discussion of the remarks:
Don’t be shocked at any confession.
It is hypocritical for you yourself
have at least thought of doing something
similar. A man may share many problems,
but not his deepest one. You must
share deeply with him, UNDER GUIDANCE;
you may be guided to share your deepest
sin, and this will clear the way for
him to share his. The time will come
when he will begin to tell you things
about himself that he doesn’t tell
to others. Why are people so afraid
to face their deepest problems? Because
they think there is no answer. When
they learn there is one, they will
believe it can work out for them,
and they will be really honest about
themselves. When we fail to share,
people think their sin is unique,
but sharing lifts a tremendous load.
It is absolutely necessary to face
people with the moral test [absolute
honesty, purity, unselfishness, and
love]. Fundamentally, sin is independence
toward God, living without God. Seeing
one’s self as God sees one, brings
hatred out of sin (From GSO copy,
not sure we can state precisely
what happened in the course of a
pioneer day, but we do know certain
facts for sure.
one thing: Teams of AAs (many called
themselves the "alcoholic squad
of the Oxford Group") visited newcomers
who had been hospitalized at the Akron
City Hospital. They told their stories.
They told the newcomer that Dr. Bob
had the answer to their problems. Sometimes
they even gobbled up the food the hospitalized
"pigeon" was unable to stomach.
Dr. Bob also visited the patient each
day. By his own account: "I used
to go to the hospital and stand there
and talk. I talked many a time to a
chap in the bed for five or six hours."
On the final day, Dr. Bob would make
sure the newcomer believed in God and
then would have him get out of bed,
get down on his knees, and "make
surrender." That meant accepting
Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (The
Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous,
pp. 12; Dick B., That Amazing Grace,
meetings: [Dr.] Bob said, "We
used to have daily meetings at a
friend’s house [the home of T. Henry
Williams in Akron]. All this happened
at a time when everybody was broke,
awfully broke. It was probably much
easier for us to be successful when
broke that it would have been if
we’d had a checking account apiece.
We were, every one of us, so painfully
broke. . . I think now that it was
providentially arranged. Until 1940,
or maybe early 1941, we held the
Akron meetings at the residence
of that good friend, who allowed
us to bang up the plaster and the
doorjambs, carting chairs upstairs
and downstairs. Then we outgrew
that (The Co-Founders, supra,
pp. 13-14). Since many lived at
the Smith home itself as well as
at several other A.A. homes, and
since none was prospering, historian
Ernest Kurtz opined that, in hindsight,
most of their waking lives was a
continuous A.A. meeting (Kurtz,
Not-God, p. 56). Focused as
he was on his own not-God
thesis and his inadequate Oxford
Group understanding, Kurtz missed
the more insightful observations
as to the nature of these meetings
by Dr. Bob, early AAs, and other
observers at that day. Thus Dr.
Bob considered every meeting a "Christian
Fellowship." (DR. BOB,
supra, p. 118; Dick B., The
Akron Genesis of A.A., supra,
pp. 219-220). The Oxford Group itself
was "A First Century Christian
Fellowship" (Dick B., The
Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous).
AAs themselves perceived a Christian
fellowship emphasis where Bible
study, prayer, use of Christian
devotionals, and reading of Christian
literature were stressed, along
with breaking bread together (See
Acts 1:13-14; 2:41-47; 4:32-37;
10:34-48; 12:26-49). For Sam Shoemaker
had often written of the importance
of Christian fellowship, quoting
in many cases from the Book of Acts
(See Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism:
God, Sam Shoemaker and A.A.,
pp. 59-60). Early AAs such as Bob
E. were speaking of living "Christian
fellowship" (See Kurtz, Not-God,
p. 55). And outside observers commented
on the similarity between Akron’s
old-fashioned prayer fellowship
and First Century Christianity (See
DR. BOB, supra, pp.
129, 131, 135-36; Pass It On,
p. 184; Thomsen, Bill W.,
from Anne and Henrietta: In addition
to the quiet times, hospital visits,
and frequent meetings, the roles of
Anne Smith and Henrietta Seiberling
were of major importance. Anne was
legendary in her work with new people.
She acted as counselor, nurse, evangelist,
and teacher; and the pioneers had
great confidence in her love and advice.
She often shared important Bible passages
with them. She used the phone
much to keep in touch with those who
were not actually present at the Smith
home. Henrietta Seiberling paid daily
visits to the Smith home, kept in
touch by phone, and shared many important
Bible and Oxford Group ideas with
the early people and their families.
reading and study: Individuals did
a great deal of reading on their own.
The Upper Room was a major guide.
And daily Bible study, prayer and Quiet
Time were important aspects of their spiritual
growth and understanding. The number of
Christian books in wide circulation and
use is quite astounding compared to the
situation in A.A. today (See Dick B.,
Dr. Bob and His Library and The
Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual
Growth, 7th ed.).
comradeship: There most assuredly
was socialization, but that word
has been used in misleading ways
by recent commentators as a substitute
for what A.A. Trustee-to-be Frank
Amos more appropriately called religious
comradeship. For it appears that
fellowship and comradeship with
believers was far more important
in those earliest days than mere
social activity. The pioneers and
their families were deadly serious,
and they took their reliance on
our Creator very seriously and shared
it in fellowship.
Unique Focus in Akron: Simplicity
was the watch word. And prayer was
you do as I did, and examine the kind
of meetings Dr. Bob attended as a youth
in Christian Endeavor, you can see how
much Akron A.A. resembled the Christian
Endeavor program of Dr. Bob’s youth
(See Dick B., Dr. Bob and
His Library, Appendix 1, "Dr.
Bob’s Biblical and Christian Background,"
pp. 111-19). In an effort to stigmatize
the Oxford Group’s very clear influence
on A.A. and then to develop excuses
for A.A.’s departure from the Oxford
Group, commentators (including Bill
Wilson himself) have ignored the startling
difference between Akron A.A., New York
A.A., and regular Oxford Group meetings
of the 1930's. In Akron, there was no
Calvary Church where either Frank Buchman
or Sam Shoemaker called the shots. There
were no Calvary House meetings adjacent
to Sam’s church. There was no Sam Shoemaker
doing the mentoring. There were no "teams"
or "houseparties" or even
the kind of "sharing" that
was so typical of the Oxford Group activity.
"old fashioned prayer meeting":
A typical Akron meeting began with
prayer–not the Serenity Prayer.
It ended with the Lord’s Prayer.
There was usually an open Bible
present, with the meeting’s leader
reading Scripture to the group.
There were prayers. There were announcements
about newcomers in the hospital.
There often was reading from a devotional
such as The Upper Room. There
were brief group Quiet Times, but
these were hardly peculiar to the
Oxford Group. Quiet Time has been
observed in one form or another
from the earliest Bible days (See
Dick B., Good Morning!: Quiet
Time, Morning Watch, Meditation,
and Early A.A.). It was used
in the world-wide Student Christian
Movement, the YMCA, Christian Endeavor,
and the teachings of F. B. Meyer–who
influenced all the foregoing movements.
It was observed in the Christian
Endeavor meetings Dr. Bob attended
as a youth and in the practices
Sam Shoemaker advocated in his books,
first calling the practice Morning
Watch, and later, Quiet Time.
It meant prayer, Bible study, quiet
time for receiving God’s guidance,
confession of Jesus Christ, and
activities in support of the local
church as well as focus on area
fellowships. It did not mean "sharing"
of experience, strength, and hope–as
the Oxford Group generally so often
did, and as New York meetings began
to emphasize. Akron A.A. meetings
did not have "drunkalogs."
Bible reading: Picture Dr. Bob’s
tall, stern figure opening up the
Bible and reading one of the following
passages to the group–portions that
Dr. Bob and the oldtimers considered
have heard that it hath been said,
Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and
hate thine enemy. But I say unto you,
Love your enemies, bless them that
curse you, do good to them that hate
you, and pray for them which despitefully
use you, and persecute you. That ye
may be the children of your Father
which is in heaven. . . (From Jesus’
Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:43-45).
not up for yourselves treasures upon
earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt,
and where thieves break through to
steal; But lay up for yourselves treasures
in heaven, where neither moth nor
rust doth corrupt, and where thieves
do not break through nor steal: For
where your treasure is, there will
your heart be also. The light of the
body is the eye: if therefore thine
eye be single, thy whole body shall
be full of light. But if thine eye
be evil, thy whole body shall be full
of darkness. If therefore the light
that is in thee be darkness, how great
is that darkness. No man can serve
two masters: for either he will hate
the one, and love the other; or else
he will hold to the one, and despise
the other. Ye cannot serve God and
mammon (the semon, Matthew 6:19-24).
(agape love) suffereth long, and
is kind; charity envieth not; charity
vaunteth not itself, is not puffed
up. Doth not behave itself unseemly,
seeketh not her own, is not easily
provoked, thinketh no evil: Rejoiceth
not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in
the truth (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).
is the man that endureth temptation:
for when he is tried, he shall receive
the crown of life which the Lord hath
promised to them that love him. Let
no man say when he is tempted, I am
tempted of God: for God cannot be
tempted with evil, neither tempteth
he any man; But every man is tempted
when he is drawn away of his own lust,
and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived,
it bringeth forth sin, and sin, when
it is finished, bringeth forth death.
Do not err, my beloved brethren (James
talk of drinking, meetings, psychobabble,
relationships, or fatalism. Just reading
what God has said on the important subjects
of love, service to God, walking in the
love of God, and resisting temptation.
What a day that would have been!
You had to make surrender, whether
at the hospital or at the regular
meeting when people were taken upstairs
to be prayed over by the "elders."
New York did not have surrenders
patterned on the Book of James where
there was acceptance of Christ on
your knees, group prayer to have
alcohol taken out of your life,
and group prayer over the newcomer
that he might live according to
the teachings of Jesus Christ.
emphasis: There is no evidence
I have seen that New York meetings
or Oxford Group meetings were pointed
toward visiting the newcomer in
the hospital in groups as the "alcoholic
squad" did in Akron (though
Bill W.’s earlier months certainly
did involve visits to Towns Hospital,
Calvary Mission, etc.). There is
no evidence of Akron focus on "team"
life-changing such as that in which
Bill Wilson participated in New
York in late 1935 when he was handling
the business-men contacts in huge
meetings for League of Nations President
Hambro, whom Frank Buchman had brought
to the United States. See Dick B.,
Turning Point: A History of the
Spiritual Roots of Alcoholics
Anonymous; New Light on Alcoholism:
God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.
socializing: There does not
appear to be much evidence of fellowship
socializing on the New York scene.
Yet this was regular fare at the
home of T. Henry Williams and others
in Akron on Saturday nights. No
evidence on the New York path, of
the recreational activities observed
not long after in Cleveland with
bowling and baseball and huge servings
of food and beverage.
our 23,900 item historical collections
now planted in part at The Wilson House
Griffith Library and in part at the Maui
Recovery Resource Center (with several
more centers to go), we have countless
lists and rosters of the early members
of A.A.–the first 40, and then the first
220. Early AAs knew each other. They had
the names and addresses and phone numbers
of each other. Their pictures (the earliest
pioneers) can still be seen at Dr. Bob’s
Home and elsewhere. Their sobriety dates,
their "relapse" dates in a few
cases, and even their dates of demise
were frequently recorded. And the bottom
line was a 75% success record in Akron,
and a 93% success rate in Cleveland–not
disputed until these recent years. An
astonishing and arresting record of victory
for our Creator!
the New York scene, not a single
person got sober in Bill Wilson’s
home between 1934 and 1939. Bill
was not able to help anyone get
sober in his first six months of
sobriety before coming to Akron.
And very very few established any
sobriety on the East Coast immediately
thereafter. Bill and Lois both humbly
stated these facts many times. Bill
readily pointed to the much greater
success rate in Akron and to the
spiritual emphasis there (which
necessarily meant Bible, prayer,
Quiet Time, and religious literature–as
Frank Amos had reported). Finally,
Bill made it clear that he felt
it was the lack of spiritual emphasis
that accounted for the difference.
real program of recovery, to use
Bill’s own words in A.A.’s Big Book,
was founded on finding God, establishing
a relationship with Him, developing
a "design for living"
that depended on His guidance and
power, and following the precepts
so earnestly sought and learned
from the Bible, the early Christian
literature, the Oxford Group life-changing
ideas, Anne Smith’s Journal, and
the teachings of Sam Shoemaker.
This program was "under construction"
every early "day in Akron."
you believe, as Akron pioneers did,
that a seemingly hopeless alcoholic
who really tried could be cured
of alcoholism by this program? I
do. They were! See page 191 of the
Third Edition of the Big Book for
A.A.’s real golden text. See also
Dick B., The Golden Text