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Roots of The Big Book

This article is written by nationally recognized historian and oft-quoted Alcoholics Anonymous archivist Mitchell K.

Bill W., Dr. Bob and now Bill D. began immediately working to find others to carry the message to. Their attempts were met with failure until they came across Ernie G. There were two Ernie G.'s eventually, but Ernie G. the first came from Akron.

Ernie accepted the way of life that was outlined to him and joined the new alcoholic squad of the Oxford Group. Ernie's story in the First Edition of the Big Book is entitled, The Seventh Month Slip. Ernie explains in his story what happened:

"Then, one day I had a couple of visitors, one a man from New York and the other a local attorney. During our conversation I learned that they had been as bad as myself in this drinking, and they had found relief and had been able to make a come-back. Later they went into more detail and put it to me very straight that I'd have to give over my desires and attitudes to a power higher than myself which would give me new desires and attitudes.

"Here was religion put to me in a different way and presented by three past-masters in liquor guzzling. On the strength of their stories I decided to give it a try. And it worked, as long as I allowed it to do so." (Alcoholics Anonymous - First Edition, 5th printing, January 1944, p. 285. Works Publishing Company. Printed by the Cornwall Press, Cornwall, Orange County, New York)

Ernie had "gotten" sober but as his story's title states, he didn't stay that way. He mentions that he got drunk after a year and stayed out for seven months, he then came back in. Ernie married Dr. Bob's daughter Sue in 1941 much to the chagrin of Dr. Bob. Sue related how on several occasions Ernie had to be secreted out of Dr. Bob's home by other AA members due to his drinking.

To say the least, Ernie had a difficult time staying sober. The longest continuous sobriety Ernie had ever achieved was for a period of eleven years. Ernie continued to drink on and off until his death. Ernie and Sue eventually got divorced and she married her childhood sweetheart, Ray Windows who was not a member of AA. Sue and Ray remained married until his death.

A.A. Begins to Grow

Despite several failures, the alcoholic squads in New York and Akron continued to grow in numbers and lengths of sobriety. In New York they attended Samuel M. Shoemaker's Calvary Church meetings of the Oxford Group and in Akron they attended Oxford Group meetings at the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams.

By late 1937, the Akron contingent also included a couple of members from Cleveland, one of them was Lloyd T. (whose story, The Rolling Stone, was in the first Edition). In February 1938, Clarence S., also of Cleveland joined the meetings in Akron (Clarence's story, The Home Brewmeister is in all three editions of the Big Book).

Bill discussed with Dr. Bob the need for a book outlining their experiences as well as hospitals and "paid missionaries." All of this to carry the message of recovery they had found. Dr. Bob agreed with the book idea, but was against the hospitals and missionaries. They decided to write the book.

Foundations for the Big Book

Both Bill and Dr. Bob had read all of the Oxford Group literature and several other volumes relating to religion and alcoholism. Among them were The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, The Common Sense of Drinking by Richard R. Peabody and Twice Born Men by Harold Begbie. They both also read books by Samuel M. Shoemaker, E. Stanley Jones, A.J. Russell, E. Stanley Jones, V.C. Kitchen and others.

Most of the ideas and wording in the AA book came from these other writers. Some of the wording in the Big Book is almost verbatim. In fact, the Begbie book, Twice Born Men gave Bill the idea on how to format the Big Book. Begbie's book, which was the story of the Salvation Army was divided into two sections. The first section outlined their "program," and the second section was comprised of personal stories. "A Power greater than oneself" and "half measures will avail you nothing" as well as other concepts were themes mentioned in several of these other books.

Even the Steps have been outlined in different ways in some of the aforementioned books. In a book by Cecil Rose, he talks about how one changes their life. He outlines the way one does this. He states that among other things, the fifth step is where you admit your sins, one to another. This also was a common theme in the Oxford Group literature and the Scriptures.

The book project continued. Bill and Dr. Bob discussed several ideas from the literature they had read for inclusion in the book of theirs.

More will be revealed…

Mitchell K.

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