The “Original” A.A. Program
Claims. Many Errors. One Truth
was A.A. Founded?
think by now that everyone knew. Yet I was
active in A.A. and its meetings for two
or three years before I ever heard mention
of the founding. Finally, I learned that
the date was June 10, 1935 – the date that
Dr. Bob had his last drink. But that didn’t
satisfy today’s historians. They tinkered
with dates and concluded that Dr. Bob didn’t
have his last drink on June 10th, that the
medical convention to which he went in Atlantic
City never occurred when AAs said it did,
and that A.A. was founded on some other
If you asked someone when George Washington
cut down the cherry tree, just think how
many different answers the historians might
provide. Does it matter? Today, we don’t
even seem to celebrate his birthday and
prefer lumping all our presidents together.
Well, AAs do care. It matters to them. So
I set forth all the arguments and dates
long ago in my title, The Akron Genesis
of Alcoholics Anonymous (http://www.dickb.com/Akron.shtml).
You can study them there if you like. Long
after A.A. was founded, Lois Wilson wrote
that it had been founded in 1934 when drunks
were coming to the Wilson home in Brooklyn.
Others wanted to date it when Ebby Thacher
first carried the message to Bill Wilson.
T. Henry Williams often said that A.A. started
right on the carpet of his Palisades home
in Akron when Dr. Bob, Henrietta Seiberling,
and the others in the Oxford Group knelt
and prayed for Dr. Bob’s recovery. Still
others like to date it as of the publishing
of the Big Book in the Spring of 1939. Clarence
Snyder claimed he was the founder, and that
the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous
was held in Cleveland on May 11, 1939. One
would-be expert has now asserted that the
“original” program occurred some time after
that in the 1940’s. And, Bill Wilson made
the statement that the first A.A. group
began when A.A. Number Three was cured of
alcoholism, was visited by Bill Wilson and
Dr. Bob in the hospital, and walked from
there a “free man” – never to drink again.
That happened very shortly after Dr. Bob
himself got sober.
So you’ll have to make up your own mind.
FDR changed Thanksgiving. We call Armistice
Day Veterans Day. And on and on. Which leads
to the conclusion that “founding” days are
perhaps less important than the founding.
Personally, I’m convinced that A.A. began.
I am convinced it began at Dr. Bob’s Home
in Akron. I am convinced that Bob and Bill
agreed that it began when Dr. Bob took his
last drink. I’m convinced that fairly soon
after AA began, Bill and Bob agreed that
the founding date was June 10, 1935. And
thereafter, Bill Wilson attended and actually
spoke at “Founders Day” each year in Akron
where the “founding of A.A.” on June 10,
1935 is celebrated
Do you know when A.A. was founded? I don’t.
But I’m very sure it was founded because
that’s where I took my last drink forever
and was cured.
Where did the original
program come from?
I know what it was, where it began, when
it began, and how it was practiced. But
you’d have a heck of a time convincing a
lot of AAs today. People who have never
met or even read much about Bill Wilson,
Dr. Bob, or the original days in Akron.
In the first place, people have chosen to
call this the “flying blind” period. Yet
there never was more light shining on the
cure for alcoholism. Real alcoholics who
really tried, who were “medically incurable,”
who were willing to go to any lengths, were
cured in astonishing percentages. By 1938,
some forty of them—called the “pioneers”—were
maintaining sobriety, half or more for two
years. Richard K. has produced three books
now detailing who these folks were, when
they got sober, and what happened to them.
Their names can be found on a dozen rosters.
The pictures of many are on the walls at
Dr. Bob’s Home in Akron. Fifty per cent
got sober and stayed sober, despite the
fact that many a creative A.A. amateur historian
insists that the original gang all died
In the second place, the program came from
the Bible. Maybe that’s why doubters and
unbelievers want to call it the “flying
blind” period. The Bible was read to Bill
and Bob at the Smith Home each day in the
summer of 1935 by Dr. Bob’s wife Anne Smith.
Bob had studied the Bible all his life and
began refreshing his memory as a youngster.
He read the Bible straight through three
times. Bob and Bill stayed up until the
wee hours of the morning every day that
Bill stayed at the Smith home in Akron in
the summer of 1935.
when asked a question about the program,
Dr. Bob said: “What does the Good Book say.”
He often commented that the old timers felt
that the answer to all their problems could
be found in the Good Book. Over and over,
Bob emphasized that the Book of James, the
sermon on the mount (Matthew 5, 6, 7), and
1 Corinthians 13 were absolutely essential.
I’ve written much about the specifics AAs
borrowed from these three books. See The
Good Book and The Big Book (http://www.dickb.com/goodbook.shtml),
Why Early A.A. Succeeded (http://www.dickb.com/aabiblestudy.shtml),
The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous
Turning Point (http://www.dickb.com/turning.shtml),
When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, and my
new article, “A.A., The James Club, and
the Book of James” (http://www.dickb.com/AAsJamesClub.shtml).
And Bob and Bill both said that the sermon
on the mount contained the underlying philosophy
of A.A., that 1 Corinthians 13 was favored
reading, and the A.A. thought so much of
the Book of James that they wanted to call
their Society the “James Club.” The Bible
was read at every A.A. meeting in Akron
for years—not Oxford Group books, not Shoemaker
books, not popular Christian literature,
not even much from devotionals like The
Upper Room. The Bible was stressed, and
AAs said so. You can read it in DR. BOB
and the Good Oldtimers, the A.A. Conference
Approved book published in 1980. In fact,
in his last major talk to AAs—which is on
tape, which has been edited and reprinted,
and which can be found in A.A.’s own literature—Dr.
Bob said A.A. basic ideas came from the
When was the original
program developed and completed?
There’s a very simple set of facts. Yet
many don’t want to acknowledge them because
they are busy saying that Dr. Bob could
never get sober studying the Bible or being
a member of the Oxford Group, that there
were “six” Oxford Group Steps (which there
weren’t), that there were “six” word-of-mouth
A.A. steps (which Wilson characterized in
half a dozen ways), and that the “twelve”
steps somehow represented the “steps” that
early AAs took (even though there were no
steps at all, not six, not twelve, not any)
and even though there was no basic text
containing any steps until the Spring of
1939 (shortly after Bill had asked Rev.
Sam Shoemaker to write the Steps), and even
though the actual vote authorizing Bill
to write a textbook was controversial, was
taken in Akron, and occurred in 1937 or
1938 before Bill ever began writing the
Big Book. Dr. Bob also pointed out that,
in the development years, “there were no
steps” and that “our stories didn’t amount
to anything.” So, by 1938, when Bill and
Bob had counted noses, found that some 40
men were maintaining continuous sobriety—some
for as long as two years, and concluded
that God had shown them how to pass along
their program, the program could certainly
be said to have been completed.
Was The Original A.A. Program?
The program in Akron had, under the leadership
of Dr. Bob, worked so well that Bill managed
to persuade John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to
take a careful look at it.
Rockefeller dispatched his representative,
Frank Amos, to Akron to investigate. And
Amos did just that. He interviewed doctors,
judges, AAs, family members, and Dr. Bob
himself. He concluded the program bore close
resemblance to First Century Christianity
as described in the Book of Acts. He was
astonished at its success and at the simple
elements that comprised “the” program. He
submitted two reports to Rockefeller, and
Amos was later to become an A.A. trustee—presumably
in recognition of his vital role in the
founding of the real, original, A.A. program.
Some of the Amos Reports can be found in
DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers: New York:
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.,
1980). But I wanted to see the originals.
So I went to A.A. General Services in New
York and to the archives at the Bill Wilson
home called “Stepping Stones” at Bedford
Hills in New York. I saw the reports and
verified the basic accuracy of the A.A.
Amos did not discuss the hospitalizations
at Akron City Hospital which were “musts”
in the early program. Possibly because a
newcomer’s program did not really begin
until he had detoxed, been relieved of some
of his fuzzy thinking, and become a real
candidate. Nor did Amos discuss the surrender
with Dr. Bob at the conclusion of the brief
hospitalization. For it was then that the
newcomer dealt with three issues: (1) Did
he believe in God. (2) Would he get down
on his knees with Dr. Bob and pray. (3)
Would he “surrender” his life by accepting
Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. And
if he “passed” that surrender test, out
of the hospital he went—to begin all the
activities I have described at such length
in my published titles.
You can find an excellent and concise description
of the whole process in my title “God and
Alcoholism: Our Growing Opportunity in the
21st Century (http://www.dickb.com/Godandalcoholism.shtml),
pp. 2 -12.
A short description of the original program
as Frank Amos described it, would be:
Abstinence—the alcoholic shall realize he
must never again drink.
2. Absolute surrender of himself to God.
3. He must remove from his life the sins
which frequently accompany alcoholism.
4. He must have devotions every morning—a
Quiet Time of prayer and Bible reading.
5. He must be willing to help other alcoholics
get straightened out.
6. Important, but not vital, he must frequently
meet with other “reformed” alcoholics and
form both a social and religious comradeship.
7. Important, but not vital, he must attend
some religious service at least once weekly.
There is much more in terms of activity—Morning
quiet time with Anne Smith at the Smith
home, individual quiet time, the Wednesday
Oxford Group meeting, regular informal meetings
at the Smith Home, Bible study and prayer
and the reading of Christian literature
being circulated, talks with Dr. Bob and
Anne and Henrietta Seiberling, and visits
to newcomers at the hospital. But the “cure”—the
permanent solution to their problems--was
described as above in the Frank Amos report.
No drunkalogs. No steps. No Big Book. No
service structure. No offices. And no money!
Just the Creator, Jesus Christ, obedience
to God’s will, the Bible, prayer, fellowship,
It worked! Seventy-five percent documented
success rate in those days; and, shortly
thereafter, at the beginning of the 1940’s,
a ninety-three percent documented success
rate. Documented by carefully kept rosters,
names, dates, addresses, and phone numbers.
© Dick B.
B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; 808
874 4876; email@example.com