A not-for-profit organization founded in 1993 for the publication
of materials on the history and theory of alcoholism treatment and the
moral and spiritual dimensions of recovery
Alcoholics Anonymous History and Archives
A.A. Historical Materials
ARTHUR S. (Arlington, Texas)
A Narrative Timeline of AA History
Arthur S., A Narrative Timeline of AA History is one of the most important reference works which serious researchers into AA history need to have at hand while doing their work. In this 134-page document, Arthur gives not only an extended list of the dates and chronology of AA history, but also -- for each of these items -- careful page references to thirty of the top books on AA history and other sources which the researcher may utilize to learn more on each of these topics. In effect, it is a giant index to a huge collection of some of the best AA historical literature down through the years. And the reader can use the Adobe Acrobat search function to go quickly through the entire length of the document locating all the references to any particular person or topic. Arthur is a computer expert, skilled in numbers and precision calculation, who started his career in Silicon Valley in California, and ended up in Arlington in north Texas (halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth).
ARTHUR S. et al.
A.A. Success Rates: a survey of
early and modern statistics
Arthur S. (Arlington, Texas), Tom E. (Wappingers Falls, New York), and Glenn C. (South Bend, Indiana): "Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Recovery Outcome Rates: Contemporary Myth and Misinterpretation." Adobe PDF file. MS Word DOC file. January 1, 2008. Now generally accepted as the best and most accurate figures assembled to date, compiled and analyzed by three internationally recognized AA historians: one a computer scientist, one a historian at a major state university, and the third author highly skilled in preparing graphs and doing statistical analyses.
The A.A. Triennial Membership Surveys for 1977 through 1989 show that, of those people who are in their first month of attending A.A. meetings, 26% will still be attending A.A. meetings at the end of that year.
Of those who are in their fourth month of attending A.A. meetings (i.e., those who have completed their initial ninety days, and have thereby demonstrated a certain willingness to really try the program), 56% will still be attending A.A. meetings at the end of that year.
Fifty Books Tracing AA's History
Fifty Books Tracing AA's History Charlie Bishop, Jr., the Bishop of Books, a noted antiquarian book dealer and bibliographer, spent many years assembling a collection of 15,000 books, pamphlets, and other printed materials published by and about the A.A. movement, which became the nucleus of the world famous Chester H. Kirk Collection on Alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous at Brown University. Here is Charlie's selection of what he believes to be the fifty best books to read for a good understanding of A.A. history.
The Four Great A.A. Authors
These were the four most-published early A.A. authors, who form one of the most important parts of A.A.'s Historic Heritage. What was early A.A. like? What kinds of topics did they talk about at their meetings? How did they obtain such an astonishing success rate in getting alcoholics sober? What were they teaching the newcomers who came into the program? Read their books and sit at their feet and learn from the true spiritual masters.
2. RICHMOND WALKER wrote Twenty-four Hours a Day, the second great book of early A.A. The good old timers tell us over and over again that they got sober on two books, the Big Book and this one.
Glenn F. Chesnut, "Richmond Walker and the Twenty-Four Hour Book," talk given at the 8th National Archives Workshop, September 27, 2003, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Practicing the Presence of God: the path to soul-balance and inner calm. The great spiritual teaching of Richmond Walker's Twenty-Four Hours a Day. Learning how to quiet our minds and practice the Prayer Without Words, where we enter the Divine Silence.
Richmond Walker's autobiographical memoir. The story of his life given in his own words. An extremely important primary source for the study of this major figure in early Alcoholics Anonymous history.
Richmond Walker in A.A. History: Chronology of His Life
Glenn F. Chesnut, "The Earliest Printings of Richmond Walker's Twenty-Four Hours a Day." From the collection of Jack H. (Scottsdale, Arizona): description of one of the first Florida printings of Rich's book (first published 1948), the later Florida printings, the first Hazelden printing (1954), and the later Hazelden printings. Photos of title pages and end pages are included.
Photos of Richmond Walker and his family. Seeing what Rich and the various family members looked like -- they were the old Boston wealth -- can help in understanding some of the things that he was talking about in his autobiographical memoir (and also in the many autobiographical sections of Twenty-Four Hours a Day).
The early editions of God Calling by Two Listeners, which Rich revised to produce the small print meditations at the bottom of each page in Twenty-four Hours a Day. The dates and publishers of the earliest editions of God Calling, and what we know about the Two Listeners who wrote it, and the Oxford Group version of automatic writing which they employed: one of the women acted as a medium, channeling the spirit of Jesus and speaking Jesus' words aloud, while the other woman wrote the words down on paper.
Ralph Pfau (Father John Doe)
Glenn F. Chesnut, "Father Ralph Pfau: Alcoholics Anonymous Author and American Catholic Thinker," October 2009. Topics include his founding of the National Catholic Council on Alcoholism, the NCCA Blue Book, the major influence of Spanish translations of his writings on early AA in the Spanish Catholic world, scrupulosity and obsessive-compulsive perfectionism, the problem of guilt and shame, the influence of St. Therese of Lisieux's teaching of the Little Way and St. Augustine's anti-Pelagian writings, theological disagreements with Father Ed Dowling, Fr. Ralph's argument that AA dealt only with the via purgativa (and was not involved in the via illuminativa or via unitiva), his insistence that the Big Book taught only natural theology and natural law morality, his work to spread the teachings of the early cognitive-behaviorist psychiatrist Dr. Abraham Low and Recovery Inc. (which used the modern study of semantics to counter Freud and Schopenhauer), his theory of sinner saints "sanctified" because their willingness to keep on trying has been "sanctioned" by God, his campaign to win sainthood for Matt Talbot, the Third Covenant Controversy at the AA International in 1950, his falling out with Bill W. over anonymity (and their making peace in Toronto in 1965).
Glenn F. Chesnut, "Ralph Pfau (Father John Doe) and the Golden Books," talk given at the 6th National Archives Workshop, September 29, 2001, Clarksville, Indiana-Louisville, Kentucky.
Photos of Father Ralph from the Archdiocesan Archives in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Ed Webster (Minneapolis, Minnesota) and his most important writing, the The Little Red Book, first published in 1946. This section also includes letters from the New York A.A. office (Bobby Burger and Bill Wilson) making it clear that A.A. groups any place in the world could read from this book in their meetings and use it for group study. Note particularly Bill W.'s words: "Here at the Foundation we are not policemen; we're a service and AAs are free to read any book they choose."
The first edition of The Little Red Book and a comparison of this 1946 edition with the later 1949 edition, showing some of the major changes in wording. Some of these alterations arose from comments made by Dr. Bob, who read through all of Ed's material at various stages along the way. Even after Dr. Bob was gone, Ed Webster continued revising the text of this book on his own all the way down to his own death in 1971.
Instructor's Outline written by Pat Cronin, the founder of A.A. in Minneapolis, for the old-time Minneapolis A.A. beginners classes which were begun in May 1942 at 2218 First Avenue South. This recently discovered document is extremely important because it gives us our earliest known example of formal A.A. beginners classes as they were given in early A.A.
The Little Red Book Bulletin Number Thirteen was a little pamphlet mailed out every few months to people who were using The Little Red Book to study the twelve steps. This one is number three, dated 1953. Ed Wilson and Barry Collins begin by telling their readers that they are sending these leaflets out
The Tablemate, whose official title is "Alcoholics Anonymous: An Interpretation of the Twelve Steps," was known under a variety of different local names in early A.A. circles. It is sometimes also called the Table Leader's Guide, the Detroit pamphlet, the Washington D.C. pamphlet, and so on. It was based on the four-week Beginners Lessons that began to be used in early Detroit A.A. in June 1943. It is the best surviving set of A.A. beginners lessons, and can be used with enormous effectiveness today. In spite of its deceptively short length, it in fact not only leads beginners into an understanding of how to work the steps, but also gives them a quiet introduction to the spirit of some of the early recommended literature (Emmet Fox, James Allen, and so forth) which went more deeply into the underlying spiritual foundations of the early program. In fact, if you are charge of introducing a group of A.A. newcomers to the program, there is nothing else which even begins to be as effective.
Although there are people who are almost fantically devoted to Wally P.'s Back to Basics: The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners' Meetings, the only parts of that long book which actually work effectively are the parts which he took over and quoted verbatim from the Tablemate. But the original Tablemate pamphlet from Detroit is far shorter and easier to understand, far less expensive to provide to the newcomers, and far less confusing to them. Our experience in A.A. in northern Indiana in recent years has been that people who go through lessons based on Wally P.'s book do no better in fact than people who go to any other kind of A.A. meetings, but that if you take a group of newcomers and have them spend an entire year working through the Tablemate over and over, at the end of that year, 90% of the newcomers who have attended each week without fail will still be sober. And even some years later, 90% of those are still sober today, which is around an 80% success rate overall. This is one of the ways which can be used today to achieve the kind of success rate that was reported in early A.A. (there are also other successful methods).
The Tablemate also gives a far more sophisticated and useful set of virtues than the Four Absolutes. The four Oxford Group virtues -- Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, and Absolute Love -- are certainly worthy goals, but as Bill W. warned, the alcoholic ego does not do well trying to be absolutistic about anything (except not drinking). In fact one central problem in dealing with alcoholics is in trying to get them to quit being so absolutistic about every single thing they believe!
Even more importantly, the typical alcoholic in fact has a good many other virtues that he or she also ought to be striving for in addition to those four: as the Tablemate points out, Humility for starters (!!!), along with Generosity, Simple Justice, Honest Pride in work well done, Simplicity, Patience, Industry (go to work and really work), Faith, Hope, Trust, Willingness, Open-Mindedness, and so on.
And as the Detroit Pamphlet warns, we also need to avoid a whole series of common alcoholic vices: Egotism, False Pride, Impatience, Jealousy, Envy, and Laziness. The Tablemate can serve as one of the best guides to doing the Fourth Step ever written, and discusses a set of character defects which "fit" a good many more alcoholics than the seven deadly sins or breaches of the four absolutes, if we restrict ourselves to either of those two short lists and look at those four (or seven) issues alone.
The Upper Room
The Upper Room and Early A.A. From 1935 to 1948, most A.A. members read The Upper Room every morning for their morning meditation. Although the Oxford Group had the greatest influence on the development of early A.A., this little paperback booklet may well have been the second greatest influence on early A.A. spirituality. This article gives selections from the readings in some of the issues of The Upper Room published in 1938 and 1939, along with commentary explaining some of the ideas which A.A. drew from this source: the understanding of character and character defects, happiness as an inside job, the Divine Light within, warnings against being too imprisoned by doctrines, dogmas and church creeds, the dangers of resentment, instructions about how to pray, entering the Divine Silence, learning to listen to God, opening the shutters of my mind to let in the Sunlight of the Spirit, taking life One Day at a Time, and above all, remembering that God is present with me at all times: "Nearer is he than breathing, closer than hands or feet."
The old Akron reading list
for A.A. beginners
(A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous: THE AKRON MANUAL, published by the Akron group in 1942, with Dr. Bob's approval we must assume, gives a list at the end of recommended readings for newcomers to A.A., so that they might better understand the spiritual aspects of the program. "The following literature," the pamphlet says, "has helped many members of Alcoholics Anonymous.")
Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book).
The Holy Bible.
(The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, the letter of James, 1 Corinthians 13, and Psalms 23 and 91 were all mentioned earlier in the pamphlet. These were favorite passages, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, for early twentieth century classical Protestant liberals. The enormously popular book by Adolf Harnack, What Is Christianity? was a major liberal Protestant manifesto. Christianity was about the simple teaching of the historical Jesus, as shown especially in passages like the Sermon on the Mount, not about complex doctrines and dogmas cast in pagan Greek philosophical terms. These terms appear nowhere in the Bible, Harnack said, and were a later medieval distortion. Real Christianity was not about saying the right technical doctrinal words, but about showing love and compassion towards our fellow human beings. As the Letter of James said, "Faith without works is dead." The Upper Room, which was the meditational book most often used by early A.A.'s before Richmond Walker's Twenty-Four Hour book came along in 1948, was published by the classical Protestant liberals and was a good statement of their fundamental principles: starting the day with prayer and meditation, with short Bible verses for each day's reading that stressed dependence on God as our loving Father and walking with Jesus and his love in our hearts, God-consciousness, doing good, and showing love to everyone around us.)
The Greatest Thing in the World, Henry Drummond.
The Unchanging Friend, a series (Bruce Publishing Co., Milwaukee).
As a Man Thinketh, James Allen.
The Sermon on the Mount, Emmet Fox (Harper Bros.).
The Self You Have to Live With, Winfred Rhoades.
Psychology of Christian Personality, Ernest M. Ligon (Macmillan Co.).
Abundant Living, E. Stanley Jones.
The Man Nobody Knows, Bruce Barton.
(In the summer of 2004, Hindsfoot will be publishing Mel B., Three Recovery Classics, making two of these works once more available: James Allen, As a Man Thinketh, and Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World.)
The early Akron pamphlets
THE AKRON MANUAL: A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous first half and second half. This manual, originally printed in 1942, assumes that the newcomer to A.A. will begin by being hospitalized at St. Thomas for detoxification under the care of Sister Ignatia and the overall supervision of Dr. Bob. It is not only an extremely valuable document for understanding early Akron A.A., many parts of its advice to newcomers (and the people who sponsor them) are still totally relevant today.
Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous (Adobe Acrobat Reader PDF file). A third pamphlet written and published by the early Akron A.A. group during the 1940's. Like the other three pamphlets, this one is very valuable for understanding how early Akron A.A.'s understood the A.A. program.
THE AKRON GUIDE TO THE TWELVE STEPS: A Guide to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, used to explain the steps to the beginners who had just joined A.A. Also from the 1940's. This is an extremely good introduction, explaining how we understand and work the Twelve Steps, in extremely simple and practical language which helps to clear up a lot of the common misunderstandings which newcomers fall into when they first come into the program. It would be an extremely useful little pamphlet to hand out to beginners in the A.A. program today.
In the chapel at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, in the
choir loft where A.A. members would kneel to pray
William E. Swegan's article on Kent State University and Sister Ignatia gives a detailed description of Sister Ignatia's alcoholic ward at St. Thomas hospital in Akron, as Swegan observed it in 1951. By this time there were resident psychiatrists at the hospital to treat any major psychiatric problems, and they were well beyond the primitive karo syrup and sauerkraut detoxing methods.
More on Sister Ignatia's birthplace in Ireland: The Neary family's rental holdings in Griffith's Land Valuation of 1855 When Patrick Gavin and Barbara Neary (Ignatia's father and mother) got married, the couple set up housekeeping in a part of County Mayo where numerous members of the Neary family lived, renting land on the Earl of Lucan's estate. From Irish AA historian and archivist Fiona D. in County Mayo.
Seven-year-old Ignatia sails from Ireland to America in 1896 Emigration records showing the Gavin family sailing from Queenstown (now Cobh) in Cork on the SS Indiana on 2 April 1896, arriving in Philadelphia on 17 April 1896, with photographs of the ship and harbor. From Irish AA historian Fiona D. (County Mayo).
Sister Ignatia: baptismal record (birth certificate) and the passenger manifest for the SS Indiana Sister Ignatia's date of birth, as given in some of the older historical sources, needs to be corrected. Born Bridget Gavin, this photograph of her baptismal record shows that she was born on 1 January 1889. This is the date which should be used. Also photographs of the three sheets of the original passenger manifest showing Sister Ignatia and her family embarking on the SS Indiana. From Irish AA historian Fiona D. (County Mayo).
Sister Ignatia: her parents' marriage certificate the Church Marriage Record for Sister Ignatia's parents, Patrick Gavin and Barbara Neary, who married on 29 January 1882. From Irish AA historian Fiona D. (County Mayo).
The Fourth Earl of Lucan: Sister Ignatia was born on his estate in County Mayo in Ireland. From Irish AA historian Fiona D. (County Mayo).
More on early Akron and Cleveland A.A.
Glenn Chesnut, AA and Oxford Group meetings in Akron and Cleveland: 1938-1942 A short description of how the earliest AA meetings were conducted in these two cities, drawn from Mitchell K.'s How It Worked (containing Clarence Snyder's accounts of early AA life), J.D. Holmes' reminiscences in Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers and in his memoirs in the New York Archives (there are copies of these memoirs also in various Indiana state AA archives), and in the 1942 Akron Manual. This talk was given by Glenn Chesnut as part of a panel discussion at the Sedona Mago AA History Symposium in Sedona, Arizona, February 21-23, 2014.
First 226 Members of the Akron Ohio AA Group A list made during the 1940's of the first 226 members of the A.A. group in Akron, Ohio, including people who later went on to found A.A. groups in other places, like Chicago, Detroit, and Indiana.
ANNE RIPLEY SMITH (March 21, 1881 -- June 1, 1949):
Renner's Beer Wagon
in Akron, Ohio
When Prohibition ended, at 12:01 A.M., on April 7, 1933, in a
persistent cold rain, a crowd of 2,000 people waited in line outside
the George J. Renner Brewing Company's brewery on Forge Street
in Akron to purchase some of the 5,000 cases of their Grossvater
brand beer that were available at $3.25 per case. By noon the next
day, 10,000 cases had been sold at the brewery and through
shipments all over northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Glenn C., article on Conference-approved literature, plus letters from the New York A.A. headquarters (Bobbie Burger and Bill W.), comments by Bob Pearson (General Manager of the General Service Office in New York), and some thoughts on this subject by A.A. historians Barefoot and Dick B.
Sgt. Bill S.
Sgt. Bill S. is the great representative of the group within early A.A. who stressed the psychological rather than the spiritual side of the A.A. program. He was the only member of that group who ever put anything down in writing. Their methods worked too, and they were highly respected by all the good oldtimers of that time.
In Sgt. Bill S., On the Military Firing Line in the Alcoholism Treatment Program, he tells the story of his life and gives his interpretation of the twelve step program. There are many who would want to put his photo at the top of this page, as a fifth Great A.A. Author. He is still very much alive and active, and loves to go around speaking at A.A. conferences, where the audience listens to him so intently that you could hear a pin drop! People flock to the hospitality rooms at these conferences to sit down and bare their souls to him, for there is a spirit of wisdom and compassion -- and a willingness to actually listen to you, gently and nonjudgmentally -- which surrounds him almost like an aura.
Sgt. Bill S. (who is now living in Sonoma, California) originally got sober in 1948 on Long Island, in the New York City area. He was a Pearl Harbor survivor, who was drinking himself to death (literally) after the end of the Second World War. He originally learned his A.A. from Mrs. Marty Mann and Yev Gardner in New York, Dr. E. M. Jellinek at the Yale School of Alcohol Studies, and Sister Ignatia at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio. Bill and the world famous psychiatrist Dr. Louis Jolyon "Jolly" West created the Lackland Model of alcoholism treatment, one of the three basic methods for setting up A.A.-related treatment programs, in San Antonio, Texas in the early 1950's. They achieved a totally documented 50% success rate even in that kind of difficult treatment situation. Bill was a good friend of Searcy's in Dallas, Texas, and was known and loved by a large number of the other good oldtimers. The U.S. Navy gave Bill the highest award that could be given to a civilian, for the work he later did in helping Navy people recover from alcoholism.
Poster for the celebration of Sgt.Bill S.'s
56th A.A. anniversary in Petaluma, California
which was held on July 17, 2004
Sgt. Bill S. (Sonoma, California), The Challenge of Normalcy, Grapevine (November 1955), pp. 34-36. Bill wrote this nice little piece in one of the early issues of the A.A. Grapevine explaining what newcomers need to do when they finally fall off the pink cloud they were walking on for the first few weeks or months.
How A.A. Came to Indiana
How A.A. Came to Indiana is a series of articles by Frank N. (Syracuse IN), Beth M. (Lafayette IN), John S. (Fort Wayne IN), Bruce C. (Muncie IN), Bob E. (Evansville IN), Neil S. (Fishers IN) and others, ed. by Glenn C. (South Bend IN), telling the story of the early Alcoholics Anonymous movement in the state of Indiana.
Leaves of the tulip tree,
the Indiana state tree
A man named J. D. Holmes, who had been the tenth person to get sober in Akron, established the first A.A. group in Indiana in Evansville, down on the Ohio river, in April or May of 1940. The movement quickly began spreading to other parts of Indiana: Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and by 1943, South Bend up in the far northern end of the state. These articles also talk about the early A.A. prison group at Michigan City, early black A.A. leaders in Indiana, and other topics in Indiana A.A. history.
A group of A.A. people in California (possibly Long
Beach) in the 1940's: Bill W. is on the right, Dr. Bob is on
the left, and Anne Smith (with cigarette) is in the center.