Jim B., often wrongly overlooked, fought Bill W. to a draw over the original wording of the 12 Steps. “God” got qualiﬁed and tolerance got added. Without this nonbeliever, AA would never have thrived. link to document
Recently the subject of how the ‘Big Book’ got its name came up. So, for this months offering here is a little bit of ‘Big Book’ history.
Why We Call It The Big Book”
A printer in Cornwall, NY, named Edward Blackwell, had been highly recommended to
Bill Wilson. Blackwell was the President of Cornwall Press. So Bill and Hank Parkhurst
(author of the personal story “The Unbeliever” in the first edition of the Big Book) went
to Cornwall to see Blackwell. There they were told that the book would probably be only
about four hundred pages when printed. That seemed a bit skimpy. They wanted to sell
the book for $3.50 per copy. That was a very large sum in those days; probably the
equivalent of about S50 today, and people might not think they were getting their
They picked the cheapest, thickest paper the printer had, and requested that each page be
printed with unusually large margins surrounding the text. This made for an unusually
large book. Thus, the book came to be nicknamed the “Big Book.”
A reproduction of the first printing can be purchased today and it is much taller and
thicker than o
urrent Big Book, although it has fewer pages.
ckwell had an excess of red material for the bindings, so he offered them a special
deal. Eager to save costs, Bill and Hank agreed. They also thought, according to some
reports, that the color red would make the book more attractive and marketable.
The first printing was the only one on which a red binding was used. All the other
printings of the first edition, except for the fourth printing, were in various shades of blue.
The fourth printing, due to another overstock of binding material and thus, lower cost,
was bound in blue as well as in green.
Despite all their efforts at proofreading, there was a typographical error in the first
printing. On page 234, the second and third line from the bottom was printed twice. This
was corrected in subsequent editions.
A New York AA member named Ray Campbell, a recognized artist, was asked to design
the dust jacket. His story, “An Artist’s Concept”, appears in the Big Book’s first edition.
He submitted various designs for consideration including one which was blue and in an
Art Deco style. The one which was chosen was red, and yellow, with a little black, and a
little white. The words Alcoholics Anonymous were printed across the top in large white
script. It became known as the circus jacket because of its loud circus colors. The unused
blue jacket is today in the Archives at the Stepping Stones Foundation
link to document
Twelve Step Work Today
Spiritual awakening was not a phrase in my vocabulary when I came into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Most words in the big book actually felt foreign to me in my early days of sobriety. I remember hearing the twelve steps over and over in meetings and feeling as if step twelve (sponsoring and sharing the message) was so far from anything I was capable of contributing to.
needless to say I think we all come into the rooms as newcomers and feel as if we have little to give. Looking around my home group I saw a woman who talked to every newcomer woman, constantly gave rides to girls, and helped others at the meetings. I chose her as my sponsor because she seemed to know not only how to stay sober but to help others do that also. My first sponsor taught me so much about being of service which essentially is step 12.The first part of step 12 assumes that we have had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps which means that you have taken the previous eleven! link to document
I thought we’d start the New Year with a message from Clarence Snyder, a primary organizer of early Alcoholic Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio. Stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky during World War II, Snyder sent this message back home to the Cleveland A.A.’s via the Cleveland Central Bulletin, a monthly newsletter similar to our own Harbor Light.
I hope everyone has had joyous holiday season and best wishes for a bright and wondrous New Year.
NEWS FROM THE CAMPS
Clarence Snyder writes:
Again we all stand on the threshold of a new year. What shall it bring to us? It occurs to me that the problems and responsibilities to be faced by all of us this year will dwarf anything in our past experience. In view of this, wouldn’t it be fitting that we all pause for a time and consider how we are going to meet those problems and responsibilities and take inventory of our means at hand with which to help ourselves.
We as individuals and, yes, as groups have been privileged to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and likewise impossible problems in our past few years experience. We have learned how to live, and there is surely no one among us who doubts for a moment that faith is our foundation for our pattern or design for living. No one can deny that the faith that moves mountains helped us one and all in overcoming our past unhappy, miserable existence, and in its place gave us hope and life and happiness and countless other blessings.
Doesn’t it therefore seem logical that we should make every effort to strengthen our faith through works, as individuals and as groups? Never before in our experience has the need for cooperation, loyalty and clear thinking and definite action been so apparent.
Let us, each one, resolve to grow spiritually, mentally and in character day by day during this coming year, depending on our Creator through our prayers for guidance and direction in all our actions.
Best wishes to all my friends and keep up the good work with the Bulletin.
Pvt. Clarence H. Snyder
Co. B, 8th Bn. A.F.R.T.C.
Fort Knox, Ky.
Tradion 1 – Tradition 12, covered in detail with Free Lunch, at the Imperial Alano Club.
Eleventh Step Promise
We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. As the AA member gets deeper into the recovery process, they begin to see situations more clearly and can tap into their inner resources. The AA promises are found on pages 83-84 of Chapter 6, “Into Action” in Alcoholics Anonymous link to document
IN REMEMBRANCE OF “EBBY”
By Bill Wilson
In his seventieth year, and on the twenty-first of March, my friend and sponsor “Ebby” passed beyond our sight and hearing.
On a chill November afternoon in 1934 it was Ebby who had brought me the message that saved my life. Still more importantly, he was the bearer of the Grace and of the principles that shortly afterward led to my spiritual awakening. This was truly a call to new life in the Spirit. It was the kid of rebirth that has since become the most precious possession of each and all of us.
As I looked upon him where he lay in perfect repose, I was stirred by poignant memories of all the years I had known and loved him.
There were recollections of those joyous days in a Vermont boarding school. After the war years we were sometimes together, then drinking of course. Alcohol, we thought, was the solvent for all difficulties, a veritable elixir for good
Then there was that absurd episode of 1929. Ebby and I were on an all-night spree in Albany. Suddenly we remembered that a new airfield had been constructed in Vermont, on a pasture near my own home town. The opening day was close at hand. Then came the intoxicating thought: If only we could hire a plane we*d beat the opening by several days, thus making aviation history ourselves! Forthwith, Ebby routed a pilot friend out of bed, and for a stiff price we engaged him and his small craft. We sent the town fathers a wire announcing the time of our arrival. In midmorning, we took to the air, greatly elated — ad very tight.
Somehow our rather tipsy pilot set us down on the field. A large crowd, including the village band and a welcoming committee, lustily cheered his feat. The pilot then deplaned. But nothing else happened, nothing at all. The onlookers stood in puzzled silence. Where were Ebby and Bill? Then the horrible discovery was made — we were both slumped in the rear cockpit of the plane, completely passed out! Kind friends lifted us down and stood us upon the ground. Whereupon we history-makers fell flat on our faces. Ignominiously, we had to be carted away. The fiasco could not have been more appalling. We spent the next day shakily writing apologies.
Over the following five years, I seldom saw Ebby. But of course our drinking went on and on. In late 1934 I got a terrific jolt when I learned that Ebby was about to be locked up, this time in a state mental hospital.
Following a serious of mad sprees, he had run his father*s new Packard off the road and into the side of a dwelling, smashing right into its kitchen, and just missing a terrified housewife. Thinking to east this rather awkward situation, Ebby summoned his brightest smile and said, *Well, my dear, how about a cup of coffee?*
Of course Ebby*s lighthearted humor was quite lost on everyone concerned. Their patience worn thin, the town fathers yanked him into court. To all appearances, Ebby*a final destination was the insane asylum. To me, this marked the end of the line for us both. Only a short time before, my physician, Dr. Silkworth, had felt obliged to tell Lois there was no hope of my recovery; that
I, too would have to be confined, else risk insanity or death.
But providence would have it otherwise. It was presently learned that Ebby had been paroled into the custody of friends who (for the time being) had achieved their sobriety in the Oxford Groups. They brought Ebby to New York where he fell under the benign influence of AA*s great friend-to-be, Dr. Sam Shoemaker, the rector of Calvary Episcopal Church. Much affected by Sam and the *O.G.* Ebby promptly sobered up. Hearing of my serious condition, he had straight-way come to our house in Brooklyn.
As I continued to recollect, the vision of Ebby looking at me across our kitchen table became wonderfully vivid. As most AAs know, he spoke to me of the release from hopelessness that had come to him (through the Oxford Groups) as the result of self-survey, restitution, outgoing helpfulness to others, and prayer. In short, he was proposing the attitudes and principles that I used later in developing AA*s Twelve Steps to recovery.
It had happened. One alcoholic had effectively carried the message to another. Ebby had been enabled to bring me the gift of Grace because he could reach me at depth through the language of the heart. He had pushed ajar that great gate through which all in AA have since passed to find their freedom under God.
This month our selection is a look back at the first five years of A.A. as told from Lois Wilson’s perspective. This was originally published in the January 1967 AA Grapevine.
Lois Wilson, wife of AA’s co-founder, Bill Wilson, recalls the time in AA when there were few members
and no Big Book. From the January 1967 AA Grapevine.
In the early days of AA things were really different. For five years there was no Big Book. The only way to communicate with other people was to go and tell them, so that’s what we did. Of course, all of the meetings were held in people’s homes, the homes of those who were lucky enough to have them. Anybody who had one made it wide open to whomever the boys brought in. Our houses, Dr. Bob’s in Akron and ours in Brooklyn, were just filled with drunks, either drinking, or stopped temporarily, or well on the way
to real sobriety.
Yes, AA was quite different in those days for many reasons. One was that there were no people in AA except those who had gone to the very bottom. Only these would listen to the story that one drunk was telling another. When AA first started, before there was a book, it was more anonymous than it is now, because even the Fellowship was without a name. AA didn’t have a name until the book was written. Before that it was just a bunch of drunks trying to help each other, a bunch of nameless drunks. They had to be worked with over and over; families and everybody did what they could to help. There were many, many sad things that happened, many very humorous things, and inspirational things, too.
Several are coming to mind right now. Bill, as you know, came from Vermont and someone sent him some maple syrup from there. It came in a whiskey bottle. One of the boys saw this attractive container in the kitchen and he was so drunk at the time that he gulped the whole bottle of syrup, thinking it was whiskey. We had a rule that no one could come into the house when he was drinking. One night one of the boys came home drunk. We wouldn’t let him in so he pried open the coal chute and slid into the cellar. Since he was very fat it was surprising that he could slide down it, yet somehow he made it. But this same fat man did get stuck one night in the washtubs. He lived in the basement apartment. Old city houses used to have stationary tubs in the kitchen. He thought he’d try to take a bath in one. But after getting in he couldn’t get out so one of us (and I think it was I) had to pull him out.
There were many other things…a man committed suicide in our house after having pawned our dress clothes, left over from more prosperous days. These included Bill’s dress suit and my precious evening cape. We have never owned such articles again.
AA was always thrilling. The families were included in all of the meetings; wives and parents (there weren’t many alcoholic women then), and the children came too. The children were vitally interested in everything that went on. They would inquire about all the members and want to know how they were. They’d learn the Twelve Steps and really try to live by them. I don’t think youngsters can be too young to be thrilled by the AA program and be helped by it.
One of the first women who came in was the ex-wife of a friend of Bill’s. She had been in Bellevue and had come from there to our house. At that time there was a wonderful man – I think he was the fourth or fifth AA – who was trying to start a group in Washington, D.C. This woman went down to help him and she stayed sober for quite a long time. Then she married a man they were trying to bring onto the program. He really didn’t go along with the idea himself and used to say to her every once in a while, “Florence, you look so thirsty.” And so she did something about that, Florence disappeared. Everybody looked for her everywhere and couldn’t find her. After a couple of weeks they found her in the morgue. At that time each group used to visit every other group. New York members would go to New Jersey or Greenwich, Philadelphia or Washington or even Cleveland or Akron. Those were the groups I recall were in existence in the first five years.
If anybody had a car a bunch of us would pile in and we’d go wherever we knew there was a meeting. Families were just as much a part of AA as the alcoholics and we did feel we belonged.
But after a while the AA’s thought that they should have an occasional meeting – at least one every week – of just alcoholics so that they could really get down to business. When this occurred the wives thought they’d meet together, too, at the same time. At first these little gatherings of wives didn’t have any particular purpose. Sometimes we’d play bridge and sometimes we’d gossip about our husbands. Then a few of us began to see that we really needed the AA program just as much as the alcoholics. The famous case of my throwing a shoe at Bill started me wondering about myself and realizing that I needed to live by the Twelve Steps just as much as he did. He was getting way ahead of me. I always thought of myself as being the moral mentor in the house, but Bill, who never was a mentor, was certainly growing spiritually while I was standing still. Or perhaps there is no standing still – if I wasn’t going ahead, I must be going backwards.
I decided I’d better live by the Twelve Steps. Annie S. and a number of other people had come to the same conclusion. So, whenever we visited another group, we would tell the wives and families how we found that we, too, needed to live by the Twelve Steps of AA. Little groups of wives and families all over the country began to feel the same need for something to help overcome their frustrations and help them become integrated human beings again.
That’s the way Al-Anon started. We followed the AA program in every principle. I want to thank AA’s so very much for showing us the way. Without your leading us we would still be the unhappy folks we were. In our meetings we tell our own experiences just as AA’s do. We tell how we came to find that we needed Al-Anon and what Al-Anon has done for us. And we seek to help other families that were, or are, having the same sort of experience.
In 1950 Bill traveled all over Canada and the United States to see how AA’s would react to the idea of a general conference for Alcoholics Anonymous, and in doing so he discovered quite a few types of groups of the family of alcoholics. He thought that they should have a Central Office here in New York, just as AA did, so that they could be unified in their use of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions – a place where inquiries could be received, literature prepared and the public informed so that those in need would know where to turn.
A good friend and I started a small office in Bedford Hills. By then AA had had eighty-seven inquiries from wives or groups who wished to register. As AA was not equipped to handle the families of alcoholics it handed over this list to us and we wrote to them. Fifty groups responded and were registered with us. That was in ’51. Today (1967) there are over 3,000 Al-Anon groups. The numerical potential of Al-Anon is greater than AA’s because it is composed not only of mates of alcoholics, but children, parents and other relatives and friends. It is estimated that five people are seriously affected by one alcoholic.
Though we have barely scratched the surface, the future is bright, thanks to you AA’s for your wonderful example and inspiration.