A.A.’s “Big Book,” Rev. Sam Shoemaker, and Bill W.

By Dick B.
© 2008 Anonymous. All rights reserved

Lois Wilson’s Observation as to Sam Shoemaker’s Big Book Role

The biography of Lois Wilson states: “Dr. Shoemaker was to play a significant role in Bill Wilson’s spiritual development and his writing of Alcoholics Anonymous, which became known as ‘The Big Book.’”

Bill Wilson’s Specific Remarks about Sam Shoemaker’s Role

Bill Wilson himself said:

Every river has a wellspring at its source. A.A. is like that too. In the beginning, there was a spring which poured out of a clergyman, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. ‘Way back in 1934 he began to teach us the principles and attitudes that afterward came to full flower in AA’s Twelve Steps for recovery.

More than twenty-five years ago, he channeled to the few of us who then saw and heard him, the message, the understanding, the loving concern, and therefore the Grace that enabled our small band and all the countless thousands who followed afterward to walk in the Consciousness of God—to live and to love again, as never before.

It was from him that Dr. Bob and I in the beginning absorbed most of the principles that were afterward embodied in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, steps that express the heart of A.A.’s way of life.

Where did the early AAs find the material for the remaining ten steps? Where did we learn about moral inventory, amends for harm done, turning our wills and our lives over to God? Where did we learn about meditation and prayer and all the rest of it? The spiritual substance of our remaining ten Steps came straight from Dr. Bob’s and my own earlier association with the Oxford Groups, as they were then led in America by that Episcopal rector, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker.

The Twelve Steps of A.A. simply represented an attempt to state in more detail, breadth, and depth, what we had been taught—primarily by you. Without this, there could have been nothing—nothing at all. . . . Though I wish the “cofounder” tag had never been hitched to any of us. I have no hesitancy in adding your name to the list.

Our ideas of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution for harm done and working with others came straight from Sam. Therefore he gave to us the concrete knowledge of what we could do about our illness; he passed to us the spiritual keys by which so many of us have since been liberated.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that I founded A.A. If it wasn’t for Sam Shoemaker, A.A. would never have been born.

Each of the foregoing statements by Bill Wilson is set forth in full, along with other similar statements, in Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999), 4-7.

Shoemaker’s Own Remarks about His Work with Bill W.

Dr. Shoemaker stated the following about Bill, the Big Book, and A.A.:

Bill Wilson found his spiritual change in this House [Calvary House, adjacent to Calvary Church in New York] when the Oxford Group was at work here many years ago. I have had the closest touch with Bill from that day to this.

I never forgot that I was one of those who read the first mimeographed copy of the first book [the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous] . . .

It happens that I have watched the unfolding of this movement [the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous] with more than usual interest, for its real founder and guiding spirit, Bill W., found his initial spiritual answer at Calvary Church in New York, when I was rector there, in 1935.

Again, each of the foregoing statements by Dr. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., is set forth in full, along with similar statements, in Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism, 7-10.

Shoemaker and the Writing of the Twelve Steps

One of the most interesting and compelling pieces of evidence came from a clergyman who was an Oxford Group leader in America, a member of the vestry at Shoemaker’s Calvary Episcopal Church, and a close friend of Sam Shoemaker. This close associate was the Reverend Garrett Stearly. And Reverend Stearly twice related the following facts to James Draper Newton, an Oxford Group activist, and close friend of Sam Shoemaker and Garrett Stearly. Reverend Stearly said:

Bill Wilson asked Sam Shoemaker to write A.A.’s Twelve Steps. Shoemaker declined. Shoemaker told Bill that the Steps should be written by an alcoholic and that Bill was the one to do it.

Shoemaker in the Context of All A.A. Sources

Those familiar with my own historical research and published writings know that I laid out some 16 different wellsprings from which the totality of early A.A.’s spiritual program, principles, practices, and basic ideas flowed. And these certainly included the Bible, Anne Smith’s journal, conversions, the Oxford Group itself, the literature that Dr. Bob read and recommended, Quiet Time guidance, William James, Carl Jung, the Christian Endeavor Society, the Rescue Missions, and more.

But this particular article is focused on Bill’s consistent recognition and acknowledgement of Sam Shoemaker’s special role in the Big Book and Twelve Step ideas and writing. In fact, in New Light on Alcoholism, I have not only discussed all of Sam Shoemaker’ books and writings about A.A., but—at pages 153 to 170—I have quoted and provided source citations for 149 specific words and phrases in Sam Shoemaker’s writings that can be found in A.A. literature, manuscripts, or archives. In several recent titles, I have laid out the specifics of what appear to be Shoemaker words, phrases, and ideas in each of the particular Twelve Steps.

Gloria Deo

Dick B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837, 808 874 4876, dickb@dickb.com

Author's Bio: 

writer, historian, Bible student, retired attorney, recovered AA