A.A.’s Green Mountain State Academy Boys
Dr. Bob and Bill W. of Vermont

Dick B.
© 2008 by Anonymous. All rights reserved

The Fruits of a Visit to Vermont to Learn More about A.A.’s Roots

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
(Proverbs 22:6, KJV)

My son Ken and I just completed our second research trip to Vermont—this time for two weeks. Prior to that, of course, I had spent eight different years giving seminars at The Wilson House in East Dorset, Vermont, and working to place thousands of my general A.A. historical items at the Griffith Library there.

Of late, however, our efforts have been focused on the similar experiences and training that both Bill Wilson and his cofounder partner Dr. Bob received in the lovely Green Mountain State of Vermont. More particularly, we have been working to fill the Dr. Bob Core Library at North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury with our recent findings. See http://DrBob.info.

First, let’s talk about Dr. Bob and St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Elsewhere we have dealt, and in our forthcoming biography of Dr. Bob we will deal, extensively with the “excellent training” in the “Good Book” that Dr. Bob said he had received as a youngster in Vermont. See http://dickb.com/drbobofaa.shtml. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We saw first hand the evidence of his family’s deep involvement in North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury; in Sunday school; in Christian Endeavor; in the YMCA; in the libraries; and in St. Johnsbury Academy. And much of what we saw will be included in the forthcoming biography of Dr. Bob.

Second, let’s talk about Bill Wilson and both East Dorset and Manchester, Vermont. Elsewhere, we have dealt extensively with the details about Bill’s belief that conversion provided the solution—in fact the cure—for alcoholism. Two of the main features were the conversion and cure of alcoholism experienced by Bill’s grandfather Willie Wilson, and also Bill’s follow-through on the advice of Dr. Silkworth that Jesus Christ (the “Great Physician”) could cure Bill’s alcoholism. See http://www.dickb.com/conversion.shtml. But that too was just the beginning. For we found in the little East Congregational Church in East Dorset, Vermont, the records of both the Wilson and the Griffith family’s participation in the services at the church and Sunday school. And then at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont, there were and are many records that show there was required daily chapel with Scripture reading and prayer, required weekly church at the Congregational Church in Manchester, and Bible study. In fact, the Wilson family owned Pew (called “Slip”) 15 at the church in East Dorset; and his Academy owned a slip at the church in Manchester where the students attended.

The Profit of the Founders’ Youthful Training to Bob, Bill, and to Recovery Today

“As for me, I will call upon God, and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.” (Psalms 55:16-17, KJV)

Historians and recovery people have usually ignored what Bill and Bob did as youngsters. In fact, you could scarcely find any published facts at all until very recently. And those came from unofficial biographies of Bill Wilson and Dr. William D. Silkworth. But the records are clear that both Dr. Bob and Bill had learned in their youth that God was an ever-present, available, and able help for those who realized His help could and would be received by those who believed, obeyed, and sought.

Here’s how it really began:

Conversions: Dr. Bob grew up in a period in St. Johnsbury where the entire village had just witnessed revivals, Gospel meetings, and the conversion of about one-third of the citizens to Christ. Conversion was part and parcel of the mission of Dr. Bob’s church, Sunday school, the YMCA, and the Christian Endeavor Society in which Bob was active. Moreover, as to Bill Wilson, few have realized that Bill’s grandfather had been an alcoholic, had a conversion experience on Mount Aeolus in East Dorset, and was healed of his alcoholism. Bill also attended a church and Sunday school which had conversions as an objective and participated in many revivals. More and more biographers are beginning to tell about the latter.

Church and Sunday School: We now know from specific records at North Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and at East Congregational Church in East Dorset, Vermont, that both Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson and their families were church-goers.

Vermont Academy Requirements: (a) Daily Chapel: We also now know from the specific records at St. Johnsbury Academy and at Burr and Burton Academy that Dr. Bob and Bill each attended daily chapel where the Bible was read, prayers were held, and inspirational biblical topics were discussed. (b) Weekly Church Service attendance: We also now know from the specific records at both academies that “scholars” (the students) were required to attend a church service once each week. (c) Bible study: The records also make clear that weekly Bible study was required.

The YMCA: Records in St. Johnsbury we recently reviewed have made clear that Bob’s father (Judge Smith) was president of the local YMCA in St. Johnsbury for several years. There are ample records of the cooperation of St. Johnsbury Academy with the YMCA in the matter of conversions, revivals, lectures, and Bible studies. The record is even more clear as to Bill Wilson. Bill was president of the YMCA at Burr and Burton. His lady love Bertha Bamford was president of the YWCA at Burr and Burton, and both daily attended chapel together.

What You Can See in Early A.A. Recovery Elements

“This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.”
(Psalm 34:6, KJV)

Like most real alcoholics, neither Bill Wilson nor Dr. Bob wanted to quit drinking. And they didn’t quit! Wanting to quit drinking didn’t cut it in 1935, and it doesn’t cut it today. The wish has to be accompanied by decision, determination, and discipline involving going to any lengths. The accuracy of Bill Wilson’s famous Big Book chapter “More About Alcoholism” tells the story well. Bill wrote:

The idea that somehow, some day he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it to the gates of insanity or death (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 30).

And what was the answer? Oddly, it is spelled out in Bill’s chapter “We Agnostics.” Bill wrote:

God had restored his sanity. What is this but a miracle of healing? Yet its elements are simple. Circumstances made him willing to believe. He humbly offered himself to his Maker—then he knew. Even so has God restored us all to our right minds (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 57).

First, as to Bill Wilson: Mindful of his own grandfather’s rescue from alcoholism by crying out to God for help and having a conversion experience and deliverance, Bill cried out to the Great Physician Jesus Christ for help. Even before that, mindful of what he had heard from Dr. Silkworth and Ebby Thacher about conversion, Bill went to the altar at Calvary Rescue Mission and was born again. You can find this in Bill’s own autobiography. Also see The Conversion of Bill W. http://www.dickb.com/conversion.shtml.

Then as to Dr. Bob: Mindful of all he had heard as a youth and after refreshing his memory of, and training in, the Bible, Dr. Bob got down on the rug at the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams and prayed with the Christian Fellowship there for his own deliverance. And help followed soon through the visit and telephone calls of Bill Wilson to Henrietta Seiberling’s home in Akron, Ohio. See The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous http://www.dickb.com/Akron.shtml.

The Point of It All

Regrettably, there are a few persistent Christian writers denouncing A.A.; yet they give no indication of understanding the real roots of A.A., or the efficacy of the early reliance on the power of God. Regrettably also, there are far too many in recovery fellowships who just don’t know where they came from. Some denounce God, Jesus, the Bible, church, and religion. Many of these contend you can select some “higher power” of your choosing or nothing at all and somehow still get a “daily reprieve.”

But Bob and Bill learned about the “Highest Power”—the Creator of the heavens and the earth--in their youth, and learned well from the Bible taught in their academies. When push came to shove, neither sought the help of some idolatrous god of their “own,” self-made manufacture.

The Highest Power

They heeded the descriptions epitomized in the early chapters of Luke:

He [Jesus] shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the LORD God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. . . . And the angel answered and said unto her [Mary], the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. . . . For with God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1: 32, 35, 37, KJV).

When Bill and Dr. Silkworth spoke of Jesus as the Great Physician, they were mindful of what Jesus said about those who were in need of his healing help:

And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick (Luke 6:31, KJV).

And speaking of the power available to overcome evil, Jesus said to the seventy:

Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you (Luke 10:19, KJV).

To those who had been born again of the spirit of God (as had both Dr. Bob and Bill centuries later upon their acceptance of Christ), the Apostle Paul explained:

Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son (Colossians 1:12-13, KJV).

Shortly after Pentecost, the apostles manifested the great power received from the Highest on the Day of Pentecost. Note the Apostle Peter’s comments recorded in the following record:

And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them . . . If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole: Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. . . . Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:7-10, 12).

Of what could be done by the Highest Power for the alcoholic who still suffers, Dr. Bob simply assured those in need of God’s help and willing diligently to seek it:

Your Heavenly Father will never let you down! (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 181).

Bill Wilson went to great lengths in the Big Book to make it clear that he also was talking about the Highest Power. This clearly was the Highest Power made known to Bill in his younger years through the Bible. He spoke of God with capitalized references over 400 times in the Big Book. He selected and repeated terms found in the Bible. Even more explicitly, he used the Bible’s characterizations of God—calling Him the “Father of Light who presides over us all” (p. 14); the “Creator” (pp. 25, 28, 56, 68, 75, 83); “Maker” (pp. 57, 63); “that Power, which is God” (p. 46); “Father” (p. 63); and “Spirit” (pp. 84, 85). Bill topped it off by explaining that each person, in his own words and from his own point of view, told in the Big Book stories how he “established his relationship with God” (pp. 29, 28, 13, 100).

It would take a far stretch of imagination and illusory reasoning to claim that Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson, the sons of Vermont, had not learned these ideas from the Bible from childhood through high school graduation, whether from their families, their church, their Sunday school, their daily chapel, their YMCA friends, or from their frequent encounters with the Bible itself. It is no accident that Dr. Bob declared in his last major talk that the basic A.A. ideas had come from their study of the Bible (which they appropriately called the “Good Book”).

Gloria Deo

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

Author's Bio: 

Writer, Historian, Retired attorney, Bible student, Recovered AA