In the autumn of 1922 Lutheran minister Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman and a few friends formed what they called "A First Century Christian Fellowship." "It is", declared Buchman . . . "an attempt to get back to the beliefs and methods of the Apostles". In the early days of its existence, the movement was called the "First Century Christian Fellowship."(In the late 1930's, Dr. Bob, cofounder of A.A., and the other Akron, Ohio, members continued to refer to it in that way.) In the summer of 1928 six Oxford men went to South Africa on a long vacation. This team of young men made a considerable impression wherever they went and almost from the outset, the newspapers-seeking for a simple catch-phrase to describe them-labelled them "the Oxford Group". And so, "A First Century Christian Fellowship" became the Oxford Group in 1928.
In Akron, Ohio, Jim Newton, an Oxford Group member, knew that one of Firestone's sons, Russell, was a serious alcoholic. He took him first to a drying-out clinic and then on to an Oxford Group conference in Denver. The young man gave his life to God, and thereafter enjoyed extended periods of sobriety. The family doctor called it a "medical miracle". Harvey Firestone Senior was so grateful that, in January 1933, he invited Buchman and a team of sixty to conduct a ten-day campaign in Akron. They left behind them a strong functioning group which met each week in the house of T. Henry Williams, amongst whom were an Akron surgeon, Bob Smith, and his wife Anne. Bob was a secret drinker.
Rowland Hazard claimed that it was Carl Jung who caused him to seek a spiritual solution to his alcoholism, which led to Rowland joining the Oxford group. Unsuccessfully treating this individual for a year, Dr. Jung had finally advised him to try religious conversion as his last chance. While disagreeing with many tenets of the Oxford Group, Hazard did, however, ascribe his new sobriety to certain ideas that other Oxford Group people [Shep C. and Cebra G.] had given him. The particular practices he had selected for himself were simple:
- He admitted he was powerless to solve his own problems.
- He got honest with himself as never before; made an examination of his conscience.
- He made a rigorous confession of his personal defects.
- He surveyed his distorted relations with people, visiting them to make restitution.
- He resolved to devote himself to helping others in need, without the usual demand for personal prestige or material gain.
- By meditation he sought God's direction for his life and help to practice these principles at all times.
He was introduced by Shep Cornell to Cornell's friend Ebby Thacher. Ebby had a serious drinking problem. Hazard introduced Ebby to Carl Jung's theory and then to the Oxford Group. For a time Ebby took up residence at Reverend Sam Shoemaker's Calvary Rescue Mission that catered mainly to saving down-and-outs and drunks. Shoemaker taught inductees the concept of God being that of one's understanding.
Ebby Thacher, in keeping with the Oxford Teachings, needed to keep his own conversion experience real by carrying the Oxford message of salvation to others. Ebby had heard
that his old drinking buddy Bill Wilson was again drinking heavily. Thacher and Cornell visited Wilson at his home and introduced him to the Oxford Group's religious
conversion cure. Wilson, an agnostic, was "aghast" when Thacher told him he had "got religion". A few days later, in a drunken state, Wilson went to the Calvary Rescue
Mission in search of Ebby Thacher. It was there that he attended his first Oxford Group meeting and would later describe the experience:
"Penitents started marching forward to the rail. Unaccountably impelled, I started too... Soon, I knelt among the sweating, stinking penitents... Afterward,
Ebby... told me with relief that I had done all right and had given my life to God." The Call to the Altar did little to curb Wilson's drinking. A couple of days later,
he re-admitted himself to Charles B. Towns Hospital. Wilson had been admitted to Towns hospital three times earlier between 1933 and 1934. This would be his fourth and
Some historians believe that Wilson did not obtain his spiritual awakening by his attendance at the Oxford Group. He had his "hot flash" conversion at Towns Hospital. The hospital was set up and run by Charles B. Towns and his associate Dr. Alexander Lambert, who together had concocted up a drug cocktail for the treatment of alcoholism known as "the belladonna cure." The formula consisted of the two deliriants Atropa belladonna and Hyoscyamus niger, which were known to cause hallucinations. Wilson had his "hot flash" spiritual awakening while being treated with these drugs. He claimed to have seen a white light and when he told his attending physician, Dr. William Silkworth about his experience, he was advised not to discount it. When Wilson left the hospital he never drank again.
After his release from the Hospital, Wilson attended Oxford Group meetings and went on a mission to save other alcoholics. His prospects came through Towns Hospital and the Calvary Mission. Though he was not able to keep one alcoholic sober, he found that by engaging in the activity of trying to convert others he was able to keep himself sober. It was this realization, that he needed another alcoholic to work with, that brought him into contact with Dr. Bob Smith while on a business trip in Akron, Ohio. Earlier Wilson had been advised by Dr. Silkworth to change his approach and tell the alcoholics they suffered from a disease, one that could kill them, and afterward apply the Oxford Practices. The idea that alcoholism was a disease not a moral failing was different from the Oxford concept that drinking was a sin. This is what he brought to Bob Smith on their first meeting. Smith was the first alcoholic Wilson helped to sobriety. Dr. Bob and Bill W., as they were later called, went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous.
Wilson later acknowledged in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, page 39 "The early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgement of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Group and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from nowhere else."
In 1934 James Houck joined the Oxford Group and became sober on Dec. 12, alledgedly one day after Wilson did. AA was founded on June 10, 1935, the day Bill W and Dr. Bob met for the first time. Houck was the last surviving person to have attended Oxford Group meetings with Wilson, who died in 1971. In September 2004, at the age of 98, Houck was still active in the group, now renamed Moral Re-armament, and it was his mission to restore the Oxford Group's spiritual methods through the Back to Basics program, a twelve step program similar to AA. Houck believed the old Oxford spiritual methods were stronger and more effective than the ones currently practiced in A.A. Houck was trying to introduce the program into the prison systems.
Houcks assessment of Wilson's time in the Oxford group: "He was never interested in the things we were interested in; he only wanted to talk about alcoholism; he was not interested in giving up smoking; he was a ladies man and would brag of his sexual exploits with other members". In Houck's opinion he remained an agnostic.
According to Dr. Bob Smith, "We [A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob, at the time they first met in Akron on Mother's Day, May 12, 1935] had both been associated with the Oxford Group, Bill in New York, for five months, and I in Akron, for two and a half years. Bill had acquired their idea of service. I had not, but I had done an immense amount of reading they had recommended. I had refreshed my memory of the Good Book, and I had had excellent training in that as a youngster."
And from Bill Wilson,
"There came next to the lectern a figure that not many A.A.'s had seen before, the Episcopal clergyman Sam Shoemaker. It was from him that Dr. Bob and I in the beginning had absorbed most of the principles that were afterward embodied in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The important thing is this: the early A.A. got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Groups and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from nowhere else."
sources for the above include: Dickb.com, Wikipedia, silkworth.net, and more