Posts Tagged ‘anonymous’

Quotes from the Journal Dr. Bob’s Wife Shared with Early AAs and Their Families

April 3, 2013

Quotations from the Original Journal kept by Anne R. Smith—“Mother of A.A.,” “A.A. Founder,” and Wife of Dr. Bob

Pioneer A.A.’s Most Ignored, Forgotten, yet Critically Important Resource

Dick B.
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved

I said, in the series on Anne Smith, it is virtually impossible today for AAs to see, enjoy, and utilize the original journal that Dr. Bob’s wife assembled and used from 1933 to 1939. We have set out many portions of it in our title Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939, 3rd ed. See Those quotes were used to illustrate how much of Anne’s language can still be found in A.A. itself.

Here we want to introduce you to some specific segments that illustrate the diversity, practicality, and love that can be found in the comments of this wonderful woman of early A.A.–a non-alcoholic, yet perhaps its most articulate teacher. For it was Bill Wilson himself who said that during his stay at the Smith home in the summer of 1935, it was Anne Smith and Henrietta Seiberling who gave him and Dr. Bob a much needed spiritual infusion.

“GENERAL PRINCIPLES [From page 2 as numbered by GSO]

1. A general experience of God is the first essential, the beginning. We can’t give away what we haven’t got. We must have a genuine contact with God in our present experience. Not an experience of the past, but an experience in the present – – – actually genuine.

When we have that, witnessing to it is natural, just as we wish to share a beautiful sunset. We must be in such close touch with God that the whole sharing is guided. The person with a genuine experience of God and with no technique will make fewer mistakes than one with lots of technique, and no sense of God. Under guidance, you are almost a spectator of what is happening. Your sharing is not strained, it is not tense.

We must clearly see and understand our own experience and carefully articulate it, so as to be ready to know what to say or use parts of it, when the need comes to share with others, in order to help them.

Act only on prayer and under guidance. Prayer is real, and prepares the way for people.

Share with people – don’t preach, don’t argue. Don’t talk up nor down to people. Talk to them, and share in terms of their own experiences, speak on their level.

Proceed with imagination and real faith – expect things to happen. If you EXPECT things to happen, they DO happen. This is based on FAITH IN GOD, not on our own strength. A negative attitude toward ourselves or others cuts off God’s power; it is evidence of lack of faith in His power. If you go into a situation admitting defeat, of course you lose.”

[Comment: Those who are familiar with A.A.’s Big Book will quickly recognize the large number of ideas in the foregoing half-page of quotes that correspond to language Bill Wilson used in A.A.’s basic text. Thus on pages 18-19 of the Third Edition of A.A.’s Big Book, Bill talks about presenting no “Holier Than Thou” attitude, nor lectures, but rather a sharing of experience. Bill even refers to a Bible expression in saying, “many take up their beds and walk again” See John 5:8: “Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.”). See also, the Big Book’s comments about being “beyond human aid” (p. 24). About “the loving and powerful hand of God” (p. 18). About contact with “that Power, which is God” (p. 46). About “consciousness of the Presence of God” (pp. 51, 63). About “All men of faith have courage. They trust their God. We never apologize for God” (p. 68). About “we ask God what we should do about each specific matter” (p. 69) About “God can remove whatever self-will has blocked you off from Him.” And there are many more examples.]

“THE FIVE C’S” (From page 4, as numbered by GSO) . . . .

Try to bring a person to a decision to “surrender as much of himself as he knows to as

much of God as he knows. Stay with him until he makes a decision and says it aloud.


This is the turning to God, the decision, the surrender.”

“WHAT SURRENDER MEANS” (From page 42, as numbered by GSO)

Surrender is a complete handing over of our wills to God, a reckless abandon of ourselves, all that we have, all that we think, that we are, everything we held dear, to God to do what he likes with. . .”

[Comment: Again, just look at the Big Book Third Edition: “We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon” (p. 59). “3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” (p. 59)]

“(a) What are the conditions of receiving God’s guidance?” (From page 38, as numbered by GSO)

We must be in such relationship with God that He can guide us; He will not force Himself on us. The Sons of God are those who are guided by the Spirit of God. If we are wholly surrendered we can absolutely count on guidance. Constant renewal of consecration is necessary. Surrender is not an attitude attained; it is an attitude maintained. The major condition is being absolutely willing and looking for God’s direction in all things. We cannot receive guidance if we hold back an area, an habit, a plan. We must be alert to His direction in Everything; little things, as well as big ones such as career and marriage”

[Comment: Anne had her eye on passages in the Good Book that were familiar to our pioneer AAs. See 1 Corinthians 1:17-24; 2:9-16; 3:11, 16; 12:3-13; 2 Timothy 1:14; James 1:5-8; 1 John 2:27, 4:1-6, 13; 5:1-5].

“8. LET ALL YOUR READING BE GUIDED” (From page 16, as numbered by GSO)

What does God want me to read? A newly surrendered person is like a convalescent after an operation. He needs a carefully balanced diet of nourishing and easily assimilated food. Reading is an essential part of the Christian’s diet. It is important that he read that which can be assimilated and will be nourishing. If you do not know what books to read see someone who is surrendered and who is mature in the Groups. Biographies, or stories of changed lives are very helpful for the young Christian. “Life Changers ” by Begbie; “Children of the Second Birth” Shoemaker; “New Lives for Old,” Reynolds; “For Sinners Only,” Russell; “Twice Born Men,” by Begbie, story of the Salvation Army in London Slums; “Twice Born Ministers,” Shoemaker; and others.

Books like, “He That Cometh,” Allen; “Conversion of the Church,” Shoemaker; all of E. Stanley Jones’ books are very good. Some have found Fosdick’s little books, “The Meaning of Prayer,” and “The Manhood of the Master” helpful. One should by all means read at least one book on the life of Christ a year for a while. More would be better. “The Life of Christ,” Stalker; “Jesus of Nazareth,” Barton; “The Jesus of History,” Glover; “The Man Christ Jesus,” Speer, are all good. See your ministers for others if you desire. But get those biographies of the Master which bring out his humanity. An understanding of the Cross and its meaning for life is absolutely essential. The best popular interpretation I know is, “If I be lifted Up,” by Shoemaker. It is a group of lenten sermons. Christ ought to be as real to us as our nearest and best friend.

Of course the Bible ought to be the main Source Book of all. No day ought to pass without reading in it. Read until some passage comes that “hits” you. Then pause and meditate over its meaning for your life. Begin reading the Bible with the Book of Acts and follow up with the Gospels and then the Epistles of Paul. Let “Revelation” alone for a while. The Psalms ought also be read and the Prophets.

[Comment: Early AAs read all these items. I found them in Dr. Bob’s library (See Dick B., Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed. I found them in Henrietta Seiberling’s reading (See Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous and The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7th ed.). I found them in Clarence Snyder’s library as shown to me by his wife Grace in Florida (See Dick B., That Amazing Grace and The Books Early AAs Read, supra). And I found many mentioned in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers and in early A.A. pamphlets and articles. Anne was the Bible student, the teacher, and the one who conducted the Morning Watch at the Smith home. It is therefore not surprising to see the language on page 87 of the Big Book, 3rd ed.: “There are many helpful books also. Suggestions about these may be obtained from one’s priest, minister, or rabbi. Be quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they offer.” And when I see communications from people that say “A.A. is not for Christians only” or Lois Wilson’s remark that “not all drunks are Christians,” or hear someone in a meeting talk about excluding all but Conference Approved books from meetings and discussions, I bemoan the lack of knowledge of our own history and of the Big Book itself that exists today. There is no index of forbidden books in Alcoholics Anonymous, and there never was one. Dr. Bob was an avowed Bible student, Christian, and member of Protestant churches. But he read, recommended, circulated, and studied the works of Roman Catholic writers, of Protestant writers, of Confucius, of “new thought” writers like Trine and Fox, and of the Bible itself. He went to Roman Catholic retreats, Bible and tooth brush in hand. And he seems never to have spoken ill of any religion or denomination–an example today’s AAs would do well to observe.]

“Barriers to a full surrender.” (From page 18, as numbered by GSO)

Is there anything I won’t give up?

Is there an apology I won’t make?

Is there any defeat in my whole life, I refuse to count as sin?

Any person I don’t like to meet?

Any restitution I won’t make?

Is there any guidance I have had but refused to follow?

Is there anything I won’t share? Let my surrender be wholesale.

Narrow vision, rigidity, a staleness in your relationship with Christ.

Telling a lie.

If you are sore in yourself, do you work it off on somebody else.

Intellectual doubts arise out of an attitude of mind.

You can’t ask forgiveness from someone you don’t believe in.

Ideas about self – holding on to my own judgment of things, people, common sense and reason.

“You can’t use a fine needle to do rough darning”– Are you willing to take any amount of trouble to win others that Christ has taken to win you?

Each confession a fresh humiliation breaks down another barrier. You can get to the place where you have nothing left to defend – that is release. You can go naked to God.

[Comment: There are dozens and dozens of similar phrases, guides, observations, challenges, and ideas in Anne’s 64 pages, plus those we still need to find. You can see many discussed in my title, Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939, 3rd ed. You will be surprised, as so many are each day, to see just how much of Anne’s thinking and teaching underlies our fellowship ideas. And do you see any mention of “higher power,” or of “acceptance,” or of “things happen for a reason,” or “there are no coincidences in A.A.” Whatever you think of such expressions, they should certainly balanced against an understanding of what some of us now “old school A.A.”

Let’s learn what we were and how successful we were before we start inventing new gods, nonsense gods, higher powers, new philosophies, and new interpretations of “reality.” The Big Book and the chatter in meetings, if not accompanied by our history, could be likened to a conversation with Thomas Jefferson without a knowledge of the Declaration of Independence.]

Our Great Opportunity Today

What a great and unusual day it could be in Twelve Step Fellowships if we actually saw a copy of Anne Smith’s Journal –mine or hers–on the literature table at a meeting.

What a great and unusual day if someone read just one page from the real, the original, the un-edited Anne Smith’s Journal at an A.A. meeting on the 4th week of every month.

What a great and unusual day if A. A. World Services started publishing the real history of early A.A. instead of the diverse opinions and conjecture by those who haven’t the resources, the understanding, or even a clue as to where we came from.

What an opportunity to change the failing “wisdom of the rooms,” the psychological treatment ideas, and the secularized “spirituality. And abandoned these in favor of the early “Program” of Akron Number One that Bill and Bob founded in 1935. Doing this by simply reading at a treatment program what that early program was, as exemplified by Anne’s Journal.

What a great and unusual day if speakers and International Conventions and other Conferences began talking about something other than their own experience, strength, and hope. These talks may be and often are humorous, inspiring, and attracting. But they seldom deal with the role that God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible played in A.A. and can play today. See

By contrast, you can read the Book of Acts, as Anne suggested, and see plenty of victorious experience, strength, and hope that was based on “effectual, fervent prayer” by righteous people who were children of God, part of the body of Christ, and shared belief in, and reliance upon, the power of God. These First Century Christians shared this kind of experience: They lived together, prayed together, broke bread together, healed together, and witnessed. The lame walked. The dead were raised. The sick were healed. And that’s what early A.A. was really about. That is why so many characterized it as “First Century Christianity in action.”

Take a moment and look at the 12 times the word “Creator” is used in our Big Book today. If you also learn that the word “God” with a capital “G” is set forth–by description or specific language or explicit reference–over 400 times in today’s Big Book, you might be hesitant about questioning the literature that gave rise to the “Power” (the power of Almighty God, our Creator). The Almighty God—Creator, Maker, Heavenly Father, Father of Lights–Whose kindness, healing, and forgiveness put Alcoholics Anonymous on the map as a viable life-changing society that really had an answer to the alcohol and drug problem from which our founders suffered.

For further information, contact Dick B. at or 808 874 4876. And make a copy of Anne Smith’s Journal 1933-1939 an integral part of your knowledge of the principles and practices of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Gloria Deo


AA-Bill Wilson-Dr. Silkworth-the “Great Physician”

March 30, 2013

A.A., Dr. William D. Silkworth, and the “Great Physician”

By Dick B.
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved

[This article updates and substantially enhances the information and citations previously included in my article of several years ago. For now, we know a great deal more about Bill Wilson’s own writings, the talk of the Great Physician, and A.A.’s own early history.]

Researching A.A. history and personalities often reminded me of hunting game birds with my dad. First of all, you had to go to a place where the birds were likely to be hanging out. Second, you had to work at your task and be patient. Third, if you reached a fruitful spot, you needed to get those birds out of hiding and on the wing. Finally, you needed to take good aim, be a good shot, and plan to bag one provided all the factors had come together.

A.A. History: Hunting Down the Dr. William D. Silkworth Story

When and where I got sober in 1986, you could have taken a survey among the Marin County, California A.A. Fellowship members; and I’ll bet few of them knew much about “Silky”—the benign little doctor who loved drunks. They might have known he was credited with writing the “Doctor’s Opinion” which opened their Big Books. They might have gleaned from “Bill’s Story” (the first chapter in the Big Book) that Silkworth had treated Bill Wilson for alcoholism several times; that Bill’s hospital room had “blazed with indescribably white light” during his final visit to Towns Hospital in December 1934; and that, as a result of the profound “white light” experience in the hospital, Bill was never to drink again. And perhaps that Bill W. had told Dr. Silkworth as he entered Towns Hospital on December 11, 1934, that he (Bill) had “found something.” That “something” turned out to be the New York/Big Book solution for alcoholism—a “vital religious experience”—as it was originally called by Professor William James, Reverend Samuel Shoemaker, and Dr. Carl Jung (and even Bill himself in the earliest writings). This vital religious experience (as it was commonly called by those who knew the real origin of the idea) was the transforming religious experience later spoken of on page 25 of the fourth edition of the A.A. Big Book. Some likened it to the conversion experience of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus—something we will discuss here shortly. (See Bill W.’s own mention of Paul’s experience in Bill W., My First 40 Years, 152.)

Take it a little further. Some could and would read in the Big Book that Dr. Silkworth had felt that something more than moral psychology was needed to cure the drunk. And Silkworth often used the word “cure.” These readers would see that Dr. Silkworth was credited with saying a “psychic change” was required. And a few would read in “Pass It On” and other A.A. writings that Silkworth probably authored the “disease” theory within the fellowship—the theory that the alcoholic suffered from an obsession of the mind that condemned him to drink and an allergy of the body that condemned him to die or go insane once he began again.

But the A.A. history of the William D. Silkworth story has been presented in many places, in many ways, in diverse terms, and by many authors. In fact, there is an excellent website ( that assembles and offers many of the Silkworth subjects very well.

Recently, Hazelden published a biography of Silkworth: Dale Mitchel, Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2002). That book opened doors that had long been closed. They were opened by an assiduous researcher named Dale Mitchel, who had access to Silkworth’s papers and family’s recollections. There, the extensive exchange between Dr. Silkworth and Bill Wilson on the subject of Jesus Christ, the “Great Physician,” is well-documented on pages 44, 48, 49, 50, 51, and 225.

And it was that biography, and several of the snippets about the good doctor and Bill W., that brought to my memory the comments of A.A.’s good friend, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Peale’s story had to do with Dr. Silkworth, one of Silkworth’s patients (not Bill W.), and the Great Physician.

Now, until fairly recently and after I had published the Great Physician story in its relationship to A.A., the remaining facts were still like the game birds. They had virtually been hidden, un-discovered, and never flushed out or targeted for their important value. Some still need some hunting and flushing.

These pertain to Dr. Silkworth’s beliefs and comments about: (1) Jesus Christ, the Great Physician. (2) Discussions Silky had with Wilson about this subject. (3) Silkworth’s Christian and religious background as a devoted physician who knew Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and actually attended Calvary Episcopal Church in New York, where Reverend Samuel Shoemaker was Rector. (4) Silkworth’s actual views, thoughts, and evaluation of “conversion,” about a “higher power,” about a “psychic change,” and about “moral psychology.” (5) The significance to Silkworth and Bill Wilson of the phrase “Great Physician.” (6) The interrelationships of Silkworth, Bill Wilson, Rev. Sam Shoemaker, and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

Now let’s turn the bird dogs loose and see how much game is on the wing and how much is still in the reeds, the bushes, and the trees.

Dr. Silkworth, the “Great Physician,” and Bill Wilson

In the present-day secular/pluralistic climate in 12 Step Fellowships, I don’t see great value in doing anyone’s homework for him when it comes to phrases like the “Great Physician.” Nor in laying out a great quantity of details as to the roots of that phrase. But it is clear that Jesus Christ had long been referred to as “The Great Physician.” (See my documentation of the comments of Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Irenaeus, Boardman, Worcester and McComb, Weatherhead, Maillard, Willitts, McIntyre, and Osborn in Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W., 63-66. Also see Maria Woodworth-Etter, Signs and Wonders (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1997), 124, 132, 324, 370; Smith Wigglesworth, Smith Wigglesworth on Healing (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1999), 158; C.S. Lovett, Jesus Wants You Well! (Baldwin Park, CA: Personal Christianity, 1973), 27, 123; John G. Lake on Healing, comp. by Roberts Liardon (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2009), 25; F.F. Bosworth, Christ the Healer (NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1973), 23, 77-78, 84.

Nor do I see any profit in this particular article in debating or trying to “prove” the many things set forth here but virtually unknown about Dr. Silkworth, his Christian beliefs, the Great Physician, or Jesus Christ. The reader can review the statements, turn to the citations, and then add these items to the many subjects on Alcoholics Anonymous history that still deserve further research and publishing. But I will mention two or three good starting points for those who are on the hunt. And in this article, primarily, I will focus on some statements made by others who researched or knew Silkworth, or who have looked into this subject extensively. And these include many who have studied the Bible, Jesus Christ, healing, and the subjects in which Silkworth was thoroughly versed.

First, let’s look at some things that Silkworth’s recent biographer Dale Mitchel found and wrote in his biography, Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2002). Mitchel wrote:

Silkworth’s family remembers him as a deeply spiritual man, yet unsatisfied with any particular denomination. A devout Christian, he initially fit well into the temperance mind-set developing across the country. For years he attended a church that would also have an impact on the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous, the Calvary Christian (Episcopal) Church. [pp. 11-12].

Though Mitchel doesn’t specifically say so, this Calvary Episcopal Church was born on September 19, 1836. It was commonly called Calvary Church in the City of New York in which Church, Congregation or Society, Divine Service is celebrated according to the Protestant Episcopal Church of the State of New York. [See Samuel M. Shoemaker. Calvary Church Yesterday and Today (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1936), 15-16.] And it was in 1925 that Samuel Moor Shoemaker, Jr., accepted the call to become the 12th Rector of Calvary Church. (See Shoemaker, Calvary Church, 231-45.)

Incidentally, on this subject of Silkworth’s attendance at Sam Shoemaker’s church, we could certainly use a lot more research and information on Silkworth’s Christian upbringing, denominational background, and other churches, if any, attended (just the type of research we did on Dr. Bob’s). Also, on the years of Silkworth’s being a communicant at Calvary. Also on the nature and extent of his interest, attendance, and activities there. And more on his personal papers and his family’s observations—those that led them to say that he was “a devout Christian.”

We would also like to have much more information on whether and how well Silkworth knew Rev. Sam Shoemaker, the Calvary Church Rector. Such information might tell us much about Silkworth’s actual discussions with Bill Wilson, his views on conversion, and his understanding of faith cures and divine healing. Also, if there were further exploration into Silkworth’s membership and activities in Norman Vincent Peale’s church in New York, this too could bring some important A.A. roots to light.

Now let’s return to an extremely interesting, though inadequately detailed, account that Dale Mitchel wrote about several discussions between Bill Wilson and Dr. Silkworth:

The Actual Conversations Silkworth Had with Bill Wilson on Jesus Christ

During his third visit to Towns Hospital in September 1934, Bill had a discussion with Dr. Silkworth on the subject of the “Great Physician.” Many theorists mistakenly believe this discussion occurred on his last and successful visit. In fact, Bill Wilson himself wrote that he had thought about this earlier discussion before he decided to check himself into Towns for the last time, at the urging of his wife and his brother-in-law (Mitchel, Silkworth, 44).

The stated A.A. publications position on Bill’s experiences at Towns Hospital includes little mention of the amount of time he had already spent with Dr. Silkworth during Bill’s final hospitalization. And particularly with Silkworth during his prior third visit to Towns in September 1934. But Silkworth’s biographer tells us that long before he had experienced his “enlightenment,” Bill Wilson had grown to trust the compassion offered by Dr. Silkworth. They would spend hours talking in Dr. Silkworth’s little office. (Mitchel, Silkworth, 44-45).

In his autobiography, Bill wrote of the darkness that had descended upon him before his hospitalization for the last time, and said:

But what of the Great Physician? For a brief moment, I suppose, the last trace of my obstinacy was crushed out as the abyss yawned. [See Bill W.: My First 40 Years (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000), p. 145.] Later, according to Mitchel, Bill Wilson wrote in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A., “Alcoholism took longer to kill, but the result was the same. Yes, if there was any Great Physician that could cure the alcohol sickness, I’d better find Him at once.” [Mitchel, Silkworth, 44.]

Furthermore, in his autobiography, Bill wrote that, just before he had his hot extraordinary white light experience at Towns Hospital, the following occurred:

I remember saying to myself, ‘I’ll do anything, anything at all. If there be a Great Physician, I’ll call on him.’ Then, with neither faith nor hope I cried out, ‘If there be a God, let him show himself.’ The effect was instant, electric. Suddenly my room blazed with an indescribably white light.” [Bill W., My First 40 Years, 145].

Mitchell fails to mention that, after Bill W.’s “Great Physician” discussion with Silkworth (during Bill’s third hospitalization), and before Bill’s finally checking in at Towns Hospital on December 11, 1934, Ebby T. had come to Bill’s home at 182 Clinton Street in New York City in late November 1934 to discuss his (Ebby’s) “surrender” at Calvary Rescue Mission on November 1, 1934, in which he (Ebby) had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Ebby told Bill that he (Ebby) had been to Calvary Rescue Mission (also operated by Shoemaker’s Calvary Church); that he there had “found religion;” and that God had done for him what he could not do for himself. Wilson himself made off for the Calvary rescue mission about December 7, 1934. He related that he wanted what Ebby had received there. And Bill then went to the altar at the mission; he knelt in prayer; and he gave his life to God, accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

I personally talked with Mrs. Samuel Shoemaker on the phone, and she told me she was there when Bill made that decision for Christ. Mrs. Shoemaker used those very words. Many years later, Lois Wilson herself stated, in a recorded address, that Bill had there sincerely handed his life to Christ. See Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W., 59-63, 88-115.

Bill then made an important statement. I cannot be sure that the statement referred to his decision at the Calvary Mission altar or to his blazing indescribably white light experience at Towns Hospital. But Bill stated in his autobiography that he (Bill Wilson) had concluded, “For sure I’d been born again” [See Bill W., My First 40 Years (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000), 147.] Bill also wrote this a second time. [See Dick B., Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes (San Rafael, CA: Paradise Research Publications, 1997), 94-98.] In addition, I personally found at Stepping Stones a letter that Bill had written in which he also stated that he [like Ebby] had “found religion.”

As to Bill Wilson’s transforming, “white light experience” at Towns Hospital, Mitchel wrote:

What is not known is on what day of this eleven-day stay at Towns Hospital the now famous “white light transformation” occurred. Most believe it occurred on the third day of his belladonna treatment and also after possible use of Phenobarbital. While lying in bed, suicidal, depressed, and hopeless, Wilson would accept anything to help him quit drinking. He had tried everything he knew. He had reached a bottom that he had never experienced. Just prior to his experience with “the veritable sea of living spirit” Wilson often later talked about, he chastised God and said to himself “I’ll do anything at all. If there be a Great Physician, I’ll call on him!” Again referring to his prior discussions with Silkworth. Then, according to Wilson, he cried out, “If there be a God, let him show himself.” . . . Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. . . . All about me and through me there was a wonderful feeling of Presence, and I thought to myself, ‘So this is the God of the preachers!’ A great peace stole over me and I thought, ‘No matter how wrong things seem to be, they are all right. Things are all right with God and His world.’” [Mitchel, Silkworth, 47].

The “Great Physician” for Bill Was Jesus Christ

In the days of Silkworth, Shoemaker, Bill Wilson, and Dr. Bob, there were a number of expressions which may not be familiar in usage within A.A. today. But in A.A.’s founding period, when someone spoke of the Good Book, that person meant the Holy Bible. Also, when someone spoke of the Great Physician, that person meant Jesus Christ.

Let’s look again at a few of the hundreds of writings about the Jesus, the “Great Physician,” that make this usage well-known:

William Boardman, The Great Physician (Jehovah Rophi). (Boston, MA: Willard Tract Repository, 1881).

Ethel B. Willitts, Healing in Jesus Name (Crawfordsville, IN: published by the author, 1931). This Willitts title was owned, studied, and circulated by Dr. Bob; and Ethel Willitts repeatedly referred to Jesus as the Great Physician. (See, for example, pp. 66, 104, 151, 209, cf. 95.)

Joe Mcintyre, E. W. Kenyon and His Message of Faith. (Orlando, FL: Creation House,
1997), 79.

T.L. Osborn, Healing the Sick (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, Inc., 1992). At pages 18, 55, Osborn referred to Jesus as “Christ the Healer” and the “High Priest of our confession.”

David Fedder, Back to God: The Great Physician (n.p.: n.p., Oct.10, 1999).

Dr. Silkworth’s Specific Referral of a Patient to the Great Physician

Author Mitchel made a correct statement about the Silkworth episode, but erroneously attributed to me a supposed statement about my (Dick B.’s) research:

According to AA historian Dick B., in a conversation with Peale [Dr. Norman Vincent Peale] shortly before his death, Peale discussed the following account of a hopeless alcoholic named Charles. After Silkworth told Charles that his treatment was over and that, as a doctor, he had done everything he could, Silkworth told him there was an area in his brain about which he still held a reservation and that could be the cause of his return to drinking after he left the hospital. [Mitchel, Silkworth, 50].

[Then, at pages 50-51, Mitchel quotes a supposed conversation I—Dick B.—had with Peale. But no such conversation ever took place.]

I did, however, have an hour interview with Dr. Peale at Pawling, New York. It took place not long before his death. We prayed together, and I also communicated with him before and after by mail.

The interview itself did concern two subjects:

(1) Whether Peale knew who Wilson was speaking of when Wilson used the phrase “higher power;” and Peale replied that he had never met anyone, including Wilson, who thought the “higher power” was any god other than Almighty God. Dr. Peale told me he had written that in his book The Power of Positive Thinking; and sure enough, you can find a lengthy discussion of Almighty God as the “Higher Power” in that book.

(2) What Peale knew about Wilson’s “spiritual experience.” Peale replied that Wilson had told him of two different experiences, both similar in form and content. Later, I discovered that Wilson’s paternal grandfather, William C. (“Willy”) Wilson, had had such an experience in East Dorset, Vermont, and described it in terms almost identical to those used by Wilson of Wilson’s own Towns Hospital blazing “indescribably white light” experience.

On the other hand, my interview with Peale never involved the topic of the “Great Physician.”

What did occur in the course of my own historical research is that my attention was called to Peale by a person attending a conference at which I was a speaker. The person showed me Peale’s The Positive Power of Jesus Christ. And in that book is Peale’s own written account (set forth below in a moment)—an account which I have since often quoted—but not in company with any claim that Peale and I ever discussed it.

Mitchel went on to make the following important comments about Silkworth, Peale, Shoemaker, Ebby, Rowland, Jung, James, and Wilson:

Over time, Silkworth and Norman Vincent Peale became very good friends. Dr. Silkworth and his wife once held their church membership at Marble Collegiate Church in New York where Peale was the lead pastor. Much later, during the Alcoholics Anonymous continued discussion on the validity of the Carl Jung theories on spiritual conversion, Peale held his stance in support of Dr. Carl Jung’s belief that far too many men turn to physicians rather than to the minister for spiritual healing. Silkworth furthered this declaration in his own early writings, presented later in this book. A student of Sigmund Freud, Jung was instrumental in convincing Rowland H., Ebby’s Oxford Group friend, and later Bill Wilson of the importance of ego. An avid reader, Silkworth followed the principles of Jung and William James as they pertained to deflation of depth and the usual requirement of reaching a “bottom” to enable the alcoholic to first feel the despair of crisis, then accept the possibility of a Supreme Being as the answer. Silkworth referred to Jung in his speeches and saved a private letter from him. It was Carl Jung who impressed upon AA through his conversations with Rowland and Bill there existed an opportunity of a spiritual (“religious”) conversion as a last chance from chronic alcoholics. [Mitchel, Silkworth, 51].

Whether or not Mitchel is correct in his assumptions about Dr. Silkworth’s alleged agreement with the principle of “deflation of depth,” Mitchel’s point about Silkworth’s interest in a religious conversion of the type to which Carl Jung referred is particularly interesting when you compare it to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s account of Dr. Silkworth and his patient Charles K., a businessman in Virginia, who had become a full-fledged alcoholic; so much so that Charles had to have help, and fast, for his life was cracking up. Peale then relates the following:

He [Charles K., the alcoholic] made an appointment with the late Dr. William Duncan Silkworth, one of the nation’s greatest experts on alcoholism, who worked in a New York City hospital. Receiving Charles into his clinic as a patient, the doctor gave him treatment for some days, than called him into his office. “Charles,” he said, “I have done everything that I can do for you. At this moment you are free of your trouble. But there is an area in your brain where you may hold a reservation and that could, in all likelihood, cause you to return to your drinking. I wish that I might reach this place in your consciousness, but alas, I do not have the skill.” “But, doctor,” exclaimed Charles, “you are the most skilled physician in this field. When I came to you it was to the greatest. If you cannot heal me, then who can possibly do so?” The doctor hesitated, then said thoughtfully, “There is another Doctor who can complete this healing, but he is very expensive.”

“That’s all right,” cried Charles. “I can get the money. I can pay his fees. I cannot go back home until I am healed. Who is this doctor and where is he?”

“Oh, but this Physician is not at all moderate as to expense,” persisted Dr. Silkworth. “He wants everything you’ve got. He wants you, all of you. Then He gives the healing. His price is your entire self.” Then he added slowly and impressively, “His name is Jesus Christ and He keeps office in the New Testament and is available whenever you need Him.”

“I need Him now,” said Charles softly, “right now, I need Him, and I will give Him myself.”

“Great,” remarked the doctor. “You will find healing and you will never need to come back to me as a patient, only as a friend. God Bless you, and,” he concluded, “He will do just that.” [Peale then tells how Charles came to Peale’s church and found the doors locked. But, said Peale, Charles seemed to feel a Presence, a strong Presence in which was wondrous power and love. Peale then continues:]

Reaching for his wallet, [Charles] drew out his business card. Taking out his pen, he wrote on the reverse side of the card, “Dear Dr. Jesus, this is Your unworthy servant Charles. Dr. Silkworth says that only You can completely heal me. I hereby now and with all my heart give myself to You. Please touch me in my brain and in my heart with your healing grace. I love You, dear Jesus.” He signed it “Charles” and dropped the card in the mail slot.

HEALING COMES. Charles stood quite still, unconscious of either rain or snow. Suddenly he sensed light and a pervasive warmth spread throughout his entire being, beginning at the head and running down to his feet. It was as if a great big hand touched his head in loving-kindness. He had the same feeling that a person has when after a long illness comes a sense of well-being. He knew for sure that he had been healed. There was no doubt of it at all. He felt clean with a cleanness never before experienced, and with it an awareness of newness. He had been reborn. He was a new man in Christ. Old things long held in his nature were passed away. We became acquainted through his card dropped in the church mail slot, and I met him later while on a speaking engagement in Virginia. . . . Charles never returned to his old life. He had many problems subsequently, but the power held firm. It never weakened. His healing, which came so dramatically, was permanent. He paid the full price, as the doctor had said he must. He gave himself, all of himself, with nothing held back; and he received the power, the full power, with none of it held back. [See Norman Vincent Peale, The Positive Power of Jesus Christ: Life-changing Adventures in Faith (Carmel, NY: Guideposts, 1980), 60- 62.]

Remaining Facts about Dr. Silkworth That Need to Be Hunted Down

Mitchel’s biography leaves us with the following questions about Silkworth:

First, using his own subjective terminology (“Higher Power”), Mitchel says of Silkworth:

He believed quite early that a sound personal relationship with a Higher Power was paramount to the spiritual healing that went hand in hand with the physical healing of the addict and alcoholic. Many of the letters he had received from patients mention Silkworth’s description of a spiritual journey; the patients also thank him for introducing them to a spiritually based lifestyle.” [Mitchel, Silkworth, 34.]

Unfortunately, Mitchel reveals his bias and revisionist thinking about God—to Whom he ascribes the title “Higher Power.” The questions he leaves unanswered are whether Silkworth talked to these “many” patients—as he did to Charles K.—about the Great Physician, and thus about Jesus Christ. This information would be very important. For Wilson had pointed out that “Silkworth was deeply involved ‘in the midst of them,’ not just at Towns Hospital but with AA as a whole.”

Bill also said Silkworth was “very much a founder of AA.” Finally, that “Dr. Silkworth ‘twelfth-stepped’ 40,000 alcoholics.” (Mitchel, Silkworth, 107, 109.)

The “Acknowledgments” portion of Mitchel’s book (clearly not written by Silkworth) mentions a bevy of folks interested in A.A. history [White, Kurtz, Pittman, Whaley, O’Neill, La Croix]. However, it is astonishing that none of these folks has made any mark in researching and publishing about Silkworth’s Christian background and his advice to Bill and others on the importance of a relationship with Jesus Christ. (Mitchel, Silkworth, xxiii-iv.).

Furthermore, Hazelden no longer publishes this Mitchel book. And we are left with the usual “higher power,” “spirituality,” and “not-god-ness” that has substantially obscured the Creator, His Son Jesus Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Bible in many contemporary A.A. history writings.

Personally, I have been much rewarded by the material that Dale Mitchel did hunt down and reproduce—however out of step it may be with the secular and universalization ideas which have left treatment programs, twelve step fellowships, and the public in general without a founding influence that focused on what the Great Physician could do, did do, and is reported to have done.

Second, when Silkworth and Wilson had their discussions about the “Great Physician” at Towns Hospital, was Jesus Christ (the actual name “Jesus Christ”) also specifically mentioned to Bill and then to Dr. Silkworth by Bill himself? Moreover, did Wilson ever discuss with Silkworth Bill’s own altar call and decision for Jesus Christ at Calvary Rescue Mission?

That altar call with Bill’s declared “born again” comment has all but disappeared from current history accounts—including the Silkworth advice to Bill about Jesus. So too, Ebby Thacher’s rebirth details that were recounted to Bill about Ebby’s surrender to Christ at Calvary Mission. There is therefore a gaping hole left in A.A. history writings detailing the exact picture as to how much the Akron Number One group’s principles and practices were really oriented to First Century Christianity ideas. [My son Ken and I have begun to address this gaping hole in our recent publications. See, for example: Dick B. and Ken B., Stick with the Winners!; and Dick B. and Ken B., Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous: God’s Role in Recovery Confirmed!

Third, Mitchel swiftly covers and then dodges the heated arguments which involved John Henry Fitzhugh M.’s (“Fitz’s”) insistence on the Big Book’s being a Christian book. Similarly, Mitchel fails to take into account the “Pass It On” statement that 400 manuscript pages were tossed out before publication, and that the secretary (Ruth Hock) specifically told Hazelden’s Director of Historical Information Bill Pittman that these discarded pages contained Christian and Bible materials.

Mitchel himself wrote:

In the formation of AA Wilson initially insisted on references to God and Jesus as well as the Great Physician. As the fellowship grew, however, other members persuaded Bill that a purely Christian format would alienate many, keeping potential members away from joining the group. Silkworth challenged the alcoholic with an ultimatum. Once hopeless, the alcoholic would grasp hold of any chance of sobriety. Silkworth, a medical doctor, challenged the alcoholic with a spiritual conversion and a relationship with God as part of a program of recovery. His approach with Bill Wilson was no different. Mitchel, Silkworth, 50.

As he sometimes did, Mitchel makes this statement without citing references to authenticate his assertion. But his statement leaves a strong suggestion that the original, and now missing, manuscript pages of the Big Book specifically referred to God, to His Son Jesus Christ, and to the Great Physician. And wouldn’t you like to know Mitchel’s authority for that claim! I would, and I’ve been hunting for that bird for many years.

As a matter of fact, after Dr. Bob was dead, and 20 years after the founding of A.A., Bill himself did make this important disclosure:

Alcoholism, not cancer, was my illness, but what was the difference? Alcoholism took longer to do its killing, but the result was the same. So if there was a great Physician who could cure the alcoholic sickness, I had better seek Him now, at once. I had better find what my friend [Ebby Thacher] had found. [Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 61].

This “great Physician” story by Bill in the A.A. General Service Conference-approved Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age item seems to have been left on the shelf in A.A.’s “basic text,” the Big Book. Moreover, Bill’s phrase did not capitalize the word “great.” Yet note how Bill’s statement about the “Great Physician” Jesus Christ squares with the statements in Bill’s autobiography—statements by Bill not actually published until the next century. (See Bill W., My First 40 Years.).

In his autobiography, Bill mentions the “great physician that could cure the alcohol sickness.” (Bill W., My First 40 Years, 139). And Bill then capitalizes the phrase “Great Physician” which is used twice on page 145 in his autobiography. Next, Bill also makes the following statement about his vital religious experience: “Then the transforming experience would set in—sometimes like a thundercloud, as with St. Paul on the road to Damascus.” (Bill W., My First 40 Years, 145).

And compare the following repeated accounts in the Book of Acts—which was recommended biblical reading by Dr. Bob’s wife Anne in her personal journal (

And as he [Saul—later changed to Paul] journeyed, he came near Damascus; and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me. And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. [Acts 9:3-6 KJV].

. . . I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem for to be punished. And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light about me. And I fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me/? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all the things which are appointed for thee so to do. And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus. [Acts 22:5-11 KJV]

At midday, O King, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutes thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet; for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose: to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee. Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee. To open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision. But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. [Acts 26:13-20 KV]

Fourth, it would appear that Searcy Whaley (now deceased) disclosed a number of facts to author Mitchel and that these could have been useful in my hunt for the truth. Mitchel contends that Searcy informed him that, during the initial manuscript work for the Big Book, Bill confided regularly with Dr. Silkworth on the wording and on the Steps. Without citations, Mitchel then says that “When the first members of AA were discussing the many possible names for their new book, Silkworth and Dr. Bob first supported the name “The James Club,” based upon the principles of the book of James in the Bible.” Mitchel adds, “During the writing of the Big Book, there were often heated discussions about using more Christian-specific language rather than the term Higher Power.” (See Mitchel, Silkworth, 64-65.) I believe from most of my research that Mitchel may have been correct, but I’d certainly like to see his authority for the assertions. (Compare my title, The James Club and The Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials

Fifth, Mitchel presents us with another flock of un-flushed game birds when he speaks of Dr. Bob’s introducing Silkworth to the term “treatment” rather than “cure.” Mitchel claims that Sister Ignatia had persuaded Dr. Bob that an alcoholic was never cured and insisted that the word “cure” should be entirely removed from the recovery text. (Mitchel, Silkworth, p. 71.) Once again, Mitchel fails to authenticate his assertion. My own research demonstrates quite clearly that Dr. Bob, Bill W., AA Number Three Bill D., Clarence S., and almost every other early A.A. made it clear that they had a “cure” for alcoholism and had themselves been “cured.” AA Number Three, in his personal story in the Big Book, quotes A.A. cofounder Bill W. himself as follows:

“Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191—bolding added]

A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob made the following statement about Bill W. in his (Dr. Bob’s) personal story in the Big Book:

But this was a man who had experienced many years of frightful drinking, who had had most all of the drunkard’s experiences known to man, but who had been cured by the very means I had been trying to employ, that is to say, the spiritual approach. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 180—bolding added]

AA Number Three Bill D. also stated in personal story in the Big Book:

That sentence, “The Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep telling people about it,” has been a sort of a golden text for the A.A. program and for me. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191—bolding added]

I don’t doubt that Bill W. changed that tune later on. But I’d sure like to see the evidence allegedly that indicates that Dr. Bob or Dr. Silkworth or Sister Ignatia persuaded him to change it. Mitchel leaves us in the dark on that one. Similarly, it would be nice to see the evidence on how the language “We are not cured of alcoholism” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 85), which apparently came from Richard Peabody in his book, The Common Sense of Drinking (Little Brown, 1937), showed up in the Big Book. [For a discussion of some of these matters, see Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why (]

Sixth, Mitchel deals with some writings which he believes justify this statement:

Although Silkworth’s conversion beliefs are left for secondary conversations between the two main characters, conversion indeed occurs in every case of recovery presented. In accordance with the Silkworth legacy, it is obvious the book lays the ground for a firm base of medical understanding.” (Mitchell, Silkworth, p. 96).

And this statement, plus others made by Mitchel, makes me wonder just how many of the people that Mitchel quotes or alludes to really have any understanding of the word “conversion” or of Dr. Carl Jung’s use of the word “conversion,” or of Reverend Sam Shoemaker’s use of the word “conversion,” or of Wilson’s use of the word “conversion,” or of Silkworth’s understanding of conversion. Most originally spoke of a “vital religious experience.” For any of these personalities, did “conversion” in fact mean the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, a documented requirement as part of the “full surrenders” required in early Akron A.A.? [See Dick B., The Golden Text of A.A. (]

Finally, there are countless other rustles among the bushes that leave you wondering how much more Mitchel knew about Silkworth, how much more he didn’t know, and how much more he’d like to know. Thus on page 100, Mitchel says: “One of the most ardent supporters of conversion was William Silkworth.” On page 106, he says that, directed by Silkworth’s friend Fulton Oursler, Reader’s Digest also wrote of Silkworth a few months after his death: “Dr. Silkworth was a great man who failed with all human science and was humble enough to use God for a medicine.” Notice that Mitchel spoke not of some illusory higher power. He spoke of God! On page 122, Mitchel quotes the Canadian AA Grapevine, which spoke of the “almost invisible skill with which he accomplished his daily miracles of medical and spiritual healing.”

There are other interesting and challenging questions raised in Mitchel’s book; and it has certainly shown me once again just how much of our important A.A. history concerning Almighty God, His Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Bible, conversion, cure, and spiritual healing still remains to be discovered. And/or correlated with or discarded from other historical accounts.

For lots of additional material on Silkworth, see the excellent Silkworth site:

Gloria Deo