King School Group – Akron, OH
After Bill and Dr. Bob met in Akron, Bill remained on and they began to carry their message of recovery to others. As their numbers slowly grew, they met together, usually as families. Bill wrote Lois, “Scarcely an evening passed that someone’s home did not shelter a little gathering of men and women, happy in their release and constantly thinking how they might present their discovery to some newcomer. In addition to these casual get togethers, it became customary to set apart one night a week for a meeting to be attended by anyone or everyone interested in a spiritual way of life.” This was the Wednesday night meeting of the Oxford Group at T. Henry and Clarace Williams’.
“The alcoholic squad,” as some called it in later years, continued to meet at the Williams’ for about four years, but there was a growing sense of separateness between the alcoholics and the other local Oxford Groupers. In late 1939, the alcoholics broke away. They met at Dr. Bob’s house for a few weeks but needed more room, so in January 1940, they began meeting at King School.
Here are some excerpts from the book Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers about Akron A.A.’s break with the Oxford Group and the start of the first AA meeting in Akron at King School:
At the time of AA’s break from the Oxford Group, “very little was set down in writing. Nor did Dr. Bob ever say much about the matter—remembering to “guard that erring member, the tongue.” No one interviewed could recall any direct comments he ever made, except to the effect that it became too crowded at T. Henry’s.
As we have seen, the split had been a long time coming, and when it did occur, no one was quite sure about the exact circumstances. When Bill paid his visit to the area in mid-November(1939), it was primarily to help Doc, although there is no record of what they talked about. Today, some members from Akron say Bill advised Doc to make the break. Others say he advised Bob to stay with the Oxford Group.”
About that time, Doc went to New York to see Bill, who, in a letter dated December 1939, said: “Thanks for your visit and also for your suits. I don’t know what I’d have done without them.” And not a word of what they had talked about! (They could hardly have foreseen the establishment of A.A. archives.)
It was probably following this visit that Dr. Bob went to talk with T. Henry Williams, who told Bill about the conversation in a letter two months later. Noting that “the boys were all over 21,” T. Henry told Bill: “I have nothing to hold them here. Bob came over and insisted that the boys were not satisfied and felt we were unfriendly and insisted they meet elsewhere. He also insisted that I make a statement telling them they were free to leave. Do you think we would turn them out, after what it has meant to us? Our door is open, and we love every one of the boys, and they will always be welcome.”
“John and Elgie R. remembered when the decision was made. “There was a meeting that night,” said John, who always managed to get in a good word for every person he mentioned. “Boy, I never heard two men talk like they did [Dr. Bob and T. Henry], They passed confidence and praise to each other. And they both deserved it. “It was a hard time for the group,” John said. “There were a lot of us who liked T. Henry. And we didn’t know whether to leave or not.”
“At the last meeting, they voted,” said Elgie. “The ones who were going to stay with T. Henry—okay. And the ones who were going with Doc—okay. That’s the way they said goodbye. But they had argued over it all for a month or more.” Among those who stayed were Lloyd T., who had been Clarence’s sponsor, and Bill J. Others, including Rollie H., the baseball player, stayed for a time and changed their minds later.”
“Doc said, ‘We don’t have a place to meet—we’ll meet at my house,’ ” Elgie recalled. “It was in November or December, because I remember the Christmas tree in their living room.”
“There is no record of what happened at the first meeting, except for a Grapevine account years later noting that it was led by Dr. Bob, who “put his foot on the rung of a dining-room chair, identified himself as an alcoholic, and began reading the Sermon on the Mount.”
“On the second day of the New Year, 1940, Dr. Bob wrote Bill: “Have definitely shaken off the shackles of the Oxford Group” (a choice of words that indicates his attitude then) “and are meeting at my house for the time being. Had 74 Wednesday in my little house, but shall get a hall soon.”
“Clarence S. wrote three days later: “Have attended two of Doc Smith’s meetings since he has been holding them in his home, and they have been very well attended and very inspirational. Doc led our meeting, and never have I heard him in such fine fettle. Noticed a vast improvement since he pulled his gang out of the Williamses’. Now speaks with authority and no pussyfooting, and I believe he looks ten years younger.”
“I’m not sure, but I think we had two meetings there,” said John R. “You should have seen Doc’s house! His little living room wasn’t much bigger than this little house we live in. We were crowded up pretty good there.”
“The Smiths’ house was indeed too small to handle that many people, it developed. After a few meetings, Wally G. checked King School, where his daughter went. From then on, it was every Wednesday night for the King School Group, which, however you figure it, traces its beginnings from the first meeting of Bill and Dr. Bob, four and a half years before.”
“As the Akron group began gathering at King School in 1940, a definite style evolved, which set the pattern for meetings in the area. Oldtimers remember early meetings as being pretty much the way they are now, with a few exceptions. There was no chairperson or secretary to introduce the speaker. Through the mid-1940’s, it was felt that grand titles and flowery introductions might go to an alcoholic’s head. When the time came, the speaker would go up front, wait for quiet, and introduce himself. He opened with a prayer of his own choosing, then gave a five-minute “lead.” Usually, it would be on a specific subject—a passage from The Upper Room or a verse from the Bible. Then he asked other members to make short comments.”
“Alex M. (who had joined the group in 1939) recalled that they started to take up regular collections to meet rent and custodial expenses at King School. Before that, it hadn’t been necessary. “There were no dollars,” he said. “Two bits would have been pretty high for most of us.” Passing the hat to meet expenses eventually led to the custom known as the secretary’s break, at which the speaker was thanked and announcements were made. In other Akron groups today, the secretary reads a long list of announcements about meetings, anniversaries, and speakers in the vicinity. King School is one of the few groups where this is not done.”
“There was no levity in the beginning,” said Bob E. “We all had our sense of humor, but for us, recovery was a life-or-death matter. Nor was there any clapping. At that kind of meeting, applause would have seemed out of place.”
“Dr. Bob’s character undoubtedly had a strong influence in shaping local meetings. As Akron’s Bob E. saw it, one of the big differences between Akron and New York, and Akron and Cleveland as well, was that “we did not tell our drinking histories at the meetings back then. We did not need to. A man’s sponsor and Dr. Bob knew the details. Frankly, we did not think it was anybody’s business. Besides, we already knew how to drink. What we wanted to learn was how to get sober and stay sober.”
“Bill was in favor of having an A.A. member qualify or tell how he became an alcoholic,” Bob E. said. “And this idea did attract people and enabled the movement to grow.
“When the qualifying business began, it took some getting used to on our part,” Bob E. said. “I remember one time when we were meeting at King School. Some people came in from Cleveland. They clapped and made a lot of noise. To us, it seemed strange and offensive. Gradually, we opened up under Bill’s persuasive influence, but we still did not care for it when people would get carried away by their own voices and make their stories too sensational.”
“Almost everyone remembered that Dr. Bob and Anne had “regular” seats—pretty well back on the side, with Anne on the outside near the aisle. “I could go in the door, and I knew where Bill V____ H____ was sitting, where Wally G___ and Ethel M___ and Dr. Bob would sit,” said one oldtimer. (Ethel and Rollo M., both alcoholics, joined A.A. in 1941.)”
Listen to Ethel M. share about the King School Meeting:
“They all had their own places. Nobody would think of sitting in their seats.”
Speakers were not always chosen in advance, according to Norman Y. He recalled Dr. Bob’s telling one fellow, “George, it’s your turn this week.”
“But I didn’t prepare anything,” the man replied.
“You didn’t prepare to get drunk, either,” Dr. Bob said. “Get up and talk.”
“Most oldtimers agreed that Dr. Bob usually made some comment at every meeting—and this was because the leader asked him to, not because he volunteered. “It was short, but to the point,” said one. John R. said that he had heard Dr. Bob’s last talk at Cleveland and there wasn’t a thing in it John hadn’t heard him stress over and over again at the regular meeting of the King School Group.”
“The widow of an oldtimer remembered Dr. Bob standing up at the meeting with “the Good Book under his arm” and recalled that he used to say the answers were there if you looked for them, because people back in the Old Testament were just like the people of this century and had the same problems. And if he were here now, Dr. Bob might say the same thing about the early A.A.’s—that they were just like the members today and had the same problems.
Dr. Bob donated that Bible to the King School Group, where it still rests on the podium at each meeting. Inside is an inscription: “It is the hope of the King School Group—whose sobriety this is—that this Book may never cease to be a source of wisdom, gratitude, humility, and guidance, as when fulfilled in the life of the Master.” It is signed “Dr. Bob Smith.”
The King School group still meets today in Akron every Wednesday night. Currently on Zoom.
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The King School Group in Akron, Ohio
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