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"Excerpt From Introductory Chapter of Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous"


Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous


Dick B.

©2007 by Anonymous All rights reserved



(The Challenge and Direction of the Dr. Bob Resource Volumes)




Our Focus: The Creator’s Role in Dr. Bob’s Life and Early A.A.


The many resource volumes contain a large body of information, materials, and records relating to the historical roots of Alcoholics Anonymous. They cover a wide variety of subjects directly and indirectly connected with, or related to, the years that Robert Holbrook Smith (A.A.’s Dr. Bob) spent from his birth at home in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in 1879, to his graduation from St. Johnsbury Academy in 1898. They are also intended to show a visitor to St. Johnsbury the excitement that lies in wait for those who want to know what Dr. Bob learned about there, where he learned it, and from what people, institutions, and agencies he learned the many principles and practices he brought with him and inculcated in the original, pioneer A.A. group and program starting in 1935.


The Facts All Center on Comments of, by, and about Dr. Bob


Though it may appear otherwise, the resource volumes deal primarily with two correlated bodies of facts: facts about the language Dr. Bob used when speaking about the Akron recovery program he developed with Bill Wilson in the summer of 1935; and facts about the principles, practices, and beliefs he acquired as a youngster in St. Johnsbury between 1879 and 1898.


The Language Dr. Bob Used


The first group of facts has to do with the easily-understood language Dr. Bob used when describing, explaining, and instructing on the program of the early A.A. Christian Fellowship of pioneer AAs in Akron, Ohio. He told Akron AAs about the Creator and called Him his Heavenly Father. He told them about the Bible and called it the Good Book. He led them in prayer and “old fashioned prayer meetings.” He read, recommended, and circulated to pioneer AAs and their families’ books about God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, prayer, Quiet Time, and healing. He and his wife Anne led them in Quiet Times. Both Bob and his wife individually studied the Bible, devotionals, and Christian literature. Bob led the pioneers in “surrenders” where they were required to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. He called their gatherings Christian Fellowship meetings. He summarized his views on later A.A. developments by stating that the basic ideas came from the Bible and that the Steps, when simmered to their essence, amounted to “love and service”—the watchwords he had learned as a youngster in Christian Endeavor.


Dr. Bob’s “Excellent Training . . . As a Youngster” and

Likely St. Johnsbury Influences on the Early Akron A.A. Program


This second group of facts concerns the influences that could have produced, very probably did produce, the language Dr. Bob used in discussing the Akron A.A. spiritual program of recovery: Facts pertaining to the Town of St. Johnsbury itself; to Dr.Bob’s own family; to his Congregational church; to his Sunday School; his Christian Endeavor Society; and to his matriculation at St. Johnsbury Academy, and attendance at the Academy’s Daily Chapel, lectures, school curricula; facts about YMCA and town-wide hot revivals, evangelism, conversions, and Gospel meetings. The primary time period covered by the second group is from 1875 (the beginning of the “Great Awakening” in St. Johnsbury and the surrounding area) to 1898 (the year in which Dr. Bob graduated from the St. Johnsbury Academy).


First, the Documented Remarks Concerning Dr. Bob


Several important historical and biographical titles and pamphlets provide ample source material quoting or describing what Dr. Bob actually said and did as to “spiritual” matters—matters dealing with the Creator, Jesus Christ, the Bible, prayer, Christian literature, Quiet Hour, and Christian principles for living. The authoritative materials are: (1) The A.A. “Conference Approved” biography of Dr. Bob whose title is DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980). (2) The A.A. Co-founders pamphlet containing the remarks of Dr. Bob at his last major talk to AAs in December, 1948, at Detroit, Michigan—published in A.A. “Conference Approved” literature. This pamphlet combines The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and The Last Talks of A.A.’s Co-founders (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975). (3) Several remarks from the earliest AAs and from Dr. Bob’s children, as cited in the footnotes accompanying the quoted remarks. (4) Dr. Bob’s personal story published in each of the four editions of A.A.’s basic text. This and remarks of A.A. cofounder Bill W. and A.A. Number Three can be found in Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2000).


Statements of, by, or about Dr. Bob concerning the Akron A.A. fellowship he led:


  • Dr. Bob asked, “Do you believe in God, young fella?” Clarence Snyder [the newcomer] asked, “What does that have to do with it?” “Everything,” Dr. Bob said. Clarence replied, “I guess I do.” Dr. Bob insisted, “Guess, nothing! Either you do or you don’t”[1]


  • When the Clarence Snyder reply was, “I do,” Dr. Bob then said, “Now we’re getting some place. All right, get out of bed and on your knees. We’re going to pray.”[2]


  • Said the biography of A.A. pioneer Clarence Snyder, to whom the foregoing remarks were addressed: “What a sight to behold. Both men, on their knees, by the side of the hospital bed in an attitude of prayer. Doc uttered some sort of a prayer, pausing every few words so that Clarence had the time to repeat them. . . . he did remember its being something like this: ‘Jesus! This is Clarence Snyder. He’s a drunk. Clarence! This is Jesus. Ask Him to come into your life. Ask him to remove your drinking problem, and pray hat He manage your life because you are unable to manage it yourself’.”[3]


  • Said the biography of Clarence Snyder, at a later point when he made his “real surrender” at the home of T. Henry Williams of Akron: “T. Henry, Doc, and a couple of other Oxford Group members went into T. Henry’s bedroom. They all, including Clarence, who by now was used to this kneeling, got down on their knees in an attitude of prayer. They all placed their hands on Clarence, and then proceeded to pray. These people introduced Clarence to Jesus as his Lord and Savior. They explained to Clarence that this was First Century Christianity. Then they prayed for a healing and removal of Clarence’s sin, especially his alcoholism.”[4]


  • A recent biography of A.A.’s famous Dr. William D. Silkworth (who wrote the “Doctor’s Opinion” at the beginning of A.A.’s basic text) stated this: “Several sources, including Norman Vincent Peale in his book The Positive Power of Jesus Christ, agree that it was Silkworth who used the term ‘Great Physician’ to explain the need in recovery for a relationship with Jesus Christ. If true, this reference to Jesus has all but been eliminated from the Alcoholics Anonymous History. In the formation of A.A., 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.”[5]


  • Clarence related: “If someone asked him [Dr. Bob] a question about the program, his usual response was: ‘What does it say in the Good Book?’”[6]


  • Dr. Bob said, “When we started in on Bill D., we had no Twelve Steps, either; we had no Traditions. But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book.”[7]


  • He said, “I’m somewhat allergic to work, but I felt that I should continue to increase my familiarity with the Good Book. . . “[8]


  • He also said, “To some of us older ones, the parts we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James.”[9]


  • He reminded his listeners, “I had refreshed my memory of the Good Book, and I had had excellent training in that as a youngster.”[10]


  • He also revealed, “It wasn’t until 1938 that the teachings and efforts and studies that had been going on were crystallized in the form of the Twelve Steps. . . . I didn’t write the Twelve Steps. I had nothing to do with the writing of them. . . . We already had the basic ideas, though not in terse and tangible form. We got them, as I said, as a result of our study of the Good Book.”[11]


  • [Dr. Bob said in his last talk that the Twelve Steps:] “when simmered down. . . . resolve themselves into the words ‘love’ and ‘service.’”[12] That phrase “love and service” was in common usage in the Christian Endeavor Society of his youth.


  • Dr. Bob commented, “I’m talking about the attitude of each and every one of us toward our Heavenly Father. Christ said, ‘Of Myself, I am nothing—My strength cometh from My Father in heaven.’ . . . . We had no humility, no sense of having received anything through the grace of our Heavenly Father.”[13]


  • His daughter, Sue Smith Windows, told me in a personal interview, “My dad called every meeting of the early AAs a Christian Fellowship.”


  • [Dr. Bob said:] “But when we take time to find out some of the spiritual laws, and familiarize ourselves with them, and put them into practice, then we do get happiness and peace of mind. I feel extremely fortunate and thankful that our Heavenly Father has let me enjoy them.”[14]


  • [Dr. Bob wrote:] “From childhood through high school I was more or less forced to go to church, Sunday School and evening service. Monday night Christian Endeavor and sometimes to Wednesday evening prayer meeting.”[15] Apparently, Dr. Bob experienced a long hiatus from these disciplines during his most of his college and drinking years; but recent research shows that, when he renewed his spiritual quest on joining the Oxford Group people and others about 1933, he took a much different position:


  • (1) [Dr. Bob’s son “Smitty” wrote:] “Both my dad and my mom were very spiritual people. Dad had read the Bible from cover to cover several times.”[16]


  •  (2) Dr. Bob observed a Quiet Time three times a day, with Bible study, prayer, and seeking God’s guidance. His church attendance resumed with far more regularity and intensity than his own and other brief statements might indicate. Thus, he belonged to and attended St. Luke’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Akron; Church of Our Saviour Protestant Episcopal Church in Akron; joined with his wife Anne as a charter member of Westminster United Presbyterian Church in Akron from June 3, 1936 to April 3, 1942; and, shortly before his death, became a communicant at St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church located on the Firestone family’s former property in Akron.[17]


  • (3) Elgie R. recalled, “Doc told me that when he had an operation and wasn’t sure, he would pray before he started.” He said, “When I operated under those conditions, I never made a move that wasn’t right. . . . Whenever he got stuck about something, he always prayed about it. . . .”[18]


  • (4) Bill Wilson said, “He prayed, not only for his own understanding, but for different groups of people who requested him to pray for them. . . . I was always glad to think that I was included in those prayers. . . . Bob was far ahead of me in that sort of activity. I was always rushing around talking and organizing and ‘teaching spiritual kindergarten’.”[19]


  • (5) A.A. historian Nan Robertson wrote: “Beginning in 1935, Dr. Bob quickly became an extraordinarily effective worker with active alcoholics. He was tough. He was inflexible. He told his prospects: ‘Do you want to surrender to God. Take it or leave it.’ Soon, carloads of drunks were coming to Akron from as far away as Cleveland to meet in his house. Recently, Young Bob tried to explain why his father had been so successful at ‘fixing’ drunks: . . . ‘He knew that a drunk coming out of an alcoholic haze would be absolutely overwhelmed by anything but a straightforward program that anyone could understand.’ . . . The doctor was authoritative, and he was impressive.”[20]


  • (6) Bill Wilson said, “In this human laboratory, he [Dr. Bob] has proved that any alcoholic, not too mentally defective, can recover if he so desires. The possible recovery among such cases has suddenly been lifted from almost nil to at least 50 percent, which, quite aside from its social implications, is a medical result of the first magnitude. Though, as a means of our recovery, we all engage in the work, Dr. Smith has had more experience and has obtained better results than anyone else.”[21]


  • (7) Years later, Bill Wilson added, “. . . [Dr. Bob] had treated 5,000 drunks at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron. His spiritual example was a powerful influence, and he never charged a cent for his medical care. So Dr. Bob became the prince of all twelfth steppers. Perhaps nobody will ever do such a job again.”[22]


  • (8) Bill and Bob on the stage together in Los Angeles: “In 1943, Bill and Bob were on the platform together at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. 4,500 AAs and their families were present. Bill spoke about Divine Aid and the religious element in A.A. He talked of the importance of prayer and said that when he prayed, he felt released. Then came Dr. Bob’s turn. The entire audience rose to its feet in respect. And, with his usual style of brevity, Dr. Bob simply stressed the importance of cultivating the habit of prayer. In closing, he urged the audience to study the Bible. And he sat down.”[23]


  • Dr. Bob’s A.A. “Conference Approved” biography stated: “Though settled in Akron, Dr. Bob also had an abiding love for his native Vermont and made an annual trip to visit family and friends there. While in Vermont, Doc also went to the regular meetings of the Fellowship Group in St. Johnsbury, and Ed G. recalled that Dr. Bob spoke at the group’s first anniversary. Eleanor E. wrote that, while she was a college student in Vermont, she was invited by Dr. Bob’s niece to attend a meeting in 1946 in Burlington [Vermont], where Dr. Bob and another man would tell some ‘interesting stories’ at an A.A. meeting.”[24]


  • Dr. Bob’s daughter, “Sue also remembered the quiet time in the mornings—how they sat around reading from the Bible. Later, they also used The Upper Room, a Methodist publication that provided a daily inspirational message, interdenominational in its approach.”[25]


  • “Young Smitty was aware of the early-morning prayers and quiet time, but he didn’t attend.”[26]


  • Bill Wilson said of his own days of living with Dr. Bob and Anne Smith, “Each morning, there was a devotion. . . After a long silence, in which they awaited inspiration and guidance, Anne would read from the Bible. ‘James was our favorite. . . Reading from her chair in the corner, she would softly conclude, ‘Faith without works is dead.’”[27]


  • Dr. Bob’s daughter clearly recalled, in a personal phone conversation with me, that she and her brother “Smitty” were regular attenders at the Church of Our Savior in the Akron area, that she couldn’t verify her dad’s membership there, but that he probably was because “We got to the Church of Our Savior Sunday School somehow.”[28]


  • Henrietta Dotson, wife of A.A. Number Three, spoke of the required “surrenders.” She said, “You know, at first, they made all theses new men surrender. Out at T. Henry Williams’s where they met, Dr. Bob would take them upstairs and make them say they would surrender themselves to God.”[29]


  • Following the theme of several hundred newspapers in A.A.’s early days, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer wrote:] “The basic point about Alcoholics Anonymous is that it is a fellowship of ‘cured’ alcoholics. And that both old-line medicine and modern psychiatry had agreed on the one point that no alcoholic could be cured. Repeat the astounding fact: These are cured. They have cured each other. They have done it by adopting with each other’s aid, what they call a ‘spiritual way of life.’”[30]


  • Bill Wilson specifically stated, “Henrietta [Dotson, wife of A.A. Number Three Bill Dotson], 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.”[31]


  • A.A. Number Three [Bill Dotson] specifically stated: “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.”[32]


  • Speaking of his very first meeting with Bill W., Dr. Bob said as to Bill: “But this was a man who had experienced many years of frightful drinking, who had had most all 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.”[33]


  • [Dr. Bob concluded as to the A.A. program:] “It never fails, if you go about it with one half the zeal you have been in the habit of showing when you were getting another drink Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!”[34]


The Central Purpose of This Study of Dr. Bob’s Boyhood Days in Vermont


The major purpose is to discover the sources of the foregoing and other similar, very clear, statements by and about Dr. Bob—not about his youth, but about early Akron A.A.’s pioneer fellowship, its requirements, principles, practices, Bible studies, prayer meetings, conversions, and spiritual tools.


The correlative major purpose is to compare the statements about Akron with the with the events of  his youth involving the Creator, Jesus Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Bible, conversions and salvation through Christ, prayer, Quiet Time, church, fellowship with like-minded believers, witness, love, and service. 


Finally, there is need to examine the entire spectrum of what Dr. Bob described as his “excellent training” as a youngster.


For example,


What was the “Great Awakening” that changed the whole community of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, shortly before Dr. Bob was born? What role did the famous Fairbanks family—its three brothers, their descendents, and their platform scale business—play in the unique Christian atmosphere in St. Johnsbury? Do we yet know the details about what Dr. Bob’s parents themselves did in training Bob in the Bible and Christianity, and what was the nature of prayer in the Smith home? What were the Christian education features and the family’s contributions in the North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, where his father was a lifetime Deacon and taught Sunday School for 40 years; where his mother was much involved in Mission work, choir, history, and women’s church affairs; and where Sunday School attendance was a major item in the life of the whole family? Then, in the church itself, what took place in services, Sunday School, prayer meetings, revivals, Gospel meetings, Bible studies, and community outreach? What was the role of its pastor? What did all the principles and practices of the Christian Endeavor Society bring to St. Johnsbury and Bob’s church; and precisely what did they do, teach, and require? What impact did the YMCA have on Dr. Bob’s life—his father being an officer of that association and the YMCA’s working with the churches on revivals? How much did the YMCA Gospel meetings, revivals, and personal work impact on Dr. Bob, his parents, and his church. As to St. Johnsbury Academy—where Bob’s father was an examiner; where his mother was a graduate, teacher, and very active alumna; and where Bob himself was active in the Glee Club, debate club, literary society, and other events—what impact did these have on Dr. Bob’s moral training and religious learning? What about the required daily Chapel at the Academy? What about the Academy’s required weekly church attendance and Bible study? What about the Congregationalists who dominated the founding, administration, mission, campus, and required religious elements? What about the YMCA meetings and lectures at the Academy? What about the revivals, evangelists, Gospel meetings, prayer meetings, Bible studies, and conversions that garnered so much attention of the churches and townspeople? What about the possible influence of the famous evangelist, preacher, teacher, YMCA leader, Christian Endeavor writer and speaker, Mt. Hermon School founder, Student Christian Movement activist, and revival worker Dwight L. Moody of Northfield, Massachusetts? Did all of these concentrated Christian elements work to fill Dr. Bob’s mind with salient Bible truths to which he returned when he made his decision to pray for sobriety at the home of T. Henry Williams, met Bill Wilson at the home of Henrietta Seiberling, and had his last drink on June 10, 1935?


The reader will find and be able to use the tools in the accompanying resource volumes and be able to decide on the answers for himself or herself. Or to pursue the investigations further. Our job is to lay out the resources, point to the dots, and let the facts do the connecting if this seems possible, reasonable, and purposeful.


Connecting the Whole—the Akron A.A. Pioneer Program—

 to the Historical Dots Representing the Individual St. Johnsbury Factors That Might Have Impacted on Dr. Bob’s Akron Statements, Work with Others, Program Ideas, and Successes


As has been the objective in my previous titles, the job is to start with the facts. And these voluminous segments contain several approaches. The first is to list what the A.A. founders and early pioneers themselves had to say about the Creator, Jesus Christ, the Bible, prayer, quiet time, God’s guidance, obedience, and religious association. Next, to encourage the readers to avail themselves of the extensive library, videos, tapes, pictures, and docents which hopefully will be available soon at Dr. Bob’s Birthplace and Boyhood Home. Then to seek their support for lodging all the needed resources there at no cost to Dr. Bob’s Birthplace and Boyhood Home. Then, to invite their visits to the premises, the Town, the Town archives, the Town library, local churches, and the St. Johnsbury Academy to see for themselves. Finally, to define what is to be seen and learned at Dr. Bob’s Birthplace and Boyhood Home on 297 Summer Street in St. Johnsbury.  These are the stage settings.


But the lessons are to be learned from the various “dots” which represent factors that could and probably did have a bearing on Dr. Bob’s intense relationship with his Heavenly Father and with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and his studies of the Bible, prayer, healing, daily devotionals, and Christian literature.


The Primary Influences to Be Examined


The following are some of the primary factors that could have influenced Dr. Bob’s life:


·        REVIVALS IN VERMONT: The “Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury (including in the North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury)


Dr. Bob was not born until August 8, 1879. But an enormous Christian awakening had begun less than five years before his birth. The decimation and slumber that occurred in the churches due to the Civil War led to a somber group of “elite” church-going people who seemed to have lost touch with the awakenings and revivals which had characterized an earlier period. But things changed. Church records show an uprising of concern, energy, and fervor unlike anything previously seen in Vermont. Beginning in 1875, there occurred what came to be called “The Great Awakening” in St. Johnsbury (and the surrounding area). It was spurred by a new vitality in the YMCA and the support of Vermont leaders—among them the important Fairbanks family of St. Johnsbury. There was a revitalized and widespread series of efforts to “save souls,” promote prayer, rejuvenate churches and church life, and effectuate revivals, evangelist talks, and Gospel meetings. Though other, prior events had earned the terms “First Great Awakening” and “Second Great Awakening,” these were over well before the Vermont events. And you will find the whole scene depicted in my resource volume on this subject.


·        RELEVANCE OF EVANGELIST DWIGHT L. MOODY: The widespread interests, contacts, and personal work of the famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody.


Dwight L. Moody had some special connections with Vermont revivalism. He pointed the YMCA toward a new program of personal work and revivals. He founded the Mt. Hermon School for Boys at nearby Northfield, Massachusetts, in 1881. He perfected his ideas on evangelism and revivals. He had relatives in St. Johnsbury. At least one St. Johnsbury leader came to visit with Moody in Northfield by October 1875. And the revival theme was greatly aided by Moody’s prestige, ideas, and leadership.


·        SIGNFICANCE OF THE FAIRBANKS FAMILY OF ST. JOHNSBURY: The immense prestige, philanthropy, and Christian activity of the Fairbanks family of St. Johnsbury.


The story has many facets, and you will find them in my Fairbanks volume. Thaddeus Fairbanks founded a business in 1823 which revolved around the platform scale that became needed, famous, and widespread in use around the world. (His brother Erastus joined him in that business in 1824.) Thaddeus Fairbanks invented the platform scale. In time, almost everyone in the family of his parents and their immediate descendents became involved in the Fairbanks business. A third brother, Joseph, joined in before long. Without doubt, the business made the Fairbanks people very wealthy. They expanded their business. They were strong and dedicated adherents to the Congregational Faith and its churches. At least two Fairbanks family members became ordained ministers. And at least two were pastors in St. Johnsbury. Family member Horace Fairbanks (Governor the State of Vermont) was chairman of the North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, building committee. He and his brother Franklin produced the funds to complete the building—their contribution far exceeding the 400 pledges from church members.  Fairbanks family members donated the money to erect a building for the Young Men’s Christian Association. They donated the money to construct the Fairbanks Museum—across the street from the North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury. They donated the money to erect the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum—the town library and adjunct to the local St. Johnsbury Academy. They founded the St. Johnsbury Academy and filled it with their religious requirements and expectations. All Academy Trustees were required to be members of a Congregational Church as the members of the Fairbanks family. Thaddeus was considered the founder of the St. Johnsbury Academy, and another Fairbanks was its long-time headmaster. Bending to the intentions of the founders, the Academy required students to attend weekly church and Bible study. Daily Chapel attendance was required. Many of the Academy buildings and dormitories were erected or donated by Fairbanks family members. The Fairbanks’ were leaders in the Vermont YMCA, and the YMCA regularly held lectures at the Academy. In fact, some of the town-wide revivals spilled over into the Academy’s facilities. Graduation ceremonies began and ended there with prayer, and were often accompanied by a sermon. The curricula contained requirements of Christian education, morality, and Bible study. The Fairbanks family was deep into public service and philanthropy. Members served as Governors of Vermont, as legislators of Vermont, and on educational boards in Vermont. They served as trustees of St. Johnsbury Academy, leaders in the YMCA, and donors of funds to missions—domestic and international—and of funds for Bibles and to help ministers. They served in many capacities in the state and county Congregational conventions and associations, and in local churches. And they aided the Christian Endeavor Society, to which Dr. Bob belonged. In short, you can scarcely walk a block in the center of the little town without bumping into something built, donated by, run by, or related to the ubiquitous Fairbanks clan. Their influence was enormous in most of the activities and places that impacted on the lives of Judge Walter Smith, his wife Susan Holbrook Smith, and their son Robert Holbrook Smith.


You can legitimately ask if there was a resident of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in the period from 1875 to 1898 whose life was not materially impacted by the doings of one Fairbanks or another. Just walk from Dr. Bob’s birthplace on Summer Street to the next street down. There you will find the huge North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, along with a host of other churches--including the South Congregational Church, which had a Fairbanks family member as a pastor. Across the street from the North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, lies the Fairbanks Museum donated by the family. Down that street is the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum—the town library donated by a Fairbanks family member and stocked with books donated by Fairbanks people. Still further comes the host of St. Johnsbury Academy buildings—there largely because of the benevolence of Fairbanks family members. Even the YMCA building, destroyed by fire in 1984, was a donation from members of the Fairbanks family. This is not to mention the number of Fairbanks business enterprises which brought jobs, revenue, and wealth to the community—hemp, pig iron, scales, banking, and even railroad development. Prayers was held in the Fairbanks plant itself during the hot and heavy revival days of the “Great Awakening” period.


THE INFLUENTIAL FACTORS IN DR. BOB’S FAMILY: The family of Judge Walter Perrin Smith, Dr. Bob’s father


The Judge: Let’s begin with the Judge. He was well educated as a lawyer and practiced law in St. Johnsbury. He served as state’s attorney, a state legislator, a superintendent of schools, a life-time Deacon of North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, a Sunday School teacher there for at least 30 years, an examiner for St. Johnsbury Academy, a local YMCA president and chairman, and also as elected Judge of the Probate Court situated in St. Johnsbury.


Dr. Bob’s Mother: The wife and mother Susan Amanda [Holbrook] Smith has been given short and undeserved shrift by historians. They tended to dismiss her as a strictly religious, woman who busied herself in church and social affairs. The facts tell us much more. Mrs. Smith attended and graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy. She became a teacher there. Academy records show that she delivered several important addresses about the school and its history. She became a member of the Executive Committee of the Alumni Association. She was a member of the Vermont Library Board. Her activities at North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, included participation in a church quartet, extensive work in women’s matters, addresses on church history, service as a Sunday School Teacher, Assistant Superintendent of the Sunday School, Superintendent of the Intermediate Department, and work with domestic missions. She was very much involved and mentioned as a North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, member.


Dr. Bob, the Son: Then there was Bob. He attended North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, Sunday school, prayer meetings, and Christian Endeavor meetings. He was first listed in the Year Book in 1880, recorded as attending Sunday School, and last listed in the church Year Book for 1914. At St. Johnsbury Academy, he was a member of and Manager of the Glee Club. He was a member of the Debate Club. He belonged to a literary society there. He attended the required church and Bible study meetings weekly. He attended Chapel every day. He delivered the Oration at his graduation ceremony. He seemed never to have forgotten his training in conversion, prayer, the Bible, church, Sunday School, and the Academy. Nor the principles of love and service he learned from Christian Endeavor. Considering his family’s acknowledged, immense participation in church and Christian activities, it is hard to imagine that much of this did not spill on and over the young Bob at the hands of his talented parents.


DR. BOB’S CHURCH: North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury


Mr. and Mrs. Walter Smith were first listed in the North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, yearbook for 1878. The two became members on May 7, 1883.


The North Congregational Church was organized on April 7, 1825, and known then as the “Second Congregational Church.” The present building is the fourth edifice to house North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury. The church prospered to the point that in February, 1877, members met with the church’s pastor, Rev. Henry W. Jones, to discuss the new building. A canvassing committee had 400 pledges for a four-year-period within six weeks. A building committee was appointed with then-State of Vermont Governor Horace Fairbanks as its chairman. Church members had raised about $37,000; and the Fairbanks brothers Horace and Franklin contracted to construct the new building; and through the estate of Erastus Fairbanks, the church builders secured an additional sum of somewhere between $50,000 to $125,00 to complete the building. Horace and Franklin Fairbanks presented the church with a 3,004 pound bell for the platform of its 1,470-foot tower.


It is almost impossible not to credit the influence on Bob Smith of his relationship with his family’s Congregational church. By his own statement, attendance alone was extensive—worship Sunday morning, Sunday School in the afternoon, the service on Sunday evening; and sometimes Wednesday evening prayer meeting. To that, he added the Monday evening Christian Endeavor meeting—which exacted demands of required weekly attendance. Other North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, activities were also in progress—outreach to other churches, union meetings with other churches, revivals, meetings held by evangelists, YMCA Gospel meetings, and Christian Endeavor activities. We have yet to learn just how much influence the pastor himself had on the ideas and actions of Bob.




There is yet to be found much information on the content of North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, Sunday School teaching. We now know that both of Dr. Bob’s parents taught in that Sunday School for many years. Bob is recorded as attending. There was an International Congregational Sunday School class guide in wide use in Congregationalist Churches. And a Fairbanks family member was involved in that work


THE PASTOR’S ROLE: Not yet linked.


THE CHURCH’S YOUNG PEOPLE’S GROUP: The Christian Endeavor Society


Founded at the Williston Congregational Church in Portland, Maine, in February 1881 (shortly after Dr. Bob was born), the Christian Endeavor Movement spread like wild fire across Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and then around the globe. It had reached St. Johnsbury by 1885. Several key points in the program seem directly related to the ideas Dr. Bob brought with him from his youth to Akron and its spiritual program: confession of Christ, Bible study meetings, prayer meetings, conversion meetings, topical discussions, Quiet Hour and attendant practices, social and Christian fellowship, and the oft-mentioned principles of “love and service.” Detailed newsletters, guidebooks, and other literature laid out a rigorous program of Christian service, and particularly loyalty to the local church. In fact, the church deacons were part of the Christian Endeavor church governance; and that, of course, included Judge Walter Perrin Smith.


YMCA: The Young Men’s Christian Association


It seems abundantly clear that the Vermont YMCA of 1875 to 1898 was a far different organization than the YMCA of today. The thrust of Christian Endeavor, in which Dr. Bob was active, was to work with, in, and under the aegis of the North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, itself. The thrust of the YMCA was to work with all denominations, outside of the church framework, community-wide and state-wide, and to organize and catalyze revivals, to present evangelistic speakers, to promote church union activities, to win souls to Christ, and to conduct lectures and concerts in the churches, the YMCA building itself, in the community, and at the St. Johnsbury Academy. Its vibrant outreach in Vermont in the period beginning with the “Great Awakening” of 1875 was immense. Dwight L. Moody, his Massachusetts colleagues, YMCA field workers, and youth committees appear to have been influential on the churches and communities. Fairbanks people were involved with these. There were great conversion successes in St. Johnsbury, and the YMCA people played a part. “Y” people conducted Gospel meetings, lectures, and concerts. And they converted many to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.




At the time of the Smith family members’ participation, St. Johnsbury Academy appeared Congregational to the core. Religious requirements were spelled out in the grant deeds from the dedicated Congregationalist Fairbanks family members; and carried out by Fairbanks family members as founders, trustees, and headmasters. As stated, trustees were required to be Congregational church members. Daily Chapel was a must. Weekly Church and Bible study was a must. And the educational focus certainly included Christian moral standards, ethics, and practices. There were required textbooks on Bible study and Christianity. Prayers and sermons were a part of many of the assemblies, including graduations. As stated, Dr. Bob was into the St. Johnsbury Academy up to his ears—parental involvement in exams, teaching, history presentations, alumni activities. Young Bob was in the Glee Club and became Manager. He participated in the Debate Club. He belonged to one of the literary societies. He is mentioned several times in school records, catalogues, and notes. And he delivered the Oration at his graduation. It appears quite likely that the religious atmosphere that permeated campus doings had its effect on Dr. Bob’s continued exposure to the Bible, prayer, church, and daily devotions.














In a single remark about his church, Sunday school, and Christian Endeavor attendance as a youngster, Dr. Bob used the expression “more or less forced” to go. As already shown, his exposure to the religious fervor of his family, his church, and his community was grossly understated. It was countered in small part by this other statement that he had had “excellent training” as a youngster. And part of that training was the required daily chapel attendance and required weekly church and prayer meeting attendance established by St. Johnsbury Academy.




The attempt here is simply to list changes in the YMCA, the churches, the schools, the revivals, and the religious communities in this period. Records of the Congregational Churches, the Young Men’s Christian Association, Vermont Historical Society, St. Johnsbury Academy, and other entities tell of a dramatic change in the activities, lives, happiness, and involvement of St. Johnsbury people during the exciting “Great Awakening” period beginning in St. Johnsbury in February 1875.





[1] DR. BOB, 144.

[2] DR. BOB, 144.

[3] Mitchell K. How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio (NY: Washingtonville, Big Book Study Group, 1991) [ISBN 0-9664382-0-5], 58.

[4] Mitchell K., How It Worked, 70.

[5] Dale Mitchel, Silkworth: The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2002), 50.

[6] DR. BOB, 144.

[7] The Co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical sketches Their last major talks (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975), 13.

[8] Co-founders, 13.

[9] Co-founders, 13.

[10] Co-founders, 11-12.

[11] Co-founders, 14.

[12] DR. BOB, 77.

[13] Co-founders, 19.

[14] Co-founders, 19-20.

[15] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 172.

[16] Bob Smith and Sue Smith Windows, Children of the Healer: The Story of Dr. Bob’s Kids (MN: Hazelden, 1992), 111.

[17] Dick B., Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), 114-16.

[18] DR. BOB, 314.

[19] DR. BOB, 315.

[20] Nan Robertson, Getting Better Inside Alcoholics Anonymous (NY: Fawcett Crest, 1988), 48.

[21] DR. BOB, 174.

[22] Co-founders, 27.

[23] Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006), 191-92.

[24] DR. BOB, 300.

[25] DR. BOB, 71.

[26] DR. BOB, 72.

[27] DR. BOB, 71.

[28] Dick B., Dr. Bob and His Library, 115.

[29] DR. BOB, 88-89.

[30] Dick B. When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, 3rd ed.  (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006, 113.

[31] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191.

[32] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191.

[33] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191.

[34] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 181.