Working with Others: How the oldtimers worked with others the 1940’s

AA Grapevine, July 1945, Vol. 2 No. 2

What Constitutes a Good Sponsor, as Minneapolis Sees It

  • Sincerity in A.A. and dry for certain length of time.
  • Must have friendly attitude toward new member. If that is not possible, do not accept the sponsorship.
  • Work on only one member at a time.
  • Come to all the classes with the new member.
  • Keep in close touch by telephone.
  • See that the new member comes to all the meetings and be there also.
  • See that he meets people.
  • Have older members talk to him.
  • Don’t sell the club to new members.
  • Don’t quote the big names in the group.
  • Uphold other members to the new member.
  • Do not encourage discussion of personalities.
  • Do not make things too easy, such as lending money, etc.
  • Help straighten out new member’s financial and domestic problems by pointing out what experience has shown to be the best way.
  • When drunk goes to another sponsor with tales of persecution, if the second sponsor doesn’t talk it over with the first sponsor, the issue becomes one of personalities, and the second sponsor will find that the slipper has outsmarted him.
  • Don’t listen to a lot of gossip by slippers.
  • Second sponsor of same member should get in touch with the first sponsor and find out what has been done–what were the reactions of the slipper–so that he can’t pull the same stuff on the second sponsor.
  • If a new member alibis about coming to classes and the Tuesday night meetings and the group meetings, after a short while, the sponsor should impress on him the importance of attendance at these meetings by both the husband and the wife. If you can’t get him to come, then he has put you in a position where you cannot help him, as he will not let you. So drop him. The seed has been planted; redirect your energies elsewhere. Somewhere along the line he will be back when he wants A.A.
  • A good sponsor will not have more than two neophytes a year. But he will do a thorough job on those two.

AA Grapevine, September 1945, Vol. 2 No. 4

Rochester Prepares Novices for Group Participation

(Editor’s Note: This is the third in a continuing series of articles outlining the various indoctrination plans followed by different groups throughout the country. In forthcoming issues, methods used in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Cleveland will be presented.)

Dear Editor: The educational plan of the Wilson Club of St. Louis which was outlined in the June number of The Grapevine was read by the members of the Genesee Group of Rochester, New York, with considerable interest. As the education of our “novices” has been the chief concern of our group since its inception a year ago, we were all particularly keen to know that other groups are accenting that feature of group activity which we believe to be of the greatest importance.

Our Genesee Group plan utilizes the same technique as the St. Louis Group but has the additional, or more accurately, preliminary feature which seems to us of sufficient importance to justify this communication. We hope to invite comment, suggestions or criticisms from other groups or individuals who may have ideas along this line or who may have some other method of instruction which they are now employing. From such an interchange of thoughts and opinions through the medium of your columns much good may come. It might even be possible to evolve from such discussion a coordinated general plan or framework within which all A.A. groups could work. Certainly, “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

The sponsor’s judgment of when his novice is ready is accepted by the group as final and the sponsor then brings him to his first meeting.

Our plan differs from the Wilson Club plan in this respect: Our prospects or novices, as we call them, are given a personal “canvass or workout” by their sponsor or sponsors before they are permitted to attend a group meeting. These personal talks follow the line set forth in a booklet prepared by our group for that purpose. It was designed to assist in bringing a prospective candidate up to his first meeting with a thorough knowledge of the aims and purposes of A.A. and the obligations he will have to impose upon himself if he undertakes membership in our group. It has been our observation that bringing men into the group indiscriminately, and without adequate preliminary training and information, can be a source of considerable grief and a cause of great harm to the general morale of the group itself. We feel that unless a man, after a course of instruction and an intelligent presentation of the case for the A.A. life, has accepted it without any reservation, he should not be included in a group membership. When his sponsors feel that the novice has a fair working knowledge of A.A.’s objectives and a sufficient grasp of its fundamentals, he is then brought to his first group meeting.

The time when the novice’s progress has reached the point of acceptance of the program varies according to his mental capacity, his eagerness to learn and the sincerity of his self-examination. It is not measured by the yardstick of any lapse of time or the length of his sobriety. The sponsor’s judgment of when his novice is ready is accepted by the group as final and the sponsor then brings him to his first meeting. There he listens to four successive talks based on the 12 Steps and the Four Absolutes. There are twenty-minute talks given by older members of the group and the steps, for convenience and brevity, are divided into four sections. The first three steps constitute the text of the first talk. The next four, the second; the next four, the third; and the last step is considered to be entitled to a full evening’s discussion by itself.

Following these constructive talks, a general summary is then given of the whole program. From this point on the novice is on his own and his growth and development in A.A. will depend entirely on his own sincerity and his active participation in all the group’s affairs.

We feel that we have at least given him an opportunity to understand what A.A. is and it is his free choice from that point on as to how successful he will be.

Of course, this plan is not a rigid one nor is it exclusive, but we have found in practice, at least in our own group, that it has to a great extent, not completely, of course, eliminated failures and has erased from our vocabulary that distasteful, inaccurate and much overworked word “slip.”

It also helps us to develop a sense of leadership among our members, a prime essential in the operation of any successful group. We feel that the objective to which such leadership must devote itself is not, as some may think, a vague, idealistic formula. On the contrary, it is the essence of our way of life, the only way worthy of a free man. The basic concept of the A.A. way of life is the integrity and dignity of the individual human being. This same idea is the core of the Declaration of Independence and the principal concern of our Bill of Rights.

A.A.’s 12 Steps comprise the alcoholic’s “Declaration of Independence.”

M. L., Rochester, New York

AAGrapevine, October 1945, Vol. 2 No. 5

Defends Early 12th Step Work

I was in A.A. two weeks when, knowing little of the program beyond having read the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, and attending meetings, I felt strongly, urgently even, that my immediate salvation lay in trying to help others, and forthwith began, with an older member, doing just that.

…”those who find the way” and “. . .do not approach a prospect until they themselves first have the program firmly in their minds and are on the straight and narrow path themselves,” is loaded with atomic energy which, if released among us A.A.s, would surely blast us to smithereens, smashing the newcomers first. This classification, so neat, so orderly and so inexorable, is the one in which I belong –and at the same time, along with countless other A.A.s of my acquaintance who are also staying sober, definitely do not belong.

Certainly I’m not one of those who didn’t approach a prospect until I had the program “firmly in mind.” I was in A.A. two weeks when, knowing little of the program beyond having read the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, and attending meetings, I felt strongly, urgently even, that my immediate salvation lay in trying to help others, and forthwith began, with an older member, doing just that. And I kept on trying, and on and on, and as I continued in my efforts to help other alcoholics the program gradually grew more meaningful, its radiant truths began to emerge and I was able, little by little, to begin applying, one at a time, the 12 Steps to myself and my daily living.

Today, after two and a half years in A.A., I don’t have the program “firmly in mind.” A program inherent in which is the very soundest admonition of mental hygiene –Know Thyself –is one of growth, not stagnation.

And as for being on a “straight and narrow path,” God forbid! That’s one of the most valuable lessons to be learned in A.A. –that life is never a straight and narrow path, but winding, divergent, and broad as the A.A. program itself is broad; dynamic, as is our program, to fit the needs of human nature, not static.

M. S., Manhattan

AA Grapevine, October 1946, Vol. 3 No. 5

Editorial: On the 12th Step…

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of those steps we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all of our affairs.”

The 12th Step is the climax of the other 11. Without the 12th Step, the conception formulated in the other 11 would be like faith without works and the body without the spirit.

Finally, of course, 12th Step work is certainly one of the surest, if not the surest, way of keeping sober. The reason it is so effective is that it almost compels one engaging in it to keep thinking in the direction that preserves sobriety. It is, at the same time, a reminder of what has been and a warning of what could be again.

Here is the plan put into action, and it is a two-way action. Through the 12th Step, one receives as he gives. He gives to another what he has learned and in so doing receives new strength for himself. And it is through this two-way action that A.A. grows not only larger but stronger, for it is through the 12th Step that new members are made and old members extend the length and the quality of their sobriety.

When the 12th Step operates as it is intended to it precludes the development of the stultifying results of the ordinary debtor-creditor relationship. Although the A.A. engaged on a 12th Step mission may appear to be the donor–donor of a priceless gift which has helped thousands of others–and though the distraught recipient may feel grateful either then or subsequently, there is a powerfully restraining factor in the transaction. The A.A. cannot feel smugly virtuous as bearer of this gift when he knows that by giving it he keeps it and that 12th Step work is the way he helps to preserve his own sobriety. He is not likely to get a fatally righteous and inflated estimation of himself when he remembers that in 12th Step work one receives at least as much and usually much more than he gives. He cannot well fancy himself becoming a saint when he remembers that through 12th Step work he helps to keep himself from becoming a drunk again.

Even for the newcomer who discovers A.A. by way of some member applying the 12th Step in his behalf, there is an equalizer. He may always feel grateful, but as he learns more about A.A. he realizes the necessity of the 12th Step work to the do-er as well as the receiver and thus is relieved of any sense of imposed obligation. And he in turn can embark on 12th Step work knowing that he is doing it for himself more even than for others and certainly without the duress of paying off a debt.

By virtue of these factors, 12th Step work is both inspirational and practical, often the spark that rekindles the fires of shining hope, and at the same time a completely realistic approach to a very tough problem. Few situations arise anywhere that offer a greater challenge to one’s ingenuity, resourcefulness, perseverance and the best of his brains than those which arise commonly in 12th Step work. Nor, it should be added, are there many things which man does that require more hard work than is so often needed in the completion of a 12th Step task.

In 12th Step work, one is dealing with the most exasperating, stubborn, conniving, prevaricating, baffling, unpredictable, twisted and messed-up human being at large –the drunk. Successful 12th Step work calls for practically all of the virtues and talents given man, and often, even if any A.A. had all of the virtues and all of the talents, they would not be enough.

Yet, 12th Step work also offers more drama, more comedy, suspense, thrills and excitement than one will ever find on any movie screen. And it is real. It is life in the raw. It takes care of any idle time that may have been dragging heavily. And it has given to many an A.A. experiences that yield the greatest happiness of a lifetime.

Finally, of course, 12th Step work is certainly one of the surest, if not the surest, way of keeping sober. The reason it is so effective is that it almost compels one engaging in it to keep thinking in the direction that preserves sobriety. It is, at the same time, a reminder of what has been and a warning of what could be again.

But, more even than its value as both a reminder and a warning, 12th Step work is the practice of the basic principle of a way of life. The principle has been voiced in many different phrases –as “Do unto others. . .” and “My brother’s keeper,” or “Brotherhood of man,” and simply, “Helping others.” So, likewise, is 12th Step work helping others, keeping the brother, doing unto others as we have been done unto. And doing it without expectancy of repayment or bouquets.

AA Grapevine, May 1947, Vol. 3 No. 12

Potent Proof Found in 12th Step

The Bulletin (Midwest Council on Alcoholism, Inc.), Minneapolis, Minn.: “Practicing the 12th Step in particular will help to promote an understanding of the 2nd Step. It so often demonstrates the operation of a Power greater than ourselves. No group of ex-drunks or any other mortals could alone bring about the miracles that are accomplished so often in 12th Step work. Bit by bit, if not suddenly, even the most doubting will eventually be able to say, too, that he ‘came to believe.’ ”

AA Grapevine, April 1949, Vol. 5 No. 11

No Crying Service

“WHEN Bill W. got the ‘jitters’ out in Akron (back in 1935), he couldn’t call another A.A. to furnish cry-on-my-shoulder service. There weren’t any other A.A.s. So he called–and called–until he found a drunk who needed help. He finally found ‘Doc,’ and in helping ‘Doc’ he forgot his own troubles and stayed sober. If that prescription worked for the founder of our fellowship, and it did; then it will work for us today. So, instead of always looking up an A.A. who is staying sober to give us a lift in spirit, it might help all of us to use Bill’s ‘prescription’ once in a while and find a drunk who needs help. Let us not lose sight of one of the cardinal principles of A.A.–‘To help ourselves, we help others.'”

A.A. Washington, Pa. Bulletin

AA Grapevine, May 1950, Vol. 6 No. 12


“Give us a couple reasons how sponsorship should NOT be used.”

“First–for personal satisfaction; second–to increase the membership role of the group, and third–by the member who’s doing the sponsoring not to ‘play God.’ In other words, the only reason for bringing another alcoholic into AA is for the prospect’s own gain.”

“How does one become a sponsor?”

“He answers a Twelfth Step call and his prospect looks to him for guidance and help in working the Program. Or, you may be asked to take over some newcomer who is not getting along too well with his present sponsor, or some member of AA may say, ‘I’d like you to be my sponsor.’ ”

“Can a man sponsor a woman, and vica versa?”

“Yes. Many successful recoveries have been recorded with man and woman sponsorships. Usually the initial call is made by a man-and-woman team, for the obvious sake of propriety.”

“How soon after a person has come on the AA Program can they become a sponsor?”

“I’ve heard of persons being dry one day and going on a Twelfth Step call, with excellent and enduring results for both parties.”

“What are some of the important things to find out about a prospect?”

“As soon as possible learn if he has a drinking problem. Does he know he has a problem. Does he want to do something about this drinking. Does he honestly want help–for himself, not because of the pleadings of family and boss.”

“Should you dig into his personal life?”

“Absolutely. Get to the root of his marital, financial and employment situations, his age, domestic relationships and drinking habits. Assure him you’re not prying, but you want to help straighten out his problems, and talking them over with someone who understands how he collected them, will release him from his alcoholic loneliness.”

“Does a person’s education, intelligence, background, age or quantity of liquor consumed, have any bearing on whether or not he is an alcoholic?”

“Experience has taught us–no.”

“Is hospitalization always necessary?”

“No. However hospitalization affords an opportunity for drying out, and time to clear away the cobwebs. Physical condition will usually answer your question.”

“What’s the best way to gain the confidence of your prospect?”

“Qualify yourself as just an ordinary person, who had a drinking problem, but found happiness and regained self respect in a new way of life offered by following the AA Program.”

“Should you pitch right into your own personal drinking story?”

“In most cases you will want to relate at least part of your drinking life. But do so in a manner that will describe you as an alcoholic, rather than the main character in a series of drunken parties and incidents. Give him the true picture.”

“He’s tried all the usual means for controlling drinking, and is skeptical about AA being able to do any more than the others?”

“Show him how you too tried various so-called controlled drinking plans, all to no avail. Tell him how you learned through AA that you drank from compulsion, that you had a disease, now recognized as alcoholism.”

R.G.M., Grand Rapids, Michigan

Tell us about your experiences of working with others

3 thoughts on “Working with Others: How the oldtimers worked with others the 1940’s

  1. "A good sponsor will not have more than two neophytes a year. But he will do a thorough job on those two."

    ????????????? – well that would of set us back a bit if not for Dr Bob! Some 5000 people he helped!

  2. For what it’s worth, here are my views on your excellent compilations: (1) For the most part, the “fellowship” and “Big Book” and “sponsorship” ideas are very much like the A.A. I entered in 1986 (2) In those realms, they are very helpful. (3) What about Clarence’s sponsorship pamphlet. (4) What about the real A.A. roots of 1935-1939 and the absence of any mention of them or of the Akron AA pamphlets commissioned by Dr. Bob. (5) Why no mention of the key Big Book-A.A.-Wilson concepts of “finding God,” “establishing a relationship with God,” and “Thy will be done.” (6) Because the material addresses sponsorship and working with others, it is appropriate to talk about the sponsor’s role, but I deplore the lack of references to the role of the Creator in recovery from then until now and the need for a sponsor today to be well versed in our history—whatever his principles or beliefs. God Bless, Dick

  3. I agree Dick, this particular article focuses only on technique. I have found that by working with other addicts that my understanding and relationship with God has grown exponentially. As our Big Book tells us, "We find the Great Reality deep down within us…it is only there that he may be found." (p.55 A.A.) By working with others in an unselfish, loving manner with no other agenda but to be helpful to the man or woman who still suffers, that great reality deep down within me grows in strength and power, revealing more understanding and consciousness. To witness a miracle of recovery in a seamingly hopeless individual reinforces my faith in a Power greater than myself. That power is God.

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