As mentioned on Hypotyposeis blog by Stephen Carlson, there are interesting
articles on the textual transmission of a prayer at
The prayer appears to be a case of mixed oral and written transmission.
I founda 1934 publication with one part of the later-so-called Serenity
Prayer--the courage passage may have come first, originally). The previous
earliest known attestation--for the complete prayer--was 1936 (as given
by Fred Shapiro in Yale Alumni Magazine). This 1934 wording is identical to the
1936 (and 1941) wording, and it is placed within quotation marks. Also it was
written by a US woman quite involved in social work, continuing the trend that
it may have been disseminated first in those circles (though church social work
is not excluded).
It's in Sewanee Review 42.4 Oct.-Dec. 1934 page 398 in "Why Go South? A
Prescription for Patriotism" by June Purcell Guild (1887- ), who was a
Northener who moved to Virginia, and wrote:
It must be added, many Southerners appear to have done little to erase
the awful memories of the Civil War. North or South, not all have "serenity to
accept what cannot be helped." It may be too much to expect a whole
people to be as great in defeat as their great leader [Robert E. Lee] who said:
"Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities
and make your sons Americans."