History of Alcoholics Anonymous by a Municipal Court Judge

Religious Serials & Series Articles

01-025 History of Alcoholics Anonymous by a Municipal Court Judge N.C.C.A. "BLUE BOOK" AN ANTHOLOGY, Rensselaer, 1950


Rensselaer, 1950

Ten years ago last night I attended my first A.A. meeting. That was after an eight-day sojourn in the hospital during which time, because of a tremendous spiritual experience, I became an entirely different person. Within a very short space of time, my life was completely changed.

It is well to look back occasionally and see whence we come. Fifteen years ago last June, a number of people were meeting in the home of T. Henry Williams in Akron, Ohio. T. Henry Williams was a very fine person and still is. He became interested in a non-denominational religion - I think I will call it - specialized as to groups, middle and upper classes. And he recruited a large number of people from Akron to come to his house every Wednesday night to witness and convict themselves of their misdeeds.

The basis of their program was absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love. During the construction of his house, which was a rather fine residence, he had been a man of strong faith. When his fortunes turned, and he saved his home and his business, he said to everybody, "This is God's house. It isn't mine. It is God's." So he turned it over to these people for their purposes.

And among those who regularly met there on Wednesday night with T. Henry Williams was Henrietta Sieberling and Dr. Bob. Doctor Bob was then about fifty-five years of age and an alcoholic. Very few of those who met at T. Henry Williams' home were alcoholics, but I have heard it said that some of them must have stretched the truth to be able to convict themselves or witness against themselves of anything that savored of evil doing; yet they met there frequently.

Fifteen years ago last June, in New York, Bill W. had met a person who for the first time brought God into his life, "a Power greater than himself, God as he understood Him." Bill W., after he got out of service in World War I, had been tremendously successful in a number of business ventures, and failed completely in just as many - sometimes because of economic changes, but frequently because of his addiction to alcohol.

Bill believed in God. He knew that nobody went out in the morning to pull up the sun, or went out in the evening to hang up the moon. He knew that animals did things that they were never taught. But he didn't have any idea of a personal God upon whom human beings are totally and completely dependent, in whom he should have a trusting confidence and love.

This man to whom he was speaking had been a drunkard too, and had done some remarkable things with his life because he went to God for grace and strength. And so for the first time Bill W. tried that and experienced a tremendous change.

He had been in Wall Street for many years, succeeding and failing frequently, and at this time he had under consideration a negotiation that was going to make him independent for life. He thought he had everything sewed up in the way of proxies to obtain complete control of a very successful industry in Akron, Ohio.

But somebody outsmarted him, and he learned at the stockholders' meeting held in Akron that he had failed. Everything that happened to him that day was all an alcoholic needed to go out and start on a real binge, but he didn't. He was in a hotel in the afternoon and had only five dollars. He had a hotel bill that was running up, and he debated whether to use that five dollars to get a bottle to take to his room and drown his troubles. While he was walking across the lobby he saw a church directory on the wall. He decided that he would pick some clergyman from that list, and through him, try to find some alcoholic with whom he could discuss his problem.

He called a clergyman, who had some grave doubts and misgivings about the genuineness of his purpose, and being unable to refer him to anybody who was addicted to excessive drink, he suggested that he might talk to Henrietta Sieberling. She had attended certain meetings which were also attended by men who had drinking problems.

So he called up Henrietta Sieberling and she too had at first some doubt about his sincerity, but she was rather intrigued by the subject and suggested that he come out to her house. While he was there she became convinced that he was sincere.

It was from her house that she called up Dr. Bob and learned from Dr. Bob's wife that the good doctor was drunk. So the engagement was postponed. They met the next day and discussed their common problem, and Doctor Bob admitted that he had been going to these Oxford Group meetings regularly, and that he was praying some, but getting drunk just as often as before.

They decided that the next day they would look for a subject they could work on. They conceived the idea that faith and fellowship with prayer and the interest in their fellow drunkards was a solution for their individual problems, and for the problems of other alcoholics.

So the next day they called up the City Hospital. When they asked the man in charge if they had any drunks in there, he told them that they had one who was in there for about the eighth time, but that he was helplessly drunk.

They went down anyway, and there they saw in bed Bill D., an Akron lawyer, who had been in there for a day or two, and was still in restraint. They saw at once that he was in no fit condition to be talked to, but somehow or other they made a remark to him that registered. When they came back the next day he was comparatively sober and listened. So they proceeded to meet together frequently and attend the meetings at T. Henry Williams' home for some time thereafter.

In the first year four successful, totally abstemious alcoholics was their record. During the second year they obtained fourteen more; they obtained twenty-three by mid-August of 1937.

At the end of three years they had forty, at the end of four years, a hundred. It was about at that time that Jack Alexander of the Saturday Evening Post wrote an article, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a series on A.A. And the growth began to be tremendous from then on.

During the first two years, as I have said, they met regularly at the home of T. Henry Williams, but after that it was decided that they were to begin to meet at King's School in Akron. Five or six remained with Williams out of a sense of loyalty to him, because they had attained their sobriety through the meetings that were conducted in his home. But all the others withdrew and started their meetings at King's School. When those grew too large (since majority were from Cleveland), the Cleveland group was formed.

From that beginning the groups we now have in Cleveland have grown to about a hundred, and of course you know the tremendous growth throughout the country, in every state in the union, and in many countries beyond our shores.

NOW, there are many strange things that happened during the formation of this fellowship; things it seems that could not have been purely coincidental. The Big Book was drafted in the third year; the twelve steps were being formed by trial and error; and in the fourth year they had reached their final form.

I once heard it said by a Jesuit who made a thorough study of A.A. by close observation of its members and by a thorough reading of all the literature, that it was his considered opinion that the Twelve Steps of A.A. were not work of human minds alone, of those early pioneers in our fellowship, but that they seemed to be divinely inspired.

The more I have contemplated that remark, the more convinced I am that since they have stood the test of time without having been subjected to the slightest change, they might well have been divinely inspired.

I think that one of the things that helped Doctor Bob and Bill W. more than anything else as the first members of this fellowship was the fidelity and purity of their domestic lives. There isn't a thing that can be found in their lives that savored of anything but fidelity, constancy, and devotion to their wives, Ann and Lois.

I have often thought, as time went on, that we in A.A. during the past fifteen years are just forming the nucleus of the brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God we were all intended for from the beginning. It seems to me that this fellowship stems from God and goes back to God, because the trouble with us alcoholics and the trouble with the world today is Godlessness. We have work to do, and I say to you that it is a back-to-God movement, and is fundamentally Catholic throughout.


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