By Mitchell K. © 1991, 1997

Index of Chapter 8


8.1 - Back to the Basics

8.3 - New York and Mid-West A.A. - Coming of Age

8.2 - Henrietta Seiberling Speaks Her Mind

Chapter 9: A Prophet in His Own Town - Clarence's Life After the 60's

Table of Contents


Chapter 8


My God, this is nothing like the Alcoholics Anonymous I once knew - this is more like A.A. light.

Anonymous Long-Term Member

Chapter 8.1


Back to the Basics

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done and there is no health in us.

Book of Common Prayer

After Dr. Bob died, many changes took place in A.A. which were disturbing to the early members in Cleveland and Akron. Ideas and concepts to which Dr. Bob was opposed began to come to pass. Ideas which were believed to have been regulated before Dr. Bob died were suddenly resurrected from dusty shelves.

As Clarence saw it, the calming and sane of Doc was no longer there. Bill and the Board of Trustees in New York had free reign to do with A.A. as they pleased.

The Orthodox Movement was comprised of a small group of staunch, old time A.A. members and friends. Among them were Henrietta Seiberling, Bill Van H., Bert T., and Royal S. Clarence, though associated with this movement, was on its periphery. But Clarence did correspond with and make telephone calls to and receive thanks from members.

Royal S. - an attorney - wrote several letters to the Board of Trustees. Royal had been instrumental in helping drawing up the incorporation of the Grapevine and in helping with other legal matters concerning A.A. The A.A. General Service Archives appeared to contain no responses to the Royal S. inquiries. In fact, though required, none of the original letters from Royal or the other orthodox group people were made available to this writer. Copies, however, were given to the author by Clarence, as part of a collection of archival material saved by Clarence over the years.

After the Statement of 1948 was replaced by the Statement of 1950 and all references to the 1948 statement of policy, which was endorsed by Dr. Bob, were seemingly removed from the New York office.

The Orthodox Movement's goals were to keep the A.A. movement true to its original intent and purpose. Orthodox members felt that the new direction which A.A. was beginning to take would water down or dilute the effectiveness and success which the movement to that date had achieved.

The members of the Orthodox Movement printed up copies of the Statement of 1948 to disseminate to the A.A. membership along with their correspondence to the Board of Trustees. They campaigned at meetings, asking other members to query the Board as to what was happening.

Henrietta Seiberling was attending meetings with Bill van H. and Bill D. (A.A. #3) and relating developments to the A.A. members. King School Group - A.A. Group #1 - Dr. Bob's group - was one of the places that they went. However, except for the correspondence and copies (which are in Appendix G), little is known about the efforts of this short lived movement. All that is known is that it did not succeed in its attempts to keep the movement to what it believed was A.A.'s original purpose.

Bill Van H. wrote Clarence on January 8, 1951:

Don't get too exercised about the big promotion [by Bill Wilson and the Board of Trustees against the movement] - Like the saying "There will always be an England," there will always be a few of us old steady heads.

Index of Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Table of Contents


Chapter 8.2


Henrietta Seiberling Speaks Her Mind

...and the truth shall set you free...

Henrietta Seiberling was not an alcoholic. In 1933, she was a housewife with three children. But not just an ordinary housewife. She was the daughter-in-law of the founder and one-time president of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. And she had much to do with the founding of A.A.

In January 1933, Harvey Sr. and his son, Russell "Bud" Firestone sponsored an appearance by Dr. Frank N.D. Buchman and his "Oxford Group team" in Akron. And, as part of the day's events, a big dinner was held at the Mayflower Hotel in Akron.

Henrietta and her son, John Seiberling, attended that first dinner and meeting as well as the balance of the meetings from January 14th through the 22nd; and, when Frank Buchman shouted to those assembled, "Get right with God," Henrietta decided to get right with God through membership in the Oxford Group.

When Bill Wilson, an Oxford Group member from New York, had come to Akron in 1935, he had phoned Dr. Walter Tunks, a minister affiliated with the Oxford Group. And Tunks, in turn, gave Bill Henrietta's number. Through that phone call, which was supposedly made with Bill's last nickel, a meeting was set up at Henrietta's home, the Gate house of Stan Hywet Hall, her husband's family estate.

That is where Bill and Dr. Bob Smith first met and Doc. first got his indoctrination into the idea "one alcoholic helping another." And in the ensuing years, Henrietta worked with both to help in A.A.'s founding.

But Henrietta became disenchanted with A.A.'s development as the years rolled on. According to John Seiberling, Jr., Bill and Bob told her, "Henrietta, I don't think we should talk too much about religion or God." But Henrietta responded:

Well, we're not out to please the alcoholics. They have been pleasing themselves all these years. We are out to please God. And if you don't talk about what God does, and your faith, and your guidance, then you might as well be the Rotary Club or something like that. Because God is your only source of Power.

Throughout her association with A.A., Henrietta was always outspoken in her zeal for service to God. She had cautioned that "Money will spoil this thing." She had complained to Bill that A.A., in later years, was proceeding more on the level of psychology than through spirituality. Bill's response to her had been, "I know, but they think there are so many people that need this and they don't want to send them away" by talking about what God has done in their (the early members') lives. Henrietta felt A.A. people had forgotten their "source of Power," God.

In the early 1950's, Henrietta was living in New York at 863 Park Avenue. She was greatly disturbed which the way A.A. was going. She wrote Clarence,

A lot of people up here are buffaloed into being "W.W.s" (Wilson Worshipers) instead of "A.A.s'." Notice that A.A. is at the beginning & WW is at the end, even of the alphabet.

She also wrote Clarence,

Bill will stand exposed for the show off that he is. He is so empty that as you know Anne [Smith] begged me to do a little "missionary work" on him. She [Anne Smith, Dr. Bob's wife] was sorry to have heard him at the last banquet she came to hear.

In the same letter, Henrietta wrote Clarence, "I knew he [Bill] had petitioned the Foundation to give Dr. Silkworth & himself the royalties [that were] going to Bob [Smith]." Henrietta felt, as did Clarence, that there should be no royalties paid for what was supposed to have been an avocation.

At the time of Dr. Bob's death, Henrietta wrote Clarence about A.A.'s memorial Grapevine issue for Dr. Bob. She wrote:

[I] can't really read it through because the truth is so doctored up to suit Bill's claims. - The telephone conversation involving me is utterly false & all of it so 'slanted' - I wish he would have left me in the anonymity I have kept.

Index of Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Table of Contents


Chapter 8.3


New York and Mid-West A.A.

Coming of Age

I explain this at some length because I want you to be successful with yourself and the people with whom you work. We used to pussyfoot on this spiritual business a great deal more out here (New York City) and the result was bad, for our record falls quite short of the performance of Akron and Cleveland, where there are now about 350 Alcoholics, many of them sober 2 or 3 years, with less than 20% ever having had any relapse. Out there they have always emphasized the spiritual way of life as the core of our procedure... [Personal correspondence from Bill Wilson. mid 1940.]

Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION - Modern Wisdom from Classic Stories (Bantam Books, 1992) p. 109f.

Clarence summarized to the author his view of the difference between New York and Mid-West A.A. Clarence felt that the approach in Ohio was, "Trust God, Clean House, and Help Others." He felt that the approach in New York was, "Don't Drink and Go To Meetings.

Clarence felt, the emphasis on spirituality was what had made Ohio A.A. so successful. He pointed out that New York A.A. had but a few members who were maintaining any sort of abstinence from alcohol, and that most Ohio members had achieved what was to become permanent sobriety and had numerous, strong A.A. meetings in evidence.

Clarence felt that if the primary purpose of A.A. were only to stop drinking and, in order to maintain that abstinence, only go to meetings, A.A. was doomed to failure. Clarence remembered that Dr. Bob was once saying:

"There is an easy way and a hard way to recovery from alcoholism. The hard way is by just going to meetings."

Clarence stated that nowhere in the Steps of A.A. does it say one has to stop drinking. He was speaking of the A.A. statement that the only REQUIREMENT for membership is "a desire to stop drinking."

If an A.A. member puts the steps into their lives, beginning with the first three steps, they have admitted that they were powerless over alcohol, they could not manage their own lives, and that they had made a decision to turn their lives and their wills over to the care of God. They were no longer in charge. A Power Greater than themselves had been asked to take over.

If an A.A. member is constantly, on a daily basis, fighting taking a drink, there is no one in charge but the A.A. member. There is no power greater than oneself. The A.A. book states:

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone - even alcohol.*

*Alcoholics Anonymous (New York; Works Publishing Company, 1939) p. 84

Mid-West A.A. puts the reliance on God, a Higher Power, and not the A.A. meetings or other A.A. members. New York places reliance on a human power. The A.A. book clearly states,

That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.*

*Alcoholics Anonymous (New York; Works Publishing Company, 1939) p. 60

Bill Wilson made numerous trips to Ohio to try and find out what they had that worked so well. He spoke with Clarence and with Dr. Bob and attended meetings. He tried to bring back the program of recovery as it was in Ohio to the New York members, but they would not assimilate the spirituality into their brand of A.A.

Clarence felt that what Ohio had was special. He spent the rest of his life speaking around the country and the world relating what A.A. and God had done for him. Many people seemed to find Clarence's personality abrasive, and he occasionally stated that he was the one who had started A.A. This might have been a reason, that many refused to listen. They placed what Clarence said, and his way of saying things, before the importance of what A.A. had been. They were more concerned with the messenger's personality than with the principles of his message.

In the late 1940's and early 1950's, A.A. was beginning to come of age. Meetings were growing both in the number of meetings and in the number attending the meeting. Members were attaining sobriety and retaining it for long periods. Even today, A.A. continues to grow in numbers far beyond the dreams of the early members. However at what cost?

Is the purpose of A.A. to have the greatest amount of membership, making A.A. available to all those who claim to want it at any means possible, including the watering down of the steps and quality of recovery? Is the purpose of A.A. to help others recover from "a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body" by following the "prescription for a miracle" as written down in the basic text?

Where is God in A.A. today? Is it only "Don't drink and go to meetings," or is it the promise of a changed life? Are A.A. members "going to know a new freedom," merely by not drinking? The promises in the A.A. book are stated to come to fruition "before we are halfway through" the ninth step. According to Clarence, simplistic abstinence could never call these promises into being.

There are vast differences in A.A. today. Tolerance demands of A.A. members to allow other members to follow the path they have chosen for themselves. What type of recovery does the alcoholic wish to have? Which are his choices today? Are the alcoholic's choices limited by the location of meetings? All brands of A.A. should be offered to regular and prospective members.

The main difference between New York A.A. and Mid-West A.A. is the emphasis which is placed on spirituality. The basic text and the Steps are completely identical. We stood at the turning point*: What kind of recovery is it, that the A.A. member wants to achieve?

*Alcoholics Anonymous (New York; Works Publishing Company, 1939) p. 60

A.A. as a whole stands at that turning point. It is once again "Coming of Age," coming to the point of merely not drinking alcohol, or having a program of recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.

Should there be a New York A.A., a Mid-West A.A., a California A.A., or just an Alcoholics Anonymous Fellowship, available to those who not only need it, but for those who want to recover?

Growth and change are necessary parts of life. However, but to what end?

Index of Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Table of Contents