Dr. Bob Smith

Bill Wilson

An Extraordinary Chain of Events

Alcoholics Anonymous traces its roots back to 1929 when a New York investment banker with a severe drinking problem, Rowland Hazard III, sailed to Europe seeking help from one of the pioneers of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung.   As it is explained in the Wikipedia entry for Hazard, "Some of Rowland's family and friends may have been influential in setting up his famous encounter with Carl JungLeonard Bacon, winner of the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, was Hazard's first cousin. Bacon was analyzed by Jung in 1925, an experience which inspired a short book of poetry, Animula Vagula.  Hazard's Yale classmate and friend, psychologist Charles Robert Aldrich, was a colleague of Jung and included Hazard among those he thanked in the preface of his book, The Primitive Mind and Modern Civilization."  Bill tells the rest of the Dr. Jung/Rowland H. story in the Big Book on page 26.

 

Rowland Hazard returned to New York following his second trip to see Dr. Jung seeking what he believed to be his only hope for recovery – “a huge emotional displacement and rearrangement.”  In hopes of realizing this spiritual awakening, which is the phrase Bill W. chose to use in the Big Book for these emotional rearrangements, he sought out and then joined an Oxford Group – a prominent religious fellowship of the day (1933) that was part of the Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City, the church Bill W. was referring to when he said in the excerpt above that Rowland was already “a good church member.” 

 

Not long after Rowland’s emotional rearrangement, Ebby Thatcher, who was a childhood friend of Bill W.'s and also an alcoholic, was about to be committed by a judge to an asylum for the hopelessly drunk, the only “treatment” in those days (1934) for acute alcoholism. Having heard of Ebby’s plight, three men from the Calvary Church Oxford Group, one of whom was Rowland Hazard, met with that judge requesting that Ebby be released into their custody rather than institutionalized and the judge did just that.  Subsequently, Rowland met alone with Ebby, told him his story and taught him the tenets he had learned from the Oxford Group much like a sponsor would work with a sponsee in A.A. today. Later that year as we know from Bill’s Story in the Big Book, Ebby had his chance to relay these Oxford Group tenets to Bill W.

 

Bill in fact, through his association with Ebby, became a member of the Calvary Episcopal Church Oxford Group and a spiritual student of it's pastor Sam Shoemaker.  Through this link you can learn how Bill borrowed heavily from the wisdom of Sam Shoemaker and his Calvary Church Oxford Group in the development of A.A.’s 12 Steps.  In addition, most of the A.A. pioneers, or original members, were Oxford Group members.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.  Before we discuss the early days of A.A., we need to look at the role of the Oxford Groups in the fateful meeting of Bill W. and Dr. Bob in Akron Ohio, the first time the founding fathers of Alcoholics Anonymous were to meet.

 

At the time, early May 1935, Bill was about 6 months sober and on a business trip to Akron, OH.  The business outcome he had hoped for had not materialized so he found himself back at his hotel disheartened and unsettled.  Walking by the hotel lounge, he was drawn by the sound of laughter, tinkling ice cubes and soft music.  “What could be better,” he may have thought, “than a few cocktails with friendly strangers to salve my wounded pride.”  Instead, he crossed to a phone booth just outside the lounge, remembering that talking with another alcoholic had helped him stay sober in the recent past.  Little did he know at that time that his decision would change his life forever, as well as the lives of millions of others who would eventually find their way to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

 

Not knowing where to find a fellow alcoholic in Akron, he stepped into the phone booth and opened the phone book to a list of local churches and their pastors.  From the list he pulled the name and number of one Reverend Tunks.  But Reverend Tunks was busy and had no time for Bill.  He did however, pass along the name and number of one of his congregants - Henrietta Sieberling. 

 

There is no indication in the available A.A. conference approved literature that Bill knew at the time he called Reverend Tunks that his church had an Oxford Group or that Henrietta was a member of that group.  But not only was she a member of that Oxford Group, she was also friends with Anne Smith, Dr. Bob’s wife, who had recently reached out to her friend Henrietta’s Oxford Group in the hopes of getting help for her hopelessly drunken husband, Dr. Bob.

 

So it was that this incredible chain of events and circumstances, starting with Rowland Hazard’s trip to Switzerland in 1929 led to the first meeting between Bill W. and Dr. Bob on May 13, 1935 in the home of Henrietta Sieberling.  Because Dr. Bob did not get sober immediately, June 10, rather than May 13 is the official founding date of Alcoholics Anonymous - the first day of Dr. Bob’s permanent sobriety.  At that point, June 10, 1935, two sober alcoholics for the first time ever, that we know of, were committed to each other’s recovery.

This is the gatehouse of the Firestone estate in Akron, where Bill and Dr. Bob first met. 

At that time it was the home of John and Henrietta Sieberling. Henrietta was the daughter

of Harvey S. Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company.

Seeds of Rebellion