By Mitchell K. © 1991, 1997
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Index of Chapter 5

Chapter 5:   HOW IT WORKED 5.4 - Other Publicity
5.1 - The First A.A. Meeting in the World 5.5 - Personal Contact - "Attraction Rather Than Promotion"
5.2 - Summer of '39 5.6 - The Rockefeller Dinner
5.3 - Cleveland Continues to Grow 5.7 - Trials and Tribulations of 1940

Chapter 5


Proceed with imagination and real faith- expect things to happen. If you EXPECT things to happen, they DO happen. This is based on FAITH IN GOD, not on our own strength. A negative attitude toward ourselves or others cuts off God's power; it is evidence of lack of faith in His power. If you go into a situation admitting defeat, of course you lose.

Anne Smith's Oxford Group Diary

Chapter 5.1


The First A.A. Meeting in the World

A.A. spoke to us, not with the accusing voice of those who had never known the tragedy of alcoholism, who had never suffered distraction; it spoke to us out of the experience of those who had suffered just as we had suffered and who had found how to break the chains. It told us simply that we had been trying to meet our problems without surrendering those things that keep us tied to the wheel. We had been trying to pull ourselves together with a will too shattered to be able to succeed.

Cleveland's Central Bulletin, Volume #1, Number 11, August 1943

On May 11, 1939, one month after the book had been published, a meeting was held. It was a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was a meeting held by, and for alcoholics and their families only. Historian, Mary C. Darrah, wrote:

"In the years 1935-1939, the Oxford meetings provided a group experience for the early alcoholics. A.A. did not meet as a separate group officially named Alcoholics Anonymous until May 1939 at the home of Abby G. in Cleveland."

Nell Wing* stated in an interview with the author: "Clarence was rightly the first to use the initials, A.A." She was, however, referring to Clarence's use of the initials "A.A." and not to his use of the name Alcoholics Anonymous.

* Secretary of Bill Wilson from 1947 to Bill's death in 1971, and A.A.'s first Archivist

A fellowship of anonymous drunks had in fact existed prior to May 11, 1939. But it was the Cleveland meeting which first used the name Alcoholics Anonymous, that it took from the book. Cleveland's May, 1939 meeting is the first documented meeting which used the name Alcoholics Anonymous, separate and apart from the Oxford Group.

According to the records of the Cleveland Central Committee's Recording Statistician, Norman E. (which were compiled in the middle of June 1942) the following took place:

On 5/10/39, nine members left the Akron meeting of the Oxford Group to form the G. group. The location of the group was 2345 Stillman Road, Cleveland Heights, Cleveland, Ohio. The sponsors of the group were; Clarence Snyder, Al G., Geo. J. McD., John D., Dr. Harry N., Lee L., Vaughn P., Chas. J., and Lloyd T. The first secretary of the group was Clarence Snyder.

The preceding information was taken from a survey form sent out to all Cleveland groups on June 18, 1942. The G. group information was filled out and signed by, Albert R. G., and dated June 24, 1942. These original forms are part of a collection of original Cleveland memorabilia and records in the possession of Clarence H. Snyder and which he delivered to the author prior to his death.

The first A.A. meeting in the world was not uneventful. According to Clarence, the entire group from Akron showed up the next night and tried to "discourage" the Cleveland meeting from happening. Discourage was a very mild term, according to Clarence; and he used it sarcastically. He said:

"The whole group descended upon us and tried to break up our meeting. One guy was gonna whip me. I want you to know that this was all done in pure Christian love.. A.A. started in riots. It rose in riots."

Clarence was often quoted as saying, "If you don't stand for something, you're liable to fall for anything." And on May 11, 1939, Clarence stood his ground, as did the other members of that first A.A. group. Thus A.A., as such, began in Cleveland, Ohio.

In a letter to Hank P., dated June 4, 1939, Clarence wrote:

"Bill J. and I and Clarace Williams, and etc., etc. had a knockdown dragged out affair a couple of weeks ago and they have chosen to leave us alone and confine their activities elsewhere. We lost the activities of three or four rummies but I guess it had to be that way. Life is too short and there is too much to be done to spend any time or energy carrying on any comedy or petting business with any Oxford Group or any other group."

In the same letter, Clarence described how the Cleveland meetings were being conducted:

"...Not too much stress on spiritual business at meetings."

Clarence always felt that overt spirituality belonged between a "baby" and his sponsor. Prayer and Bible reading was a prerequisite, Clarence felt, but only at home. His 1939 letter went on:

"Have discussion after meetings of any business or questions arising. Plenty of fellowship all the time. Leaders of meetings have been chosen so far by seniority in the bunch."

The meetings were very simple. They opened with a prayer or the reading of a verse from the Bible. This was followed by the leader's speaking for one half hour to forty-five minutes. Then the meeting was over.

At least the "official" part of the meeting was over. The remainder of the evening was spent with members and their families in fellowship with each other. "Plenty of hot coffee and doughnuts to go around," said Clarence. In Cleveland, there are still some meetings that are held in this manner - a short "lead," questions, and then fellowship.

The Cleveland meetings continued to grow as the members went forth to "fix rummies as an avocation." In an undated meeting roster for the G. group, which Clarence gave the author and which is probably from the summer of 1939, there is a listing of twenty-six typewritten names, addresses and phone numbers. It contains an additional thirty-five handwritten names in Clarence's handwriting on the bottom. The roster has first and last names in the typewritten part, and most of the handwritten names use only first initials and last names.

Among the names listed are: Clarence Snyder, Dr. Robert Smith, Richard S., Albert G., Warren C., William H., Jack D., Charles J., George McD., Clarence W., Glenn W., Dr. Harry N., and Vaughn P.

The author dates this roster as the summer of 1939 because Dr. Bob's name appeared on it. And Clarence said Dr. Bob attended the Cleveland meetings over the summer of 1939. Also Warren C.'s name appears on the roster and Clarence said he had "12-stepped" Warren in July 1939. By the Fall of 1939, the Abby G. group had split and formed three separate groups.

There was even some local radio publicity that Clarence appeared on in late May or early June which brought inquiries into the New York office for information on "The Alcoholics Anonymous."

In a letter to Clarence, from Bill Wilson's secretary, Ruth Hock, dated June 22, 1939, Ruth attached a listing of inquiries about Alcoholics Anonymous. Some of these had come from as far away as London, Ontario, Canada. Ruth wrote at the head of the list:


Soulsaving Snyder

Lyndhurst to Canada."

Included in Ruth's letter was a request that, "Something should be done about knockdown dragout affairs at Lyndhurst, Ohio - S.O.S." It is not clear whether Ruth's reference to "knockdown dragout affairs" alluded to the Cleveland break with the Oxford Group or to the fact that Clarence and Dorothy were having severe marital problems at home. Clarence lived in Lyndhurst; and the first meeting was in Cleveland Heights.

Ruth Hock was extremely close to both Clarence and his wife, Dorothy and remained so even after they eventually got divorced. Ruth continued to correspond with, and visit both of them at their respective homes. She maintained this close friendship until each had passed on.

There were many interesting stories connected with that first Summer of 1939 in Cleveland. It was in that first summer that A.A. began to grow. Along with the growth there came success, joy, sorrow and the inevitable growing pains.

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