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 5.6


The Rockefeller Dinner

February 8, 1940

January 30, 1940

To Clarence Snyder,

...I am glad to hear of the good work you are doing.

Sincerely Yours,


Dr. Emmet Fox, Pastor

Church of the Healing Christ

Hotel Astor, New York, N.Y.

Bill Wilson had once again gone back to Willard Richardson to ask for more financial help. The Big Book had been published. Meetings were growing. Yet no significant money from book sales had been forthcoming.

Henrietta Seiberling had admonished to Frank Amos that "money would spoil this thing." But Amos's report was so glowing and promising for the movement that he again approached Mr. Rockefeller for money; and Rockefeller decided once again to help out.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. promised Bill he would invite all of his friends to a dinner in order that they too, could hear about this wonderful movement which was now officially known as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Alcoholics Anonymous had its legal trust, the Alcoholic Foundation and the founder had a book. Mr. Rockefeller therefore told Bill that all of his (Rockefeller's) friends would receive copies of the book at the dinner in the hope they would be able to help the movement out in some manner.

Bill once again envisioned millions pouring into the Foundation. The hope of hospitals, paid missionaries, offices and sales probably flashed before Bill's eyes.

Doc Smith was called so he could make plans to attend this event, and he was asked to bring along "some of the boys." Clarence was told by his sponsor, Doc, that he (Clarence) was to attend.

The well-oiled machinery of the Rockefeller empire was put to work. One hundred eighty-seven engraved invitations were sent out. They read as follows:

Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

requests the pleasure of your company

at dinner

on Thursday, the eighth of February

at seven o'clock

The Union Club

Park Avenue and 69th Street

Mr. William G. Wilson, author of "Alcoholics Anonymous"

and Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick

will speak on an Effective control of alcoholism

R.s.v.p. - 30 Rockefeller Plaza - Business Suit

Of the one hundred eighty-seven invitations that were sent out, one hundred and twenty-seven people sent their regrets. Sixty people, including among them, members of A.A. responded in the affirmative.

Of the sixty who attended, several were or became, great friends of the A.A. movement. These included: Frank Amos, Gordon Auchincloss, Dr. R. E. Blaisdell, Horace Crystal, A. Leroy Chipman, Leonard V. Harrison, Dr. Foster Kennedy, Dr. W. D. Silkworth, Dr. Leonard V. Strong, Jr. and Wendell L. Wilkie.

Among the A.A. members who attended were Bill Wilson, Dr. R. H. Smith, Fitz M. from Washington, D. C., Bert T. and Bill R. from New York. Clarence Snyder represented Cleveland.

Clarence had boarded a Pullman train in Akron at six P.M. on the evening of February seventh along with Doc for the long trip to Jersey City, New Jersey. Clarence was in car 102 and occupied Lower Berth #4. He paid $3.95 for ticket number 685. He was excited once again to be visiting New York City and with the prospect of meeting John D. Rockefeller, Jr. This was Clarence's first time back in New York since he had gotten sober.

The menu for the dinner which was printed on a Union Club card, was dated, February 8, 1940, and contained the following:


















After the dinner, Nelson Rockefeller made apologies for his father, John D., who could not attend due to illness. Nelson Rockefeller then turned the meeting portion of the gathering over to Mr. Albert L. Scott. Mr. Scott had been in attendance at the original meeting with Mr. Rockefeller in December 1937.

After making a few brief introductory remarks to those assembled, Mr. Scott introduced Bill Wilson. (Quotes from the dinner were taken from the "Digest of Proceedings at Dinner given by Mr. John D. Rockefeller Jr. in the interest of Alcoholics Anonymous at Union Club, New York City, February 8, 1940" which was made available by the Rockefeller Archives in Tarrytown, N.Y.). Scott said:

"I first want to introduce my friend Bill Wilson, who is at my right. Of this group, Bill Wilson here has been the leader. He is almost, if not entirely, the originator of the undertaking."

Clarence vividly remembered being taken aback by these remarks. He felt his sponsor, Dr. Bob, was once again being demoted to the post of "forgotten Co-Founder." Clarence wanted to get up and clarify this glaring oversight to Mr. Scott; and he indignantly started to rise. Clarence remembered that Doc Smith placed his hand on Clarence's arm and quietly asked Clarence to remain seated. Doc then explained to Clarence that his (Doc's) purpose there was not to receive any applause, but rather to lend support to the movement. He went on to tell Clarence that he was content with taking a back seat, and didn't mind that Bill was once again in the spotlight. Clarence remembered Doc's saying "Bill eats this stuff up." Doc said to Clarence to "Let him have his day."

Clarence was very protective of Doc. He felt that Doc was "getting a raw deal in all of this." Clarence continued to protest throughout his life that Doc always got "the short end of the stick," especially after Doc had passed on and "Bill was left to his own devices." These "devices," Clarence always felt, had been kept in check while Doc was alive by Doc's gentle persuasion which would "calm him (Bill) down."

On any event, Bill began his talk by saying: "If there is one thing that most people would like, it is to recover the good things they have lost. With us who have been alcoholics one of those good things is the regard of our fellow men."

Bill then proceeded to thank all of those present for coming to the dinner as "a mark of renewed confidence." Bill then related the story of Roland H.'s visits with Dr. Carl Gustav Jung in Switzerland and how Doctor Jung had told Roland that he must experience a "so-called vital spiritual experience." Bill then went on to say that Dr. Jung had told Roland:

"I don't know whether the lightning will hit you or not. You might try. Otherwise you may as well shut yourself up, because if you don't, you will die."

Bill then told those assembled of his own experiences with alcoholism and how it had affected all areas of his life.

Bill also related how Roland had carried the message of the Oxford Group to an old drinking friend, Ebby T. And Bill told how Ebby had then eventually, carried the message - "I've got religion" - to him. Bill spoke briefly of his visit with Ebby and of the events leading to his spiritual experience in Towns Hospital.

Bill told of his meeting Dr. Bob, and of their adventures over the summer and fall of 1935. He spoke about returning to New York City and trying to work with other alcoholics, just as he had done in Akron. Bill added, "Meanwhile, as an avocation - and that is what it is with all of us - I did some work here in my spare time." He also related some of the background concerning the writing of the Big Book and its history to date.

He talked a little about what A.A. was doing around the country and of its successes. He began with Cleveland and with Clarence. Bill said:

"One of these fellows was a chap who is here tonight, by the name of Clarence Snyder. Clarence began to work around among people in Cleveland... so little by little a nucleus was formed in Cleveland of people who were getting well."

Bill then briefly discussed the success that they had been having in Chicago and New Jersey.

Bill said: "Of all the people who have been seriously interested in this thing since the beginning, one-half have had no relapse at all. About 25% are having some trouble, but in our judgement will recover. The other 25% we do not know about."

[In comparison with today's recovery rates, these 25 percentages were quite impressive.]

At the end of his talk, Bill turned the meeting over to Mr. Scott, who, in turn, introduced Dr. Foster Kennedy. After Dr. Kennedy's brief remarks, the Reverend Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick was introduced to speak. Dr. Fosdick ended his talk with the following remarks;

"Last of all, I admire the quietness, the anonymity which this movement is carried on. Very small overhead financially, no big organization, nobody making anything out of it, no high salaried staff, people for the love of it sharing with others the experience that has meant life to them - that is good work. No one is a prophet, but I suspect that there is a long road ahead of this movement."

Remembering these remarks, Clarence recalled to the author:

"...It's a far cry from what A.A. is today. What with the millions of dollars in rent and salaries, millions of dollars going to one individual in royalties - where are the people doing it for the love of it, doing it as an avocation?"

After all of the speakers were done, the A.A. members mingled and spoke one-on-one with those present. What Clarence there observed and heard disturbed him greatly. He told the author he felt that the New York A.A.'s were "trying to put the bite on the rich people who were there." He remembered feeling ashamed of their performance.

Later, after all of the guests had left, hands were shaken, thanks were given to Mr. Rockefeller and to his staff for a beautiful meeting and a wonderful meal. All of the A.A.'s went down the street, as Clarence put it, "to one of them Greek restaurants to have a critique."

Clarence remarked to the author that Bill was "walking four feet off of the ground - he knows that he's gonna get millions from these people." Bill told Clarence at that time, "You'll get out on the road and start groups. That will be your thing to do. We're all going to get busy with all these millions."

Clarence then looked at Bill and replied, "Bill, we aren't gonna get anything out of these people." He told Bill he was ashamed concerning the "bunch of bums who you brought in to panhandle these rich guys." Clarence felt that Bill didn't really hear what he (Clarence) was saying, and that Bill was too involved in his "schemes."

Soon after they had returned to Akron, Doc and Clarence were informed that Rockefeller had only given a mere $1,000 to the movement. With the sale of the Big Books to Mr. Rockefeller and to those who "got the hint" in the accompanying letters, A.A. received an additional $2,000. Three thousand dollars in total, all from a group of men, money of whom were worth many millions.

Clarence stayed in New York for another week, attended meetings and spoke. In a February 19, 1940 letter from Bert T., a Trustee of the Alcoholic Foundation, Clarence was told, "Everybody liked your talk at the Sunday meeting, and Bill said he wished you had been able to give it at the regular Tuesday meeting. However, most of your talk has been passed around by word of mouth and I am glad of that."

Even though the dinner was a financial disappointment to the alcoholics, especially Bill, it inspired them to continue full force in carrying the message to the still sick and suffering alcoholic. And Bill felt the ensuing free publicity from the dinner would probably make up in other donations and membership what they had "lost" on the dinner itself. The message was important, the message must go on.


This was the quote that was in the beginning of most early A.A. literature.


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