HOW IT WORKED
The Rockefeller Dinner
February 8, 1940
January 30, 1940
To Clarence Snyder,
...I am glad to hear of the
good work you are doing.
Dr. Emmet Fox, Pastor
Church of the Healing Christ
Hotel Astor, New York, N.Y.
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
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.
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.
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.
once again envisioned millions pouring into the Foundation. The
hope of hospitals, paid missionaries, offices and sales probably
flashed before Bill's eyes.
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.
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
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
R.s.v.p. - 30 Rockefeller Plaza
- Business Suit
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.
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.
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.
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.
menu for the dinner which was printed on a Union Club card, was
dated, February 8, 1940, and contained the following:
STUFFED TOMATO WITH CRAB MEAT
BLACK BEAN SOUP
ROAST BREAST OF DUCKLING
BROILED SWEET POTATOES
MIXED GREEN SALAD
BOMBE UNION CLUB
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.
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:
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."
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."
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."
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."
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:
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."
then told those assembled of his own experiences with alcoholism
and how it had affected all areas of his life.
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.
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.
talked a little about what A.A. was doing around the country and
of its successes. He began with Cleveland and with Clarence. Bill
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."
then briefly discussed the success that they had been having in
Chicago and New Jersey.
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."
comparison with today's recovery rates, these 25 percentages were
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;
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."
these remarks, Clarence recalled to the author:
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?"
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.
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
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."
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."
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.
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."
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
"ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS HAS BUT
ONE PURPOSE: TO HELP THE SICK ALCOHOLIC RECOVER IF HE WISHES."
This was the quote that was
in the beginning of most early A.A. literature.
THE MESSAGE MUST GO ON.