you tell us about the early days and the meetings in
your home on Clinton Street?
those days we were associated with the Oxford Group
and one of its founders was Sam Shoemaker and the Group
was meeting in Calvary Church. Our dept to the Oxford
Group is simply immense. We might have found these principles
elsewhere, but they did give them to us, and I want
to again record our underlying gratitude. We also learned
from them, so far as alcoholics are concerned, what
not to do - something equally important. Father Edward
Dowling, a great Jesuit friend of ours, once said to
me, "Bill, it isn't what you people put into A.A. that
makes it good - it's what you left out." We got both
sets of notions from our Oxford Group friends, and it
was through them that Ebby had sobered up and became
my sponsor, the carrier of this message to me.
We began to go to Oxford Group meetings over in Calvary
House, and it was there, fresh out of Towns Hospital,
that I made my first pitch, telling about my strange
experience, which did not impress the alcoholics who
were listening. But something else did impress him.
When I began to talk about the nature of this sickness,
this malady, he pricked up his ears. He was a professor
of chemistry, an agnostic, and he came up and talked
afterward. Soon, he was invited over to Clinton Street
- our very first customer. We worked very hard with
Freddy for three years, but alas, he remained drunk
for eleven years afterward. Other people came to us
out of those Oxford Group audiences. We began to go
down to Calvary Mission, an adjunct of the church in
those days, and there we found a bountiful supply of
real tough nuts to crack. We began to invite them to
Clinton Street, and at this point the Groupers felt
that we were over doing the drunk business. It seemed
that they had the idea of saving the world and besides
they'd had a bad time with us. Sam and his associates,
he now laughingly tells me, were very much put out that
they gathered a big batch of drunks in Calvary House,
hoping for a miracle. They put them upstairs in those
nice apartments and had them completely surrounded with
sweetness and light but the drunks imported a flock
of bottles and one of them pitched a shoe out of the
apartment window and it went through a stained-glass
window of the church. So the drunks were not exactly
popular when the Wilson's showed up.
At any rate, we began to be with alcoholics all the
time, but nothing happened for six months. Like the
Groupers, we nursed them. In fact, over in Clinton Street,
we developed in the next two or three years something
like a boiler factory, a sort of clinic, a hospital,
and a free boarding house, from which practically no
one issued sober, but we had a pile of experience.
We began to learn the game, and after our withdrawal
from the Oxford Group - a year and a half from the time
I sobered in 1934 - we began to hold meetings of the
few who had sobered up. I suppose that was really the
first A.A. meeting. The book had not yet been written.
We did not even call it Alcoholics Anonymous; people
asked who we were and we said, "Well, we're a nameless
bunch of alcoholics." I suppose that use of the word
"nameless" sort of led us to the idea of anonymity,
which was later clapped on the book at the time it was
There were great doings in Clinton Street. I remember
those meetings down in the parlor so well. Our eager
discussion, our hopes, our fears - and our fears were
very great. When anyone in those days had been sober
a few months and slipped, it was a terrific calamity.
I'll never forget the day, a year and-a-half after he
came to stay with us, that Ebby fell over, and we all
said, "Perhaps this is going to happen to all of us."
Then, we began to ask ourselves why it was, and some
of us pushed on.
At Clinton Street, I did most of the talking, but Lois
did most of the work, and the cooking, and the loving
of those early folks.
Oh my! The episodes we had there! I was away once on
a business trip (I'd briefly got back into business),
one of the drunks was sleeping on the lounge in the
parlor. Lois woke up in the middle of the night, hearing
a great commotion. One of the drunks had gotten a bottle
and was drunk; he had also gotten into the kitchen and
had drunk a bottle of maple syrup and he had fallen
into the coal hod. When Lois opened the door, he asked
for a towel to cover up his nakedness. She once led
this same gentleman through the streets late at night
looking for a doctor, and not finding a doctor, then
looking for a drink, because, as he said, he could not
fly on one wing!
On one occasion, a pair of them were drunk. We had five,
and on another occasion, they were all drunk at the
same time! Then there was the time when two of them
began to beat each other with two-by-fours down in the
basement. Then one night, poor Ebby, after repeated
trials and failures, was finally locked out one night,
but lo and behold, he appeared anyway. He had come through
the coal chute and up the stairs, very much begrimed.
So you see, Clinton Street was a kind of blacksmith
shop, in which we were hammering away at these principles.
For Lois and me, all roads lead back to Clinton Street.
(Manhattan Group, 1955)