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A Glimmer of Hope

This article is written by nationally recognized historian and oft-quoted Alcoholics Anonymous archivist Mitchell K.

Despite his own success at staying sober, Bill W. had not been able to get anyone else in New York sober. He carried the message, but no one would join him on this new journey. Both Bill and Lois were happy about this new life in sobriety, but Bill was discouraged not being able to "cure" another drunk.

In the early spring of 1935, Bill was going to Akron, Ohio on a business venture. With almost 5 months of newfound sobriety he was ready to tackle the world. Upon his arrival in Akron he checked into the Mayflower Hotel.

Bill's business venture failed. The proxy fight did not go as he had expected he was alone in a strange city and he was feeling down. As he paced the lobby of the Mayflower, the bar and the familiar noises associated with bars was drawing him towards that direction.

He had a choice to make; use what little money he had left to get drunk - or - make a phone call and once again, attempt to help another drunk to get sober. He chose the phone call.

This is the official rendition of the story as told in the literature. There is some speculation however; that the events portrayed in the literature are not what actually happened. There are some who question whether or not the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker asked Bill to "look up" Henrietta Seiberling or some other Oxford Group member as a means of keeping in contact with the Group in Akron.

Bill had many close ties with the Oxford Group in New York and Rev. Shoemaker might have hoped that a connection to the Oxford Group in Akron would help in Bill's continued sobriety.

Henrietta's Comments

Much of the story relating to the phone calls at the Mayflower has been labeled as false by one of the people who would have known about what actually transpired there.

Henrietta Seiberling, the person who arranged the meeting between Bill and Dr. Bob wrote to an early AA member telling him her side of the story. In that undated (ca. Early 1950's) letter, Henrietta wrote the following about what Bill had written in the RHS Memorial Grapevine issue.

"His accounts in the "Memoriam" Grapevine were made up - Telephone conversations, etc - Everything phony…"

Whether the official story was written to make a better sounding history or not doesn't alter the fact that Bill did meet with Dr. Bob and the seed that was to become Alcoholics Anonymous was planted at Henrietta's Gatehouse home on the Seiberling estate.
Approximately a week after that historic meeting, Bill wrote a letter to his wife Lois. It was written on Dr. Bob's letterhead and described Bill's experiences with Dr. Bob. The letter was written prior to Bill moving in to live with Dr. Bob and his wife Anne while he was still staying at the Portage Country Club where Henrietta had arranged for Bill go as he could no longer afford to continue on at the Mayflower Hotel.

In this letter Bill told Lois that "I am writing this in the office of one of my new friends, Dr. S____. He had my trouble and is getting to be an ardent Grouper. I have been to his house for meals, and the rest of his family is as nice as he is." Bill went on to say that he had "witnessed" at several meetings of the Oxford Group at the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams. He also wrote that he and Dr. Bob were trying to "change a Dr. McK___, once the most prominent surgeon in town," and, "His change, if accomplished, would be a most powerful witness to the whole town as his case is so notorious."

Though Bill D., was the first successful case Bill and Dr. Bob worked on, and credited with being, "AA #3," it appears that there were probably several other alcoholics prior to him to whom the message was carried.

More will be revealed…

Mitchell K.

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