Chicago, Ill., February, 1951
By Bill W.
Transcribed from tape
Chairman: Let us open the meeting with our usual quiet time.
It is my privilege and pleasure to introduce you tonight to a man who really needs no introduction to this group of people. He is close to all your hearts. He has come here tonight from New York to give us a background and history of Alcoholics Anonymous, which has led us to our Third Legacy, our services.
I give you without further ado, Bill Wilson.
My dear friends of A.A. at Chicago, I think we shall all look back upon 1951 as a historic times, perhaps, a turning point in the destiny of our society.
For over fifteen years now you and I have watched a great building under construction. Yes, it is something more than a building. To most of us it is a temple, a cathedral of the spirit, in which 120,000 of us have now entered and are at peace and know freedom which in other days we never could have dreamed. Such is our cathedral of the spirit, which has been under construction.
It is with really deep emotion that I mark the widespread effort in our new venture. I think, first, I would like to recount the steps which have led us to this hour beginning with those times of realization which have greatly touched our destiny and marking each as it passes. We then see more clearly the wisdom or if you like the unwisdom of what we are about to do.
Everyone in this audience has had his great hour of realization. Every alcoholic here has come by the identical path that I did to the realization that I was utterly unable to go on living, that I was in the grips of an obsession which my own resources could not break. How well I remember my first realization of that stark dilemma.
It was in the summer of 1934. I lay in the Towns Hospital, New York and the good Doctor there had been encouraged but now he sat speaking to Lois, down stairs and she was inquiring "why, oh why can’t he get well, Doctor. His will power in other things is strong enough. Why can’t he break this insanity?"
The Doctor proceeded to explain to her that my obsession was indeed the master of my will and it condemned me to go on drinking against anything that I could do or that medical science could do that he knew of. So Lois, like every wife here had her hour of realization that I was hopeless.
Then came an interval of a few months and during that term a friend of mine who had been released of his obsession by the grace of God, came to visit me. Over my kitchen table ,where I sat drinking while Lois was a work, he related a simple formula which has now flowered into our Twelve Steps of recovery and that simple formula was, that he could not manage his own life, that he had got honest with himself as never before, that he had made a confession of his character defects, that he had tried to sweep away the debris of the past by mending his broken relations with others and he told me of a new kind of giving that demanded no rewards and then rather hesitantly, because he knew of my agnosticism he said, and to do these things, I ask for God’s help.
Thus spoke one alcoholic to another in a kitchen basement on Clinton Street in Brooklyn in November of 1934.
I rebelled against his idea of God but somehow the memory of that conversation could never escape me. He didn’t stay long, leaving me to my thoughts and in no waking hour after, could I banish what he had said from my mind. There was no new principle that he had enunciated, of course there wasn’t but why did these simple precepts sick when poured into me by him. Well, you and I know but we didn’t realize it then. We know that he impressed me because he presented a spectacle of relief. We know that I was impressed because he was another alcoholic who spoke my language and so a realization came that maybe there was hope.
At length I appeared at the hospital to be cleared up. The doctor put me to bed as I was as yet in such a bad way. Three days later, free from sedatives and alcohol, I looked up one morning out of my depression and saw this friend standing in the door. I feared he would evangelize me but no he didn’t. He said he had heard I was there and that he had come to pay a friendly visit. I asked him once more what were the terms of his release. Quite simply he stated them and again he took himself away.
Well, when he had gone my depression deepened until it seemed I was in the bottom of a deep pit, for you see I still rebelled against the idea that there was a God who could save me, who could enable me to do what I could not do myself. But, presently my rebellion peaked and in agony I cried out "If there is a God will He show Himself." And then came an experience which of course is the great event of my life. I had a very sudden experience in which it seemed the room lit up and I was caught in a great ecstasy. It seemed as though I was on the top of a mountain and a great wind blew and I knew it was spirit and at length I find myself still no the bed now surrounded by a presence and I thought to myself "so this is the God of the preacher."
You yourself have had exactly the same kind of thing happen to you excepting that it took longer. But all of you are now conscious that there is a Higher Power, that there is one on whom you can depend.
So I pondered there after this experience. I thought about the very simple terms by which it had come. I thought about it’s profound simplicity and yet it’s deep mystery, for indeed I did feel relief and it seemed to me that other alcoholic could find a kindred experience and I began to sense that one alcoholic talking to another might do what others could not to open the way to the grace of God.
So I commenced to work with others and nothing happened. There was a succession of failures for six months. Meanwhile, my friend began to stumble and fall by the wayside and would not be picked up from such a life.
Then the family began to say , "well when is this guy Wilson going to go back to work, how long is he going to be a missionary." In my search for work I stumbled into a business opportunity which took me out to Akron and the deal promptly collapsed and I was in a terribly distraught state. I suddenly panicked, in fear of getting drunk and then I remembered how much it had helped me to try to help others even though none had responded. I thought to myself that this situation is different as I am no dispenser of grace so I must find another alcoholic and try to help him so as I can remain free. That was a realization that has since counted much.
By a singular chain of circumstances that no one could call coincidence, I was presently brought face to face with our well loved Dr. Bob and his Annie.
We were put together by a non-alcoholic. You know that non-alcoholics have played a conspicuous part in this movement of ours. We were brought together by a non-alcoholic who understood and who had the time and who cared enough. So he and I met in her living room in Akron in the summer of 1935 and this time I needed that alcoholic as much as he needed me. There was mutuality which there hadn’t been before.
Something happened, something new began to happen and he was relieved and stayed that way until our friend left us last November. Annie, however, was on the prudent side and she said "Bill wouldn’t you like to come over and live at our house for a while so you might look after Bob and he could look after you and maybe you could do together what you couldn’t do separately. So, I went to live at their place and presently Dr. Bob said to me "don’t you think that for self-protection we had better be working with more drunks and I thought it was a good idea. Meanwhile, I had been trying to revive my sagging business deal and the upshot of it was that he called the City Hospital where he was now in some discredit because of his drinking and he got hold of the Head Nurse down there and said to her "a fellow from New York and I think that we have a new cure for alcoholism." Quite kindly the nurse observed "well doctor I should think you would try it yourself." "Why," she said, "we’ve got a dandy, Doc, they just brought him in, he’s knocked down one of the nurses, she’s got black eyes and they’ve got him strapped down. How will that one do you." So, Doc said, "put him to bed and we’ll be down when you’ve got him cleared up a bit and put him in a private room."
So a little while after Dr. Bob and I saw a sight that tens of thousands of us have since beheld and God willing, hundreds of thousands shall see. It was the sight of the man on the bed who did not yet know that he could get well.
Well, as it turned out, the man on the bed was no optimist, like many a drunk since he said, "I’m different, my case is too tough and don’t talk to me about religion, I ‘m already a man of faith. I used to be a Deacon in the Church and I’ve got faith in God still but quite obviously He has none in me. Anyhow, come back tomorrow as you fellows interest me as you’ve been through the mill." Of course we had related our simple formula. Of course we had told him of our release although he was not impressed with the fact that mine was only of months and Bob’s only of days. He said, "I was sober once that long myself."
We came once more and as we entered his room the man’s wife sat at the foot of the bed and she was saying to her husband "what has got into you, you seem so different." He said "here they are, these are the ones who understand, they’ve been through the mill." He made great haste in explaining how during the night hope had come to him and he had taken the resolve to follow our simple formula. Something else had happened, there was a sense of lightness, a sense of feeling in one piece, a feeling of relief, he said.
The next thing we knew No. 3 was saying to his wife "Fetch my clothes dear, were going to get up and get out of here." So A.A. No. 3 rose from his bed and walked from that place never to drink again. Well, at that time there was no realization on the part of us three of what had begun to happen. Of course, that was the beginning of A.A. as we understand it today. The essential process was the same and the grace of God just as ever lasting.
The first A.A. Group had come into being but we still had no name. Those were the days of flying blind, those ensuing two or three years. A slip in those days was a dreadful calamity. We would look at each other and wonder who might be next. Failure! Failure! Failure was our constant companion.
I returned to New York now endowed with a more becoming humility and less preaching and a few people began to come to us, a few in Cleveland and Akron. I had got back into business briefly and again Wall Street collapsed and took me with it as usual. So I set out west to see if there was something I might do in that country. Dr. Bob and I of course had been corresponding but it wasn’t until one late fall afternoon in 1937 that I reached his house and I sat there in that living room. I can recall the scene as though it were yesterday and we got out a pencil and paper and began to put down the names of those people in Akron, New York and that little sprinkling in Cleveland who had been dry a while and despite the large number of failures it finally burst in on us that forty people had got a real release, had really significantly dry time behind them. I shall never forget that great and humbling hour of realization. Bob and I saw for the first time that a new light had begun to shine down upon us alcoholics, had begun to shine upon the children of the night.
That realization brought a new and immense responsibility. Naturally, we thought at once, how shall what we forty know be carried to the millions who don’t know? Within gunshot of this house there must be others like us thoroughly bothered by this obsession. How shall they know? How shall the millions who suffer everywhere know? How is this thing going to be transmitted?
Up to this time as you must be aware, A.A. was utterly simple. It filled the full measure of simplicity as is since demanded by a lot of people. I guess we old timers all have a nostalgia about those halcyon days of simplicity when thank God there were no founders and no money and there were no meeting places, just parlors. Annie and Lois baking cakes and making coffee for those drunks in the living room. We didn’t even have a name! We just called ourselves a bunch of drunks trying to get sober. We were more anonymous than we are now. Yes, it was all very simple. But, here was a new realization, what was the responsibility of the forty men to those who did not know.
Well, I have been in the world of business, a rather hectic world of business, the world of Wall Street. I suspect that I was a good deal of a promoter and a bit of a salesman, rather better than I am here today. So, I began to think in business man’s terms. We had discovered that the hospitals did not want us drinkers because we were poor payers and never got well. So, why shouldn’t we have our own hospitals and I envisioned a great chain of drunk tanks and hospitals spreading across the land. Probably I could sell stocks in those and we could damn well eat as well as save the drunks.
Then too, Dr. Bob and I recalled it had been a very tedious and slow business to sober up forty people, it had taken about three years and in those days we old timers had the vain glory to suppose that nobody else could really do this job but us. So, we naturally thought in terms of having alcoholic missionaries, no disparagement to missionaries to be sure. In other words, people would be grubstaked for a year or two, moved to Chicago, St. Louis, Frisco and so on and start little centers and meanwhile we would be financing this string of drunk tanks and begin to suck them in to these places. Yes, we would need missionaries and hospitals! Then came one reflection that did make some sense.
It seemed very clear to us that what we had already found out should be put on paper. We needed a book, so, Dr. Bob called a meeting for the very next night and in that little meeting of a dozen and a half, a historic decision was taken which deeply affected our destiny. It was in the living room of a non alcoholic friend who let us come there because his living room was bigger than the Smith’s parlor and he loved us. I too, remember that day as if it were yesterday.
So, Smithy and I explained this new obligation which depended upon us forty. How are we to carry this message to the ones who do not know? I began to wind up my promotion talk about the hospitals and the missionaries and the book and I saw their faces fall and straight away that meeting divided into three significant parts. There was the promoter section of which I was definitely one. There was the section that were indifferent and there was what you might call the orthodox section.
The orthodox section was very vocal and it said with good reason, "look! put us into business and we are lost. Professionalize this thing and we are lost. This works because it is simple, because everybody works at it, because nobody makes anything out of it, because no one has any axe to grind except his sobriety and the other guy’s. If you even publish a book we shall have infinite quarrels about the damn thing. It will put us into business and the clinker of the orthodox section was that our Lord, Himself, had no book.
Well, it was impressive and events proved that the orthodox people were practically right, but, thank God, not fully right. Then there were the indifferent ones who thought, well, if Smitty and Bill think we ought to do these things well its all right with us. So the indifferent ones, plus the promoters out voted the orthodoxy and said "if you want to do these things Bill, you go back to New York where there is a lot of dough and you get the money and then we’ll see."
Well, by this time I ‘m higher than a kite, you know. These promoters can stay high on something besides alcohol. I was already talking about the greatest medical development, greatest spiritual development, greatest social development probably of all times. Think of it, forty drunks.
So I went back to New York as we say, all steamed up. I then made the dismal discovery that the very rich who had the money that we needed had not the slightest interest in drunks, they just didn’t care a damn. I solicited and I solicited and I became very worried. I even approached the Rockefeller Foundation, you know, I figured John D. would certainly have an interest in alcoholism, sociology and medicine and religion and this should just fit the bill. But no, we didn’t fit into any category with the Rockefeller Foundation and they felt a little poor at the time what with the depression.
One day I’m in my brother-in-law’s office, he’s a doctor. I was moaning about the stinginess of the rich, our need for money and how it looked like this thing wasn’t going to go anywhere. He said, "Have you tried the Rockefeller Foundation." And I told him I had. "Well," he said, "if you saw Mr. Rockefeller personally." I said, "Dr. Winn, I don’t mean to be facetious, but could you recommend me to the Prince of Wales, he might help out too." And then came one of those strange turns of fate, if you like, or providence, if you prefer and the slender thread was this, my brother-in-law the Doctor sat there scratching his head and he said "when I was a young fellow I used to go to high school with a girl and I think the girl had an uncle and it seems to me his name was Richardson and he was then a pretty old guy and he might be dead now but it does seem to me that he had something to do with the Rockefeller Charities. Supposing I call the Rockefeller offices and see if he around and see if he would remember me. He called this dear old gentleman on the phone, one of the greatest non alcoholic friends A.A. has ever had. Immediately he remembered my brother-in-law and said "Leonard where have you been all these years. I’d love to see you."
Unlike me, my brother-in-law is a man of very few words and he rather tensely explained that he had a relative who was trying to help alcoholics and was making some headway and could we come over to Mr. Rockefeller’s offices and talk about it. "Why certainly," said the old man, and soon we were in the presence of this wonderful Christian gentleman who was incredibly one of John D. ‘s closest friends. When I saw that I thought now we are really getting close to the bankroll and the old man asked me a few shrewd questions and I told the yarn so far as it had been spun. He said, "Why Mr. Wilson, would you like to come to lunch with me early next week." Oh boy! Would I. Now we were really getting warm. So we had lunch and at the lunch he said "I know of three or four fellows who would be real interested in this. I’ll get a meeting together with them as they are friends or are associated with Mr. Rockefeller and some were recently on a committee which recently recommended the discontinuance of the prohibition experiment.
So presently, several of us alcoholics, Smithy and a couple from Akron, some of the boys from New York, found ourselves sitting in the company of these friends of Mr. Rockefeller in Mr. Rockefeller’s private boardroom. In fact, I was told that I was sitting in a chair that Mr. Rockefeller had sat in only a half hour before. I thought, now boys we are really getting hot.
Well, we were nonplussed, a little lost for words, so each of us alkies just started telling his story. Our new friends listened with really rapt attention and then with reluctance and modesty I brought up the subject of money and at once you see that God has worked through many people to shape our destiny. At once, Mr. Scott who sat at the head of the table said "I am deeply impressed and moved by what has been said here but aren’t you boys afraid that if you had money you might create a professional class, aren’t you afraid that the management of plants, properties and hospitals would distract you from your purely good will aims." Well, we admitted, we had certainly thought of those difficulties. They had been urged upon us by some of our own members, but that we felt that the risk of not doing these things was greater than the risk of doing at least some of them. "At least," we said, "Mr. Scott, this society needs a book in which we can record our experience so that the alcoholics at a distance can know what has happened."
One of the gentlemen said that he would go out to Akron and we kind of steered him that way as the mortgage on the Smith’s house was bigger than mine and he went out to Akron and came back with a glowing report which Mr. Richardson placed in front of Mr. Rockefeller. This marked another turning point. After hearing the story and reading the report on Akron Group No. 1, Mr. Rockefeller expressed his deep interest and feeling about us. "But Dick", he said, "If we give these fellows real money its going to spoil them and it will change the whole complexion. Maybe you fellows think it needs money and if you do go ahead and get them up some." He said, "I‘ll tell you what I‘ll do, I’ll put a small sum up in the Riverside Church treasury and you can draw it out and at least try to help these two men along for a little while but this thing should be self sustaining. Money, Dick, would spoil it." What a profound realization. God did not work through us at all but through Mr. Rockefeller whose every interest we had actually claimed from that moment. This man who had devoted his life to giving away money said "not this time." And he never did give us real money, praise God.
You probably remember the steps which led to the preparation of the book. We created something, a corporate committee of these friends and two or three of ourselves called the Alcoholic Foundation. Some of our new friends thought that Mr. Rockefeller was a little severe, that at least we needed money to write and get the book together. They even gave us names to solicit. Again, in the summer of 1938 we approached the rich with good recommendations and praise God we didn’t get one damn cent.
Then we decided to try to raise the money on a subscription for the book to be written and A.A. ‘s in New York began contributing $5.00 per month out of their salaries which were pretty small then. People in Akron began to write stories and people in New York wrote stories and old Charlie Towns the owner of the hospital where my doctor worked gave us a critical sum of money which made the book possible.
At length the book appeared and we had high hopes for it because the Reader’s Digest had promised us a piece. Well, after they made the promise they had an editorial meeting and suddenly decided that they wouldn’t publish the piece and they forgot to let us know. So, we had five thousand books printed, no market for them whatever and a good many of the early groups thought the book was a heresy anyway and the book venture all but collapsed.
In that forth year of A.A. Lois and I lost our house. The mortgage was foreclosed and the printer almost got the book. The sheriff moved in on the little office where it was prepared but we barely somehow got through that year of 1939. Early in 1940, still having Foundation meetings with our important friends who commiserated with us every three months. Mr. Richardson came bright and cheery to our meeting in January 1940 and he said "I’ve got great news, Mr. Rockefeller (from whom we hadn’t heard from for three years) has suddenly taken a great interest." He said "I think we should give these people a dinner. We will bring in some of my friends so as they can see the beginning of this promising work."
So a dinner was given at the Union Club. Mr. Rockefeller was very sick that night so his son Nelson came, Harry Emerson Fosdick who had beautifully reviewed the book came as did Dr. Foster Kennedy the noted neurologist. So we had Reverend Fosdick on the spiritual aspects, Dr. Kennedy on the medical aspects and naturally the drunks at each table who spoke for themselves. Well, you know, I’m a practical kind of a guy and I kind of figured out how much money was represented in that room and I figured that there was at least four or five billion dollars worth of capitol in that room in all those bankers. It seemed to me that we were really getting along on this money question, but no, Nelson Rockefeller, speaking on behalf of his father said "This is a work of good will gentlemen, my father wished you to see the beginning of this great thing which has so affected his life. But gentlemen, fortunately this is a cause which requires no money." Where upon the 4 or 5 million dollars got up and walked right out.
Such were our early struggles and how wise it was that we had to struggle. Such is a brief account of our pioneering time which terminated when another meeting took place which deeply affected our destiny. The meeting was entirely of non alcoholics. It was the Editorial Board of the Saturday Post which met in Philadelphia probably in January 1941 and the question was should the Post print anything about this new society of Alcoholics Anonymous. There was much division among the Board members and finally the owner of the Post turned to his associates and said "Well, we seem divided on this question but I have no divided mind on it as I have seen some of the results of this work and it is miraculous. I think we should print a piece."
And so it was that our beloved friend Jack Alexander wrote his famous article in the Saturday Evening Post in 1941. That article immediately brought down a deluge on our little New York office of thousands upon thousands of inquiries from frantic alcoholics, their wives, their employers and at that moment we passed out our infancy and embarked upon our next phase. The phase of adolescence.
Well, adolescence by definition is always a troubled time of young life and we were no exception as groups began to take shape all over the land and these groups immediately had trouble. We made the very sad discovery that just because you sobered up a drunk you haven’t made a saint of him by a long shot. We found that we could be bitterly resentful and we discovered we had a much better booze cure than we thought possible. A lot of us found that we could gripe like thunder and still stay sober. We found that we were in all sorts of petty struggles for leadership and prestige. A lot of us were suspicious of the Book enterprise in the hands of that fellow Wilson who has a truck backed up to Mr. Rockefeller who has all the dough. And we began to have all sorts of group troubles.
Money had entered the picture — it had to. We had to hire halls that didn’t come for nothing, the book cost something, we had dinners once in a while. Yes, money came into it.
Then we found little by little that the Groups had to have chores done. Who was going to be the Chairman, would we hand pick someone or elect him or what? You know what those troubles were and they became so fearsome that we went through another period of flying blind. The first period of flying blind you remember had to do with the question of whether the individual could be restored into one piece, whether the forces of destruction in him could be contained and subdued. Now, we were beginning to wonder in the early part of our adolescence, whether the destructive forces in our groups would rend us apart and destroy the society. Ah! Those were fearsome days.
Our little New York office began to be deluged with mail from these groups, growing up at distances and not in contact with our old centers and they were having these troubles: There were people coming out of the insane asylums. Lord, what would these lunatics do to us? There were prisoners, would we be sandbagged? There were queer people. There were people, believe it or not whose morals were
bad and the respectable alcoholics of that time shook their heads and said "surely these immoral people are going to rend us asunder." Little Red Riding Hood and the bad wolves began to abound. Ah, yes, could our society last?
It kept growing. More groups, more members. Sometimes the groups divided because the leaders were mad at each other and sometimes they divided because they were just too big. But by a process of fission and sub-division this movement grew and grew and grew. Ten years later it had spread into thirty countries.
Out of that vast welter of experience in our adolescence it began to be evident that we were going to take very different attitudes towards many things
than our fellow Americans. We were deeply convinced for example, that the survival of the whole was far more important than the survival of any individual or group of individuals. That this was a thing far bigger than any of us. We began to suspect that once a mass of alcoholics were adhering even halfway to the Twelve Steps, that God could speak in their group conscience and up out of that group conscience could come a wisdom greater than any inspired leadership.
You know, I used to think that I was one of these inspired leaders but, boy, I got unhorsed good. Let me tell you about that. I’ll tell this story about it. One time, when things were awful tough, drunks around New York were getting well and lots of them got pretty good jobs. It was just before Lois and I got evicted from the house. I was up at Towns Hospital one day and old Charlie who had lent us money for the book when it was about to go bust called me in his office and said "Look Bill, you’re passing all these people up over your head and they’re all getting good jobs, they’re going back to work. You’re spending all your time getting these people well and you are starving to death. That is not right." He said, "Why don’t you come up here and take an office in my place and let me give you a drawing account. Back in the 1920’s this place used to earn several thousand dollars a month. I’m no great man of the spirit but I can see that this thing of yours is going to work. You’re going to fill Madison Square Garden some day with these drunks." I said that was a little optimistic, you don’t know them as well as I do. "But anyhow," said he, "why don’t you come in here. I’ll give you a one third interest in this place. You had that funny experience of yours here and Dr. Silkworth helped you out and that could be advertised in a perfectly ethical way." Well, that sounded awfully good to me, I don’t mind saying and then began that process of rationalization to which we drunks are so very subject. I began to think of Lois still in the department store and then I got a dandy rationalization out of the bible, the good book itself. On the way home one of those illuminated thoughts came into my mind, you know. It said to me, the laborer is worthy of its hire. So I get home and Lois is cooking the supper and I say "Lois, we are going to eat, we are going to work up at Charlie Townes’ and we thought of how nice it would be to be able to pay our bills." There was a little meeting in the front parlor that evening and I started to enthusiastically tell my fellow alcoholics of this bright new opportunity and rather challengingly I asked them, some of whom were making a good living, "isn’t the laborer worthy of his hire?"
I could tell by the looks in their eyes and finally, rather timidly one of them said "Bill, don’t you realize that would create a professional class, don’t you realize that would marry us to that particular hospital. Oh! sure, it’s ethical in the book of ethics. But Bill, it isn’t good enough for us. Aren’t you the very man who has so often told us that sometimes the good is the enemy of the best. No Bill, that is not good enough for us. You can’t do that to us." So spoke the wisdom of the Group! So spoke the group conscience to me! For the first time I realized that this society had began to speak to me and to teach me and I knew that when they spoke truly I must obey and I did.
Well, you remember the early days when we had all these membership rules. Where have they gone now? We’re not afraid anymore. We open our arms wide, we say we don’t care who you are, what your other difficulties are. You just need say, "I’m an alcoholic and I’m interested." You declare yourself in. Our membership idea is put exactly in reverse.
Years ago we thought this society should go into research and education, to do everything for drunks all the time. We know better now. We have one sole object in this society, we shoemakers are going to stick to our last and we will carry that message to the other alcoholics and leave these other matters to the more competent. We will do one thing supremely well rather than many things badly.
Then we began to have our troubles about hiring people, we were so scared of professionalism in those days, I can tell you a very comical story. We started a little club, first A.A. club in the world, I guess. It was on 24th. Street in New York. The volunteers had painted up the place and answered the phone. Finally, the volunteers languished, the floors got dirty, the drunks were laying around, the club had growing pains so it became obvious that somebody ought to be around the place all the time.
We set our eyes on old Tom Mullholland, the retired fireman who was snatched out of the asylum. We had got over our asylum fear by then and we approached Tom and asked "How would you like to come over and live in the clubhouse. There is a nice room over there." Well, Tom is a man of the world and he asked, "what’ 5 the catch." "Oh well," we , "If You came in there to live and you were handy, that you’d be glad to sweep up the floor." He asked, "Seven days a week?" "Yes, you would fire the furnace in the winter, wouldn’t you Tom? And if the drunks are troublesome you would lead them outside and you’d answer the telephone if the volunteers weren’t here, wouldn’t you Tom?" Old Tom looked at us and he said a profound thing which took us years to discover. He said "I think you people have a hell of a nerve. What you people really want to hire is a janitor. Am I right?" But we who had had this immense piety and fear of money in those days said to Tom, Oh no Tom, this is Alcoholics Anonymous, you can’t make any money out of it. Tom said "look, what you want is a janitor. What has this got to do with the Twelve Steps and if you’re going to hire me as a janitor then you’re going to pay me as a janitor." Well, right there and then and out of that incident and hundreds more we discovered that we in A.A. can hire a few people to do a few chores without making them professionals. Tom was right, to hire him cheap was to force a contribution from him that we wouldn’t make ourselves and we were doing this under the cloak of fear and piety. So we learned that, sure we can hire a few secretaries, we can hire a few caretakers, why we can even hire an author and today I have the brass to say that I am paid .35 cents a book and every time you drunks buy one you pay me .35 cents. Think of that! I don’t believe that makes me a professional. I’m paid for being an author and not for being a missionary to you. We have come firmly to the conclusion that nobody is to be paid for that Twelfth Step job, for spiritual activity not a thing but for doing the chores well, once in a while.
And so our Tradition grew and our Tradition is not American tradition. Take our public relations policy. Why, in America everything runs on big names, advertising people. We are a country devoted to heroism, it is a beloved tradition and yet this movement in the wisdom of it’s Group’s soul, knew that this was not for us. So our public relations policy is anonymity at the public level. No advertising of people, principles before personalities. Anonymity has a deep spiritual significance — the greatest protection this movement has.
Once upon a time the group conscience gave me a lesson on anonymity when we were thinking of the title for our book. Over a hundred of us existed. Alcoholics Anonymous wasn’t a very popular name at first. At first I pushed it but over the months it kind of went out of favor and then it got back into favor and I was not heard as one of the supporters of the idea because something which was not of God had commenced to say to me "Bill, should this book prove to be important, why shouldn’t it be The Way Out by Bill Wilson? Why, we might even call this the Wilson Movement! So thought I in the dark hours of the night. When I barely insinuated such a thing to my comrades, again there was that hurt look in their eyes. They didn’t even have to speak. They were again saying to me "Bill, you can’t do this to us." So spoke the group conscience.
As our society grew up, it developed its way of life, it’s way of relating ourselves together, it’s way of relating ourselves to these troublesome questions of property, money and prestige and authority and the world at large. The A.A. Tradition developed not because I dictated it but because you people, your experience formed it and I merely set it on paper and tried beginning four years ago to reflect it back to you. Such were our years of adolescence and before we leave them I must say that a very powerful impetus was given the Traditions by the gentleman who introduced me. Is he still here or is he all tired out?
One day he came down to Bedford Hills after the long form of the Traditions were written out at some length because in the office they were forever having to answer questions about group troubles so the original Traditions were longer and covered more possibilities of trouble. Earl looked at me rather quizzically and he said "Bill, didn’t you ever get it through your thick head that these drunks do not like to read. They will listen for a while but they will not read anything. Now, you want to capsule these Traditions, simply as are the Twelve Steps to Recovery."
So he and I started the capsulizing process which lasted a day or two and that put the Traditions into their present form. Well, by this time we had a lot of experience on these principles, which we began to think might bind us together in unity for so long as God might need us. And at Cleveland, seven thousand of us did declare "Yes, these are the traditional principles upon which we are willing to stand, upon which we can safely commit ourselves to the future and so we emerged from adolescence. Again, last year we rook destiny by the hand.
Now, before proceeding to the last phase, before approaching the step we are about to take, I must get back down to earth and become a little mundane. I will introduce the subject in this way. Back in ‘41 when Jack Alexander published that piece and our little New York office was hit by a bunch of inquiries, thousands of them, we realized the book sales couldn’t hire the gals to answer those letters and neither could we throw them in the waste basket so we went to the Groups at that time and said "look, if you fellows will each chip in a dollar apiece a year, you know that there will be enough income here so we will be able to answer these things as we know that you don’t want us to throw them in the waste basket. So, the appeal was made and the money was awfully slow in coming in then, as ever since, too. I was very annoyed, very self-righteous that morning and I was walking up and down the office and I was cussing out these drunks who were so careless that they wouldn’t send us down a buck-a-piece to answer these frantic inquiries.
In this mood of self-righteousness, who should appear but an old friend, a slipper who never made the program. One of my nursing projects. I saw him by the door and I went over and took him by the hand and drew him into my little cubicle of an office. Sure, I knew what he wanted, he was thirsty and he wanted to make a touch. At that time I was on the Rockefeller dinner money as John D. did finally chip in a thousand bucks a year and his friends a little bit more and Smithy and I were each getting thirty bucks a week at the time.
So, we had thirty dollars a week and Lois and I had been evicted from our house. Nevertheless, I put my hand in my pocket and took out five dollars and handed it to this friend of mine who was half tight then, and who I knew would positively go out and drink the money up. You see, it made me feel superior to those drunks who wouldn’t send in even one buck-a-year. Oh, I felt awfully good so I went up to the clubhouse that night where Lois and I were living in a room next to Mullholland, that janitor fellow. The clubhouse was hard up and they weren’t paying Mullholland much of anything and the rent was behind.
In those days the Treasurers of Groups used to be very timid fellows, they hardly dared bring up the subject of money. I mean the rent was kind of something unholy and there was a very pious attitude towards money. You see, if you were pious enough about money you could feel awfully good and at the same time avoid pulling any out.
So the Treasurer in his halting way said "Well folks, we really are way behind in our rent here and when we pass the hat now can’t you fellows do just a little something extra." Well, at the moment I was sitting on the stairs talking to some drunk during the intermission as I was always in my work of salvation and saving souls and I didn’t hear too clearly what the treasurer said and the hat finally came along my way and I reached my hand automatically into my pocket and I got hold of a coin and it was a half-dollar and then I put my hand back in my pocket and I took out a dime and put it in the hat. Then I thought to myself, so you are the fellow who bawled out the drunks for not sending in a dollar-a-year, who gave five dollars to a drunk which Lois should have had for groceries and who now comes to the club and passes ten cents into the hat. Now dear people as you see there is a collection being taken as we must pay for the hall.
We have now come to a point in this movement where we realize we must have certain services so that we may function, that we may remain in unity, that we may propagate, that we may remain on good terms with the general public upon which so much depends. For example, we have been in a terrible tizzy with one of the big picture companies, one of the big ones. One of our A. A. ‘s who works for the company got hold of the script of a very lousy movie and when we first saw the script, to put it in good anglo saxton, it stunk. Could anything be done about it? Well, we started to do something about it about a year ago. Before we got through we had been to the so-called Hayes office, we had friends there as we found, we had an agent on the job and we had a lawyer on the job. We were nice about it but we were firm. We got the title of the picture changed, a good deal of the script was rewritten and when you see the picture you will see a reference to A.A. in it and maybe you will say well, that’s a pretty fair picture, its not so bad, that’s probably what you’ll say and you’ll turn around and go out. But if somebody hadn’t looked at it and you had seen it in its original form you would have said "who in hell let this thing loose on us?" Somebody had to look after these things and it has made a profound difference.
Obviously then this idea of services in A.A. has to be made respectable, it has to be understood. Some people will tell you that the New York office is big business but I say it is very small business but very important business. Five years ago when we were much smaller the New York office had one employee for every three thousand A.A. ‘s and that included the packing boys, a couple of stenographers and a couple of alcoholic dames. One employee for every three thousand drunks. Now the movement is several times as large. Today the office does a very good job with one employee for every six thousand drunks. Five years ago that office used to cost this movement a dollar apiece a year on the membership in real money. Today if everybody really paid the bill and put his hand in his pocket for something a little more than that half-a-dollar, we would get by. Now, very small business but terribly important. Now, as I pointed out, these services, these central world services are the function of a Board of Trustees, friends of Dr Bob and mine who have guarded these things, preserved these assets during your infancy and adolescence.
At Cleveland we saw that A.A. had grown up, it had become mature and two or three years before the affirmation of our Traditions at Cleveland a few of us knew that Dr. Bob was probably stricken and suddenly we woke up to the fact that he and I were the principle link between those people in New York, who are completely unknown to you and you who they serve and that one of the links might soon fade away when Dr. Bob passed to his father’s house. Some of the rest of us who might vouch for them are not so young as we used to be. Could not this movement therefore wake up one day and find that those very valuable services were in the hands of total strangers? Your money, your book, your public relations, your principal newspaper, your office of propagation and mediation in the hands of people you didn’t know. You have no access to them, there isn’t any linkage, the only links that you knew are gone. Then something happens, the thing collapses, maybe those fellows make just one bad mistake. The contributions to the office dries up and there is a collapse. The collapse gets publicized in the world press "something gone wrong with Alcoholics Anonymous in America." You can’t imagine what consternation that would cause today if it happened in a place like England.
When Lois and I were in England last summer we reenacted the whole pioneer scene of A.A. They knew in a vague way that A.A. worked over here in the states. They had seen an occasional traveler and they had a lot of comfort and correspondence with our New York office. But in England, the doctors didn’t know with the exception of one or two, the Church of England was still indifferent, the public didn’t know, the drunks didn’t know, nor would the London papers print anything about A.A. due to some strange British quirk. The Financial Chronicle in London was the only one that was bold enough to say anything about drunks.
Supposing we had a great movement problem over here that we couldn’t settle because there was no cross—section of opinion. Supposing that those Trustees made a mistake and you lost confidence and that center collapsed and that the news got into the world press. Don’t you think those drunks who don’t yet know in the British Isles might turn their faces to the wall and say "Oh, we had hope." Think, my friends, supposing A.A. had come to you ten years late.
So, these services must go on. We must build some new links other than Smithy and me, from you to them. Hence we are proposing something to be called the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous. Not a large body of people. One, two or three at the most from every State and Province who will journey to New York as your representative to sit down with Dr. Bob’s friends and mine, the trustees, once a year to back them up and give them a cross-section of A.A. opinion, to advise them if they know not what to do or per chance to correct them if someday they should get out of line and see therefore that our lifelines to the millions who don’t know are preserved. That our literature remains standard, that our public relations are really looked after, that these vital chores continue to be done.
That is our proposal and that is what we mean when we speak of the third legacy. For you see, it is by the recovery steps that you have recovered, by the traditions you have unified but only by services can we as groups, areas and A.A. as a whole function.
Therefore, not long before Dr. Bob passed out of our sight and hearing he aided me in the preparation of this plea that something of the sort be done and a concrete plan for accomplishing it was brought into being. So, I am out among you now asking that you take this Third Legacy and guard it well.
To conclude, I will read you two or three paragraphs out of this Third Legacy pamphlet, this plan to perpetuate our central services. The Foundation isn’t well enough of f to mail every member a copy so I ‘m going to read briefly from this one.
"Yet some may still say - Of course The Foundation should go on. Certainly we’ 11 pay that small expense. But why can’t we leave its conduct to Dr. Bob and Bill and their friends the Trustees? We always have. Why do they now bother us with such business? Let’s keep A.A. simple." Good questions these. But today the answers are much different than they once were.
Let’s face these facts:
FIRST. Dr. Bob and Bill are perishable and when this was written we knew that he was soon to go.
SECOND. Their friends, the Trustees, are almost unknown to the A.A. Movement. THIRD. In future years our Trustees couldn’t possibly function without direct guidance from A.A. itself. Somebody must advise them. Somebody, or something, must take the place of Dr. Bob and Bill.
FOURTH. Alcoholics Anonymous is out of its infancy. Grown up, adult now, it has full right and plain duty to direct responsibility for its own affairs.
FIFTH. Clearly then, unless the Foundation is firmly anchored, through State and Provincial representatives, to the movement it serves, a Headquarters breakdown will someday be inevitable. When its old-timers vanish, an isolated Foundation couldn’t survive one grave mistake or serious controversy. Any storm could blow it down. Its revival wouldn’t be simple. Possibly it could never be revived. Still isolated, there would be no means of doing that. Like a fine car without gasoline, it would be helpless.
SIXTH Another serious flaw: As a whole, the A.A. movement has never faced a grave crisis. But someday it will have to. Human affairs being what they are, we can’t expect to remain untouched by the hour of serious trouble. With direct support unavailable, with no reliable cross-section of A.A. opinion, how could our remote Trustees handle a hazardous emergency? This gaping "open end" in our present set-up could positively guarantee a debacle. Confidence in the Foundation would be lost. A.A. ‘s everywhere would say: "By whose authority do the Trustees speak for us? And how do they know they are right?" With A.A. ‘s service life lines tangled and severed, what then might happen to the "millions who don’t know." Thousands would continue to suffer on or die because we had taken no forethought, because we had forgotten the virtue of prudence. This must not come to pass.
That is why the Trustees, Dr. Bob and I now propose the "General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous." That is why we urgently need your direct help. Our principal services must go on living. We think the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous can be the agency to make that certain.
And now to conclude. My dear friends, here is our bequest.
Your Third Legacy - We who are the older members bequeath to you who are younger these Three Legacies — The Twelve Steps of Recovery, The Twelve Traditions and now the General Services of Alcoholics Anonymous. Two of these legacies have long been in your keeping. By the Twelve Steps you have recovered and by the Twelve Traditions we are achieving a superb unity.
Being someday perishable, Dr. Bob and I wish to deliver to the members of Alcoholics Anonymous their Third Legacy. Since 1938 we and our friends have been holding it in trust for you. This legacy is the General Headquarters of Alcoholics Anonymous, The Foundation, the A.A. Book, the Grapevine and the General Office. These are the principal services which have enabled our society to function and to grow.
Acting on behalf of all, Dr. Bob and I ask that you - the members of Alcoholics Anonymous — assume guidance of these services and guard them well. The future growth, indeed the very survival of Alcoholics Anonymous may one day depend how prudently you guard these arms of Service in the years to come.
So, my dear friends, I again see our Cathedral of the Spirit. On it’s great floor where 120,000 of us now stand in freedom are inscribed our Twelve Steps of Recovery. You and I have seen the great walls go up, buttressed by the Twelve Traditions and are becoming confident that they will maintain us always in unity. And now I am sure that you perceive with me that the spire is being affixed to our Cathedral of the Spirit and the name of that spire shall be called "Service." A beacon for all to see — A beacon to the million who don’t know. And may that spire, may it’s symbolic finger always point straight upward towards God.