This month we present a look back at the 1971 celebration of Founders’ Day and the pivotal role that Henrietta Seiberling played in bringing together Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson. As you read this story there is one aspect that is not told that was recently pointed out to me. While honesty was one of the four pillars of the Oxford Group they were not inclined to call someone out directly if they were being less than honest about their shortcomings. Dr. Bob had been attending Oxford Group meeting for over two years and never spoke about his drinking problems. So one has to wonder; had not Ms. Seiberling organized this special meeting where there would no ‘pussyfooting around’ to get Dr. Bob to open up about his drinking what would had happened a few weeks later when Bill Wilson showed up in Akron desperate to talk to another alcoholic.
In the spring of 1971, the newspapers reported the passing of Bill Wilson of New York City, who as one of the two co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. The other co-founder, Dr. Robert Smith of Akron, Ohio, has passed on some years earlier. Shortly after Bill’s death, the Akron Alcoholics groups asked my mother Henrietta Seiberling, to speak at the annual “Founders Day” meeting in Akron, which is attended by members of Alcoholics Anonymous from all over the world. She lives in New York and did not feel up to traveling, so they asked me to speak in her place. I agreed to speak but felt that it would mean most to them to hear some of her own words, so I called her on the telephone and asked her to tell me about the origins of Alcoholics Anonymous so that I could make sure my remarks were accurate. I made a tape recording of the conversation and played part of it at the 1971 Founders Day meeting, which was held in the gymnasium at the University of Akron with a couple of thousand people present. So many people have asked for a transcript of the recording that I have finally had one typed. Attached is a copy of the transcript, which follows the tape recording as closely as possible, with only my own remarks and some of the conversational asides and redundancies edited out. The first meeting of Bob and Bill, described in the attached transcript, took place in the summer of 1935 in Henrietta’s house in Akron, which was the Gatehouse of Stan Hywet Hall, then my family’s estate, now the property of Stan Hywet Hall Foundation. Henrietta was not an alcoholic. She was a Vassar college graduate and a housewife with three teenage children. She, like Bob and Bill, would be deeply disturbed by any inference that she or they possessed any extraordinary virtues or talents. On the contrary, they would all emphasize the power of ordinary people to change their lives and the lives of others through the kind of spiritual discipline so successfully exemplified in Alcoholics Anonymous. I am happy to make this transcript available to persons who are sincerely interested in learning more about Alcoholics Anonymous and its message. It is a way of sharing some of the insight’s which made and still make Alcoholics Anonymous a vital force in people’s lives. I ask only that the transcript be held in the spirit in which it is offered and not used for publicity or in an effort to magnify any individual.
John F. Seiberling
Transcript Of Remarks
Henrietta B. Seiberling
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions.
AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes.
Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
Before there was a "Big Book", Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, the "AA Grapevine" or General Service -- before there were meetings, clubs, conventions or any AA literature -- before there was an H&I committee, there was a visit to an Akron hospital where "one drunk talked to another."