National Committee on
Alcoholism Annual Meeting
Hotel Statler, New York City, N.Y
March 30, 1956
In 1956, Marty Mann had the pleasure of introducing Bill
Wilson at the annual meeting of the National Committee on
Alcoholism. This Committee was later to become
the National Council on Alcoholism.
Bill's talk, while it included his usual "bedtime
story," was also a call to cooperation and
understanding and support of all those who are trying to help the
still suffering alcoholic.
National Committee on Alcoholism Annual Meeting Hotel Statler,
New York City, N.Y. March 30, 1956
Introduction by the National Director of the National
Committee on Alcoholism, Mrs. Marty Mann.
"Mr. President, distinguished guests, ladies and
gentlemen, I had to have that formal beginning to
find out if I had a voice. This moment is of such
import to me that I have been fearful for a week that I
would not be able to speak. It's a moment I've been
waiting for a long time. The National Committee on
Alcoholism was founded on a proof. Unless there had
been proof that alcoholics could recover there could have
been no National Committee on Alcoholism. That proof
was available by 1944, the year of the founding of
the Committee because of what Alcoholics Anonymous had been
doing for nine years. And the work that
Alcoholics Anonymous had been doing for nine years
is very largely due to a recovery of an individual.
Everything has to start somewhere.
We no longer look upon it as a divine plan, I think we should
as divine plans require instruments, instruments that we can see
and touch and hear, that can reach us.
Such an instrument was found in a man who had suffered deeply
and terribly from alcoholism and he was able to recover and
he discovered that in order to keep his recovery he had to
share it, he had to pass it on. I like to describe
this as the discovery of a constructive chain reaction.
Something was set in motion back in November 1934, that was
to become one of the great sources for good in our time. I
was very fortunate in coming in contact with this force when I
most desperately needed it. It was not easy
for me to change the pattern of my living from a negative one to
a constructive one and I had a little trouble from time to
time in the beginning in attempting my new life.
The most seriously difficulty I had was met by this same man
who sought me out and dug me out and whom I couldn't refuse
to see and when he spoke to me, he said something that I'll
never forget. Something that is having is culmination
here today. He asked me if I wanted to stop
drinking. I said, "yes" He put
his arm around me and he said, "I'm glad because we have a
long way to go together."
Neither of us knew back in 1939 how far that road led or
where it was going to lead but we are still traveling that road
together and it's lead up all the way, up and on.
I believe that the contribution that was made by this
instrument, if you like, is a contribution past description,
past telling. I believe that it was largely
through that contribution which produced living proof that we
have been able to arrive at a meeting such as today where we
have been able to bring together representatives of all the
professional disciplines who are happily and gladly
working in this field as this wasn't always true fifteen years
ago. But we were able to get great names in medicine
and psychiatry and social work and psychology and in public
health to be present at a meeting like this, to take part
in what we are doing, to join hands with that little band of
recovered alcoholics to help lick this problem.
Alcoholics Anonymous couldn't do it alone. We
couldn't expect any other victims of a particular affliction to
carry the whole burden of doing something about that particular
disease and we shouldn't expect it in this field. To
lick a problem as complex, as vast and as devastating as
alcoholism requires the cooperation of every one of us, of every
area of our life. To have that cooperation we had to
have evidence that it could produce them. That evidence exists
in the growing ranks of Alcoholics Anonymous and
that truth exists because back in 1934, one man got sober and
allowed himself to be used as the great instrument in
spreading this word of hope. In my books he is
one of the greatest men of our times. I give you my
friend, my sponsor, the reason why I am here, Bill.
Address by Bill W.
"Well folks, our world is certainly a world of contrast,
it was only a few year ago that Westbrook Pegler wrote a
piece in which he described Dr. Bob and me as "the wet
brain founders of Alcoholics Anonymous." But
very seriously and very happily, too, I think that the A.A.'s
present in and out of this Committee and everywhere join in
with Lois and me and are able to say that this is one of the
finest hours that has yet to come to us.
Some people say that destiny is a series of events held
together by a thin thread of change or circumstance.
Other people say that destiny is composed of a series of events
strung on a cord of cause and effect and still others say
that the destiny of good work is often the issue of the will of
God and that he forges the links and brings the events to pass.
I've been asked to come here to tell the story of A.A. and in
that story, everyone here I am sure can find justification for
either of those points of view.
But, I want to tell more than the story of A.A., this time.
I was beset, I must confess, by a certain reluctance and
the reluctance issues out of this fact, of course everybody is
fairly familiar with the fact that I once suffered from
alcoholism, but people are not so wise to the fact that I suffer
also from schizophrenia, split personality. I have a personality
say as a patriarch of A.A., founding father, if you like,
and I also have a personality as an A.A. member and
between these personalities is a terrific gulf.
You see, a founding father of A.A. has to stand up to the A.A.
Tradition which says that you must not endorse anything or
anybody or even say good things about your friends on the
outside or even of Beemans chewing gum lest it be an
endorsement. So as the father of A.A. I am very
strictly bound to do nothing but tell the story of our society.
But as an A.A. member like all the rest, I am an anarchist who
revels in litter so I'm really going to say what I damn please.
So, if only you will receive me as Mr. Anonymous, one of the
poor old drunks still trying to get honest!
Now to our narrative and to the first links in the chain of
events that has led us to this magnificent hour. I
was by no means the first link in this chain and only one of
very many. I think the founder business ought to be
well deflated and I'm just going to take a minute or two to do
As a fact, the first link in the chain was probably forged
about twenty-five years ago in the office of a great
psychiatrist, Carl Jung. At that time he had as
a patient a certain very prominent American businessman.
They worked together for a year. My business
friend Rolland was a very grim case of alcoholism and yet
under the doctor's guidance he thought he was going to find
release. He left the doctor in great confidence but
shortly, he was back drunk. Said he to
Dr. Jung, "what now, You're my court of last resort."
The doctor looked at him and said, "I thought that you
might be one of those rare cases that could be touched
with my art, but you aren't. I have never
seen," continued Doctor Jung, one single case of alcoholism
recover, so grave as yours under my tutelage."
Well, to my friend Rolland this was tantamount to a sentence
of death. "But doctor," said he, "is there
no other course, nothing else." "Yes," said Dr. Jung,
"there is something. There is such a thing as a
transforming spiritual experience." "Well,"
Rolland beamed, "after all I've been a vestryman in the
Episcopal Church, I'm a man of faith."
"Oh," Dr. Jung said, "that's fine so far as it
goes but it has to go a lot deeper. I'm speaking of
transforming spiritual experiences."
"Where would I find such a thing, asked Rolland.
Dr. Jung said, "I don't know, lighting strikes here or
there, it strikes any other place. We
don't know why or how. You will just have to expose
yourself in the religion of your own choice or a spiritual
influence as best you can and just try and ask and
maybe it will be open to you."
So my friend Rolland joined up with the Oxford Groups, the
sometime Buchmanites of that day, first in London
and then came to New York and lo and behold the lighting
did strike and he found himself unaccountably released of
his obsession to drink.
After a time he heard of a friend of mine, a chap we call
Ebby, who sojourned every summer in Vermont, an awful grim case,
he had driven his father's bright, shiny new Packard into the
side of someone's house. He had bashed into the
kitchen, pushing aside the stove and had said to the startled
lady there, "how about a cup of coffee."
The neighbors thought that this was enough and that he
needed to be locked up. He was taken before Judge
Graves in Bennington, Vermont, a place not too far from my
home, by the way and there our friend Rolland heard
of it and gathering a couple of Oxford Groupers together, one of
them an alcoholic the other just a two fisted drinker, they
took Ebby in tow and they inoculated him with very simple ideas:
that he, Ebby, could not do this job on his own resources, that
he had to have help; that he might try the idea of getting
honest with himself as he never had before; he might try the
idea of making a confession of his defects to
someone; he might try the idea of making restitution or harms
done; he might try the idea of giving of himself to others
with no price tag on it; agnostic he was, he might try the
idea of praying to whatever God there was. That was
the essence of what my friend Ebby abstracted from the Oxford
Groups of that day. True, we later rejected very
much of the other things they had to teach us.
It is true that these principles might have been found
somewhere else but as it happens they were found there.
Ebby for a time got the same phenomenon of release and then
he remembered me. He was brought to New York and
lodged at Calvary Mission and soon called me up while I lay home
drinking in Brooklyn. I will never forget that day
as suddenly he stood in the areaway, I hadn't seen him for
a long time. By this time I knew something of
the gravity of my plight. I couldn't put my finger on
it but he seemed strangely changed, besides he was sober.
He came in and began to talk. I offered him some grog.
I remember I had a big jug of gin and pineapple juice
there, the pineapple juice was there to convince Lois that
I wasn't drinking straight gin. No, he didn't care
for a drink. No, he wasn't drinking. "What's
got into you," I asked. "Well," he said,
"I've got religion." Well, that was rough
on me. He's got religion! He had
substituted religious insanity for alcoholic insanity.
Well, I had to be polite so I asked, "what brand is
it." And, he said, "I wouldn't exactly call
it a brand. I've come across a group of people who
have sold me on getting honest with myself; who sold me on the
idea that I am powerless over my problems and have taught me to
help others so I'm trying to bring something to you, if you want
it. That's it." So, in his turn, he transmitted
to me these simple ideas across the kitchen table.
Meanwhile, another chain of events had been taking place.
In fact, the earliest link in that chain runs back to William
James who is sometimes called the father of modern
psychology. Another link in the chain was my own Doctor
William Duncan Silkworth, who I think will someday be counted as
a medical saint.
I had the usual struggle with this problem and had met Dr.
Silkworth at Towns Hospital. He had
explained in very simple terms what my problem was: an obsession
that condemned me to drink against my will and increasing
physical sensitivity which guaranteed that I would go mad unless
I could somehow find release, perhaps through re-education.
He taught me the nature of the malady.
But here I was, again drinking. But here was my
friend talking to me over the kitchen table.
Already, you see, the elements which lie today in the foundation
of A.A. were already present. The God of science in
the persons of Dr. Silkworth and Dr. Jung had said
"No" on the matters of psychiatry,
psychology and medicine. They can't do it alone.
Your will power can't do it alone. So, the rug had
been pulled out from under Rolland Hazzard and Hazzard an
alcoholic had pulled the rug out from under Ebby and now he was
pulling it out from under me while quoting Dr. Jung and
substantiating what Dr. Silkworth had let leak back to me
So, the stage was really set and it had been some years in
the setting before it ever caught up with me.
Of course, I had balked at this idea of a power greater than
myself, although the rest of the program seemed sensible enough. I
was desperate, willing to try anything, but I still did gag on
the God business. But at length, I said to myself as
has every A.A. member since, "who am I to say there is
no God? Who am I to say how I am going to get well?"
Like a cancer patient, I am now ready to do anything, to be
dependent upon any kind of a physician and if there is a great
physician, I had better seek him out.
So, pretty drunk, I went back to Towns Hospital, was put to
bed and three days later my friend appears again.
One alcoholic talking to another across that strange powerful
bond that we can effect with each other. In his one hand
and in the hands of the doctor was hopelessness and on the other
side was hope. He went through his little list of
principles; getting honest, making restitution, working with
other people, praying to whatever God there was, then he left.
When he had gone, I sunk into a terrific depression, the like of
which I had never known and I suppose for a moment the last
vestiges of my prideful obstinacy were crushed out
at great depth and I cried out like a child, "now I'll
do anything, anything to get well," and with no faith and almost
no hope I again cried out, "if there is a God, will he show
himself." Immediately the place lit up in a
great light. It seemed to me that I was on a
mountain top, there was a sudden realization that I was free,
utterly free of this thing and as the ecstasy
subsided I am again on the bed and now I'm surrounded by a
sense of presence and a mighty assurance and a feeling that no
matter how wrong things were, ultimately all would be well. I
thought to myself, so this is the God of the preachers.
From that day to this, I have scarcely been tempted to drink,
so instantaneous and terrific was the release from the
obsession. At about the time of my release from the
hospital, somebody handed me a copy of William James' book
Varieties of Religious Experience. Many of us
disagree with James' pragmatic philosophy but I think that
nearly all will agree that this is a great text in which he
examines these mechanisms. And in that book of his,
great numbers, the great majority of these experiences took off
from a base of utter hopelessness. In some
controlling area of the individual's life he had struck a
wall and couldn't get under, around or over. That
kind of hopelessness was the forerunner of the transforming
experience and as I began to read those common denominators
stuck out of the cases cited by James.
I began to wonder. Yes, I fitted into that
pattern but why hadn't more alcoholics fitted into it before
now? In other words, what we needed was more
deflation at depth to lay hold of this transforming experience.
Then comes Dr. Silkworth with the answer, those two little
words: the obsession and the allergy. Not such
little words, big words, the twin ogres of madness and
death, of science pronouncing its verdict of hopelessness so far
as our own resources were concerned. Yes, I had had
that dose. That had perhaps laid the ground.
One alcoholic talking to another had convinced me where no
others had brought me any conviction.
I began to race around madly trying to help alcoholics and in
gratitude I briefly joined the Oxford Group but they were
more interested in saving the world than other alcoholics.
That didn't last too long and I began to tell people of
this sudden mystic experience and I fear that I was preaching a great
deal and not one single drunk sobered up for a period of six
Again, comes the man of medicine, Dr. Silkworth and he said,
"Bill, you've got the cart before the horse.
Why don't you stop talking about this queer experience of yours
and of all this morality. Why don't you pour into
these people how medically sick they are and then, maybe coming
from you or with the identification you can get with these
other fellows, then maybe you'll soften them up so they'll
buy this moral psychology.
About that time I had been urged to get back into business
and quit being a missionary and I hooked onto a business
deal which took me to Akron, Ohio. The deal fell
through and for the first time I felt tempted to drink.
I was in the hotel with about ten dollars in my pocket and my
new found friends had disappeared. I thought to
myself, gee, you'd better look for another alcoholic to work
Then I realized as never before how working with other
alcoholics had played such a great part in sustaining my
Well, again friends came to the rescue. I went
down to the lobby and looked at the Church Directory and
absentmindedly drew my finger down the list of names and
there appeared a rather odd one, the Reverend Tunks.
I said, "well, I'll call up Tunks" and he turned
out to be wonderful Episcopal clergyman. I said
that I was a drunk looking for another drunk to work on and
tried to explain why. The good man showed some alarm
as it wasn't everyday someone called up with my
request but the good man gave me a list of about ten
names, some of them Oxford Groupers. I called all of
these people up. Well, Sunday was coming and maybe
they would see me in Church, some were going out of town.
I exhausted that list, all but one. None had time
nor cared very much. Something not very strange
under the circumstances so I went down and took another
look in the bar and something said to me "you had better
call her up." Her name was Henrietta Seiberling
and I took her to be the wife of a tire tycoon out there who I
had once met and I thought that this lady certainly isn't going
to want to see me on a Saturday afternoon. But I called
and she said, "come right out, I'm not an alcoholic but I
think I understand."
This led to the meeting with Dr. Bob, one of my many
co-partners in this enterprise, and as Dr. Silkworth had
suggested I poured into him how sick we were and that produced
his immediate recovery.
I went to live in the Smith's house and presently Bob said,
"Hadn't we better start working with alcoholics."
I said, "sure, I think we had."
We found an opportunity at City Hospital in Akron, who was
being brought in with D.T.'s on a stretcher. He'd
been hospitalized six times in four months and couldn't even get
home without getting stewed. That was to be A.A. number
three, the first man on the bed.
Dr. Bob and I went to see him and he said, "I'm too far
gone and besides, I'm a man of faith. Nevertheless,
we poured it into him, the medical hopelessness of this thing so
far as one's own resources are concerned. We explained
what had happened to us, we made clear to him his future.
And the next morning we came back and he was saying to his wife,
"give me my clothes, were going to get up and get out
of here. These are the men, they are the ones who
Right then and there was formed the first A.A. group in the
summer of 1935. The synthesis in it's main outline
But Lord, we hadn' even started. The struggles of
those next few years. A wonderful thing to
think about. Terribly slow was our growth.
We got way into 1939 before we had produced even a hundred
recoveries in Akron and in New York, a few in Cleveland,
Then, in that year, the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran pieces
about us of such strength that the few A.A.'s in Cleveland
were flooded with hundreds of cases and that added one more
Up to this time it had been deadly slow. Could
this thing spread? Could we get into mass production?
Well, in a matter of months, twenty Clevelanders had sobered
up several hundred newcomers. But that required
hospitalization and we were not liked in the hospitals.
Now, I come to the subject of this Committee, it's relation
with A.A. and the linkage between us. Meanwhile,
great events were going on down here (New York), there had
been in preparation a book to be called Alcoholics Anonymous.
As a precaution we had made mimeograph copies to be passed
around and one of these copies was sent to a man who I
consider to be one of the greatest friends that this society can
ever have, Dr. Harry Tiebout, the onetime Chairman of this
Committee. Harry Tiebout was the man who got me
before the medical societies and that took great courage.
Well, I'm getting ahead of my story.
So Harry got one of the mimeographed copies of the A.A. book
and he hands it to a certain patient at the Blythewood
Sanitarium in Greenwich, Connecticut. The patient
was a lady. She read the book and it made her very
mad so she threw it out the window and got drunk.
That was the first impact of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Harry got her sobered up and handed her the book again and a
phrase caught her eye, it was a trigger. "We
cannot live with resentments," the book said.
This time she didn't throw it out the window.
Presently she came to our little meeting and you must
remember that we were still less than a hundred strong in the
early part of 1939 at our little Brooklyn house at 182 Clinton
Street. And she came back from that meeting to Greenwich
and made a remark that today is a classic in A.A.
She said to a fellow patient and sufferer and friend in the
sanitarium, "Grennie, we're not alone anymore, this is
Well, that was the beginning for Marty. Much help
by Harry and Mrs. Willey, the proprietor of the place.
Marty started the first group on the grounds of the
sanitarium. She began to frantically work with
alcoholics and became the dean of our women alcoholics.
So our society had made two terrific friends in Dr. Harry and
Now, in the intervening years up to 1944, A.A. itself was in
a bad turmoil. The Saturday Evening Post piece had
been published which caused 6,000 frantic inquiries to hit our
post office box here in New York, from all over the country,
indeed, all over the world. So then the great question was
posed. Could A.A. spread? Could it function? Could
it hang together with it's enormous neurotic content that we
We just did not know. But again, it was do or
die. In old Ben Franklin's words, "we would
either hang together or hang separately."
Out of this group experience there began to evolve
Traditions. Traditions which had to do with A.A.'s unity
and function and relation with the world outside and our
relations to such things as money, property, prestige, all that
sort of thing.
The Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, with you folks, for
the most part are familiar. Those principles began
to take shape, began to gather for us and little by little,
order began to come out of this seething mass of drunks in their
quest for sobriety.
By now, the membership of the movement had run up into the
many thousands and as Marty observed, there was now proof
that it can be done. But we were still a long
way from today. A.A. still needed friends.
Friends of medicine, friends of religion, friends of the
press. We had a handful but we needed a lot of
The public needed to know what sort of malady this was and
that something could be done about it. This
Committee, much like Alcoholics Anonymous is notable not
only for what it has done in its own sphere but for what it has
set in motion.
I remember very well when this Committee started.
It brought me in contact with our great friends at Yale, the
courageous Dr. Haggard, the incredible Dr.Jellinek or Bunky as
we affectionately know him and Seldon [Bacon] and all those
The question arose, could an A.A. member get into education
or research or what not? Then ensued a fresh and
great controversy in A.A. which was not surprising because
you must remember that in that period we were like the people on
Rickenbacker's raft. Who would dare to rock us ever
so little and precipitate us back into the alcohol sea.
So, frankly, we were afraid and as usual we had the radicals
and we had the conservatives and we had moderates on this
question of whether A.A. members could go into other
enterprises in this field. The conservatives said,
"no, let's keep it simple, let's mind our own
business." The radicals said,
"Let's endorse anything that looks like it will do any
good, let the A.A. name be used to raise money and to do
whatever it can do for the whole field," and the
growing body of moderates took the position, "let any A.A. member
who feels the call go into these related fields for if we are to
do less it would be a very antisocial outlook." So that is
where the Tradition finally sat and many were called and many
were chosen since that day to go into these related fields which
has now got to be so large in their promise that we
of Alcoholics Anonymous are getting down to our right size and
we are only now realizing that we are only a small part of a
great big picture.
We are realizing again, afresh, that without our friends, not
only could we not have existed in the first place but we could
not have grown. We are getting a fresh concept in
A.A. of what our relations with the world and all of these
related enterprises should be. In other words, we
are growing up.
In fact last year at St. Louis we were bold enough to say we
had come of age and that within Alcoholics Anonymous the main
outlines of the basis for recovery, of the basis for unity and
of the basis for service or function were already evident.
At St. Louis I made talks upon each of those subjects which
largely concerned themselves about what A.A. had done about
these things but here we are in a much wider field and I
think that the sky is the limit. I think that I can say
without any reservation that what this Committee has done with
the aid of it's great friends who are now legion as
anyone here can see. I think that this
Committee has been responsible for making more friends for
Alcoholics Anonymous and of doing a wider service in
educating the world on the gravity of this malady
and what can be done about it than any other single agency.
I'm awfully partial and maybe I'm a little biased because
here sits the dean of all our ladies, my close, dear and beloved
friend. So speaking out of turn as a founder, I want
to convey to her in the presence of all of you the best I can
say of my great love and affection is thanks.
At the close of things in St. Louis, I remember that I
likened A.A. to a cathedral style edifice whose corners now
rested across the earth. I remember saying that we
can see on its great floor the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics
Anonymous and there assembled maybe 150,000 sufferers and their
families. We have seen side walls go up, buttressed
with the A.A Tradition and at St. Louis, when the
elected Conference took over from our Board of
Trustees, the spire of service was put into effect and its
beacon light, the beacon light of A.A. shone there
beckoning to all the world.
I realized as I sat here today that that was not a big enough
concept, for on the floor of the cathedral of the spirit there
should always be written the formula from whatever source
for release from alcoholism, whether it be a drug, whether it be
the psychiatric art, whether it be the ministrations of this
In other words, we who deal with this problem are all in the
same boat, all standing upon the same floor. So
let's bring to this floor the total resources that can be
brought to bear upon this problem and let us not think of
unity just in terms of the A.A.
Tradition. Let us think of unity among all those
who work in the field as the kind of unity that befits
brotherhood and sisterhood and a kinship in the common
suffering. Let us stand together in the spirit of
service. If we do these things, only then can
we declare ourselves really come of age. And only
then, and I think this is a time not far off, I think we can say
that the future, our future, the future of this Committee,
of A.A. and of the things that people of good will are trying to
do in this field will be completely assured.
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