Sunday, July 24, 2011

God is your only source of power

Henrietta Seiberling recalled in her 1971 remarks at the annual AA “Founders Day” in Akron, that “God is your only source of power”. Seiberling was the Oxford Group member in Akron Ohio that became the not so coincidental conduit between Bill W. and cofounder Dr. Bob S. She hosted the meeting between the two at her home, The Gate Lodge of the Stan Hywet Hall estate, where Bill W. and Dr. Bob would meet for the first time. That meeting took place 5:00 P.M., Mother's Day, May 12, 1935.

Seiberlings place and influence in the fortuitous events that lead up to that providential meeting are not well known in AA lore. As a non-alcoholic Oxford grouper she had already been working with Dr. Bob, arranging for him to attend the weekly meeting at T. Henry’s house. There Dr. Bob would for the first time make the “group confession”; "Well, you good people have all shared things that I am sure were very costly to you, and I am going to tell you something which may cost me my profession. I am a silent drinker, and I can't stop." The common practice of introducing ourselves as alcoholics at the opening of our meetings has it’s origin in this practice of “group confession”. Dr. Bob was then asked “Do you want to go down on your knees and pray?" And he said, "Yes." So they did. That was several weeks prior to meeting Bill Wilson for the first time.

A couple of years earlier in January 1933, Henrietta’s father in-law Harvey Sr. and his son, Russell "Bud" Firestone, sponsored an Oxford movement event at the Mayflower hotel there in Akron. Firestone Sr., by way of his minister, Dr. Walter Tunks, personally hosted the big dinner and brought Dr. Frank N.D. Buchman, the founder of the Oxford movement to Akron. This was all in appreciation for the help the group had given his son “Bud” with his drinking problem. Seiberling described the Oxford group as a “movement which tried to recapture the power of first Century Christianity in the modern world, and a quality of life which we must always exercise”. Henrietta attended that revival styled event where she heard Buchman’s talk wherein he exclaimed to the audience “get right with God”! She did and became a devoted member.

Fast forward to Bill W’s stay in Akron when Bill found himself pacing the lobby of that very same hotel. Tempted to drink, he sees the Bar on one side, and a church directory on the other. He asked for “guidance” in prayer, it came. He went to the directory and put his finger on one random name out of a list. That name was Dr. Walter Tunks. Tunks would direct Bill to Seiberling, of all people. The rest is history.

Bill Wilsons former “preaching” in New York had proved a failure. Now, In his desperate shape, away from home, without a sponsor, discouraged by the collapse of his business interest in Akron, it would seem that he was once again humbled by the reality of the temptation to drink at the Mayflower hotel. It was in a cooperative state of mind that Bill would help himself by helping another man, an equal in the dilemma.

So then and there a founding protocol was established, that brand of AA that was transmitted in unscripted sincerity between Seiberling, Bill and Doctor Bob, between Bill, Bob and AA number one, in T. Henry's living room, on their knees upstairs with a the new man, then regularly at the King School in Akron, between the non-alcoholic Oxford group members and the drunks coming in for help. In all of these occasions God was a welcome and assumed presence.

That was the brand of love, living love, pre text book love, the love that sparked the connection of understanding compassion when one alcoholic worked with another. We can still practice that Love, minus the doctrinal lectures, without over analysis paralysis, without the over specialization that has at times transfigured the solution back into a mystery. There was the simple, one on one phenomenon that was being practiced in the years prior to the advent of our basic text. Make the decision, clean house and trust God, live a decided life each day, share your faith experience, for that was the CORE solution of the AA frontier. That was before we began to parse words and use 1930's dictionaries and further research their Latin origins, before our message took on a more wholesale narrative, often parroting another instead of trusting the power of God, allowing the “spirit of truth” to do it’s own work and telling our story of how we got out.

Seiberling is also credited for her influence in the formative principles which became the 12 Traditions of AA. She was part of the “inner circle” who early objected to the idea of sanitariums or hospitals being considered by Bill, Bob and Anne Smith, Dr Bobs wife. Sieberling insisted "No, we'll never take any money!” On the topic of anonymity she recalled “Another way where I saw that the devil could try to destroy us was having prominent names.”

In latter years Sieberling proved to be somewhat of a “thorn in the side” of AA as she felt it had evolved away from the simplistic God centered meetings of its earlier years. She recounted: "And I tried to give to the people something of my experience and faith. What I was most concerned with is that we always go back to faith". This brings me to the third thing that would be destructive to the early days, Bob and Bill said to me. "Henrietta, I don't think we should talk too much about religion or God." I said to them, "Well, we're not out to please the alcoholics. They have been pleasing themselves all these years. We are out to please God. And if you don't talk about what God does, and your faith, and your guidance, then you might as well be the Rotary Club or something like that. Because God is your only source of power." And finally they agreed. And they weren't afraid any more. It is my great hope that they will never be afraid to acknowledge God and what he has done for them.

Sieberling continued,

“The last AA dinner that I went to, over 3,000 people were there. And it was the first meeting that I went to which I was disappointed in. There were two witnesses there, a man and a woman, and you would have thought they were giving you a description of a psychiatrist's work on them. Their progress was always on the level of psychology. And I spoke to Bill afterwards and I said that there was no spirituality there or talk of what God had done in their lives. They were giving views, not news of what God had done. And Bill said, "I know, but they think there were so many people that need this and they don't want to send them away." So there again has come up this same old bugaboo - without the realization that they have lost their source of power.” [source; Transcript of Henrietta's remarks presented at Founder's Day, June 10, 1971]

In the 1950’s Sieberling was living on Park Ave in New York, She was by then very disturbed by the direction AA had taken. In a letter to Clarance S. of Cleavland, himself a founding member of the first AA group meeting she would write,

"A lot of people up here are buffaloed into being "W.W.s" (Wilson Worshipers) instead of "A.A.s'." Notice that A.A. is at the beginning & WW is at the end, even of the alphabet."

She also wrote Clarence,

"Bill will stand exposed for the show off that he is. He is so empty that as you know Anne [Smith] begged me to do a little "missionary work" on him. She [Anne Smith, Dr. Bob's wife] was sorry to have heard him at the last banquet she came to hear."

Upon the death of Dr Bob in June 1953 Henrietta wrote Clarence S. again about A.A.'s memorial Grapevine issue for Dr. Bob. She wrote:
“I can't really read it through because the truth is so doctored up to suit Bill's claims. - The telephone conversation involving me is utterly false & all of it so 'slanted' - I wish he would have left me in the anonymity I have kept” [source How It Worked THE STORY OF CLARENCE H. SNYDER

Henrietta Buckler Seiberling died December 5 1979 at her Park Ave. home In New York. She was inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame on October 21, 1998, “best remembered for her pivotal role in the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Colter K.


  1. Thanks for posting this, very good information, I am familiar with this history, I wish more people in AA knew how this all started. When I start working with a guy I tell them this story and how AA came to be.

    This is about developing a connection with God, always has been always will be, of course AA in many places has morphed into something other than this, but at its core, the heart of AA is God.

    I like Chuck C's conception, "one mind, common to all men".

  2. Welcome Colter. Nice post and again, good history.

    I tried to help with the font colors a bit, but had to do it from my cell phone.

  3. Thanks McG and Rob. :)


  4. I was in your neck of the woods last year installing an ESD floor at a place called Niitek. Ever heard of it?

  5. I ahd to look it up, they are out near the airport.

  6. We could hear them landing just west or us. We were by a Dunkin Donuts. We had to stay in a cheap motel south of there by a kfc, a Best Buy, a Chinese restaurant, and an awesome bagel joint.

    This is Joe's neck of the woods sort of.

  7. Colter, are you near Mr Jefferson's school? I'm not too far away - Chesapeake.

  8. Good stuff. Thanks for posting.

  9. Yes Joe, in the shadow of Mr Jefferson's mountain home Monticello and what he considered his greatest achievement, his beloved University of Virginia.

    McG, that bagel place is "Bodo's",great place!