TO THE TRUSTEES OF THE ALCOHOLIC FOUNDATION
April 8, 1947
Following our past year of deliberation on questions touching the A.A. Headquarters policy and structure, I have ventured to prepare the enclosed material under the title: The Alcoholic Foundation of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.
The first section, The Alcoholic Foundation of Yesterday, is purely historical. It is designed to show the evolution of our central structure since its small beginning in 1937. This section, published serially in the Grapevine, could help greatly to inform every A.A. about us and clear away a certain amount of misunderstanding that has quite naturally arisen for sheer
lack of printed facts. May we have your consent to publication?
Section two, The Alcoholic Foundation of Today, is, to some degree, a misnomer, because it has been written as though the several suggested changes in structure and money policy still under consideration were already in effect. Doctor Bob and I wish to place this section before the Foundation Reorganization Committee for their study and recommendations.
Section three is an attempt to construct a central structure for A.A. of the future -- one which might stand a better chance of survival than our present incomplete design. This would involve changing the name of the Foundation and the creation of a yearly Conference. This too, is, of course, a matter first for the Reorganization Committee and then for the Board of Trustees.
Should we be able to agree on sections two and three, or some better modifications of them, it might then prove desirable to incorporate all three sections into a pamphlet to be distributed to our whole membership.
Meanwhile it seems right to Dr. Bob and me that this material be placed before all the Trustees pending the study and report of the Reorganization Committee.
William G. Wilson
GENERAL SERVICE CENTER
THE ALCOHOLIC FOUNDATION OF
YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW
THE ALCOHOLIC FOUNDATION OF YESTERDAY
Thousands of newer A.A.Ďs inquire Just what
is The Alcoholic Foundation, what is its place in A.A., who set it up, why do we
send it funds?
Most members, because their Groups are in frequent contact with our headquarters at New York, understand that place to be a sort of a general service to all A.A. Reading THE A.A. GRAPEVINE each month they know THE GRAPEVINE to be our principal monthly journal. But the history of the Alcoholic Foundation and its relation to these vital functions, and to A.A. as a whole, they scarcely understand at all.
Now for a bit of history. During its first years, Alcoholics Anonymous didn't even have that name. Anonymous, nameless indeed, we consisted by late 1937 of but three small clusters of alcoholics - Akron, Ohio, the first Group, New York City, the second, and a few members at Cleveland, our third Group to be. There were, I should guess, about fifty members in all three cities. The very early pioneering period had passed, Dr. Bob and I having first met at Akron in the spring of 1935.
We were becoming sure we had something for those other thousands of alcoholics who didn't yet know any answer. How were we to let them know; just how could the good news be spread? That was the burning question.
Much discussion in a little meeting called by Dr. Bob and me at Akron in the fall of 1937 developed a plan. This plan later proved to be approximately one-third right and about two-thirds wrong -- familiar process of trial and error. Because the development of the first Groups had been such a slow hard process we then supposed that none but seasoned pioneers could start new ones.
Though we had misgivings, it seemed
inevitable that about twenty of our solid members would have to lay aside their
personal affairs and go to other cities to create new centers. Much as we
disliked the idea, it appeared as if we must take on, temporarily at least, a
squad of A.A. missionaries. Plainly, too, these missionaries and their families
would have to eat. That would take money -- quite a lot of it, we thought!
But that was not all. It was felt we needed A.A. hospitals at Akron and New York, these places being regarded as our twin Mecca's.
There excellent medical care and high power spirituality could, we were sure, be sprayed on drunks who would flock in from all corners of the nation -- once the magic word, cure, got around.
Even as many newer A A.'s still have such fancies, we old-timers did dream these very dreams. Providentially, neither the A.A. hospital nor our missionary dreams came true. Had these then materialized, A.A. would surely have been ruined. We would have gone professional on the spot.
Then there was still a third dream. That was to prepare a Book of Experience -- the one we know today as Alcoholics Anonymous. We were sure that unless our recovery experiences were put on paper, our principles and practices would soon be distorted. We might be ridiculed in the press. Besides, did we not owe at least a book to those alcoholics who could not get to our hospitals, or who, perchance, werenít reached right away by our advancing missionaries! As everybody knows, the A.A. book dream did come true -- the other dreams didnít.
But it surely looked, in 1937, as though we must have considerable money.
Perhaps it was because I lived at New York,
where there is supposed to be lots of it, that I was delegated to set about
raising funds so our nameless movement might have its field workers, hospitals
and books. How simple it appeared. Did we not already have (in prideful
imagination) the beginning of one of the greatest social, medical, and spiritual
developments of all time? Were not we drunks all salesmen? Hadnít I been a Wall
Street man? How easy to raise money for such a cause as ours!
The awakening from that money dream was rude. It soon appeared that people with money had little interest in drunks. As for our grandiose scheme of banding alcoholics together in squads, platoons and regiments -- well, that was plainly fantastic, wasnít it? Drunks, people said, were difficult enough, one at a time. Why present each American community with an organized regiment of them.
Had not the donors better put their money into something constructive -- like tuberculosis or cancer? Or, why should they not invest in the prevention of alcoholism? One more attempt to salvage hopeless drunks couldnít possibly succeed. Such were the answers to our plea for money.
Then, one day, in the midst of discouragement, something momentous happened. It was another of those critical turning points in A.A. of which we have seen so many that no man can call them coincidence. At the office of my physician brother-in-law, I was bemoaning, in typical alcoholic fashion, how little we poor drunks were appreciated, especially by men of means. I was telling my relative for the tenth time how we had to have money soon -- or else.
Listening patiently he suddenly said, "Iíve got an idea. I used to know a man by the name of Dick R. He was somehow connected with the Rockefellers. But that was years ago. I wonder if he is still there. Let me call up and find out." On what little events our destinies somehow turn! How could we know that a simple phone message was to open a new era in A.A.! That it was to inaugurate The Alcoholic Foundation, the book Alcoholics Anonymous and our A.A. Central Office.
Two dayís after my brother-in-law's call, we sat in the Rockefeller offices talking to Dick R. The most lovable of men, Dick was the first of that early series of non-alcoholic laymen who saw us through when the going was very hard; and without whose wisdom and devotion the Alcoholics Anonymous movement might never have been. When he had heard the story, our new friend showed instant understanding. He immediately translated understanding into action. He suggested that some of our alcoholic brotherhood meet with several of his own friends and himself.
Shortly afterward, on a winters evening in
1937, this meeting took place at Rockefeller Center. Present were Dick R.., a
LeRoy C., since known as Chip, Albert S., Frank A., and my brother-in-law,
Leonard S., Dr. Bob and Paul S. came down from Akron. The New York ex-topers
were half a dozen. Of course we alcoholics were delighted. Our money troubles,
we thought, were over. If money was the answer, we had surely come to the right
Following introductions, each alcoholic told his own personal story, after which (with becoming reluctance!) we brought up the subject of money. As our hearers had seemed much impressed by our recovery stories, we made bold to expand on the urgent need for hospitals, field workers, and a book. We also made it clear that this would take money -- quite a lot.
Then came one more turn in A.A. destiny. The Chairman of the meeting, Albert S., a man of large affairs, and profoundly spiritual in his nature said in substance, I an deeply moved by what I have heard. I can see that your work, thus far, has been one of great good will -- one alcoholic personally helping another for the love of the thing. That is First Century Christianity in a beautiful form. But are you not afraid that the introduction of hospitals and paid field workers might change all that? Should we not be most careful not to do anything which might lead to a professional or propertied class within your ranks?
These were great words for Alcoholics Anonymous. We alcoholics admitted their weight. Disappointed that our hope of substantial money help seemed to be fading, we confessed, nevertheless, that we often had such misgivings. But, we persisted, what are we going to do? It has taken us three years to form three groups. We know we have a new life for those who die or go mad by thousands each year. Must our story wait while it is passed around by word of mouth only, becoming hopelessly garbled meanwhile? Finally our friends agreed that something needed to be done. But they did continue to insist our movement ought never be professionalized. This struck the key note of our relation to these men of good will for all the years since. Rightly enough they have never secured us large sums of money. But each has given of himself to our cause, generously and continuously; how much, a few A.A.Ďs can
Seeing clearly that we must now spread the recovery message faster, they then suggested we might carefully experiment with a small rest home at Akron. This could be presided over by Dr. Bob who was, after all, a physician.
Whereupon Frank A., on his own time and expense, went to Akron to investigate. He returned most enthusiastic. He was inclined to the opinion that $30,000 ought to be invested there in a center for alcoholics. Our friend Dick R. showed Frankís report to Mr. John D. Rockefeller Jr. who at once manifested a warm interest. But Mr. Rockefeller also expressed anxiety about professionalizing us.
Nevertheless he gave us a sum which turned
out to be, however, about one-sixth of the amount Frank had suggested. His gift
came in the Spring of 1938 and its result was to help Dr. Bob and me through
that very trying year. We could not have actively continued without it. Yet,
money wise, our budding movement of alcoholics was still left very much on its
own -- just where it should have been left too, however difficult that seemed at
the time. We still had no field staff, no hospital and no book. These were the
events which led to the formation of The Alcoholic Foundation.
The need for a volume describing our recovery experiences loomed larger than ever. Were such a book to appear a great flow of inquiries from alcoholics and their families might start. Thousands, maybe. These appeals would certainly have to be cleared through some sort of Central Office. That was most evident.
For these same purposes, our friends suggested the formation of a Foundation to which givers might make tax free contributions. We alcoholics endlessly discussed this new project with them, consuming hours of their business time.
Frank A. and a friendly attorney, Jeff W., put out much effort on the original Foundation Trust agreement. The lawyer had never seen anything like it. The new Foundation should, we insisted, have two classes of Trustees -- alcoholics and non-alcoholics. But, legally speaking, what was an alcoholic anyhow, he queried and if an alcoholic had stopped drinking, was he an alcoholic anymore?
Then, why two classes of Trustees? That, said our attorney, was unheard of.
We explained that we wanted our friends
with us. And besides, we urged, suppose all of us alcoholics should get drunk at
once, who then would hang on to the money!
Surmounting many such obstacles The Alcoholic Foundation was finally inaugurated. It had four non-alcoholics and three alcoholic Trustees. They could appoint their own successors. It was chartered to do everything under the sun except lobby for prohibition. So it had everything -ó except money!
During the summer of 1938 we solicited the well-to-do for contributions to fill that grand new receptacle, our Alcoholic Foundation. Again we encountered a strange indifference to drunks. Nobody was interested. We didnít get a cent that I can remember. We were pretty discouraged; apparently Providence had deserted us. With the modest fund from Mr. Rockefeller running out, it looked like a lean winter ahead. There could be no book, no office. What good, we complained, was an Alcoholic Foundation without money!
By this time there had been roughed out what are now the first two chapters of the book now known as "Alcoholics Anonymous." Our friend Frank referred us to a well known publisher who suggested the possibility of advancing royalties to me so the book could be finished. That made us feel fine until it was realized that if I ate up a lot of royalties while doing the book, there could be no more payments
for a long time afterward. We saw, too,
that my 10% royalty would never carry the office expenses of answering the pleas
for help that would surely follow publication. Nor might a commercial publisher,
anxious for sales, advertise it as we would like.
These reflections led us straight into a typical alcoholic fantasy! Why not publish the book ourselves? Though told by almost everybody who knew anything about publishing that amateurs seldom produce any but flops, we were not a whit dismayed. This time, we said, it would be different. We had discovered that the bare printing cost of a book is but a fraction of its retail price and a national magazine of huge circulation had offered to print an article about us when our book was finished. This was a clincher. How could we miss? We could see books selling hundreds of thousands -- money rolling in!
What a promotion it was! An A.A. friend and
I hastily organized the Works Publishing Co.. My friend, Hank P., then bought a
pad of stock certificates at a stationary store. He and I started selling them
to brother alcoholics and any who would buy at the bargain price of $25.00 a
share. Sure fire proposition, folks, you cant miss, we chanted. Our confidence
must have been boundless. Not only were we selling common stock on a book to
cure drunks -- the book itself had not yet been written. Amazingly enough, we
did sell that stock, $4,500 worth, to alcoholics in New York, New Jersey, and to
their friends. No one of the
original 49 subscribers put up over $300.00. Almost everybody paid on monthly installments, being too broke to do otherwise; save, of course, our good friends at Rockefeller Center. They pitched in, several of them subscribing.
Our agreement with the Works Publishing subscribers was that out of the first book income they were to get their money back; also that The Alcoholic Foundation was to receive the 10% royalty I might have had from a Publisher.
As for the shares of the Works Publishing,
the 49 cash subscribers were to have one-third, my friend Hank one-third, and I
one-third. We also obtained a loan of $2,500 from Charles B.T., proprietor of a
nationally known hospital for alcoholics. A friend indeed, he was to wait years
to get his money back.
But, as anyone could then see, everything was all set -- everything, of course, but writing and selling the book! Hope ran high. Out of the new financing we could keep a small office going at Newark, New Jersey. There I began to dictate the text of Alcoholics Anonymous to Ruth H. (our first and adored National Secretary). Rosily we saw scads of money coming in, once the book was off the press. Still more, we expected the new book would turn right about and help finance our poverty stricken foundation -- which, strangely enough, it really did years later.
Finally came April 1939. The book was done. Tales of recovery for its story section had been supplied by Dr. Bob and Akron brethren. Others were supplied by New Yorkers, and New Jerseyites. One came in from Cleveland and another from Maryland. Chapters had been read and discussed at meetings. I had thought myself the author of the text until I discovered I was just the umpire of the differences of opinion out of which it arose. After endless voting on a title for the new work we had decided to call it The Way Out. But inquiry by Fitz M., our Maryland alcoholic, at The Library of Congress disclosed the fact that twelve books already bore that title. Surely we could not make our book the thirteenth.
So we called it Alcoholics Anonymous
instead! Though we did not know it, our movement then got its name -- a name
which because of the implication of humility and modesty has given us our
treasured spiritual principle of anonymity.
Five thousand copies of Alcoholics Anonymous lay in the printer's warehouse, except the few we joyously passed around. Each stockholder and each story writer got one free. The New York Times did a good review. We hastened to the National Magazine to tell them we were ready for their promised article. We could see A.A. books going out in carload lots!
What a debacle. At the office of the great monthly periodical we were gently told they had entirely forgotten to let us know, nine months before, that they had decided to print nothing about us. The editors had concluded we drunks were too controversial a subject! This stunning announcement left us in a daze. The whole Alcoholics Anonymous movement could buy less than a hundred books, as it had only one hundred members. Besides, we had given away 79 free ones! What were we to do with those other thousands of books? What could we say to the printer, whose bill wasn't half paid? What about that little loan of $2,500
and those forty-nine subscribers who had invested $4,500 in Works Publishing stock.
How would we break the awful news to them?
How could we tell them that since we had no publicity we could sell no books?
Yes, that A.A. book venture was, I fear, very alcoholic.
Thus was the good book Alcoholics Anonymous born into bankruptcy. Some of the creditors got restive; the Sheriff actually appeared at our Newark office. The promoters were very low -- financially and otherwise. The house in which my wife and I lived at Brooklyn was taken over by the bank. We took up residence in a summer camp loaned by an A.A. friend Horace C. and his family. My friend Hank fared no better. Things certainly looked bleak. Still only three active groups, we had acquired besides a bankrupt A.A. book, one unpaid but loyal secretary, a tiny Central Office that might have to close any day and an Alcoholic Foundation with no money in it. That was the score after four years of Alcoholics Anonymous.
How we ever got the book and our office through that summer of 1939 I shall never quite know. Had it not been for a truly sacrificial act on the part of Bert T., an early New York A.A., I'm sure we couldn't have survived. Bert loaned the defunct Works Publishing Co. $1,000. This he obtained by signing a note secured by his own business, then in a shaky condition.
His act of faith was followed by two more pieces of good fortune which barely got us through the year. In the fall of 1939 LIBERTY magazine published a piece about us. This produced a flood of inquiries. Some of those writing in bought the A.A. book. Those few book receipts kept our articles in the CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER. This started a
prodigious growth of A.A. out there and created a little more demand for the A.A. book which helped a lot.
Nor were our friends at Rockefeller Center idle. One day, "Dick" R., greeted us at
a Foundation meeting with the broadest of smiles. It was then February 1940.
Dick hastened to say that Mr. John D.
Rockefeller, Jr. had been following our progress with intense interest; that he
would like, for the inspiration of his guests and for the benefit of Alcoholics
Anonymous, to give a dinner. Mr. Rockefeller proposed in inviting several
hundred people, including personal friends and associates. This was a ten
In March 1940, the dinner came off. Mr. R.'s friends turned out in force. An A.A. member was placed at each guest table. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, who had superbly reviewed our book, spoke of A.A. from the spiritual viewpoint. Dr. Foster Kennedy, noted neurologist, gave his hearers the medical outlook. We alcoholics were asked to talk also. At the conclusion of the evening Mr. Nelson Rockefeller, explaining that his father had not been able to come because of illness, went on to say that few things more deeply affecting or promising than Alcoholics Anonymous had ever touched his father's life; that he wished his friends to share this experience with him.
Though great wealth was present at the
dinner meeting that night, little was said touching money. Hope was expressed
that A.A. might soon become self-supporting. But the suggestion was made,
however, that until such a stage was reached, a little financial help might be
Following the dinner meeting Mr. Rockefeller wrote a fine personal letter to each guest, expressing his feelings about A.A., and concluding with the observation that he was making us a modest gift. Accompanying each letter was a reprint of the talks given at the dinner and a copy of the book Alcoholics Anonymous. On receipt of Mr. Rockefeller's letter, many of his guests responded with donations to the Alcoholic Foundation.
This so-called Rockefeller dinner list has since been almost the whole source of outside money gifts to The Alcoholic Foundation. These donations averaged around $3,000 annually and they were continued for about five years --1940 to 1945. This income The Foundation divided between Dr. Bob and me so helping us to give A.A. a good part of our time during that critical period. Not long since, The Foundation Trustees were able to write the original dinner contributors, with great thanks, that their help would no longer be needed; that the Alcoholic Foundation had become adequately supported by the A.A. Groups and by income from the book Alcoholics Anonymous; that the personal needs of Dr. Bob and myself were being met out of book royalties.
Back now, to 1940. The significant thing about Mr. Rockefeller's dinner, of course, was not the money it raised. Here came an influential citizen wise enough to see that our great need was not money. What we did really need was favorable public recognition; we needed someone who would stand up and say what he thought and felt about Alcoholics Anonymous. Considering the fact that we were then few in number; that we were none too sure of ourselves; that not long since society had known us as common drunkards, I think Mr. Rockefeller's wisdom and courage was great indeed.
The effect of that dinner meeting was instantaneous; the news wires all carried the story. Hundreds of alcoholics and their families rushed to buy the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Our little Central Office was flooded with pleas for help.
It soon had to be moved from Jersey to
Vesey Street, New York. Ruth H. got her back pay and forthwith became our first
National Secretary. Enough books were sold to keep the office going.
So passed 1940. Alcoholics Anonymous had made its national debut.
Just a year later, the SATURDAY EVENING POST© assigned Jack Alexander to do a story about us. Under the impetus of Mr. Rockefeller's dinner and CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER© pieces, our membership had shot up to about 2,000.
Our Clevelanders, had just proved that even a small group could, if it must, successfully absorb great numbers of newcomers in a hurry. They had exploded the myth that A.A. must always grow slowly. From the Akron-Cleveland area we had begun to spill over into other places, Chicago, Detroit, and the like. In the East, Philadelphia had taken fire. Washington and Baltimore were smoldering.
Further west, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco were putting down roots.
Growth continued at Akron and New York. We took special pride in Little Rock, Arkansas. It had sprung up with no A.A. help at all, except books and letters from
the Central Office. It was the first of the so-called mail order Groups now commonplace all over the world. Even then, we had stated correspondence with many isolated alcoholics who were to form Groups later on.
Despite this good progress, the approaching SATURDAY EVENING POST© piece set us aghast. While our Cleveland experience had given wonderful assurances that our few established groups would survive the impact of heavy publicity, what could we possibly do with the thousands of burning appeals that would now swamp our little New York office which, by the way, then consisted of but one small room where sat Ruth H., a typist and myself? What could we three people do with five, or maybe ten thousand, frantic inquiries? The A.A. book income had barely taken care of the two girls and the office rent. The POST article would bring more book sales, but not enough to handle this emergency. We had to have more office help -- and quickly.
We realized we simply must, for the first time, ask the A.A. groups for assistance. The Alcoholic Foundation still had no money save the $3,000 a year dinner fund which was helping to keep Dr. Bob and me afloat. Besides, some of the creditors and cash subscribers of Works Publishing (the A.A. book company) were getting anxious again. When, they asked, were they going to get their money back?
Then, too, I had made the disheartening discovery that promoters are not always popular in A.A. Fantastic stories circulated about our connection with Mr. Rockefeller and vast personal profits on the Works Publishing book stock. This, despite the fact that the tiny book income had been spent to support the office, and the further fact that the so-called promoters book shares had never been issued to us at all, but had, at our request, been transferred to The Alcoholic Foundation instead. By this time I had been thoroughly cured of the desire to promote anything! Yet our little Central Office simply had to have funds,
else we must throw thousands of heartbreaking appeals to the wastebasket.
With some trepidation, two of the alcoholic
members of our Foundation traveled out among the A.A. Groups to explain. They
presented their listeners with these ideas: That support of our Central Office
was a definite necessary assistance to our 12th step work; that we A.A.'s ought
to pay these office expenses ourselves and rely no further upon outside charity
or insufficient book sales. The two Trustees also suggested that The Alcoholic
Foundation be made a regular depository for Group funds; that the Foundation
would earmark all Group monies for Central Office expenses only that each month
the Central Office would
bill the Foundation for the straight A.A. expenses of the place; that all group contributions ought to be entirely voluntary; that every A.A. Group would receive equal service from the New York office, whether it contributed or not.
It was estimated that if each Group sent The Foundation a sum equal to $1.00 per member per year, this might eventually carry our office, without other assistance.
Under this arrangement the office would ask the Groups twice yearly for funds and render, at the same time, a statement of its expenses for the previous period.
Our two trustees, Horace C. and Bert T. did not come back empty handed. Now clearly understanding the situation, most groups began contributing to The Alcoholic Foundation for Central Office expenses, and have continued to do so ever since. In this practice the A.A. tradition of self support had a firm beginning.
Thus we handled the SATURDAY EVENING POST© article for which thousands of A.A.'s are today so grateful.
The enormous in pouring of fresh members
quickly laid the foundation for hundreds of new A.A. Groups and they soon began
to consult the Central Office about their growing pains, thus confronting our
Service Headquarters with group problems as well as personal inquiries. The
office then began to publish a list of all A.A. Groups and it furnished
traveling A.A.'s with lists of prospects in cities which had none. Out-of -towners
we had never seen before began to visit us, so starting what is today the huge
network of personal contact between our General Office staff at New York and A.A.
Groups throughout the world.
The year 1941 was a great one for the growing A.A. It was the beginning of the huge development to follow; our Central Office got solid group backing; we began to abandon the idea of outside charitable help in favor of self-support.
Last, but not least, our Alcoholic Foundation really commenced to function. By this time linked to the A.A. Central Office because of its responsibility for the Group funds being spent.
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