Many events in the days preceding had led up to this moment. The total effect was that 5,000 people got a vision of A.A. such as they had never known before. They were exposed to the main outlines of A.A. history. With some of us oldsters they relived the exciting experiences that led to the creation of the Twelve Steps of recovery and the book Alcoholics Anonymous. They heard how the A.A. Traditions were beaten out on the anvils of group experience. They got the story of how A.A. had established beachheads in seventy foreign lands. And when they saw A.A.’s affairs delivered entirely into their own hands, they experienced a new realization of each individual’s responsibility for the whole.
At the Convention it was widely appreciated for the first time that nobody had invented Alcoholics Anonymous, that many streams of influence and many people, some of them nonalcoholics, had helped, by the grace of God, to achieve A.A.’s purpose.
Several of our nonalcoholic friends of medicine, of religion, and of A.A.’s Board of Trustees had come all the hot and dusty way to St. Louis to share that happy occasion and to tell us about their own experience of participation in the growth of A.A. There were men like clergyman Sam Shoemaker, whose early teachings did so much to inspire Dr. Bob and me. There was the beloved Father Dowling1 whose personal inspiration and whose recommendation of A.A. to the world did so much to make our society what it is. And there was Dr. Harry Tiebout,2 our first friend of psychiatry, who very early began to use A.A. concepts in his own practice, and whose good humor, humility, penetrating insight, and courage have meant so much to all of us.
It was Dr. Tiebout, helped by Dr. Kirby Collier of Rochester and Dwight Anderson of New York, who persuaded the Medical Society of the State of New York in 1944 and later the American Psychiatric Association in 1949 to let me, a layman, read papers about A.A. at their annual gatherings, thus hastening the acceptance of the then little-known A.A. by physicians all over the globe.
The value of Dr. Tiebout’s contribution, then and since, is beyond calculation. When we first met Harry, he was serving as Chief Psychiatrist at one of America’s finest sanitariums. His professional skill was widely recognized by patients and colleagues alike. At that time the modern art of psychiatry was just passing out of its youth and had begun to claim world-wide attention as one of the great advances of our times. The process of exploring the mysteries and motives of the unconscious mind of man was already in full swing.
Naturally, the explorers, representing the several schools of psychiatry, were in considerable disagreement respecting the real meaning of the new discoveries. While the followers of Carl Jung saw value, meaning, and reality in religious faith, the great majority of psychiatrists in that day did not. They mostly held to Sigmund Freud’s view that religion was a comforting fantasy of man’s immaturity; that when he grew up in the light of modern knowledge, he would no longer need such support.
This was the background against which, in 1939, Dr. Harry had seen two spectacular A.A. recoveries among his own patients. These patients, Marty and Grennie, had been the toughest kind of customers, both as alcoholics and as neurotics. When after a brief exposure to A.A. they abruptly stopped drinking (for good, by the way) and at once began to show an astonishing change in outlook and attitude, Harry was electrified. He was also agreeably astonished when he discovered that as a psychiatrist he could now really reach them, despite the fact that only a few weeks previously they had presented stone walls of obstinate resistance to his every approach. To Harry, these were facts, brand-new facts. Scientist and man of courage that he is, Harry faced them squarely. And not always in the privacy of his office, either. As soon as he became fully convinced, he held up A.A. for his profession and for the public to see. (Note the index of his medical papers.)3 At very considerable risk to his professional standing Harry Tiebout ever since has continued to endorse A.A. and its work to the psychiatric profession.
Dr. Tiebout was paired on the Convention’s medical panel with Dr. W. W. Bauer of the American Medical Association, who held out the hand of friendship to A.A. and recommended us warmly.
These good medical friends were not in the least surprised at the testimony of Dr. Earle M., the A.A. member of the panel. A notable in medical circles from coast to coast, Dr. Earle flatly stated that despite his medical knowledge, which included psychiatry, he had nevertheless been obliged humbly to learn his A.A. from a butcher. Thus he confirmed all that Dr. Harry had told us about the necessity of reducing the alcoholic’s ballooning ego, before entering A.A. and afterward.
The inspiring talks of these doctors reminded us of all the help that A.A.’s friends in medicine had given us over the years. Many A.A.’s at the Convention had been at the San Francisco Opera House on the evening in 1951 when Alcoholics Anonymous received the Lasker Award—the gift of Albert and Mary Lasker—from the 12,000 physicians of the American Public Health Association.4
The addresses which the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker,5 Father Edward Dowling, Dr. Harry Tiebout, and Dr. W. W. Bauer made before the Convention can be read beginning in chapter 4 of this book. Along with them we publish the talk of another friend, Bernard B. Smith, the New York lawyer who has served us so faithfully and brilliantly in recent years as Chairman of A.A.’s Board of Trustees. He will be remembered forever as the nonalcoholic whose singular skill and ability to reconcile different viewpoints were deciding factors in the formation of the General Service Conference upon which A.A.’s future so heavily depends. Like the other speakers, Bernard Smith tells not only what A.A. means to alcoholics and to the world at large but also what A.A. principles as practiced in his own life have meant to him.
Several other of our old-time friends made inspiring contributions to the gathering. Their talks, indeed all of the St. Louis meetings, were recorded on tapes in full and thus are available. [These tapes are no longer available.] We regret that the limited compass of this volume does not permit the inclusion of all of them here.
On the very first day of the Convention, for example, one of A.A.’s oldest and most valued friends, Mr. Leonard V. Harrison, chaired a session called “A.A. and Industry.” Leonard, who is still a Trustee, has endeared himself to us over a period of more than ten years’ service on our Board. He preceded Bernard Smith as our Board Chairman, and he saw A.A. through its frightfully wobbly time of adolescence, a time when nobody could say whether our society would hang together or blow up entirely. What his wise counsel and steady hand meant to us of A.A. in that stormy period is quite beyond telling.
Mr. Harrison then introduced a newer friend, Henry A. Mielcarek, who is engaged by Allis-Chalmers to look after the alcoholic problem in that great company. Ably seconded by Dave, an A.A. member holding a similar position at Du Pont, Mr. Mielcarek opened the eyes of the audience to the possibilities of the application of A A. and its principles in industry. Our vision of A A. in industry was taken a step farther by the final speaker, Dr. John L. Norris6of the Eastman Kodak Company. He had come to the Convention in a double role. One of the pioneers in the introduction of A.A. into industry, he was also a long-time Trustee on A.A.’s General Service Board, a most selfless and devoted worker. Again those of us who sat in the audience asked ourselves: What would we have ever done without friends like these?
During the second day of the Convention there was a meeting on “A.A. in Institutions.” The speakers took us on a journey into what were once the two darkest pits in which the alcoholic could suffer, the prison and the mental hospital. We were told how a new hope and a new light had entered these places of one-time darkness. Most of us were astounded when we learned the extent of the A.A. penetration, with groups today in 265 hospitals and 335 prisons7throughout the world. Formerly only about 20 per cent of the alcoholic parolees from institutions and prisons ever made the grade. But since the advent of A.A., 80 per cent of these parolees have found permanent freedom.
Two A.A.’s sparked this panel, and here again our faithful nonalcoholic friends were represented. There was Dr. O. Arnold Kilpat-rick, psychiatrist in charge of a New York State mental institution, who told us of the wonderful progress of A.A. in his hospital. He was followed by Mr. Austin MacCormick,