Old-time midwesterners at the Convention could remember that while all this was going on in Akron and New York, certain candles were being lighted in Cleveland which presently sent up a flame that could be seen country-wide. A few older Clevelanders remembered how some of them had gone to the Akron meetings, then held in the home of Oxford Groupers T. Henry and Clarace Williams. There they had met Dr. Bob and Anne and had looked with wonder upon alcoholics who had stayed sober one and two and three years. They had met and listened to Henrietta Seiberling, the nonalcoholic who had brought Dr. Bob and me together in her house three years previously—one who had understood deeply and cared enough and who was already seen as one of the strongest links in the chain of events that Providence was unfolding. On other evenings, Clevelanders had gone to Dr. Bob’s Akron home, sitting with him and Anne over cups of coffee at their kitchen table. Eagerly they had absorbed knowledge of their problem and its solution and had breathed deeply of the remarkable spiritual atmosphere of the place. They became friends with old Bill D., A.A. number three. At other times Dr. Bob had taken them to St. Thomas Hospital, where they met Sister Ignatia, saw her at work, and in their turn talked to the newcomers on the beds. Returning to Cleveland, they began to dig up their own prospects and got to know for the first time the pains, the joys, and the benefits of A.A.’s Twelve Steps.
Clarence S. and his wife Dorothy were among the earliest contingent to come from Cleveland to the Akron meeting. By the early summer of 1939 a group had commenced to form around them in Cleveland where, by fall, they could count a score or more of promising recoveries.
At this point the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a series of pieces that ushered in a new period for Alcoholics Anonymous, the era of mass production of sobriety.
Elrick B. Davis, a feature writer of deep understanding, was the author of a series of articles that were printed in the middle of the Plain Dealer’s editorial page, and these were accompanied every two or three days by red-hot blasts from the editors themselves. In effect the Plain Dealer was saying, “Alcoholics Anonymous is good, and it works. Come and get it.”
The newspaper’s switchboard was deluged. Day and night, the calls were relayed to Clarence and Dorothy and from them to members of their little group. Earlier in the year, through the good offices of Nurse Edna McD. and the Rev. Kitterer, Administrator of Deaconess Hospital, an A.A. entry was made into this institution. But this one hospital could not begin to cope with the situation that now confronted Cleveland. For weeks and weeks A.A.’s ran about in desperate haste to make Twelfth Step calls on the swelling list of prospects. Great numbers of these had to be tossed into other Cleveland hospitals such as Post Shaker, East Cleveland Clinic, and several more. How the bills were paid nobody ever quite knew.
Sparked by Clarence and Dorothy, clergymen and doctors began to give great help. Father Nagle and Sister Victorine at St. Vincent’s Charity Hospital were meeting the new tide with love and understanding, as was Sister Merced at St. John’s. Dr. Dilworth Lupton, the noted Protestant clergyman, preached and wrote warmly about us. This fine gentleman had once tried to sober up Clarence, and when he saw A.A. do the job he was astonished. He published a pamphlet, widely used in Cleveland, entitled “Mr. X and Alcoholics Anonymous.” “Mr. X” of course was Clarence.
It was soon evident that a scheme of personal sponsorship would have to be devised for the new people. Each prospect was assigned an older A.A., who visited him at his home or in the hospital, instructed him on A.A. principles, and conducted him to his first meeting. But in the face of many hundreds of pleas for help, the supply of elders could not possibly match the demand. Brand-new A.A.’s, sober only a month or even a week, had to sponsor alcoholics still drying up in the hospitals.
Homes were thrown open for meetings. The first Cleveland meeting started in June, 1939, at the home of Abby G. and his wife Grace. It was composed of Abby and about a dozen others who had been making the journey to Akron to meet at the Williams home. But Abby’s group presently ran out of space. So one segment began to meet in the home of Cleveland’s financier, Mr. T. E. Borton, at his generous invitation. Another part of the group found quarters in a hall in the Lakewood section of Cleveland and became known as the Orchard Grove Group. And still a third offshoot of Abby’s meeting went under the name of the Lee Road Group.
These multiplying and bulging meetings continued to run short of home space, and they fanned out into small halls and church basements. Luckily the A.A. book had come off the press six months before, and some pamphlets were also available. These were the guides and time-savers that probably kept the hectic situation from confusion and anarchy.
We old-timers in New York and Akron had regarded this fantastic phenomenon with deep misgivings. Had it not taken us four whole years, littered with countless failures, to produce even a hundred good recoveries? Yet there in Cleveland we saw about twenty members, not very experienced themselves, suddenly confronted by hundreds of newcomers as a result of the Plain Dealer articles. How could they possibly manage? We did not know.
But a year later we did know; for by then Cleveland had about thirty groups and several hundred members. Growing pains and group problems had been terrifying, but no amount of squabbling could dampen the mass demand for sobriety. Yes, Cleveland’s results were of the best. Their results were in fact so good, and A.A.’s membership elsewhere was so small, that many a Clevelander really thought A.A. had started there in the first place.
The Cleveland pioneers had proved three essential things: the value of personal sponsorship; the worth of the A.A. book in indoctrinating newcomers, and finally the tremendous fact that A.A., when the word really got around, could now soundly grow to great size.
Many of the essentials of A.A. as we now understand them were to be found already in the pioneering groups in Akron, New York, and Cleveland as early as 1939. But there remained much more to be done and lots of questions to be answered. Would many A.A.’s, for example, moving out of the old original groups, be successful in new towns and cities? In those days the first few of our early A.A. travelers, the forerunners of thousands, were on the move.
We had watched one named Earl T. as, soundly indoctrinated by Dr. Bob and the Akronites, he returned home to Chicago in 1937. With much concern we had followed his constant but fruitless efforts to start a group there, a struggle that lasted two whole years, despite the help of Dick R., his first “convert,” and Ken A., who had migrated from the Akron group in 1938. Then in mid-1939 two Chicago doctors came upon the scene. Earl’s friend, Dr. Dan Craske, handed him two floundering patients. One of them, Sadie, began to stay dry.
A little while later a Dr. Brown of Evanston exposed several patients to Earl. Among them were Sylvia, Luke, and Sam and his wife Tee, all of whom have remained sober to this day. Sylvia, however, got off to a slow start. In desperation she visited Akron and Cleveland, the founding centers in Ohio. Here she was exposed to Henrietta and Dr. Bob, and was worked over by Clarence and Dorothy, the Cleveland elders. Still she drank on. She returned to her home in Chicago, where for reasons best known to herself and God, she suddenly got sober and stayed that way.
Chicago now had the solid nucleus from which its coming great growth could issue. Continually encouraged by Dr. Brown, vastly helped by Sylvia’s nonalcoholic personal secretary, Grace Cultice, and cheered on by Earl’s wife Katie, the Chicagoans started to search for still more prospects. Meetings soon began, both in Earl’s home and in Sylvia’s.
As A.A. in Chicago slowly grew and prospered, Grace was continually at the business end of Sylvia’s phone, and she became the group’s first secretary. When the Saturday Evening Post article appeared in 1941, the traffic became very heavy. Sylvia’s place became a sort of Chicago Grand Central, and things were just about as rugged with Earl and Katie. Something had to be done. So they rented a one-room office in the Loop, and secretary Grace was installed there to direct the stream of applicants for Twelfth Step attention, hospitalization, or other help. This was A.A.’s first organized local service center, the forerunner of the many Intergroup Associations we maintain in large cities nowadays. Many an A.A. group within a several-hundred-mile radius of