Buckler Seiberling, 1888-1979
Anonymous wanted to mark its birthplace, it looked to the gatehouse
of Stan Hywet in Akron. It was there that the two best-known characters
in the Alcoholics Anonymous movement -- Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson
-- first met. But there was another person present; Henrietta Buckler
Seiberling arranged the meeting, helped nurture the early organization
and ever reminded the AA leaders of the need for a strong spiritual
under pining for an alcoholic's recovery.
Seiberling was satisfied
to work in the background. The social customs of the day, her background
as well as the background of her husband, explained why she opted to
play such a role.
was born in Lawrenceburg, Ky., on March 18, 1888. She was reared in
Texas where her father, Julius Augustus Buckler, was a judge of the
Common Pleas Court. She was well educated, graduating from Vassar College,
when she was only 15. She majored in music, ideal for the well-bred
lady of the day. In 1917, she married John Fredrick Seiberling, eldest
son of Akron industrialist F. A. Seiberling.
had made their fortune -- and lost it -- and gained it back in Akron's
rubber industry. By 1917, the Seiberlings had already earned their place
in Akron society. Matriarch of the clan, Gertrude
Seiberling, was already one of the leaders in the city's cultural
and musical scene. John Fredrick and Henrietta moved to Akron after
None of the Seiberling
did as well financially as their parents. John Fredrick was no exception.
He worked for his father's company. It was the financial and family
problems that Henrietta faced in the early 1930s that eventually led
to her involvement in the creation of the AA.
Seiberling was not
an alcoholic; she was, however, involved with the Oxford
Movement, an evangelical fellowship of intellectuals who believed
in the responsibility of Christians to solve social problems. Seiberling
helped organize the group's "alcoholic squad" in Akron.
Dr. Bob Smith and
his wife came into the Akron Oxford Group. A physician, Smith was an
alcoholic. Aware of his drinking problem, Seiberling invited the Smiths
over for a small meeting of the Oxford Group. Members shared their deepest
secrets and then Smith admitted for the first time that he was a "secret
drinker and I can't stop." The group then prayed together.
The Oxford Movement
was not peculiar to Akron. It had groups in many cities throughout the
United States and Europe. The Oxford Movement was also a kind of network.
Members often contacted others in other cities. It was through this
network that Seiberling met Bill Wilson, a stockbroker from New York
in Akron on business. Wilson was also a recovering alcoholic. Wilson
told Seiberling that he had had a religious experience and found the
strength to stop drinking.
arranged a meeting between Wilson and Smith. The two worked together
to support each other as they dealt with alcoholism. Working with Seiberling,
they also came up with many of the tenets that still mark Alcoholics
Anonymous -- never to drink again, to lead a spiritual life and to share
their experiences with others. Initially working through Akron's Oxford
Group, Alcoholics Anonymous soon struck out on its own, meeting at the
old King School. Bill Wilson acted as the group's promoter; "Dr.
Bob" was the "homeyness" that the alcoholics needed at
the beginning, Seiberling recalled.
the religious dimension that both Dr. Bob and Wilson resisted initially.
The two thought that this might turn the alcoholics away. To which,
Seiberling replied, "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 might as well
be the Rotary Club or something like that. Because God is your only
source of Power."
nurtured the AA movement, she saw her marriage degenerate. Eventually,
she and her husband separated and she moved to New York in 1952. She
died there in 1979. She was survived by three children -- Mrs. George
Huhn; Dorothy Seiberling, art editor for the old Life magazine;
and Rep. John Seiberling, congressman from the Akron area.
After her death,
her son publicized his mother's involvement with the founding of Alcoholics
Anonymous, now a worldwide organization helping millions every year.
Lower photo shows
Gate House at Stan Hywet Hall. Photos courtesy of Alcoholics Anonymous.