Gary's Blog

Charles Towns wrote a fascinating letter to Bill Wilson on October 4, 1945. He claims to have been the originator of the need for Bill’s small group of drunks to write a book that would document their movement. The letter was written on Towns Hospital stationary to Bill Wilson at 415 Lexington Avenue in New York City [with quite a run-on sentence]:

“October 4, 1945

Dear Bill,

I am sure that you will be interested in the article which I am enclosing and you would be very much surprised at the writer’s lack of actual history of the beginnings of the Alcoholics Anonymous group. I have never sought any credit nor publicity in this matter and I don’t care for any but under the circumstances and in view of the facts concerned I don’t think Mr Rockefeller should deserve credit for that which he had nothing whatsoever to do with. as you will recall, is the presence of Dr. Silkworth. I voluntarily suggested that a book should be written about this movement and I also suggested that you be the man to write it. I voluntarily proposed that you hire a stenographer, which you considered could be done for $25 a week and all that you wanted was an advance of $50 a week for yourself and I told you to go ahead and we discussed the subject of the manuscript before it was written and agreed upon the policy and so forth and when this was finally completed I was greatly pleased with what you had accomplished. I told you to go ahead and have one thousand copies printed right away. The total monies I advanced in this connection with this was $4100 and every cent of this sum has been returned to me by the Alcoholics Anonymous group.

In reviewing things that I have done in the past there is nothing that I can think of which has given so much for so little personal contribution and I will never cease to look back on all that I had to do with this organization as being on of the highlights of my career.

Reading this letter might make one believe that the idea of the book that became Alcoholics Anonymous originated at Towns Hospital. However, Towns, who had a long history of self-promotion, looks to have given that practice one final hurrah in his 83rd year, which was two years before his death.

Ernest Kurtz in Not God dated the origins of the idea of a book including the ideas of this new group of drunks to have been November, 1937. The text in the book Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers agreed 100% that November, 1937 was the date of the idea.

While Bill Wilson started borrowing funds from Charles Towns for the book project, Wilson didn’t start receiving checks from Towns until March, 1938. Checks were written by Towns over the next thirteen months totaling almost $4,100, which assuredly made the completion of the book project possible. However, there is no other evidence that might credit Towns with the book project idea besides his own recollections.

Towns was a published author himself who authored three books, dozens of magazine articles, and many dozens of his own magazine ads and advertising brochures. He was no stranger for using the written word for the purposes of self-promotion.

But he also had a long history of stretching the truth. One example: his hospital was not founded in 1901, but rather eight years later in 1909. His ads on his hospital beginning in the 1910’s stretched that truth for years. His opinions could often vary depending upon what seemed to be the most influential idea at the time. An example would be his opinions over the years of whether alcoholism was a disease. First it was, then it wasn’t, then it was ludicrous, then it was a disease again in later years. One really wonders sometimes if he bothered to re-read what he had written before.

Consequently, the letter above seems to be an interesting final example of how Towns could always portray himself as a gentleman and philanthropist, but to understand the real story, one needs to sometimes read between the lines.