The Oxford Group Connection and The Mayflower Hotel

The Oxford Group Connection and The Mayflower Hotel from

Click here for The Oxford Group Connection Series of articles >>> The first in the series is The Oxford Group Connection published July 26, 2022.

Here begins another key circumstance to set the stage in Akron, Ohio. Harvey Firestone, Sr., offered Jim a job as secretary to the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in 1926, and moved him to Akron, Ohio putting him in residence at the Portage Country Club adjacent to the Firestone Estate(7) Jim worked for Firestone eleven years and was being groomed as president of the company when he resigned and went full time with the Oxford Groups. Firestone’s clergyman was Rev. Walter Tunks. Jim joined Tunks’ church and became active in raising funds for their birthday committee.

Jim had been in New York for the Jack Dempsey vs Gene Tunney fight. While there he confessed to Frank Buchman that his life was in turmoil and he was about to take a “geographical cure”. Buchman sent him to meet Sam Shoemaker at the Calvary Church an d he made an Oxford Group confession to Sam and was led to join one of the Oxford Group business teams.

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These were groups of important men who made attempts to convert others to the Oxford Group method of spirituality. Jim frequently met with the aforementioned Shep C. and Rowland H. He met T. Henry and Clarace Williams, husband and wife Oxford Group members from Akron and members of Walter Tunks’ church. The business team put on house parties in various cities at the finest hotels and clubs. In January of 1933, Frank Buchman, leading a team of thirty men and women, descended on Akron for the first time to give testimonials at the Mayflower Hotel and in Akron churches, and initiate the townspeople in the experiences of the Oxford Group. Here we can clearly see input from Jim Newton’s parties with Firestone and Tunks’ Episcopal Church group to influence the choice of Akron as the site of this endeavor, rather than some other city. Had Jim not already been a business team member and in place in Akron, it is very unlikely that Buchman would ever have chosen this small, rather unknown city as a place to pursue his evangelistic efforts. Jim was the spokesman who introduced Buchman at all the affairs that week in Akron.

Now our cast of characters is nearly complete and in place. Still to appear on the scene, however, are Henrietta Seiberling, Anne and Bob S., and T. Henry and Clarace Williams.

When Jim first arrived in Akron he had been welcomed into the Firestone family, and had become fast friends with a son, Russell (Bud) Firestone. Bud had a very bad drinking problem and had already been sent to several hospitals to no avail. Jim went with Bud to still another drying-out place, on the Hudson River in New York, and stayed through the entire 30 day program. Then he took Bud to an Episcopal Conference in Denver to which the Oxford Group people had been invited. On the train East again after the party, he was able to introduce Bud to his old Oxford Group minister, Sam Shoemaker. Alone with Sam, Bud surrendered his life to God in a private car on the train. His life changed, and his family situation and marriage were saved.

“Now Akron was the place where AA was to be founded. Jim Newton had helped bring to the city the Oxford Group message of his alcoholic friend, Bud Firestone. The message led to Bud’s “miraculous” recovery which lasted for a time. The message and the recovery were broadcast to an interested community by a grateful father, Harvey Firestone, Sr., and by widespread press accounts.”(7)

Clarace Williams was there, and joined the Oxford Group along with T. Henry Williams, and began regularly attending the meetings. About the same time, a lady named Henrietta Seiberling, the wife of John Seiberling of the Seiberling Tire and Rubber Company, found herself with personal and marital problems, and separated from her husband. She turned to the Oxford Group and attended the first meetings at the Mayflower Hotel. She went with a woman named Anne S., the wife of a well-known Akron surgeon who was in deep trouble with his drinking.

The progenitors now assume their roles. A kindly and missionary-oriented couple, the Williams, had been impressed with the Oxford Group message, and had a home to offer for a meeting place. A gifted and compassionate lady named Henrietta Seiberling, who had mastered some of the Oxford group principles, had her eye on using the biblical principles to help her good friend, Dr. Bob S., with his drinking problem. Add to this mix the efforts of his wife Anne, who assembled books and spiritual readings and principles from the Bible, the Oxford Group, and various other Christian writings, all the while praying for a solution to her husband’s seemingly hopeless drinking problem. The talented and very alcoholic surgeon became the focus of all these efforts. He did a lot of spiritual reading, attended a lot of meetings, but remained drunk.

Now all the earlier seeming coincidences converge, and this story merges into the facts we all know from our AA literature.

Onto this scene landed the “rum hound” from New York, moved by what both Bill W. and Henrietta Seiberling felt was the guidance of God. Bill had recovered from his disease, and was determined to stay sober by seeking out and helping another drunk. The “rum hound from New York”, (Bill’s self-description when he made the fateful phone call to Henrietta), “just happened” to bring to Akron some solutions heretofore never assembled in one place and delivered by just one person.

  1. Some important knowledge about the disease of alcoholism accumulated through the work of Dr.Silkworth at Towns Hospital in New York.
  2. An important spiritual solution to the problem that had been passed from Dr. Carl Jung to Rowland H. and then on to Bill by Ebby T.
  3. A validation of this spiritual solution by the scholarly studies of Professor William James.
  4. A linkage between the problem of alcoholism, and this solution that God could and would solve the problem if a relationship were sought with Him by using the Oxford Group’s practical program of action, which was already proven by the results experienced by Rowland and Ebby when they followed the Oxford Group program.

In Akron, T. Henry and Clarace Williams and Henrietta Seiberling were attending Oxford Group meetings at the Mayflower Hotel and elsewhere. Dr. Bob S. also attended with his wife, Anne. He shied away from talking about his problem publicly, and continued drinking. In her concern for Bob, Henrietta suggested to T. Henry that if they could set up a smaller, more private meeting perhaps Dr. Bob might feel more at ease and be able to make a confession in the Oxford Group fashion, and a commitment to sobriety. T. Henry’s home was chosen for this special meeting and these meetings started on a Wednesday in April of 1935–just one month before Bill W. came to Akron. These meetings were usually led by T. Henry, Henrietta, or Florence Main, and at one of these Dr. Bob was able to confess that he was a secret drinker and needed help as he could not stop. This was the very place that was to become the home to the “about to begin” Alcoholic Contingent of the Oxford Group.

We can now see how all these characters contributed to putting Dr. Bob and Bill at a meeting in Henrietta Seiberling’s home in the Gate House of the Firestone Estate, and make possible the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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