A.A.’s Clarence H. Snyder: Founder of A.A. in Cleveland, Ohio
Clarence, Clarence’s Wife Grace, His Sponsor Dr. Bob,
the Early Cleveland A.A. Story, Writings, and Retreats
By Dick B.
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved
Why This Review Now?
Why this seemingly-belated account of Clarence Henry Snyder, his beloved Alcoholics Anonymous, and his many acts of service to God and to alcoholics as he finally became the member of Alcoholics Anonymous who had been sober longer than anyone else? For one thing, Bill Wilson’s secretary Nell Wing opined that Clarence could well have been called the third founder of A.A. For another, Clarence instituted or defined numerous parts of the A.A. program that became embedded in present-day Alcoholics Anonymous, including:
2. Rotating Leadership;
3. Matchless work with newcomers;
4. Growing the A.A. Fellowship in Cleveland from one group to 30 in a year;
5. Taking A.A. newcomers through the Twelve Steps in one day;
6. Hospitalization guides;
7. An understanding of the roots of A.A. in the Bible and in many of the principles and practices of “A First Century Christian Fellowship” (also known as “the Oxford Group”);
8. Bringing to Cleveland A.A. the Big Book and its 12 Steps; and keeping most of the “old program”—including the Bible and the Oxford Group’s Four Absolutes (Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, and Absolute Love), along with the principles and practices of the Akron Number One “Christian fellowship” [which you can find described in Dick B. and Ken B., Stick with the Winners: How to Conduct More Effective 12-Recovery Meetings Using Conference-Approved Literature! http://mcaf.ee/s50mq. See also: Mitchell K., How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio (Washingtonville, N.Y.: AA Big Book Study Group, 1999), 108];
9. Shining the light on the absurdity of A.A.’s substituting the phrase “higher power” in place of its original stated reliance on God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible; and
10. Helping Cleveland A.A. become the fastest-growing A.A. group; and attain the unprecedented, documented, 93% success rate that Clarence reported based on a survey of the Cleveland A.A. groups two years after the founding of Cleveland A.A. [See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 261)].
A Brief Clip about Clarence and A.A.
Clarence was born at 64 Breck Avenue–the street name and address were later changed to “1280 East 89th Street”—in Cleveland, in the home of his parents Charles and Jenny Snyder. The date was December 26, 1902. Clarence was raised as a Protestant Christian and attended Sunday school from early childhood. Ken R. purchased Clarence’s Bible (the King James Version) from A.A. old-timer Ed Andy of Lorain, Ohio. Ken sent the Bible to me to inspect, analyze, and comment upon. Thus I was enabled to review Clarence’s entire Bible. It was filled with notes and underlined words and phrases that made clear the depth of his studies. Clarence continued as a church goer throughout his life. Like both Dr. Bob and Bill W., Clarence had a connection with the Young Men’s Christian Association as a youngster. And he was imbued with the importance of belief in God and coming to Him through His Son Jesus Christ. He even recalled specifically the language that his sponsor Dr. Bob used in determining Clarence’s belief in God and in leading him to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior—both at the time of Clarence’s discharge from Akron City Hospital during Clarence’s earliest days of sobriety, and later at the “real” (some called it the “full”) surrender at the Akron A.A. “regular” meeting on Wednesday evenings at the home of T. Henry and Clarace Williams in Akron, Ohio.
Clarence fixed February 11, 1938, as the date he was released from his alcoholism. Like so many of his peers, including the first three AAs—Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, and Bill Dotson—Clarence made it very clear that he had been “cured” of alcoholism. At the instigation of old-timer Bill V.H., Clarence was introduced to the Bible verse he frequently quoted for the remainder of his life: It was 2 Corinthians 5:17—“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (KJV). Dr. Bob was Clarence’s sponsor; and Clarence himself sponsored many a newcomer in the course of his 46 years of continuous sobriety.
Clarence was married three times. First, to Dorothy, by whom he had a son named Charles Richard (“Dick”) Snyder. She played a strong role in early A.A. activities. Clarence and Dorothy were divorced on August 20, 1940. Second, to Selma Kitterer; and apparently Clarence had married her by the time he was in the U.S. Army in the fall of 1942. Third, to Grace Snipes Moore, to whom he was married on September 26, 1971, and stayed married for the rest of his life. Both Clarence and his third wife Grace were cured alcoholics. Both were devoted Christians. Both were Bible students. Both attended church regularly. Both were very active in A.A. as speakers and as sponsors. Both worked together conducting retreats for AAs and their families.
Clarence died March 22, 1984. The spiritual retreats he founded continue to this day. Clarence’s wife Grace continued to support them until she died. And as of April 2013, they are held in England (3), Ireland, Wales, Arizona, Colorado, Florida (2), Minnesota, New Jersey, New York (2), North Carolina, Ohio, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin (3).
The Resources Which Tell and Document the Full Story
The first person I met on the Clarence Snyder “trail” was Mitchell K. He asked me to edit a biography of Clarence that he was writing. At a meeting in Connecticut, he also invited me to study Clarence’s papers with him. Then I was asked to speak at a large number of the Snyder retreats—in Florida, in Wisconsin, in Los Angeles, in San Diego, and elsewhere. There I met and got to know Clarence’s wife Grace quite well. I also met four of Clarence’s long-time sponsees, Steve F., Dale M., Dick S., and Jack R.—as well as a number of the retreat speakers—from the United Kingdom, Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, New Jersey, and elsewhere. In addition, I had three extensive experiences gathering information on Cleveland A.A.; on Clarence and Grace Snyder; and on Clarence’s writings, library, and retreats. The first experience involved spending a week, in company with my son Ken, interviewing Grace Snyder at her home in Florida for my book about her. The second was spending over a year working with three of Clarence’s old-timer sponsees compiling and editing their retreat guidebook. The third was a November 2012 research trip to Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. My son Ken and I, accompanied by an A.A. Area Archivist from the State of Washington, visited the Cleveland A.A. District Office Archives and the Akron Intergroup Archives (as well as other key locations in those two cities—including Dr. Bob’s Home in Akron) at which we reviewed many historical records which helped Ken and me pull together things we had learned during our 23 years of A.A. history research which began in 1990.
The following are recommended sources—in addition to those in the more than 1,450 articles I have written on Alcoholics Anonymous history and the Christian Recovery Movement:
DR. Bob and the Good Oldtimers (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980)
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing, Inc., 1957)
Clarence H. Snyder, Going Through the Steps, 1985
_____, My Higher Power the Light Bulb, 1985
_____, A.A. Sponsorship. . . Its Opportunities and Its Responsibilities
The King James Version of the Bible, owned and annotated by Clarence Snyder
The Cleveland Central Bulletin: Vol. 1—No. 1, October 1942 through Vol. II—No. 12, September 1944
Resolutions, Minutes, and Records available at the Cleveland A.A. District Office Archives as of November 6, 2012
Mitchell K., The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio (Washingtonville, NY: AA Big Book Study Group, 1999)
Dick B., That Amazing Grace: The Role of Clarence and Grace S. in Alcoholics Anonymous (San Rafael, Calif.: Paradise Research Publications, 1996)
Dick B., The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7th ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), pp. 57-60
Three Clarence Snyder Sponsee Old-timers and Their Wives, Our A.A. Legacy to the Faith Community: A Twelve-Step Guide for Those Who Want to Believe, comp. & ed. by Dick B. ([Winter Park, FL): Came to Believe Publications, 2005]