William D. Silkworth, M.D.

"The Doctor's Opinion"

Big Book pages xxv-xxxii



Dr. William D. Silkworth in World War I, a major figure later in early AA history

Dr. Silkworth in World War I
Plattsburg, NewYork, 1911-1918


William Duncan Silkworth, M.D., author of The Doctor's Opinion in <i>Alcoholics Anonymous</i>

William Duncan Silkworth, M.D.


Tombstone of William Duncan Silkworth, M.D., major figure in AA history, at Glenwood Cemetery in West Long Branch, New Jersey

William Duncan Silkworth 1873-1951


Glenwood Cemetery, in West Long Branch, New Jersey, is a mile and a half from the ocean (halfway between Eatontown, New Jersey, and the coast) and twenty-five miles due south across Raritan Bay from New York City.

In December 1934, Bill Wilson checked himself into Towns Hospital on Central Park West in New York City to be detoxed, and never drank again. He had a second spiritual experience while in the hospital, a vision of light, where God gave him the mission of spreading this new message of hope to alcoholics all over the world. William Duncan Silkworth, M.D., the doctor in charge of the hospital, who liked Bill enormously and had been trying to get him sober for a long time, told him "Something tremendous has happened to you. You are already a different individual. So, my boy, whatever you've got now you better hold on to. It's so much better than what had you, only a couple of hours ago."

Silkworth later wrote the two letters contained in the section entitled "The Doctor's Opinion" at the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous, the A.A. Big Book (pages xxv-xxxii). Perhaps the most impressive thing he said in these letters was the simple declaration: "You may rely absolutely on anything they say about themselves."

On the basis of his own firsthand knowledge -- of the transformation which he had witnessed taking place in Bill Wilson's life in particular -- he was willing to vouch for the fact that in their stories in that book the early A.A. people disclosed what it was actually like when they were destroying themselves with alcohol and could not stop, no matter how hard they tried and no matter how hard the doctors tried to help them, shorn of all the romanticism which so frequently colored the pictures of drinking in American culture. And they also gave a truthful account of the exact steps they had taken to carry out their program of recovery, along with a picture of the new sober lives -- happy, joyous, and free -- which they had found when they committed themselves totally to living on the basis of those twelve universal spiritual principles, truly fundamental principles, which were compatible with all the great religions of the earth.

  Photo by Russ S. (New Jersey), who tells us how he took this photo in a note dated December 6, 2006:

I was in Eatontown visiting one of my accounts yesterday afternoon. The meeting went to about 4:00. Afterward, I headed over to the Glenwood Cemetery in West Long Branch, New Jersey, to say thanks to this guy. Although it looks like I took the picture in the dark of night, there was actually a glorious sunset happening during my short visit.

What impresses me the most is the humility demonstrated by this simple marker. His wife Antoinette is buried right next to him. She had passed the year earlier, 1950.

The other thing was trying to imagine how Bill must have felt standing at this spot in 1951. A year earlier, Dr. Bob had passed. Two of Bill's greatest gifts where gone.