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|Lois W. (Lois Wilson)|
March 4, 1891|
Brooklyn, New York
October 5, 1988 (aged 97)|
Mount Kisco, New York
Lois Wilson (née Burnham; March 4, 1891 – October 5, 1988), also known as Lois W., was the co-founder of Al-Anon, a support group for the friends and family of alcoholics. She was the wife of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) co-founder Bill W. They both were following their respective groups' tradition of anonymity until The New York Times revealed their full names upon Bill's death in 1971. However, she continued to be known as Lois W. within Al-Anon until her death.
Early life and education
Lois was the first of six children born to Matilda Burnham (née Spelman) and Brooklyn Heights New York surgeon Clark Burnham. Lois was raised in the Swedenborgian faith, of which her grandfather was a pastor. Lois's kindergarten was run by the Pratt Institute, and after that she attended Friends School. She graduated from the Packer Collegiate Institute with a concentration in the fine arts. She had a talent for drawing, and later became an interior decorator. After graduation she worked for the YWCA and later taught at a school in Short Hills, New Jersey.
Marriage and career
The Burnham family spent summers in Vermont, where Dr. Burnham provided medical care to vacationers. Rogers Burnham, a younger brother of Lois, became friends with a local boy named Bill Wilson. Lois and Bill met in the summer of 1914, when Lois was 23 and Bill was 19. At that time, Lois was a college graduate and working with the YWCA. Bill was working his way through Norwich University. The following summer they secretly became engaged.
They married on January 24, 1918, in the New York Swedenborgian Church. At that time, Bill was in the Army and they wanted to marry before he was sent to Europe. Lois worked as an occupational therapist during his absence. After his return, the couple hoped to start a family, but after several miscarriages she was advised that pregnancy would be dangerous or impossible. Their attempts to adopt children were unsuccessful.
Her marriage to Bill W. began to degrade due to the combination of a series of miscarriages and his drinking problem. Lois began to work on programs to help families of alcoholics after Bill had gone through rehabilitation and founded AA. These efforts led to the founding of Al-Anon or Al-Anon Family Groups, although this was not the first program of its kind.
Her autobiography, Lois Remembers, was published in 1979.
She died in 1988 at age 97. Without children, she left Stepping Stones, the family home, gardens, archive and a writing studio (nicknamed "Wit's End" and "The Shack") on 8.5 acres in Bedford Hills, New York that she and Bill had owned since 1941, to the Stepping Stones Foundation. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, was designated a National Historic Landmark in October 2012, and has become a tour destination for members of 12-step organizations, history buffs, and scholars and experts from many fields including those interested in alcoholism, history, spirituality, philosophy, democracy and social movements.
In popular culture
A 2010 made-for-TV movie based on her life, When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story featuring actress Winona Ryder as Lois Wilson, premiered on Hallmark Hall of Fame on CBS April 25, 2010. The film is based on the 2005 book of the same name written by William G. Borchert, author of the screen play for the 1989 film My Name is Bill W., based on the story of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson, in which she was portrayed by JoBeth Williams
- Al-Anon Family Groups, Many Voices, One Journey, 2011, p. 262
- Al-Anon Family Groups. Many Voices, One Journey. 2011. page 159. ISBN 978-0-9815017-7-2.
- Pace, Eric (October 6, 1988). "Lois Burnham Wilson, a Founder Of Al-Anon Groups, Is Dead at 97", The New York Times, p. B26.
- Linden, Sheri (18 May 2012). "'Bill W.' cuts through the anonymity". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
- Other sources
- Borchert, William. The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough. Hazelden, 2005. ISBN 1-59285-328-5
- "Lois's Story", How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics. Virginia Beach, VA: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 136-137. ISBN 0-910034-26-5.
- A short biography Stepping Stones
- Bill W. – Famous, Yet Seldom Seen (Photo Feature) New York Times
- Lois Wilson AA Agnostica