Lois Wilson (Burnham) (1891 - 1988)

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Death: Died
Occupation: Co-Founder of Al-Anon
Managed by: Tammy Swingle (Tucker)
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About Lois Wilson (Burnham)


Lois Wilson (née Burnham) (4 March 1891 – 5 October 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 group's Tradition of anonymity until Bill's death in 1971 when The New York Times included his full name and identifying him as cofounder of AA as well as breaking Lois's anonymity. However, she continued to be known as Lois W. within Al-Anon until her death in 1988.

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.

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. As teenagers, Lois and Bill fell in love. They married in 1918 when Bill was in the Army, shortly 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, 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 the home (Stepping Stones) 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 and has become a tour destination for members of the 12-step organizations.

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.

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