Bill and Lois Wilson – A Love Story to Know About  

Photo by Jimez Picard from

I am back from a trip to New York to continue research on Bill and Lois Wilson. My friend and colleague Joy Jones and I are writing a book about Bill and Lois Wilson and how their marriage changed the world. We have a working draft of the book. We are now in the tedious part of making sure the story makes sense, is accurate and advances our hopes in writing the book.

We went to Katonah, New York to visit their home, Stepping Stones, where their personal archives are kept. I continued on from there to New York City where the General Services Office of Alcoholics Anonymous is located and the AA archives are stored. So why are we writing this book? Joy finds it fascinating and almost incredible that Lois stayed with Bill through 17 years of progressively worsening alcoholic drinking. Before Bill had his spiritual awakening and became sober for the next 17 years of their marriage, he was physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially devastated because of his drinking. After two visits to one of the first treatment hospitals for people with drinking problems, Bill and Lois were both told he would go insane or die soon and he was best institutionalized.

Lois refused to give up and follow that guidance. What kind of love was this? Why did she not give up on him? There is a powerful story that makes this a different and compelling love story.

In the process of telling their story, not just the more frequently told story of Bill or of Bill and Dr. Bob, the other co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, the roles of Lois, Anne Smith (Dr. Bob’s wife) and many other spouses in launching the Twelve Step recovery movement become clearer. The term Hidden Power is used by writer Kate Marton in her book of the same title when she details the little-known roles and legacies of the wives of many American presidents.

Lois Wilson and many other spouses of recovering persons are hidden powers. We don’t pay much attention to the impact that addictions of any kind have on families.

In organizing family members, mostly spouses, of the early A.A. members, Lois and others made clear that alcohol abuse and other addictions do impact the family. She pioneered the term “family disease.” And the recovery for the family is similar to the person with the addiction — following the Twelve suggested steps, accepting spiritual help and helping others.

Which brings me to my reason for wanting to tell this story. I believe the love story is important, particularly when we focus on love as a partnership where two people support one another in growing spiritually, as suggested by The Road Less Travelled author Scott Peck. In focusing on both Lois and Bill, it becomes compellingly clear that without Lois and her love and many talents, Bill would have died and A.A. would not exist or certainly have a different trajectory.

Lois shared with Bill in so many ways not expected or acknowledged for her times. Her intellect was from the beginning attracted to his ideas and his big-thinking approach to problems. Her love letters matched his for passion as she overcame her skepticism of their age difference and fell in love. She used their mutual love for nature and adventure to try to keep Bill sober in his drinking days and as a respite and time for renewal in his sober days. Lois so much wanted to enjoy her home and pursue her interests in interior decorating and gardening. Instead, she opened their home to anyone who came to visit, gave hope to thousands of recovering alcoholics and their partners. She co-founded Al-Anon Family Groups in 1951. And through study, prayer and meditation, they developed a spiritual life that both guided their marriage and with others created a “big tent” where all could find a spiritual path.

After Bill’s death in 1971, Lois lived another 17 years. She dedicated herself to making their home and the legacy of what they co-created available for future members of the recovery movement through the Stepping Stones Foundation. She lived her remaining years continuing to love Bill Wilson and working into her nineties to share the legacy she, he, and many others co-created.


  1. Mary O'Herron

    Bravo, Tom and Joy! I hope and pray that your book is published soon. I look forward to reading it and giving it to friends.

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Mary, your encouragement is much appreciated!

  2. tuck Grinnell

    A really nice reflection. I will look forward to the book on Bill and Lois when you all finish it. Tuck

    • grizel ubarry

      congrats on moving the book forward. Tom.

      • Tom Adams

        Thanks Grizel, enjoy your travels. I am looking for a guest post on your trip. Email me some ideas?

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Tuck, Tom