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For other women with a similar name, see Lois Wilson

Lois Wilson née Burnham (4 March 1891 – 6 October 1988) was the founder of Al-Anon, a support group for the friends and family of alcoholics. She was the wife of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W.

Lois was the first of six children born to Clark and Matilda Burnham. Her father practiced surgery in Brooklyn Heights, New York. The granddaughter of a Swedenborgian pastor, she was raised in that faith. She attended a kindergarten run by the Pratt Institute and later Friends School. She graduated from the Packer Collegiate Institute with a concentration in the fine arts. She had a talent for drawing, and later developed skill in interior decoration. After graduation she worked for the YWCA and later taught at a private school.[1]

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. The marriage was further strained by Bill's adulterous affairs.

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.

  1. ^


  • Borchert, William. The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough. Hazelden, 2005. ISBN 1-59285-328-5
  • Ragge, Ken. The Real AA: Behind the Myth of Twelve Step Recovery. See Sharp Press, 1997. ISBN 1-88436-514-0
  • "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.

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