The Non-Alcoholics That Helped Us: Lois Wilson

But what about the other victims of alcoholism?

What about the scars of those family members?

As alcoholics, we know of the heartaches and distress that our families have experienced because of the disease of Alcoholism. What a debt of gratitude we owe to these first women of the program now known as Al-Anon. Many of us have family members in Al-Anon presently.

Lois Wilson, the wife of Bill Wilson and a co-founder of The Al-Anon Family Groups, was born Lois Burnham on March 4, 1891 at 182 Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, New York. She lived to be 97 years old.

If you have ever had contact with Al-Anon, then you have been the benefactor of Lois Bumham Wilson. Lois W., as she often called, was the wife of AA Co-founder Bill Wilson. Her obituary reads: “As Lois W., she was revered as ”the first lady of Al-Anon,” and as a living reminder of the beginnings five decades ago of the Alcoholics Anonymous self-help movement.”

In 1951, Bill suggested that Lois create a program for the family and friends of alcoholics so they might receive similar help to that of the members of AA. At the age of 60, and with some reluctance, she followed Bill’s suggestion. She wanted to pursue some of her more artistic activities and her gardening. Nevertheless, Lois’ strong sense of service outweighed her personal interests, and at the end of the 1951 AA General Service Conference, she gathered the delegates’ wives and local family groups’ members to discuss the formal organization of Al-Anon. Al-Anon now has over 29,000 groups worldwide and a membership of over 387,000. Recent anonymous sources say that worldwide membership of Al-Anon is estimated now at about 500,000.

Sources too numerous mention here give homage to this amazing woman. Lois W. is an inspiration. Here are just a few of the quotes from her life:

“Hearts understand in ways our minds cannot.” 

“Focus on what you can do, then do it with all your heart.”

“The world seems to me excruciatingly, almost painfully beautiful at times, and the goodness and kindness of people often exceed that which even I expect.”   

Lois Wilson was one of the 20th century’s most important women. Her life was, in some ways, shadowed by that of her husband, but more recently, she has been brought to light for her unique contribution to humanity. Her tireless efforts and vision made Al-Anon the strong organization it is today and are the reason why it continues to attract members through its message of hope and healing. Truly, there are no words that encompass debt of gratitude we owe to the selfless people like Bill and Lois that brought us together as members of AA and Al-Anon. For those interested in learning more about her, Mrs. Wilson wrote an autobiography, ”Lois Remembers,” first published in 1979.

—Nils J.

 ~For more information on the Al-Anon Family Groups, please visit the website at


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