Stepping Stones is the historic home of Bill and
Lois Wilson, who lived in the house from 1941 until their deaths in 1971 and
1988, respectively. Bill Wilson was a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
and the author of four books, including Alcoholics
Anonymous (1939). In Alcoholics
Anonymous, aka “the Big Book”,
Lois Wilson was the co-founder of Al-Anon Family Groups, the self-help group for family members of alcoholics and the founder of Alateen, a group for the children of alcoholics. Al-Anon and Alateen have also grown to reach international membership, with chapters in 115 countries.
Bill Wilson and the Founding of Alcoholics Anonymous
Bill Wilson (1895-1971) was one of the two founders of AA. His personal experiences and leadership were critical to the success of the organization. After years of severe drinking and numerous failed attempts to stop, Bill was considered to be a hopeless alcoholic. He tried spiritual groups and detoxing in hospitals, but inevitably returned to drinking. His wife was told he would likely die or have to be committed to an asylum. While in a private hospital, he had a spiritual experience that removed his compulsion to drink. His experience is reflected in the second of the 12 steps, acknowledgement of a higher power.
AA Takes Shape
June 10, 1935 was the date of Dr. Bob’s last drink
and is regarded as day AA was founded. Every member of AA can trace his or her
sponsorship back to Bill Wilson, the first sponsor.
The Big Book is Published
Bill Wilson anonymously authored four books on
alcoholism: Alcoholics Anonymous
(1939), Twelve Steps and Twelve
Traditions (1953), Alcoholics
Anonymous Comes of Age (1957), and The
Alcoholics Anonymous defined alcoholism as a
disease of the body, mind, and spirit, and changed the public’s perception of
alcoholics and alcoholism.
Before the publication of Alcoholics Anonymous, alcoholism was regarded as the result of a character defect or moral weakness.() Groups such as the Oxford Group, a Christian reformist movement that Bill had joined while seeking a way to control his drinking, regarded use of alcohol as a sin; the remedy for alcoholism was to pray for forgiveness. Medicine offered little help as facilities were rare. Treatment meant drying out at a sanitarium for those who could afford it, or at a state mental hospital or jail for those who could not.() This rarely resulted in permanent sobriety. As late as 1941, the popular press noted “it [alcoholism] remains one of the great unsolved public-health enigmas.”() Public stigma and the lack of viable treatment options combined to prevent alcoholics from seeking help and embarking upon the path to recovery.
Alcoholics Anonymous offered an explanation of why alcoholics drank based upon unbiased scientific investigation rather than facile character judgments. It provided a practical treatment program and a community of support that has helped millions attain lasting sobriety. In 1951, the American Public Health Association presented the Lasker Award to AA “in recognition of its unique and highly successful approach to that age-old public health and social problem, alcoholism…In emphasizing alcoholism as an illness, the social stigma associated with this condition is being blotted out…”() As of the 2005, more than 25 million copies of Alcoholics Anonymous had been sold.
Lois Wilson and the Founding of Al-Anon Family Groups
Lois Wilson (1891-1988) founded Al-Anon Family Groups for the family members of alcoholics. In the early days of AA family members (typically wives, as most AA’s member were men) attended AA meetings with the alcoholic. This approach helped wives support their husbands, but did not provide a forum for wives to share their own experiences and feelings. By 1940 Lois began organizing separate meetings that became known as “Family Group Meetings.” Lois understood first-hand that friends and family members of alcoholics have to deal with their own issues related to the alcoholism and sobriety of their loved ones. She advocated the use of an adapted version of AA’s 12 Steps to help resolve them.
In 1951 Lois and her friend
Al-Anon and Alateen have approximately 26,000 group meetings in 115 countries.() In 1988 its membership was estimated to be over 500,000.
Moving to Stepping Stones
Stepping Stones was to become the
During that period they relocated, by Lois’ count, 51 times.() Through the help of an acquaintance, Bill and Lois purchased and moved into Stepping Stones in Bedford Hills, New York in April 1941.() Bill lived at Stepping Stones until his death in 1971 and Lois until her death in 1988. Many of Bill’s writings, including three of his four books, were written in his Studio behind the Main House. He devised and wrote the 12 Traditions - the framework that ensured AA’s long-term success - in the Studio. Lois founded Al-Anon Family Groups in the library of the Main House in 1951.
Many of the
Stepping Stones is listed on the
Along with offering tours and special events at the historic site, The Stepping Stones Foundation’s operational priority is preserving the contents of the historic archives, including more than 10,000 objects, 2,500 textiles, 5,000 written materials, 1,000 photos, and other ephemera. In addition, Stepping Stones offers educational programming to bring the story of Bill and Lois Wilson to the public.
Archives Scrapbooks, Vol. 1 - 1939-1942, Vol. 2 - 1943. Offset reproductions of newspaper clippings about AA. 18 1/2" x 16 1/2".
Alexander, Jack. “Alcoholics Anonymous: Freed Slaves of Drink, Now They Free Others.” Saturday Evening Post (March 1941): 59-65.
"Bill W.” Life, vol. 13, no. 12 (Fall 1990): 66.
Cheever, Susan. “The Healer Bill W.” Time. (June 14, 1999): 201-204.
Kurtz, Ernest. A.A.:
Pace, Eric. “Lois Burnham Wilson, a Founder of Al-Anon Groups, is Dead at 97.” New York Times (October 6, 1988): B26.
Pass It On: The Story of Bill Wilson and How the A.A. Message Reached
Stevens, John W. “Bill W. of Alcoholics Anonymous Dies.” New York Times (January 26, 1971): A1.
Wilson, Lois. Lois
Remembers: Memoirs of the Co-Founder of Al-Anon and Wife of the Co-Founder of
Wilson, William G. A.A.
Comes of Age.
 New York Times obituary.
 Dr. Benjamin Rush, 1790
 Lois Wilson, Lois Remembers (New York: Al-Anon Family Groups Headquarters, 1987) p. 73.
 Lois Wilson, p. 145.
 Jack Alexander, “Alcoholics Anonymous,” Saturday Evening Post, p. 9.
 Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 571.
 Susan Cheever, “The
Healer Bill W,” Time,
 Thomsen, p. 284.
 Lois Wilson, p. 126.
 Lois Wilson, p. 134.