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Looking Back - 40 Years of Stepping Stones Foundation
Preserving the Wilsons’ Legacy, 1979–2019
Bill and Lois Wilson had plans, but their higher power had a different path for them. They could not leave their beloved home and archives to Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) and Al-Anon Family Groups (A.F.G.) as hoped, so on December 24, 1979, Lois chartered the Stepping Stones Foundation to sustain it for future generations and to do good works in the prevention and awareness of alcoholism. Now, as the Stepping Stones Foundation marks its 40th Anniversary, we ask for your generous contributions to ensure its future.
“Lois would like Stepping Stones to become an A.A. historical museum,” said Bill.1 When he passed away in 1971, he planned to leave “all furniture, furnishings, carpets, rugs, drapes and other household appurtenances…in equal shares to” A.A. and A.F.G.2 A.A. “voted to refuse the property” in April 1972, due to “a matter of breaking the Traditions.”3 On January 26, 1973, Lois communicated that she wanted the home to be “a form of museum, library, haven, meeting place or historical site.”4 If 12-Step fellowships were to uphold the Sixth Tradition they might “sell the entire property” and “remove everything of historical interest.”5 Lois had carefully inventoried, organized, and displayed memorabilia, turning the house into a museum that celebrated the early founders of the fellowships, and she did not want the collection dispersed.6 In her will of August 11, 1983, she bestowed all household belongings to “The Stepping Stones Foundation, a New York not-for-profit corporation.”7
Nicknamed “A.A. North,” Stepping Stones had been a hub of 12-Step fellowship activity since 1941, and the Stepping Stones Foundation was charged with making it available forever. The Wilsons found great joy in hosting visitors from around the world in their home, and the Foundation continues to keep it just as meaningful and accessible today.
Lois served as the Stepping Stones Foundation first President and selected the Board of Trustees, including Nell Wing, a dear friend, A.A.’s first archivist, and Bill’s longtime secretary and friends from Al-Anon, A.A. and medicine.
Lois spearheaded initiatives that were catalysts in the emerging field of alcoholism research. While Bill turned down paid opportunities in the treatment field, the 12 Traditions did not prevent Bill and Lois from forging relationships in the medical field. Those connections grew after Bill turned over the reins of A.A. to its membership. He served alongside medical and legal professionals as an advisor to a New York task force on alcohol awareness, formed on June 27, 1951.8 Bill witnessed N.Y. Governor Thomas Dewey’s signing legislation in 1951that led to alcoholism being treated as any other medical malady.9 He testified anonymously along with Marty Mann, founder, National Council on Alcoholism, at the United States Senate subcommittee “hearing on alcoholism and narcotics” in 1969. Bill referred to the hearing as “splashdown day for Apollo” in terms of it being a “turning point” for the understanding of alcoholism.10
Lois shared interest in the alcoholism field but was surprised at the slow pace of change. Despite the growth of A.A. and other advances, the American Medical Association did not accept alcoholism as a “disease” but “generally regarded it as a moral, legal, or behavioral problem” until 1957.11
Alcoholism changed the course of the Wilsons’ lives, and recovery inspired Lois to act. The Foundation’s Certificate of Incorporation details its purpose “to promote, sponsor, and encourage the study of alcoholism…maintain information centers, historical sites, havens, meeting places, and other facilities for the use of those concerned with alcoholism.”12 The Foundation could play a role that 12-Step fellowships would not due to the Traditions.
On August 19, 1981, Lois witnessed the launch of the “Alcoholism Stamp” alongside Postmaster General William F. Bolger in Washington, D.C.13 About 100-million stamps that read “Alcoholism: you can beat it” were issued, bringing greater national awareness of recovery.14
In October 1984, Lois said the Foundation needed “to help the public understand alcoholism better than it does.”15 She orchestrated an interdisciplinary symposium on alcohol awareness and prevention where innovative ideas emerged. A call for collaboration was made from the event, which was held, in part, in the living room at Stepping Stones. 16 Topics included: establishing “teaching institutes” to push for legislation and funding for alcoholism and its prevention, product labeling to warn of the “dangers to health, especially if pregnant,” and helping “the alcoholic behind bars who in many cases is not even getting diagnosed.”17 The pivotal gathering networked professionals and created new intersections of awareness and prevention in public policy, medicine, education, marketing, and more.
In 1987, Lois’ deep love and care for children steered the Foundation to partner with the Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Council. They launched a public awareness campaign about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. TV and radio announcements reached millions of people and featured entertainers Judy Collins, David Hasselhoff, Mary Wilson, Rita Moreno, Barbara Walters, and Mia Farrow.18
On January 11, 1985, the Town of Bedford approved construction of a building conceived to help forward the mission of the Foundation and house an office, storage, and caretaker residence.19 Nell Wing helped Lois with the initial organization of the archive. The Stepping Stones Foundation’s efforts in the 1980s pushed forward a vision of acceptance for alcoholism in society and work in the field that continues today. Lois remained passionate about sharing both A.A. and A.F.G. history and building awareness of alcoholism and its prevention for the remainder of her life.
Today, Stepping Stones Foundation inspires recovery by preserving for the public the Wilsons’ home, archive and legacy. Please help us continue this effort through a tax-deductible contribution.
All content and images ©2019 Stepping Stones. Above Images from the Stepping Stones Archives (Top to Bottom): Lois and Bill Wilson at Stepping Stones, 1960; Lois Wilson's "Inventory" page listing some important items at Stepping Stones; Bill Wilson at his writing desk in Wit's End studio at Stepping Stones; and Lois Wilson at Stepping Stones.
End notes (WGW, LBW & SSF refer to collections of Stepping Stones Archives): (1)WGW 102.2, Bx. 24, F. 10, Letter, Bill to A.A. Publishing, Inc., June 3, 1957; (2) LBW 201.3, Bx. 8, F. 2, Bill’s Will, April 29, 1963; (3) SSF 900, Bx. 1, F. 2, Lois’ notes, “Disposal of Stepping Stones,” Oct. 30, 1972; (4) SSF 900, Bx. 1, F.2, Letter, Lois’ attorney to General Service Board of A.A., Jan. 26, 1973; (5) Same as 3. (6) William Borchert, When Love Is Not Enough, P. 338, Hazelden, Center City, MN, 2005; (7) LBW 201.3, Bx. 8, F. 2, Lois’ Will, Aug. 11, 1983 (8) LBW 210, Bx. 47, F. 5, History of Alcoholism Control in N.Y. State, speech by Harold Riegelman to N.Y. State Citizens Committee on Alcoholism, Plaza Hotel, N.Y., N.Y., May 28, 1969; (9) WGW 102.2 Bx. 14, F. 1, Letter, Bill to Hon. Thomas E. Dewey, Sept. 19, 1951; (10) LBW 210, Bx. 46, F. 15, article, The Washington Post, July 25, 1969, P. 3 & U.S. Senate Special Subcommittee on Alcoholism & Narcotics of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Transcript, July 24, 1969; (11) AA 401, Bx. 5, F. 15, article (title Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Margaret Bean, Psychiatric Annals, Vol. 5 Issue 2, Feb. 1975; (12) SSF 900, Bx. 1, F. 1, Certificate of Incorporation, Stepping Stones Foundation, Dec. 24, 1979 (13 & 14) LBW 203, Bx. 35, F. 17, “Postmaster General Stresses His Concern,” The Public Journal of the National Council on Alcoholism, Nov./Dec. 1981, P. 24; (15-17) SSF 907.4, Bx. 12, F. 1, Stepping Stones Foundation Seminar, transcript from audiocassette one, Oct. 18, 1984 (18) SSF, Audiocassette Bx. 3, SSF & WRI Radio Campaign on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, 1986, Doug Wyles Productions; (19) SSF 915, Bx. 10, F. 12, 1983
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