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William Griffith Wilson (26 November 1895 - 24 January 1971) (commonly known as Bill Wilson or Bill W.), was a co-founder of the mutual-help group Alcoholics Anonymous. The other co-founder was Dr. Bob Smith. Bill's wife, Lois Wilson became the founder of Al-Anon, a group dedicated to helping the friends and relatives of alcoholics.
Wilson was born on 26 November 1895 in East Dorset, Vermont to Gilman Barrows Wilson and Emily Griffith. After a troubled childhood, he became an alcoholic at age 22. In the 1920s he was one of the first stock analysts and became quite rich until the market crashed, mainly as a result of the insider trading schemes that he was involved with himself. Plunged into poverty, his drinking only became worse.
One day, an old drinking friend named Ebby Thatcher visited him. Expecting to spend a day drinking and re-living old times Wilson was instead shocked by Thatcher's refusal to drink. "I've got religion" he reportedly said to Wilson's surprise. Thatcher had recently joined a fellowship known as the Oxford Group. The Oxford Group admonished alcoholics to achieve victory over drinking by performing various tasks such as making amends, acting as a witness to God's grace, admission of personal defeat, among others.
Wilson declined this invitation to sobriety. However, later while recuperating from alcoholism in a hospital, he had a religious vision, after which he never drank another drop of alcohol. One theory is that he connected his spontaneous release from addiction to the visit by Thatcher. This in turn inspired Wilson to seek out and help others as Thatcher had done for him.
Wilson joined the Oxford Movement, with a personal focus on helping alcoholic prospects. He had little success for the first six months of doing so. Then he made a trip to Akron, Ohio for a business deal. The transaction failed and, in a state of frustration, he was tempted to drink again. Instead he camped in a phone booth at the Mayflower Hotel calling strangers. He had concluded his only hope to avoid drinking was to locate a problem drinker to help, so he called churches around town looking for one. This led him to a meeting with a reluctant local surgeon named Dr. Bob Smith. This would prove to be the start of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the date, June 10th 1935, is regarded as the date of origin for the fellowship.
In 1939, after some success in Akron and New York, Wilson decided to write a book that described their ideas of alcoholic recovery. In the fifth chapter, he explained "how it works" and documented the twelve steps on paper. The ideas of the steps were expansions and alterations on six concepts from the Oxford Group but tailored more specifically to alcoholism. After grappling for a proper title for the book, the title "Alcoholics Anonymous" was selected, and the movement took the same name.
There was very little success with the book at first. Then, in 1941 the Saturday Evening Post dispatched a reporter to investigate this rumored group of alcoholics talking about a recovery plan. The resulting article proved to be the spark that ignited nationwide growth of the movement.
In the 1940s, Wilson learned about a long forgotten fellowship of reformed drunks that came into being in the 1800s. That fellowship was called The Washingtonians. The fact that a similar movement to A.A. had once existed, and faded into obscurity, had worrisome implications for the future of A.A. It is theorized that the Washingtonians fell apart because they lost focus by branching out beyond their initial scope of alcoholic recovery into various issues of the day. Fearful of a similar fate, among other reasons, Wilson began promoting the idea that a basic set of guidelines be established defining what A.A. was and was not. This resulted in the "Twelve Traditions" that complement the twelve steps. These traditions spell out A.A. as an organization that does not issue public opinions, support or oppose causes, impose membership requirements beyond a desire for sobriety, admonishes members to remain anonymous at the public level and so on.
Wilson refused numerous honors during his life, including an honorary degree from Yale University, and refused to allow himself to be on the covers of magazines. Before the twelve traditions were in place, Wilson was not shy about personal publicity. He later became an anonymous member and would later state that the principle of "public anonymity" was the greatest "spiritual principle" advanced by A.A. Even so, some say he would at times pace his office complaining that he had done so much for alcoholics and not gotten enough credit for it.
Wilson suffered long bouts of depression before and after sobriety and engaged in psychiatric therapy. At Trabuco College in California, he became friends with Aldous Huxley (who called Wilson "the greatest social architect of the 20th century") and Gerald Heard, the founder of the College. In the 1950s, Wilson and Heard experimented with LSD, a potent psychedelic theorized to have the potential to help alcoholics and drug addicts stop their cycles of abuse. These claims have been substantiated, but, due to the fact that LSD was scheduled by the DEA on October 27, 1970, as a Schedule I drug, they have not been investigated further. Wilson later claimed that this was the peak spiritual experience of his life.
The phrase "Friends of Bill W." is sometimes a code for Alcoholics Anonymous.
Time magazine named Wilson to their "Time 100" list of "The Most Important People of the 20th Century", to read use this link: http://www.time.com/time/time100/heroes/profile/wilson01.html
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Twelve-step program
- Twelve traditions
- William Duncan Silkworth
- Bill W. (2004). The A.A. Service Manual combined with Twelve Concepts for World Service, 2004-2005 Edition, New York: Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Bill W.. Alcoholics Anonymous. The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, 4th ed. new and rev. 2001, New York: Alcoholics Anonymous. ISBN 1893007162, Dewey 362.29 A347 2001. ('Big Book')
- Bill W.. Alcoholics Anonymous Comes Of Age, New York: Alcoholics Anonymous. ISBN 091685602X, LC HV5278.A78A4, Dewey: 178.1 A1c.
- Bill W. (1967). As Bill Sees It, New York: Alcoholics Anonymous. ISBN 0916856038, Dewey 616.861 ASB.
- Bill W. (2000). My First 40 Years. An Autobiography by the Cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden, 55012-0176. ISBN 1568383738, Dewey B W11w 2000.
- (1980) Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, New York: Alcoholics Anonymous. ISBN 0916856070, LCCN 80-65962, LC HV5278.D62 1980.
- Hartigan, Francis (2000). Bill W. A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson, New York: Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 0312200560, Dewey B W11h 2000.
- Kurtz, Ernest (1979). Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous, Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden. ISBN 08994860658 or ISBN 0894860658 (pbk.), LC HV5278, LCCN 79-88264, Dewey 362.2/9286 or 362.29286 K87 1979.
- (1984) Pass It On: The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world, New York: Alcoholics Anonymous. ISBN 0-916856-12-7, LC HV5032 .W19P37x 1984, LCCN 84-072766, Dewey 362.29/286/O92.
- Thomsen, Robert (1975). Bill W., New York: Harper & Rowe. ISBN 0060142677, Dewey 362.29 W112t.
- (1953) Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, New York: Alcoholics Anonymous. ISBN 0916856011.
- Alcoholics Anonymous -CULT OR CURE- Author Chaz Bufe Book online
- Official homepage of Alcoholics Anonymous
- The New York Times obituary for William G. Wilson, January 26, 1971
- Bill Wilson: TIME magazine biography (100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century)
- The Saturday Evening Post article on Alcoholics Anonymous, March 1, 1941
- William G. Wilson's autobiography in AA's 'Big Book, copyright to First Edition expired
- "The myth behind 12 step recovery" author Ken Ragge Book online
- Unofficial Alcoholics Anonymous history site
- Private AA History pages
- Extensive directory of AA pioneers
- The Orange Papers, a critical review of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Oxford Group
- Stepping Stones, Lois and Bill Wilson's Bedford Hills, NY home
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