Born In: Dorset, Vermont, United States
William Griffith Wilson, also referred to as “Bill Wilson” and “Bill W.,” was an American alcohol abuse counselor and author, best known as a co-founder of ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ (AA), an organization that helps its members attain and maintain sobriety and aids other alcoholics become sober. Bill struggled with overcoming his own bouts of depression and alcoholism to evolve as a reformed man who dedicated his life to those who wanted to become sober. He served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the ‘Coast Artillery’ during the First World War. His spiritual experience, determination to quit drinking, and treatment for alcoholism led him to become sober. He became associated with ‘Oxford Group.’ He had not only co-founded ‘AA’ but was also the main author of the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism.’ He also wrote the ‘Twelve Traditions,’ a twelve-step program for ‘AA’ members, and authored the book ‘Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.’ He founded the ‘High Watch Recovery Center’ with Marty Mann. He later relinquished the control of ‘AA’ to a board of trustees.
Also Known As: Bill W., Bill Wilson
Died At Age: 75
Spouse/Ex-: Lois W. (m. 1918–1971)
father: Gilman Barrows Wilson
mother: Emily Griffith
Born Country: United States
place of death: Miami, Florida, United States
U.S. State: Vermont
Notable Alumni: Norwich University
Cause of Death: Emphysema
education: Norwich University
Bill’s happy childhood went through a rough phase after his parents divorced when he was eleven. With his father moving to British Columbia and his mother moving to Boston to study osteopathic medicine, a sense of abandonment stemmed in Bill. Such childhood issues triggered depression in him, which overwhelmed Bill several times in life.
Bill struggled with his dejections and traumas for years. However, Fayette’s efforts made Bill gain confidence while attending high school. He became a class leader and a senior class president. He was also the captain of the football team of his high school and became the main violinist of the school’s orchestra. He, however, fell into depression again, at age seventeen, after his first love, Bertha Bamford, died.
Bill enrolled at the ‘Norwich University.’ However, he struggled with depression and panic attacks, leading him to drop out in his second semester. He returned to the university the following year, only to be suspended with a group of students associated with an unfortunate incident. Bill was later reinstated after his class was mobilized as part of the ‘Vermont National Guard’ in June 1916, during the ‘Pancho Villa Expedition.’
He was treated four times under Dr. William D. Silkworth at the ‘Charles B. Towns Hospital for Drug and Alcohol Addictions’ in New York City in 1933. However, Bill could not get over his alcoholism issue. He was finally told that either he would succumb to his issues or would have to remain confined for good because of Wernicke encephalopathy.
In November 1934, one of Bill’s old drinking companions, Ebby Thacher, visited his apartment. While Bill was expecting to drink and have a good time with Thacher, he was shocked to know that the latter had been able to remain sober for many weeks with the help of the Christian organization named the ‘Oxford Group.’ Thacher spoke about his conversion at the ‘Rescue Mission’ and also told Bill about the teachings of Rowland Hazard on the life-changing program of the ‘Oxford Group.’
Although Bill was initially not too keen on becoming sober, he controlled his alcoholism to some extent. He later developed an interest in the ‘Oxford Group.’ On December 11, 1934, he was admitted to ‘Towns Hospital’ under Doctor Silkworth for the fourth and the last time. This time, he displayed signs of delirium tremens. He finally gave up drinking for good after experiencing his "Hot Flash" spiritual conversion while being treated with “The Belladonna Cure.” Talking about his experience, Bill said that when he desperately and depressingly cried out saying he would do anything if God showed himself, he had the sensation of a bright light and had a feeling of ecstasy and tranquillity, too.
A new phase in his life saw him join the ‘Oxford Group’ and help other alcoholics become sober. Bill went to Akron for business, which, however, proved unsuccessful. At one point, he became tempted to drink again. He then realized that he should help other alcoholics become sober in order to maintain his sobriety. During this phase, on May 13, 1935, he was introduced to Dr. Bob Smith, an ‘Oxford Group’ member struggling to overcome his alcoholism.
He was the primary author of the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism,’ commonly known as ‘The Big Book.’ The book, first published on April 10, 1939, elucidated the ways to recover from alcoholism and was the originator of the seminal "twelve-step method" that is still extensively applied in treating several addictions. One of the bestselling books of all time, ‘The Big Book’ was named among the 88 "Books that Shaped America" by the ‘Library of Congress’ in 2012.
The title of the book was later adopted as the name of the squad ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ (AA), the first twelve-step group. As the number of ‘AA’ groups increased, Bill wrote down the ‘Twelve Traditions,’ where he set guidelines on how groups and members should maintain relationships with each other, the society, and ‘AA’ in its entirety. The ‘Traditions’ were originally published as the ‘Twelve Points to Assure Our Future’ in the ‘AA Grapevine’ in April 1946, and were later adopted formally in 1950, during the ‘First International Convention’ of ‘AA.’
Meanwhile, in 1939, he visited the ‘High Watch Farm’ in Kent, Connecticut, with Marty Mann. The same year, the two founded the ‘High Watch Recovery Center’ there. This alcohol- and drug-addiction recovery center is considered the first such center in the US that was founded on the principles of ‘AA.’
Bill left ninety percent of his book royalties to his wife and ten percent to Helen Wynn. According to ‘AA’ biographer and the personal secretary of Bill’s wife, Francis Hartigan, Bill had become romantically involved with Helen, twenty-two years younger than him, in the mid-1950s and had even thought of divorcing his wife to marry Helen.
The Wilsons' home, which the couple had bought in 1941, and where Lois had later co-founded ‘Al-Anon,’ presently stands as a museum. It finds place in the ‘National Register of Historic Places’ and was named a ‘National Historic Landmark’ in 2012.
The book ‘My Name Is Bill’ by biographer Susan Cheever was written on him. His character was also featured in on-screen productions such as the TV films ‘My Name Is Bill W.’ (1989) and ‘When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story’ (2010) and the documentary ‘Bill W.’ (2012).
How To Cite
People Also Viewed