Nov 212013
Portrait of an older gentleman

Bill Wilson, ca. 1960

Some Norwich figures are so notable that we get relatively frequent requests for information about them from our researchers. Such is the case with William Griffith Wilson, who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 and was known until his death simply as “Bill W.” When he died in 1971 and his identity was revealed, journalists, biographers, and fellow alumni sought more information about the life of this man who touched so many people.

Portrait of a military cadet

Bill Wilson as a cadet, ca. 1917

Bill Wilson was born in East Dorset, Vermont and attended Norwich from 1914-1917, first as a member of the class of 1918 and then the class of 1919 when an illness delayed his studies. Like many of his

classmates, he joined up to serve in World War I, and wound up never completing his degree.

Man playing the violin while smoking a pipe in a train station

Bill Wilson playing his fiddle in a train station during a tour of the Norwich Musical Club, 1916

Norwich awarded him a posthumous degree in 1995. During his time at NU, Wilson was a member of the Commons Club and the rifle team and played violin and cello for the Musical Club. He was a great friend of Gus Nelson ’19, whose scrapbook is a prized piece of our collection.

Wilson’s story after Norwich is known to many. After a career in finance that went south with the crash of 1929, he struggled with alcoholism, depression, and declining health. He eventually co-founded AA in 1935 and published many articles and pamphlets under the name “Bill W.” Upon his death, Norwich held a memorial for him in White Chapel, and to this day, we remember him as one of the great leaders to come out of old NU. If you’d like to learn more about Bill Wilson, come ask to see his file in Archives and Special Collections, open every weekday from 1-6.

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