It is with great sadness that we share the news that
Nellie Elizabeth Wing, AA's first Archivist, died on Wednesday,
February 14, 2007 at 7:00 p.m. after a lengthy illness.
Nell was 89 years old.
There was a service held on Saturday, February 24, 2007
from 1:00pm to 5:00pm at the Moore's Funeral Home at 1591 Alps Rd,
Wayne, NJ 07470.
The Funeral home has a
web site, with more info on Nell. Their telephone number is 973.694.0072
At 5 P.M. representatives of the US Coast Guard presented the family
with a flag. (Nell served there till 1946 when she came to AA)
By Mel B., Toledo, Ohio:
Many of us in AA feel that God brings the
right people into our lives, at the right time
and in the right way. This was certainly true
of Nell Wing.
She came to work at GSO in a temporary job in
March 1947 and stayed until her retirement in
Though a nonalcoholic, her devotion to AA
became nearly absolute, and as the years passed
she formed friendships with members throughout
the world. She never married, and AA really
became her extended family, with Bill and Lois
W. as her surrogate parents.
Nell was 29 when she reported to work at
GSO (then called the Alcoholic Foundation).
She had attended Keuka College in central New
York state and served two years as a SPAR (a
female Coast Guard sailor). She only wanted
short-term employment until leaving for Mexico
to study sculpture under the G.I. Bill. But
as she recalled later, From the beginning, I
was caught by the A.A. Fellowship, particularly
by the caring. It was not so much a general
‘caring for our fellowman,’ but a one-on-one
caring, a love for one another without thought
of any reward. Mexico faded into the
background, and she spent 35 years at GSO!
Nell served as receptionist and did other
clerical work at GSO before becoming Bill’s
secretary in 1950. Highly competent as a
secretary, she also became Bill’s staunch
defender, giving him support and reassurance
when members wrote angry letters or when he
became plagued by self-doubt and depression.
More than almost anybody, Nell knew how much
Bill suffered when attacked by the very people
who should have been grateful to him. After
his death in 1971, she said she lost my close
friend and confidant, the big brother/father
figure of my middle life.
She then became AA’s first archivist, with
responsibility for organizing and filing all
the documents and other records of our history.
Though not trained in library science, she
quickly learned the essentials of archiving
and set up a logical system that works extremely
well to this day. She also continued as Bill’s
loyal advocate and carefully documented his
specific contributions to AA’s origin, growth,
Nell and Lois became even closer after
Bill’s passing. Nell often spent weekends with
Lois at Stepping Stones and became concerned
that the older woman insisted on living alone
though becoming increasingly frail. Lois’s
passing in 1988 was another great loss in her
From the AA Grapevine, September 1977:
A Treasury of AA History
A nonalcoholic who has served AA almost from the beginning writes of her new work as AA archivist.
I CAME TO WORK for the Alcoholic Foundation (the old name for the AA General Service Board) in
March 1947, when AA was only twelve years old. The Fellowship then was barely out of its infancy,
with a membership of about 40,000 in some 1,200 groups.
There were thirteen people, including Bill W., in our three-room office at 415 Lexington Avenue,
directly across from Grand Central Station in New York City. Before I arrived on the scene, an
office manager had been brought in to shape up the rather freewheeling office crew, who had
divided up the jobs among themselves and turned rebellious at the first hint of discipline.
Indeed, they shortly quit en masse.
Today, some thirty years later, there are seventy-three employees occupying
three and a half floors. It seems incredible that, whereas it took twelve
years to garner 40,000 members, today it is estimated that about 100,000 new
people join AA in one year. Today's estimated membership stands at more than
a million--enough to boggle the mind of even a nonalcoholic!
The year I came to the foundation--in fact, that entire decade, 1945 to
1955--was an exciting and important time in AA history, probably the most
productive period of growth and development we've seen to date.
What was happening? The Big Book was earning money, and had been since 1942.
Old debts had been repaid. The trustees were passing resolutions about making
AA self-supporting. By 1945, the groups were contributing to the support of
the office. During 1946 and 1947 especially, the public became much interested
in AA, and various Hollywood studios were in contact with our Headquarters,
wanting to make a movie about AA. There were good radio programs, newspaper
articles, and two excellent documentary films on AA. Time Magazine and the
Reader's Digest carried articles, and the latter brought in more than 3,000
inquiries in one month alone. The medical profession gave AA the Lasker Award
in 1951 and recognized alcoholism as a disease in 1956, and the Veterans
Administration began to open the doors of its hospitals to AA.
Inside AA, too, things were popping! Bill was writing the Twelve Traditions,
and they were being published in the Grapevine. The Grapevine itself was
evolving, beginning to be recognized as the international journal of the
Fellowship. Intergroup offices were being established in localities where
there were many groups, and AA was growing steadily in Canada and overseas.
Lone Members were touching and changing the lives of suffering alcoholics all
over the world. Captain Jack S., soon to be the founder of a group of AA
seamen, the Internationalists, was seeking out alcoholics in various ports of
call, leaving behind pamphlets and books and potential members. American AA
servicemen stationed in foreign countries were following in the footsteps of
earlier Loners who had dropped AA's message into fertile soil along the East
Coast and in the Midwest of the United States in the 1940's.
At Headquarters, Bill was working on plans for a future General Service
Conference, and he and the trustees were hotly debating the merits of this
idea. The issue caused much concern and bitterness, with many board members
threatening to resign and some doing it (though all took back their
resignations later on). Bill finally won the approval of Dr. Bob and the
majority of the trustees for his idea, and in October 1950, the board
empowered Bill to proceed to organize the Conference, which held its first
meeting in 1951.
In the late 1940's, controversy also developed over implied participation by
AA in the fund-raising activity of an outside agency, causing the trustees to
issue a policy statement declaring that AA would ask no endorsement and
solicit no funds from non-AA sources. To lessen the chance of
misinterpretation, the trustees passed a firm resolution, in 1949, to accept
contributions from AA groups and members only, all others to be declined.
At the 1950 International Convention, the Twelve Traditions--defining and
describing the principles of AA unity--were accepted by the membership.
And at the 1955 Convention, Bill formally turned over the guidance of AA's
affairs to the Fellowship.
The 1940's had been years of creation and change, establishing basic structure
and tradition. The 1950's were years of consolidation. Groups and members
communicated not so much via long, newsy letters as through more businesslike
letters from groups to GSO. GSO became more of a real service office, less an
During the 1960's, general service offices were proliferating in other
countries; literature distribution centers opened around the world; general
service boards and conferences were being organized abroad. Everywhere, AA was
steadily growing and maturing. And of course, the growth of AA since 1970 is
a story in itself.
Now, it's time to talk about the archives, a project that got under way about
four years ago. With the advice of a professional librarian, I set about wading
through and organizing mounds of accumulated correspondence and historical
records. In the fall of 1973, the Archives Committee was set up as a standing
committee of the General Service Board. It deliberates on matters of policy
and budget, guards the integrity and confidentiality of all archives material,
and considers requests from individuals who want permission to use the archives
for research projects. But the main purpose of the committee is to help keep
the record straight.
The archives occupy three rooms on the eighth floor at 468 Park Avenue South,
where the General Service Office is located. There, on any working day, you'll
find me and my two AA assistants hard at work--sorting out historical material,
processing the new material we receive daily, and answering the many inquiries
and other correspondence that come across our desks.
Archives material consists of documents and other records of AA's history,
divided into three principal categories: Bill's and Dr. Bob's letters and
records; historical records of early groups (1940 to 1945); and Alcoholic
Foundation-GSO records (1937 to 1955). All of this has been microfilmed,
indexed, and placed in coded storage boxes, with everything done in duplicate.
Along with organizing and microfilming already available material, we've been
engaged in creating and continuing to build an oral-history section. Interviews
with many early members, some done by Bill W. in the early 1950's and others
taped more recently, make up the bulk of this section, and new tapes are
constantly being received. So far this year, we've interviewed about thirty
people--AAs and non-AAs. We're also retaping some old materials in a format
of better quality and greater durability, making them more useful for
researchers and others.
We're accumulating state, provincial, and overseas AA histories, encouraging
individuals knowledgeable about their areas to write them up. Many have been
received, and more are in the works.
An exciting current development, we think, is the enthusiasm expressed for
establishing local archival and tape centers. Now being set up in many areas
of the U.S., Canada, and other countries, they will be a wonderful means of
ensuring the preservation of area history and making the whole archival
project more comprehensive.
Bill W.'s widow, Lois, who is currently writing her autobiography, has been
helpful and interested, and has contributed valuable information from her
own files. These include a duplicate of an early scrapbook and copies of her
correspondence with Bill in 1935, when he went to Akron and first met Dr. Bob.
Especially interesting are copies of her diaries dating from 1937 to 1954.
These contain intimate and affecting glimpses of events and her reactions to
them during the early, struggling years of AA.
What else can you expect when you visit the archives? You'll see photographs
of people, places, and events in AA history; the Lasker Award, presented to AA
in 1951; bulletins, directories, and reports from early years to the present;
early and current Grapevines; different editions and printings of the Big Book
and other literature; phonograph records, scrapbooks, and memorabilia.
Eventually, we hope to give visitors the opportunity to hear the voices of the
two co-founders, along with tapes of many others who are a part of AA history,
alcoholics and nonalcoholics alike.
We hope to give you a real sense of the whole span of AA history, new insight,
and new appreciation of AA's beginnings and development. For AA history doesn't
stop--it keeps on growing and becoming. As Bill and the early members used to
say, AA isn't an achievement; it's a process, a continuing process.
Feel free to leave a memorial or recollection
for Nell's family. To avoid spamming, your thoughts
will not be posted until they have been reviewed.
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