William S. McFeely was a professor of history before his retirement in 1997.
He received his B.A. from Amherst College in 1952, and Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University in 1966. He studied there with, among others, C. Vann Woodward, whose book "The Strange Career of Jim Crow" was a staple of the Civil Rights movement. Like Woodward, he sought to employ history in the service of civil rights. His dissertation, later the book "Yankee Stepfather," explored the ill-fated Freedmen's Bureau which was created to help ex-slaves after the Civil War. While at Yale, during the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, he was instrumental in creating the African-American studies program, at a time when such programs were still controversial. He taught for sixteen years at Mount Holyoke College before joining the University of Georgia in 1986. He retired in 1997, and was a fellow at Harvard's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study during the 2006-2007 academic year. He is presently a Visiting Scholar and Associate Member of Harvard's Afro-American Studies Department and an Associate of their Humanities Center.
- The Lincoln Prize 1991 for Frederick Douglass (based upon the life of Frederick Douglass).
- 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for Grant: A Biography.
1982 Parkman Prize for "Grant: A Biography"
- Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (since 1987)
- Proximity to Death - 1999 (published by W. W. Norton)
- Yankee Stepfather: General O.O. Howard and the Freedmen - 1968 (published by W. W. Norton)
- Sapelo's People: A Long Walk into Freedom - 1995 (published by W. W. Norton)
- Frederick Douglass - 1990 (published by W. W. Norton)
- Grant: A Biography - 1981 (published by W. W. Norton)
- Portrait: The Life of Thomas Eakins - 2002 (published by W. W. Norton)
- List of historians