William S. McFeely

William Shield McFeely (September 25, 1930 – December 11, 2019)[1] was an American historian known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1981 biography of Ulysses S. Grant, as well as his contributions to a reevaluation of the Reconstruction era, and for advancing the field of African-American history.[2] He retired as the Abraham Baldwin Professor of the Humanities emeritus at the University of Georgia in 1997, and was affiliated with Harvard University since 2006.

William S. McFeely
William McFeely.jpg
William Shield McFeely

(1930-09-25)September 25, 1930
DiedDecember 11, 2019(2019-12-11) (aged 89)
Alma materAmherst College
Yale University


McFeely was born in New York City, the son of William C. McFeely, an executive with Grand Union supermarkets, and Marguerite McFeely (née Shield), a homemaker.[2] He graduated from Ramsey High School, in New Jersey. After earning a B.A. at Amherst College in 1952, he worked for the First National City Bank of New York for eight years, before deciding to pursue graduate work in American studies at Yale University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1966.[2] At Yale, he studied 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 1968 book Yankee Stepfather, explored the ill-fated Freedmen's Bureau which was created to help ex-slaves after the Civil War.

McFeely taught at Yale until 1970,[2] during the tumultuous years of the American Civil Rights Movement and Black Power movements, and was instrumental in creating the African-American studies program there,[2] at a time when such programs were still controversial. One of his black students in his class was Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University and Professor at Harvard.[3]

He taught for 16 years at Mount Holyoke College before joining the University of Georgia in 1986 as the Constance E. Smith Fellow. McFeely won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for his 1981 biography of Ulysses S. Grant, which portrayed the general and president in a harsh light. He concluded that Grant "did not rise above limited talents or inspire others to do so in ways that make his administration a credit to American politics."[4]

McFeely retired in 1997. He was a fellow at Harvard's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study during the 2006–2007 academic year, where he studied Henry Adams and his wife Clover Adams, and Clarence King and his wife Ada Copeland King.[5] He was a visiting scholar and associate member of Harvard's Afro-American Studies Department and an associate of their Humanities Center.

McFeely died of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis on December 11, 2019 at his home in Sleepy Hollow, New York at the age of 89.[2]

Awards and honorsEdit

Select scholarshipEdit

  • Yankee Stepfather: General O.O. Howard and the Freedmen (W. W. Norton, 1968)
  • Grant: A Biography (W. W. Norton, 1981)
  • Frederick Douglass (W. W. Norton, 1990)
  • Sapelo's People: A Long Walk into Freedom (W. W. Norton, 1994)
  • Proximity to Death (W. W. Norton, 2000)
  • Portrait: The Life of Thomas Eakins (W. W. Norton, 2007)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Fischer, Heinz-Dietrich (May 2013). Main Achievements of American Presidents. LIT Verlag Münster. pp. 104–. ISBN 978-3-643-90362-4. Retrieved July 8, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Genzlinger, Neil (December 13, 2019). "William McFeely, Pulitzer-Winning Historian, Dies as 89". New York Times. Retrieved December 14, 2019. Print version December 14, 2019, p. B11.
  3. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (2019-12-13). "William McFeely, Pulitzer-Winning Historian, Dies at 89". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  4. ^ McFeely, William (1981). Grant: A Biography. W.W. Norton. p. 522.
  5. ^ Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. "William S. McFeely". Retrieved on May 25, 2013.
  6. ^ St. Petersburg Times. "Kansas City Times wins 2 Pulitzer Prizes for reporting". Associated Press/United Press International, April 13, 1982, pp. 1-A, 12-A. Retrieved on May 25, 2013.
  7. ^ "William S. McFeely". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved December 14, 2019.
  8. ^ Organization of American Historians. "Avery O. Craven Award Winners". Retrieved on May 25, 2013.

External linksEdit