William “Bill” Gerald McLoughlin was born June 11, 1922 in Maplewood, N.J., a son of William G. and Florence (Quinn) McLoughlin. During World War II, he served in the Army where he learned to fly and achieved the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and was a Liaison Pilot in the Army Field Artillery stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He graduated from Princeton University in 1947 and received a Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization from Harvard University in 1953. His dissertation was titled: Professional evangelism: the social significance of religious revivals since 1865. It was published in 1959 under the title Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham. During 1953-1954, he was a Fulbright Fellow at the University of London. He joined the Brown University faculty as an assistant professor in 1954 and became a full professor in 1963. In 1981, he was named the Annie McClelland and Willard Prescott Smith Professor of History and Religion. In June 1992, McLoughlin was named the first Chancellor's Fellow at Brown, allowing him to continue teaching full-time although he had earned emeritus status.
Professor McLoughlin was a tireless scholar. His major areas of scholarship were religion in America (particularly Baptists and Evangelicals), the Cherokee Indian Nation, antislavery movement, African Americans, and Rhode Island history. He authored 22 books, edited with full introductions 13 books, and published well over a hundred articles. At the time of his death he was in the research stage for a book with the working title “The Black Experience in Rhode Island, 1890-1990.” He gained and deserved a reputation as one of the country’s most influential historians of American religion and the complicated relationships between the Europeans, native peoples, and African Americans. His book titled New England Dissent: The Baptists and the Separation of Church and State won the Frederic G. Melcher Book Prize for the best book on “Religion in America” and was nominated for the National Book Award in 1972. He was elected to membership in the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1973 and the American Antiquarian Society in 1974.
As a professor, he was highly regarded by students and colleagues. He taught a legendary two-semester survey course called “The Social and Intellectual History of the United States” for nearly forty years. He demanded the best from his students and often received it through his sympathetic guidance and rigorous standards. In addition to the standard history courses, he also initiated unique courses on wide ranging subjects such as a course on the New Environmental Vision in 1991. He was always open to Group Independent Study Projects known as GISPs co-created with students on topics such as Central America, race relations, state government, and alternative education. Bill played a strong directive role in the American Civilization department and he was a founder of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. His colleagues sought his advice frequently and he was not shy about providing diplomatic opinions on tough subjects. His teaching extended into the community through numerous lectures to local groups. He enjoyed participating in the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities grant to contribute essays related to Trinity Repertory Theater productions and lead discussions with the audience after the play.
His tireless energy extended well beyond Brown University to causes that were of importance to him. He was an active member of the American Civil Liberties Union serving on the Board of Directors, as the Chair of the Free Speech Committee, and as the Chair of the Church-State Committee. He opposed Brown's practice of allowing recruiters from the CIA on campus. He supported the students in their right to protest the Vietnam War. He vigorously opposed U.S. intervention in Central America during the 1980s and could often be found on Friday evenings standing with other protesters on the steps of the federal courthouse in Providence, holding up signs urging motorists to honk their horns if they opposed it also. He was keenly interested in the racial integration of the public schools in Rhode Island and was an active member of every parent-teacher organization throughout the years his children were in school. To protest the resistance for racial integration of the public schools he was a founder of the Freedom School of South Providence and served as its Principal during 1967. The Freedom School later became the Flynn Model Elementary School. He was posthumously inducted into the City of Providence, Martin Luther King Hall of Fame in 2004. His interest in environmental issues was expressed through his chairmanship of the Save the Trees / Keep Brown Green campaign. They raised funds to plant a tree on the Brown campus every Arbor Day and opposed the cutting of trees whenever possible.
He married Virginia Ward Duffy and they had 3 children: Helen McLoughlin Duffy, Gail McLoughlin-Elliott, and Martha McLoughlin Everett. He died on December 28, 1992.
Publications by William McLoughlin
- Billy Sunday Was His Real Name. (University of Chicago Press, 1955)
- Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham. (Ronald Press, 1959)
- Billy Graham, Revivalist in a Secular Age. (Ronald Press, 1958)
- Charles Grandison Finney: Lecture on Revivals of Religion. (Harvard, 1960)
- Isaac Backus and the American Pietistic Tradition. (Little, Brown, 1967)
- The American evangelicals, 1800-1900, an anthology. (Harper & Row, 1968)
- Isaac Backus on church, state, and Calvinism: pamphlets, 1754-1789. (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968)
- Religion in America. (Houghton Mifflin, 1968)
- The Meaning of Henry Ward Beecher: An Essay on the Shifting Values of Mid-Victorian America, 1840-1870. (Knopf, 1970)
- New England Dissent, 1630-1833: The Baptists and the Separation of Church and State. (Harvard University Press, 1971)
- Preachers & politicians: two essays on the origins of the American Revolution. (American Antiquarian Society, 1977)
- Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607-1977. (University of Chicago Press, 1978)
- Rhode Island: A Bicentennial History. (W.W. Norton, 1978)
- The Diary of Isaac Backus. (Brown University Press, 1979)
- Cherokees and Missionaries, 1789-1839. (Yale University Press, 1984)
- The Cherokee ghost dance: essays on the Southeastern Indians, 1789-1861. (Mercer, 1984)
- Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic. (Princeton University Press, 1986)
- Rhode Island, a History. (W.W. Norton and the American Association for State and Local History, 1986)
- Champions of the Cherokees: Evan and John B. Jones. (Princeton University Press, 1990)
- Soul Liberty: The Baptists' Struggle in New England, 1630-1833. (University Press of New England, 1991)
- After the Trail of Tears: The Cherokees' Struggle for Sovereignty, 1839-1880. (University of North Carolina Press, 1993)
- Cherokees and Christianity, 1794-1870: Essays on Acculturation and Cultural Persistence. (University of Georgia Press, 1994)
William Gerald McLoughlin, Obituary, New York Times, January 6, 1993
William Gerald McLoughlin, Obituary, Providence Journal, December 31, 1992