- Honorary Degree (1951)
- Doctor of Laws
- Bloomington, Indiana
- Presenter: Herman B Wells
McDonald was born in Coldwater, Ohio in 1886. His parents were hotel operators. The family eventually moved to Albany, Indiana.
He earned his bachelor's degree from Indiana University in 1909, and completed a master's degree in History, Political Science, and International Relations the following year. He was nominated for a teaching fellowship in history at Harvard University, and he remained at Harvard until returning to IU as an assistant professor in 1914.
McDonald married Ruth Stafford in 1915, and they had two daughters. He taught at IU until 1918, with a break in 1915 and 1916 to study in Spain as a Harvard University traveling fellow. He also taught summer sessions at the University of Georgia in 1916 and 1917.
In 1919, McDonald moved to New York City to work for the Civil Service Reform Association. McDonald was assigned to High Commission Refugees in 1933. During this time he sought out numerous ways to support his crusade to rescue the suffering German Jews. In July 1948, he was appointed by President Truman as the Special Representative of the United States to Israel.