William E. Wilson


Honorary Degree (1981)
Doctor of Humane Letters
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: John William Ryan
Guggenheim Fellow (1945)
Indiana University Bloomington
College of Arts and Sciences
Department of English


William Edward Wilson, educator and prolific author, has captured the history and character of his native Indiana in twelve books and many articles which chronicle the rich heritage of the Midwest. Wilson's contribution to Indiana, moreover, extends beyond his writings. He was a distinguished and popular professor at Indiana University for many years and has encouraged a generation of students in the pleasures of literature and the discipline of writing.

William Wilson, the son of an Indiana Congressman, was born in Evansville on Lincoln's Birthday, 1906. He attended Harvard, graduating A.B. cum laude in 1927, and remained in Cambridge to take his Master's degree in 1930. Since his days as a student, William Wilson has enjoyed a varied career which always kept him in touch with the art of writing. Following a brief appointment as a high school teacher, he entered journalism, working initially as a reporter for the Evansville Press before joining the staff of the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard, where he worked until 1929. Professor Wilson spent the next thirteen years as an educator. From 1930-33 he was an instructor in English at Brown University and then accepted the chairmanship of the English department at the Rhode Island School of Design, an appointment he held until he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy in 1942. In 1946 William Wilson accepted a Guggenheim Fellowship. The next year he became an Associate Editor of the Baltimore Evening Sun. For the following two years he held the position of Professor of English at the University of Colorado, during which time he also served as Director of the Writers' Conference in the Rocky Mountains.

In 1950, William Wilson joined the English department of Indiana University. He was awarded a Litt.D. in 1962 from the University of Evansville. From 1967 to 1973 he held the James A. Work Professorship in English and in 1973 retired as Professor Emeritus. Since that time, Professor Wilson has continued his career as an author, publishing regularly in the Southern Review, the Harvard Magazine, the Courier Journal Magazine, and the Indianapolis Star Magazine, among other journals and newspapers. His many books include The Wabash; Abe Lincoln of Pidgeon Creek; Shooting Star: The Story of Tecumseh; Big Knife: The Story of George Rogers Clark; Indiana: A History; The Angel and the Serpent: The Story of New Harmony.

In addition, William Wilson has published innumerable articles, many of which deal with Indiana. The best known among these have been published in the American Heritage: "Hush-A-Bye, Indiana" (December 1966), "There I Grew Up" (October 1966), and "Long, Hot Summer in Indiana" (August 1965).

William Wilson's considerable accomplishments have, of course, been recognized and honored. He was a Fulbright Lecturer in France (1956-57) and received an Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History in 1964. He is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa and has been honored several times with the Indiana Author's Day Award. In 1962 the Southeastern Theatre Association recognized Professor Wilson for his plays, which include a stage version of Abe Lincoln of Pidgeon Creek.

On June 29, 1929, William Wilson and the late Ellen Janet Cameron were married. There are three sons. In 1977 he married Hana Benes.