McNeill was born January 9, 1911 in Buckeye, West Virginia, USA on a farm that her family had owned since 1769. Her father, G. D. McNeil was a writer who published a collections of short stories about the forests of Pocahontas County, West Virginia. She wrote her first poem at 16, pecking it out on a friend's typewriter. The experience caused her to vow "to be a poet and write poems forever."
She graduated from Concord College (now Concord University) and then got her master's from Miami University in Ohio. She earned her doctorate from West Virginia University. She also studied at Middlebury College with the poet Robert Frost, and at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
In 1939 she married Roger Pease. She taught English and history for over 30 years, including positions in rural one-room schools in West Virginia, at Potomac State College, Fairmont State College, and West Virginia University.
Louis McNeill began her publishing career selling short poems to the Saturday Evening Post. In 1931 her first collection, Mountain White, was published. She went on to publish six other collections. In the 1980s, McNeill's literary reputation was re-established by the poet Maggie Anderson, who edited McNeill's memoir for the University of Pittsburgh Press, as well as a new and selected poems in 1991.
In 1979, then-governor Jay Rockefeller named McNeill West Virginia's poet laureate. In February 1989, WVU recognized her accomplishments by inducting her into the Academy of Distinguished Alumni; in May of that year, WVU awarded her an honorary Doctorate in the Humanities.
McNeill died on June 18, 1993.
In October 2006, the Charles C. Wise, Jr. Library at WVU was made a Literary Landmark by the Friends of the Library Association U.S.A. (now United for Libraries), in recognition of the university's connection with McNeill and its efforts to preserve her writings and personal papers in its West Virginia and Regional History Center.
- Mountain White (1931)
- Gauley Mountain (1939)
- Time Is Our House (1942)
- Paradox Hill (1972)
- Elderberry Flood (1979)
- The Milkweed Ladies (1988)
- Hill Daughter: New and Selected Poems (1991)
- Fermi Buffalo (1994)