Kendall was born in 1909 to a blind minister in Oklahoma. He learned to read at age two, graduated from high school at 13, from the University of Oklahoma at 18, and published his first book at 20. In 1932, he became a Rhodes scholar and studied at the University of Oxford. He became a Trotskyist and went to Spain during the Spanish Civil War. His experiences with the Spanish Republic led him to renounce his communist convictions. In 1940, he obtained a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois writing his dissertation upon John Locke on Majority Rule under Francis Wilson. He served in the OSS during World War II, and stayed on when it became the CIA in 1947.
He joined the Yale University faculty in 1947, where he taught for fourteen quarrelsome years until Yale paid him a handsome sum to resign. In 1961, he surrendered tenure and departed. Among his students was William F. Buckley, Jr., with whom he participated in the founding of National Review; as a Senior Editor he constantly fought with the other editors (they say he was never on speaking terms with more than one person at a time). A friend of Kendall's, Professor Revilo P. Oliver, gave him credit with convincing him to enter political activism by writing for NR. 
He later converted to Roman Catholicism, taught at the University of Dallas, was a founder of the politics program, and was co-founder of the doctoral program there. He stayed at that institution until he died of a heart attack in 1967.
Kendall is the model for the character Jesse Frank in S. Zion's 1990 novel Markers (Source: Book review with interview, by Jeffrey Hart in the National Review, June 11, 1990)
Books by Kendall
- Baseball: How to Play It and How to Watch It (1927, as Alan Monk), Haldeman-Julius Publications.
- Democracy and the American Party System (1956 with Austin Ranney), Harcourt, Brace.
- John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority-Rule (1959), The University of Illinois Press.
- The Conservative Affirmation (1963) (republished in 1985 by Regnery Books).
- Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum (1971, edited by Nellie Kendall), Arlington House (republished in 1994 by University Press of America, ISBN 0-8191-9067-5).
- The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition (1970, with George W. Carey), Louisiana State University Press (republished in 1995 by Catholic University of America Press. ISBN 0-8132-0826-2).
- Oxford Years: Letters of Willmore Kendall to His Father, (1993, edited by Yvonna Kendall Mason), ISI Books. ISBN 1-882926-02-1
- Willmoore Kendall: Maverick of American Conservatives, Alvis, John, and Murley, John, eds. Lexington Books. (Review.)
- James W. Ceaser and Robert Maranto, 'Why Political Science Is Left But Not Quite PC: Causes of Disunion and Diversity', in The Politically Correct University: Problems, Scope, and Reforms, Robert Maranto (ed.), Richard E. Redding (ed.), Frederick M. Hess (ed.), Washington, D.C.: The AEI Press, 2009, p. 219
- The Willmoore Kendall Site.
- Jeffrey Hart, 2002, "The 'deliberate sense' of Willimoore Kendall," The New Criterion 20 (7).
- Peppe, Enrico, Review of The Conservative Affirmation (17 March 2004).