Willard Livingstone Beard was born in Huntington, Connecticut on February 5, 1865, the son of Oliver Gould and Nancy Maria (Nichols) Beard. Beard attended Birmingham High School in Connecticut. He enrolled at Oberlin College in 1887, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1891. After Oberlin, he returned to Connecticut, where he attended the Hartford Theological Seminary and graduate in 1894. Twelve years later in 1916, the Oberlin Theological Seminary awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.
In 1894, Beard began missionary work to China which was to occupy him for the next forty years of his life. He began as a missionary for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) from 1894 to 1904. In 1904, he was released in order to start a YMCA in Fukien Province, for which he served as general secretary until 1909. In 1910, he returned to the United States, and served as a secretary of the ABCFM in New York City for two years.
Upon his return to China in 1912, Beard became president of Foochow College, a position he held until 1927. From 1927 to 1936 he returned to general missionary work in China. After a brief time home in the Unites States, Beard served two more years for the ABCFM in Foochow. At the outbreak of World War II he returned to the United States. He settled at Century Farm in Shelton, Connecticut, where he remained for the rest of his life. Beard was a member the Shelton Congregational Church, and he served on the Executive Board and Board of Deacons of the church.
Willard L. Beard married Ellen Lucy Kinney, a former Oberlin student (enrolled 1893-94), soon after his graduation from the Hartford Theological Seminary. They were married on September 5, 1894 in her hometown of Putnam, Connecticut. They had six children, all of whom spent at least two years at Oberlin: Myron Gould (1916-18, d.1974), Phebe (OC 1919, d. 1925), Geraldine (OC 1921), Dorothy (OC 1923), Marjorie (OC 1928), and Kathleen (OC 1930). Beard died of a heart attack at the home of his daughter Mrs. Kathleen Elmer in Jacksonville, Florida on April 15, 1947.