McPherson grew up on an Illinois Farm, attended school and later taught in Cumberland County. He entered the Academy at IWU in 1901 and during his four years in the College of Liberal Arts, he was active in a wide variety of student activities: a member of the Track Team, the Male Quartet, the Glee Club, Oratorical Society, the Oxford Club, Y.M.C.A. Cabinet, Student Council, and Editor-in-Chief of both the Argus and Wesleyana. He graduated in 1906.
McPherson was a student pastor during his last three years at IWU, and after graduation earned his S.T.B. in the school of theology at Boston University. He held several pastorships across the state of Illinois, and was Superintendent of the Springfield School District for three years. He was a member of the Joint Board of Trustees and Visitors for 16 years and at the end of that term of service, IWU conferred upon him a D.D. He was then inaugurated the tenth IWU President in 1932 and served until 1937. He is credited with establishing a unique tuition exchange program that helped keep students enrolled during the Great Depression.