William F. Dowling was born on December 18, 1877 on a farm in Paris Hill, New York, one of nine children. He grew up in West Winfield, attending local schools, and later Hamilton College from which he received a Bachelor's Degree in 1904. He worked as an insurance broker in Chicago for a year or two before returning home and beginning the study of law. He read successively in the offices of Theodore Cross; Dunmore, Sholes, Ferris & Foley; and Frederick Adams. He was admitted to the bar in 1909, and practiced in partnership in Utica for seventeen years.
Dowling was also active in party politics. He was Vice-President of the local Republican Club at one point, as well as the unsuccessful Republican candidate for Mayor of Syracuse in 1917. In 1926 he was elected to the Supreme Court for the Fifth District. For eleven years he sat as a trial judge. He was elevated to the Appellate Division for the Fourth Department in January of 1938 and remained there until his mandatory retirement at the close of 1947. After departing the bench he was appointed an official referee, a post he held for only ten months between his retirement and his death, which occurred on November 2, 1948.