Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

POUND, LOUISE (1872-1958)

Louise Pound was a scholar, teacher, and athlete who established the scholarly study of American speech and folklore. Pound signed her letters with the symbol for the British pound sterling with a likely sense of self-approbation. She was a pragmatic woman who chose to remain at the University of Nebraska in the city of her birth (June 30, 1872) for half a century despite an international reputation.

At a time when ambitious women were not welcome in the academy, Pound was aware that a strong social and familial base in a relatively new western city like Lincoln would give her a grounding as firm as the three-story house in which she continued to live with her sister, Olivia. They had inherited the house from their father, Stephen Bosworth Pound, a lawyer, district court judge, and state senator, and their mother, Laura Biddlecomb Pound. The sisters, together with their brother, Roscoe (who became a leading legal theorist), had been educated at home by their mother, whose special interests were German language and literature as well as botany, to which she contributed by finding previously unidentified prairie flowers in the company of her children. After two years at the university's preparatory Latin school, Pound enrolled as a freshman at the university, from which she received a bachelor's degree with a diploma in music (piano) in 1892, having been class orator and poet. Pound earned her master's degree from the University of Nebraska in 1895.

Reinforcing her sense of self-worth was Pound's astonishing ability at a variety of sports, including figure skating. As an undergraduate Pound became women's state tennis champion and university champion in men's singles and doubles, for which she earned a man's varsity letter. Pound also earned a string of bars for "century runs" (cycling 100 miles in twelve hours) and was variously coach, captain, and member of a women's basketball team that she strongly encouraged to play to win. (She later took issue with Mabel Lee over women's physical activity for fitness rather than for competition.) For more than twenty-five years Pound was a ranking women's golfer, and in 1955 she became the first woman elected to the Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame.

Pound's academic capabilities as well as her impatience to get things done were signaled by her decision to get her doctorate from a German university. She went to Heidelberg, where she acquired the degree in two semesters rather than the usual seven. A considerable portion of Pound's academic work may be described as taxonomic in methodology (a familiar mode for her time), but she was also alert to and influenced by what was happening in adjacent fields such as botany as it was being redefined by Charles Bessey. Despite a heavy teaching load at the University of Nebraska, Pound published an impressive amount of scholarly work distinguished by common sense, as can be seen in her amusing piece on "Lovers' Leaps" in the posthumously published Nebraska Folklore (1959). H. L. Mencken acknowledged his debt to her in The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States (1962) when he wrote that her "early work put the study of current American English on its legs." That Pound was an advocate of women's education is demonstrated by her willingness to speak to women's groups throughout the state, and she probably influenced many mothers to send their daughters to the university. As a gadfly she strove to improve the position of women at the University of Nebraska. In 1955, at eighty-two, she was also elected the first woman president of the Modern Language Association, which may have assuaged her disappointment at never having been chair of the English department, although outsiders often assumed she was. Pound died in Lincoln on June 28, 1958.

See also LAW: Pound, Roscoe.

Evelyn Haller Doane College

Haller, Evelyn. "Louise Pound's Work in Nebraska Folklore." Nebraska Humanist 7 (1984): 44–47.

Louise Pound Papers, Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln.

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