Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

POUND, ROSCOE (1870-1964)

Roscoe Pound was a botanist, lawyer, educator, law professor, writer, and legal theorist. A leading American legal scholar of the twentieth century, Pound had a significant impact on American legal culture.

Pound was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on October 27, 1870. Education was important to the Pound family. Roscoe's mother educated her children at home, infusing in them her love of literature and botany. Pound went on to the University of Nebraska, where he graduated with a degree in botany in 1888. Influenced by his father, Stephen, a prominent Nebraska lawyer and judge, Pound entered Harvard Law School but returned to Nebraska after one year. He continued his study of law–in a law office rather than law school–and in 1890 was admitted to the Nebraska bar. Even while practicing law, however, Pound's interest in botany continued, and in 1897 he earned a doctorate in that subject from the University of Nebraska. Pound taught botany at the university, served as the director of Nebraska's botanical survey, and identified a rare lichen, which was given the scientific name roscoepoundia.

Between 1890 and 1906 Pound was active in Nebraska's legal community. In addition to practicing law, he played a key role in the 1900 organization of the Nebraska State Bar Association, drafting the association's constitution and serving as its secretary for six years. In 1901 Pound was appointed a commissioner (temporary appellate judge) to the Nebraska Supreme Court. Finally, in 1903 the University of Nebraska appointed him dean of the law school, a position he held for several years.

Pound drew national attention in 1906 when he addressed the American Bar Association in St. Paul, Minnesota. In this speech Pound outlined his theory of "sociological jurisprudence," arguing that the law was not static but that judges should consider the social and economic consequences of their decisions. Impressed by the young legal scholar, Northwestern University hired him as a law professor. After serving two years there and another at the University of Chicago, Pound took a position at Harvard Law School and went on to become its dean from 1916 to 1936.

Although Pound left the Great Plains in 1907, he continued to have a significant impact on Nebraska's legal community. The University of Nebraska Law School appointed its deans largely based on Pound's recommendations. Pound also periodically returned to the Plains to deliver addresses at the annual meetings of the Nebraska State Bar Association.

Over the course of a multifaceted career, Pound wrote on a wide variety of topics, including botany, criminal law, prison reform, and the organization of courts. The 1959 publication of Jurisprudence, a five-volume work, capped a legal career that spanned more than seventy years. Pound died on July 1, 1964, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

See also EDUCATION: Pound, Louise.

Mark R. Ellis University of Nebraska at Kearney

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