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The Pounds of Nebraska

Monday, November 29, 2010

It must have been the fall of 1948 or '49. I was at the University of Nebraska and had met a friend of mine, George Metcalf, at the door of the Student Union. George was a grizzled old archaeologist, who worked for the Smithsonian Institute on the U of N campus. He was talking with Ed Weir, the U of N track coach. I had met Ed, one of Nebraska's all-time great football players, but did not know him well. While we were talking, an older lady walked by. Both men seemed to know her and were pleased to see her. When she left I asked who the lady was. I'd seen her sometimes, walking (briskly, like she was late for an appointment) near the Capitol.

George spoke first. "Why, that's Louise Pound. I've worked with her on a project on American Folklore. She's a really sharp gal."

Ed Weir chimed in, "That whole Pound family is outstanding. And Louise -- Hell, kid, she may be the finest athlete, male or female, that Nebraska ever produced." Wow, high praise, coming from Weir, who, himself, had to be in the running for that accolade.

The Pound family of Lincoln was one of Nebraska's most outstanding families of the first half of the 20th Century. Stephen B. Pound was a pioneer attorney, senator, and judge in Lincoln. His wife, Laura Biddlecome Pound was a New Yorker, whose family had arrived in the United States in 1630, right after the Pilgrims. The couple was married in January, 1869 and moved to Lincoln that same month.

Stephen and Laura believed in education -- for both men and women. The first building of the new University of Nebraska was just under construction when the Pounds arrived in Lincoln. As soon as classes were offered, Mrs. Pound enrolled in the university, taking courses in German language and English literature. She was active in art and literary organizations until her death in 1928. She passed on her love of learning to her three children, Roscoe, Louise, and Olivia.

Roscoe Pound, 1870-1964 attended the University of Nebraska and was one of the first serious botany students of famed Professor Dr. Charles Bessey. It wasn't long though, that his interest turned to the law, and he began his law studies at Harvard. He only stayed at Harvard for one year before returning to Lincoln to start his own law practice He was admitted to the Nebraska Bar (without a degree), and soon began teaching law at the University of Nebraska Law School. He taught at the Law School from 1899 to 1907, becoming dean of the Law School in 1903, at age 33. He was Commissioner of Appeals to the Nebraska Supreme Court from 1901-1903. In 1907 he left Nebraska and taught at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago before taking a teaching position at Harvard in 1910. In 1916 he became dean of the Harvard Law School, a position he held until his retirement in 1936. Even then, he agreed to stay on to teach. His contract stated that he was qualified to teach any subject that the University taught -- not just law.

In 1944, at age 76, Roscoe Pound left Harvard to accept an invitation from Chiang Kai-Shek to codify Chinese Laws. His last appearance in Nebraska was in 1960, when he delivered a lecture to the University of Nebraska College of Law, where in 1950 the Roscoe Pound Lectureship was established.

Olvia Pound, 1874-1961 was the youngest of Stephen Pound's children. After years of home school, with her mother as teacher, Olivia attended the University of Nebraska, where she received her bachelor of arts (1895) and master of arts (1907) degrees. She took additional training at Columbia, Harvard, and Chicago before returning to Lincoln, where she joined the faculty at Lincoln High School in 1897. She was named assistant principal of Lincoln High in 1918, a position she held until her retirement in 1943. Miss Olivia Pound was very active in the educational organizations in Lincoln and at the University and was the author of some 20 text books.

Roscoe Pound is widely known as one of the great legal scholars of his day, but Louise Pound, 1872-1958, is perhaps the best known of the Pound children here in Nebraska. She was a lady who had interest in a good many areas, and had the drive and ability to become accomplished in every endeavor she undertook.

After homeschooling under her mother's tutelage, she entered the University of Nebraska by taking an examination. While she was at NU, she was named Class Orator, Class Poet, and Editor of the college paper. She graduated from the University Phi Beta Kappa, and was active in many of the honorary societies at the University.

Louise Pound was a pioneer female athlete in Nebraska. In 1890, when she was 18, she became Lincoln City Tennis Champion. She competed against men for the University of Nebraska title in 1891 and 1892, winning both years, earning her letter, as a member of the Men's team -- there was no woman's team. Though she considered tennis and golf her main sports, she excelled in figure skating, skiing, 100 mile cycling races, basketball, swimming and bowling. She introduced skiing to Lincoln. In 1916 she won the Lincoln City Golf Championship, and held that title for more than 20 years. In tennis her victories came against all comers, men and women. While she was attending Heidelberg University she played a tennis match to a draw against the Men's Olympic Champion. She was elected to the Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame, in 2006.

She received her bachelor of arts degree, as well as a diploma in music in 1892. In 1895 she earned her master of arts -- all from NU. No college would accept her as a doctoral candidate so she went abroad, studying at the University of Heidelberg, where she earned her doctorate in 1900.

After Louise returned from Heidelberg, she joined the University of Nebraska faculty in Lincoln, where she taught until her retirement in 1945. Technically, Miss Pound taught English, but over the years she became interested in a number of related fields. She promoted the field of American folklore and American folk songs, and was recognized as the leading authority in those areas. She campaigned for years to have American English accepted as our language, as contrasted with British English. She was the founder of the leading Newspaper advocating American English.

During World War I, Louise Pound was immersed in war work. She served on a number of war-related committees, including, state head of the Committee of Women's Services, chairman of Relief Activities, and member of the Food for France Committee.

She was a promoter of women's rights, long before that cause was popular. Her battles with Mabel Lee at the University of Nebraska made headlines. Miss Lee was the director of women's physical activities at the University. She was of the old school, and firmly held the Victorian belief of propriety and moderation in sports for women. She was adamantly opposed to participation of women in intercollegiate sports. Louise Pound was a member of the English department, but she championed women's rights in sports.

Among the many honors that were accorded to Miss Pound was the naming of one of the first Women's Dorms, "The Louise Pound Residence Hall" on the City Campus at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.

Louise and her sister, Olivia lived together at the family home at 1632 L. St. in Lincoln until Louise's death in 1958. Neither of the sisters ever married, and though Roscoe was married twice he had no children.

Source: Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame Foundation., Nebraska State Historical Society, "Louise Pound, the 19th Century Iconoclast Who Forever Changed America."


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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By