In honor of Women’s History Month, this article pays tribute to Louise Pound (1872-1958). She is notable for many firsts in the LSA. She was a Foundation Member of the society (1924), remaining a member until 1942; she was the first woman to publish a research article in Language (Pound 1927); she was the only woman to teach at the first Linguistic Institute (1928); and she was the first woman elected Vice-President of the LSA (1939).

Louise Pound was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and lived there for almost all of her life. She obtained her bachelor’s (1892) and master’s degrees (1895) at the University of Nebraska. Because women were not readily admitted to doctoral programs in the United States at that time, she left Nebraska to pursue doctoral studies in philology, earning her PhD at the University of Heidelberg in 1900 with a dissertation on The Comparison of Adjectives in English in the XV and XVI Century. (She wrote her dissertation during a stay of just one year at the University of Heidelberg, in record time.) Soon after receiving her doctorate, she joined the faculty of the University of Nebraska, staying there for the remainder of her long career. She became a full professor in 1912 and retired in 1945. She was a strong advocate for women’s education and women’s status in Nebraska throughout her life.

Even though Pound’s dissertation and early work were in the field of English philology, her most lasting contribution is as an early leader in promoting the linguistic study of American English. She was one of only two women who were invited to participate in the conference to launch the Linguistic Atlas of the United States and Canada project held in conjunction with the second Linguistic Institute in 1929. With Kemp Malone and Arthur G. Kennedy, she was one of the co-founders, in 1925, of the journal American Speech and persuaded H. L. Mencken to be a founding sponsor of the journal. As co-editor and frequent early contributor, she helped set its tone of combining scholarly seriousness with a writing style aimed to appeal to the general public. American Speech has been published continuously since 1925 and has been sponsored by the American Dialect Society (ADS) since the early 1970s. Pound was the first woman President of the ADS from 1938-1941, after serving for 11 years as Vice-President. When Pound was elected Vice-President of the LSA in 1939, with Charles Fries as President, they were the first LSA leadership team whose work was focused on the study of contemporary American English. (At that time, the Vice President did not automatically become President the following year. Adelaide Hahn was to become the first woman President of the LSA in 1946.)

Besides her academic accomplishments, Pound was a talented athlete with a number of awards to her credit in this area of her life. She earned a men’s varsity letter in tennis and women’s varsity letter in basketball while a student at the University of Nebraska. She was a long-distance cyclist, and, later in life, she was a competitive golfer. She said that the confidence she gained from her athletic accomplishments contributed to her setting high academic goals for herself and persevering to their attainment. She was the first woman elected to the Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame, in 1955, the same year she became the first woman president of the Modern Languages Association. Her reaction to winning these two honors in the same year is reported (Cochran 2009: 259) to be: “First woman again. – Life has its humors.”

-- Laura Downing, Göteborgs Universitet


Selected works

  • Pound, Louise. 1914. Blends: Their relation to English word formation. Anglistische Forschungen 42. Heidelberg: Carl Winter’s Universitätsbuchhandlung.
  • Pound, Louise. 1915. Intrusive nasals in English. Modern Language Notes 30, 45-47.
  • Pound, Louise. 1920. “Stunts” in language. The English Journal 9, 88-95.
  • Pound, Louise. 1927. The etymology of an English expletive. Language 3, 96-99.
  • Pound, Louise. 1930. Research in American English. American Speech 5, 359-365.
  • Pound, Louse. 1930. Extensions of usage of a pronoun. Language 6, 118-119.
  • Pound, Louise. 1948. Two American plow-names. American Speech 23, 72-73.
  • Pound, Louise. 1956. More plural-singulars. American Speech 31, 154-157.

Primary sources

  • Cochran, Robert. 2009. Louise Pound: Scholar, Athlete, Feminist Pioneer. University of Nebraska Press.
  • Falk, Julia S. 1994. The women Foundation Members of the Linguistic Society of America. Language 70 (3), 455-490.
  • Falk, Julia S. 1995. Portraits of women linguists: Louise Pound, Edith Claflin, Adelaide Hahn. History of linguistics 1993: Papers from the Sixth International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences, ed. by Kurt R. Jankowsky. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 313-320.