Nebraska Authors

Mabel Lee

Born 1886 IA (USA)

Died 1985

Mabel Lee was Director of physical education for women at UNL from 1924-1952. She was very prominent and influential in American women's sports in the 1930s. In 1931 she became the first woman president of the American Physical Education Association. At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics she was asked to stand in for First Lady Lou Hoover in presiding over women's events. She was an early advocate for physical education for children to establish healthy habits. Still living in 1983, she was honored as one of the five women who have done the most to promote women's fitness by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

In 1977, the Women's physical education building at the University of Nebraska was renamed "Mabel Lee Hall".

From the late 1920s on, it was well known at Nebraska that the two most prominent women on campus, Mabel Lee, and the great sportswoman and linguistic scholar Louise Pound, did not get along. Athletics played different roles in the two women's lives, leading to very different ideas about women and athletics at the University. Mabel Lee, by most accounts, was a very attractive woman, femininity was important to her, she dressed carefully, she loved gymnastics, sport and dance, but never thought of herself as a star athlete. She valued the active life as a path to a healthy and happy, but well-rounded life. She grew to be a very avid hiker and canoeist, hiking and climbing in the Rocky Mountains and Swiss Alps, and canoeing in Minnesota. She tried to promote athletics for all women students, and so favored intramural sports, and she showed little interest in or support for intercollegiate athletics, an activity which tends to favor only an athletically gifted elite.

Miss Pound, by contrast, an athletic champion herself, favored competition above all else. She supported intercollegiate athletics, and had no time for intramural sports. She believed that athletics could only benefit an athletic elite. When the Women's Athletic Association proclaimed "we play for the fun of the game..." Louise Pound responded with "Sissies, all sissies! Bah!" (Both parties quoted in Knoll, p. 78, cited below) Pound also had little patience with conventional femininity and though she dressed neatly, cared rather less about a feminine appearance and her apparel than Lee did. The two women's personalities and ideas contrasted to a degree that made it difficult for them to tolerate one-another.

Betty Spears, "A Tribute to Mabel Lee--National Academy of Kinesiology," has been available on-line at www.nationalacademyofkinesiology.org.
Mabel Lee, Louise Pound, and their differences are themes of an online collaborative history of the University of Nebraska, originally at http://unlhistory.unl.edu/exhibits
Robert Knoll, Prairie University. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995, discusses the feud between Lee and Pound.
Mabel Lee's Autobiography (see below).


Author Of

  • Biography
  • Nonfiction


Women's Athletics; Health; Women's Sports


BA in Psychology, Coe College, Cedar Rapids, IA, 1908
Boston Normal School of Gymnastics, 1910

Places Worked

Marion High School, Marion IA
Oregon Agricultural College, Corvalis, OR (now Oregon State University)
Director of Physical Education for Women, Beloit College, Beloit, WI
Director of the Department of Physical Education for woman, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE


“150 Notable Nebraskans”, Number 97 on the Journal Star Sesquicentennial List of Significant Nebraskans (2017)
President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports special recognition, 1983


Memories of a Bloomer Girl, 1894-1924. 1977.
The Conduct of Physical Education: Its Organization and Administration for Girls and Women. 1937.

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Mabel Lee

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