Nebraska Authors

Roscoe Pound

AKA: Nathan Roscoe

Born 1870-10-27 Lincoln, NE (USA)

Died 1964-07-02
Cambridge, MA (USA)

Pound was raised in Lincoln in a lively intellectual environment, his father was Lincoln's most prominent lawyer, his mother a former school teacher who had come to favor what is now called "home schooling" and who shocked her up-scale neighbors by installing a chalk board on the wall in her living room. Pound Middle School in Lincoln is named not for Roscoe, who would serve as Dean of Harvard Law School for two decades, nor for the great linguistics scholar and sportswoman, his sister Louise Pound, or for their third sibling, Olivia Pound, an influential local teacher, but for the family as a whole.

In his undergraduate years at the University of Nebraska, Pound joined the lively circle of botanists around Charles E. Bessey, and after graduating in 1888, he began graduate study in botany and became Bessey's assistant. In 1889 he left to spend a year at Harvard Law School, but returning he rejoined the Sem Bot, the extracurricular professional and social seminar of botanists that surrounded Bessey. With his close friend Frederic Clements, Pound published the second edition of their Phytogeography of Nebraska in 1900. The book showcased the transformation of the study of plant distribution from a kind of floristic tourism to a real science. Pound and Clements were now pulling Bessey, who had called ecology a "fad" in 1899, toward a realization of its possibilities. (see the book by Tobey, cited below)

Pound was now earning his living working locally as a lawyer. He took the bar exam, and by 1893 became a partner with Lionel Burr in Lincoln. He would soon be one of the state's most influential practitioners of corporate law. He would be a solo practitioner for a time, and then worked in the firm of Hall, Woods, and Pound.

Pound was elected Dean of the Nebraska College of Law in 1903. In 1906 he was asked to give the principal address at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association in St. Paul, MN. His speech "The Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice" offered a harsh attack on outdated formalisms, failures to weigh equity, and the "yoke of commercialism" in the law. He was urging a jurisprudence that could weigh concerns of public policy in new ways. The speech offended convention in a very conventional setting. He was condemned in the discussion that followed his speech, though apparently some of his listeners privately took a much more positive view of what he had said, they did not then rise to defend him.

The reputation Pound gained at that moment, among more socially concerned lawyers, and energies of the moment, including the momentary shock of seeming to be without allies, prodded Pound to seek wider horizons. He would move from Nebraska to the law faculty at Northwestern, and then to the Harvard Law School. He would find many friends along the way, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. His biographer David Wigdor cites his admiration for the social justice views of Lewis Brandeis. Combining in a characteristic way a certain pragmatism about what it is that lawyers do with certain public policy considerations, Powell came to be called the founder of the American school of "sociological jurisprudence." He is much discussed in histories of American law, and he was very influential. He was sometimes also called "the Blackstone of U.S. law."

See: Ronald C. Tobey, Saving the Prairies: The Life Cycle of the Founding School of American Plant Ecology, 1895-1955, 1981.
David Wigdor, Roscoe Pound: Philosopher of Law, 1974.
A Lawyer's Books: Selections from the Roscoe Pound Library. Catalog of an exhibition at the Harvard Law School, June 1-30, 1986.

Places Lived

Lincoln, NE: 1870-1907
Massachusetts
Chicago

Author Of

  • Nonfiction

Keywords

Jurisprudence; Law; Botany; Ecology

Education

BA in Botany, 1888, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE
MA in Botany, 1889, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE
PhD in Botany, 1897, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE

Occupation

Lawyer
Law Professor
Law Dean
Jurist

Places Worked

UN College of Law
Harvard Law
Northwestern
University of Chicago

Honors

“150 Notable Nebraskans”, Number 19 on the Journal Star Sesquicentennial List of Significant Nebraskans
Appointed Story Professor of Law at Harvard in 1910
Carter Professor of Jurisprudence 1913-1937

Associations

Brother of Louise and Oliva Pound
Taught Thomas Cochran and Dean Acheson at Harvard
Alvin S. Johnson recruited Pound to serve on the board of directors at The New School for Social Research

Bibliography

The Phytogeography of Nebraska. 1898. (with Frederic Clements)
The Spirit of the Common Law. 1921.
Criminal Justice in America. 1930.
Social Control Through Law. 1942.
Jurisprudence, Volumes 1-5. 1959.
The Spirit of the Common Law, 1963.

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