Remembering Emily Maria Schossberger

As we honor our 75th anniversary this year, we recall and celebrate some of the most influential people in the Press’s history. 

Emily Maria SchossbergerEmily Maria Schossberger

(1905-1979)

Austria-born Emily Schossberger came to the United States in May 1940. She worked for a year as assistant to the director at Fordham University Press. In 1941 University of Nebraska chancellor Chauncey S. Boucher hired her, unseen and without interview, to become “University Editor and Secretary to the Board” of University Publications.

Schossberger’s classical education in Europe prepared her to be a language teacher. Fluent in five languages and proficient in others, she taught in Vienna, wrote and translated short stories, and was the first woman reporter to cover soccer in Central Europe. She traveled with the Austrian team, covering matches in major cities throughout Europe. In her travels she met people engaged in industry, business, politics, and society and she started writing features about them for the Vienna newspapers. Eventually she became a full-time correspondent and a member of the Foreign Press Association in Vienna.

In 1938 she went to Bologna, Italy, and within two years witnessed Italy being taken over by Germany. She came to the United States on the last ship to leave Italy before the county entered World War II.

Her first duties at the University of Nebraska included working with Prairie Schooner, the university’s award-winning literary magazine, and supervising all institutional publications such as bulletins, course catalogs, and scholarly studies. The Board of Regents chartered the press in November 1941 as a “non-incorporated agency of the board” under the director of a faculty administrative committee.

Schossberger became known for her critical analysis and keen sense of style in editing and book production. Among the first books published that inaugural year was a biography of J. Sterling Morton (the doctoral dissertation of James C. Olson, who became an eminent historian and president of the University of Missouri) and a handbook for procedures for school custodians. The latter, a best seller, paid the press’s bills. The former helped establish the press as a serious, scholarly publisher.

The press received no appropriation and lived a hand-to-mouth existence. Schossberger’s high standards meant the press gained reputation and stature even as it was starved for resources. With her staff of four, Schossberger “created a press out of thin air and she had a right to be proud of her accomplishment, even if her accounting was a bit irregular and her records rather chaotic,” wrote Robert Knoll in his 1995 history, Prairie University.

In a speech given at UNP’s fiftieth anniversary celebration in 1991, Olson said that while Schossberger was handicapped by tight budgets, “She published a substantial number of volumes in a variety of fields, all of them characterized by strict adherence to the canons of good scholarship, tasteful design, and careful attention to detail. She is too little appreciated for her role in the history of the university. As founding director, she established the University of Nebraska Press as a significant participant in the world of scholarly publishing.”

Schossberger resigned in 1958 to become senior editor/foreign editor at the University of Chicago Press. A Nebraska news release said her duties would include scanning the production of French, German, Italian, Austrian, and other European scholars for possible translation and publication for the American scholarly market.

During her tenure the University of Nebraska Press published ninety-seven books. The press’s fifteenth anniversary included the publication of Roundup: A Nebraska Reader, compiled and edited by Virginia Faulkner. While the press was polishing its credentials as a publisher of regional and western scholarship, Schossberger also focused on foreign translations, her first love; later in her career several of her translations were published.

In 1957 Schossberger hosted the national convention of the Association of American University Presses in Lincoln. In 1970 she was elected to the association’s board of directors and was the first woman to serve in this capacity. And she was the first woman to receive the Republic of Austria’s Cross of Merit in 1968.

Knoll described Schossberger as being a large woman with a Viennese joie de vivre. Amy Mitchell Tuttle, who worked as a production editor at the press, remembers Schossberger “rode a bicycle around town while they were still considered a children’s toy. It was very European. She would wear a hat and gloves while riding.”

While in Lincoln, she won seven city tennis championships in women’s singles and several mixed-doubles championships. She was the state women’s singles champion in 1944. She was president of the Holy Family Altar Society, having converted to Catholicism from Judaism. A member of the Lincoln Artists Guild, she organized an art show during her last year in Lincoln in which women recreated famous paintings through live poses.

In September 1960 Schossberger was appointed director of the University of Notre Dame Press. The May 5, 1978, edition of the Notre Dame Scholastic says Schossberger was the first woman executive at Notre Dame. She and her staff raised Notre Dame Press’s stature by increasing its output in English literature, humanities, and social sciences, including two volumes of Chaucer criticism. During her first five years, she grew Notre Dame Press’s output by threefold, and by 1970 the press was publishing about sixty titles a year, although a budget crisis severely reduced the press’s output the following year.

Schossberger retired from Notre Dame Press in 1973. She died in South Bend in May 1979 and is buried there. The following year, Notre Dame established the Emily Schossberger Award, given annually to members of the Notre Dame community for outstanding support of scholarly publishing.

Profile by Kim Hachiya