Stith Thompson, one of the world's leading authorities on folklore, was born in Bloomfield, Kentucky, on March 7, 1885, the son of John Warden and Eliza (McCluskey) Thompson. He was a student at Butler College in Indianapolis, Indiana, took a B.A. degree at the University of Wisconsin in 1909, an M.A. degree at the University of California in 1912, and a Ph.D. degree at Harvard University in 1914. Thompson was married to Louise Faust on June 14, 1918; they had two daughters. He came to the University of Texas as an instructor in English in 1914 and remained there until 1918. As secretary-treasurer of the Texas Folklore Society, Thompson edited the first numbered volume of that society's Publications (1916). In 1935 it was reprinted under the title Round the Levee, in the preface of which J. Frank Dobie said that Thompson "worked up a membership to support him, and by issuing this volume glued the Society together, setting a precedent for a long line of succeeding volumes that have made the Texas organization the best known among all state organizations of its kind in the nation." After leaving the University of Texas, Thompson was a professor of English at Colorado College (1918–20), the University of Maine (1920–21), and Indiana University (1921–55). At Indiana University he taught courses in folklore, and he was dean of that university's graduate school from 1947 to 1950. He was the United States delegate to the International Folklore Congress in Paris in 1937 and was an official in various international folklore meetings. He was the author, coauthor, or translator of numerous books and articles on folklore, but was perhaps best known for his work on the classification of motifs in folk tales. His six-volume Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (1932–37) is considered the international key to traditional material, and it has been said that Thompson was responsible for putting the study of folklore in the United States on a solid, scholarly basis. After he retired as distinguished service professor of English and folklore at Indiana University in June 1955, he returned to the University of Texas as a visiting professor of English during the spring semester of 1956. Thompson and his wife traveled widely after his retirement, but he continued to work in the field of folklore. He wrote autobiographies in 1956 and 1966. Stith Thompson died on January 13, 1976, in Columbus, Indiana; he was buried in the family cemetery outside Springfield, Kentucky.
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Richard M. Dorson, "Stith Thompson (1885–1976)," Journal of American Folklore 90 (January-March 1977). Stith Thompson, Folklorist's Progress (MS, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, 1956). Stith Thompson, Second Wind: A Sequel after Ten Years to Folklorist's Progress (MS, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, 1966). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Who's Who in America, 1952–53.
Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Eldon Stephen Branda,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 28, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
July 1, 1995