America's First Law School

In 1779, William & Mary established the very first law school in America. William & Mary’s program in law was established to implement many of the ideals of the American Revolution, as it was thought that well-educated citizen lawyers would make particularly appropriate leaders for the new republic. Our first law professor, George Wythe, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, said that William & Mary aspired “to form such characters as may be fit to succeed those which have been ornamental and useful in the national councils of America.”

Our History

If you want to know more about our history, visit the Wolf Law Library’s detailed interactive timeline, where you can learn about:

  • The founding of the first law school in the United States at William & Mary
  • The first degree in common law awarded by any university in the world, awarded by William & Mary to William Cabell in 1793
  • The first woman to graduate from William & Mary Law School, Virginia Mister, who graduated in 1937
  • The first African American to graduate from William & Mary Law School, Edward A. Travis, who earned his B.C.L. in 1954
William & Mary Law School's Black History

If you want to know more about African-American history at William & Mary Law School, see the law school’s exhibit Black History at William & Mary Law.

History of Our First Professor: George Wythe

If you want to know more about the first law professor in the United States, George Wythe, and early legal education at William & Mary, check out Wythepedia, a project of the Wolf Law Library. The law school is actively engaged in studying its history by recreating George Wythe’s Library as an exemplar of early American legal education.

Working Toward a Better Future Together

In considering our history, we acknowledge that William & Mary Law School profited from the labor of enslaved people for many years. The law school, including members of its faculty and alumni, were complicit in the perpetuation of the institution of slavery and, in many cases, were advocates of and active participants in the system. The law school profoundly regrets this aspect of our history and recognizes the continued legacies of this manifest injustice that remain present in our society today.

William & Mary and the law school are committed to addressing, examining, and telling—unvarnished—the story of our complicated relationship with a system repugnant to the values of law and principles of justice that the law school’s faculty, staff, and students advance, learn, and teach today. For more information, see the Board of Visitors’ Statement on Slavery and its Legacies, Slavery at William & Mary: A Brief Overview, and George Wythe and Slavery at Wythepedia.