The William & Mary Law Library

A History

The development of the College of William and Mary School of Law, and its law library, has spanned over two centuries. As in most institutions, the history of the law library tracks closely the development of the law school.

The College was chartered by King William and Queen Mary II of England in 1693. Thomas Jefferson saw the need for legal reorganization in the colonies and sought to remedy the situation in Virginia at his alma mater, William and Mary. In 1779, at Jefferson's urging, the College's Board of Visitors resolved to create a professorship of Law and Police. On December 28, 1779, the Board named Jefferson's mentor, George Wythe, to that position.

Even before the commencement of formal legal training under Wythe, the College sought to acquire some materials on the subject of law. But there would be no separate law library at William and Mary for more than 150 years. Apparently Wythe relied heavily on Matthew Bacon's New Abridgement of the Law and Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England.

The College closed its doors on June 1, 1780, as the result of hostilities with the British Forces. The law school survived, however, despite that and the later resignation of Wythe in 1789. The school found a worthy replacement in St. George Tucker, who began teaching in September 1790.

At his introductory lecture, Tucker told his students that he had little to add beyond what his students could get by reading the works of Blackstone, Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Henry Finch, and Sir Matthew Hale. Although Blackstone's Commentaries formed the foundation of Tucker's course, his students would read John Locke's Essay on Civil Government, Sir Edward Coke's Institutes, William Sheppard's Touchstone, Bacon's Abridgment, James Burgh's Political Disquisitions, and Jean Louis de Lolme's Constitution d' Angleterre, titles one might expect to find in an early 19th Century lawyer's library. Tucker also gave his students a list of sixty-two titles he thought every law student should read (this number included twenty-five reports of English court cases), plus the laws of the young Virginia commonwealth.

It was during Tucker's tenure that the first earned law degree was granted in America when, in 1793, the College conferred a bachelor of law degree on William H. Cabell. Tucker resigned his professorship in 1803 after a disagreement with the Board of Visitors over the administration of the College. For the next thirty years William and Mary, including its law department, was in a serious decline.

Nathaniel Beverly Tucker, St. George Tucker's son, assumed the directorship of the law program in 1833, a position he would hold until 1850. However, additional problems eventually befell the College and the law program. William and Mary closed in 1862 at the beginning of the Civil War's Peninsula Campaign, and did not reopen until 1888. The law program did not reappear until 1920, under the administration of William and Mary's newly elected president Julian A. C. Chandler.

Even after the first law courses were reintroduced to the College in 1920, Chandler did not yet consider this a "law school," primarily because the College offered only two years of law courses. The Board of Visitors agreed upon a third year of law beginning in 1923-24, renaming the program the School of Jurisprudence. Under the direction of law professor Oscar Lane Shewmake it became a division of the newly formed Marshall-Wythe School of Government and Citizenship.

For several decades the School of Jurisprudence struggled on with few students, a small faculty, and limited facilities. The slow development of the law library during the 1920's arguably limited the study of law at the College. In 1932 the College hired the first librarian to supervise the law collection, and presumably, eventually an independent law library. Soon after John Latane Lewis assumed this new position, the law school secured accreditation by the American Bar Association. The law school received accreditation by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) in 1936.

Lewis' ability to develop the collection was limited by insufficient funds, and the library's acquisitions were insignificant in number. In June of 1936, the annual president's report indicated that the total volume of the law library was 8,865. Funding for law materials totaled only $1,913.90 in 1936

Notwithstanding the ABA and AALS accreditations, when the College's Board of Visitors met in early 1938, William and Mary President John Stewart Bryan convinced the Board to downgrade the School of Jurisprudence to the Department of Jurisprudence. At the same time, a special committee composed of Board members was charged to study further the law program, which had bestowed only twenty-three degrees since its revival nearly two decades earlier.

In May of 1939 the Board of Visitors, following the special committee's recommendation, announced plans to abolish the law school. However, an outcry from current law students and law alumni forced the Board to reverse its action only a week later. Ironically, the Board announced not only that it would retain the law school, but that it would strengthen it. The new decade gave birth to escalated interest in the law program and an increase in the number of students studying law at William and Mary. By 1941, enrollment in the Department of Jurisprudence jumped from 79 to 140.

Unfortunately, World War II interrupted the progress of the developing law program and led to a series of rapid changes and instability in the library's leadership. Lewis left on leave for war from April of 1943, never to return as law librarian. Charles Harper Anderson became law librarian in the fall of 1946 after his graduation from Marshall-Wythe, remaining in that position only until 1947 when he joined the law faculty. Anderson was followed by Virginia Blanche Till, the College's first female law librarian, who served until the end of 1949. Chester Stoyle Baker, Jr. took over in 1950, and managed to stabilize the position, serving until 1959.

In 1953, the Department of Jurisprudence split from the School of Government and Citizenship, and, under the leadership of Dean Dudley Warner Woodbridge, became the Marshall-Wythe School of Law. The establishment of an endowed chair in taxation reflected the addition to the curriculum of a Master of Law and Taxation, the first degree of its kind. Unknown to many, the law school survived an external threat in the Spring of 1957. One year earlier the Virginia General Assembly created the State Council of Higher Education to, in part, recommend elimination of duplicative programs in the several state colleges and universities. Davis Y. Paschall, who would in 1960 become president of William and Mary, had only days earlier been appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction. At his first State Council meeting Paschall learned that the Council listed the William and Mary law school as its number one priority slated for elimination.

Paschall was convinced that the General Assembly would approve the Council's recommendation, should it see it. In an emotional speech he told the Council that "[t]o abolish the law school that Jefferson established would be like removing the very heart of a College that is, indeed, a 'Pearl of Great Pride' to this Commonwealth." If that wasn't enough, he cautioned that abolishing the school ". . . would be a gross and callous disregard of the Biblical admonition: 'Remove not thy ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.' (Proverbs 22:28). It would constitute an unforgivable betrayal of priceless heritage, and its perpetrators would be silhouetted in infamy." The Council agreed to hold in abeyance its recommendation to abolish the law school, and did not send it to the General Assembly.

Anna Booth Johnson replaced Baker as law librarian in 1960, becoming the first full time librarian, but remaining, like her predecessors, under the joint supervision of the College librarian and the law school dean. The law library began receiving a much needed infusion of funds from the College. Private support also was forthcoming. A $5,000 gift by the late Charles Phineas Sherman, Lecturer Emeritus in Roman, Canon, and Civil Law, enabled the library to build a collection of Roman law materials. Another gift made by Marie Estaire Baumert in the name of her brother Guillermo Butler Sherwell, eventually also would be used for the purchase of law books. Both endowments continue to the present date.

Unfortunately, by 1965 the old financial woes had returned. The library's funding and space problems coincided with, and in some sense were due to, a period of steady growth at the law school. By September of 1962 law school enrollment had reached 91 full time law students, the largest enrollment yet in the history of the school. Enrollment increases continued throughout the 1960s, and by 1969 the size of the school had doubled again, to 190 students. In ten years the school had quadrupled in size.

Larger enrollment created pressure for additional law school space. Throughout the 1960's, and through the next decade, the law library was housed in several different buildings. During most of the sixties the law library's general collection was divided between a portion of the basement of Bryan Hall, and the basement of the adjoining Camm Hall; the tax collection was housed solely in Camm.

The law school was able to address some of its space problems upon the completion of Swem Library in 1967. The law school moved into the old general library, which became known as the Marshall-Wythe Building. The library occupied most of the first floor of Marshall-Wythe, plus the entire basement.

The 1970's began with an incredible increase in the size of the student body, with the entering class more than doubling from 76 entering students in 1969 to 182 in 1970. Anna Booth Johnson stepped down as law librarian in 1971, followed by J. Madison Whitehead, the first to hold a law degree. The seventies also saw the last remnants of College control over the law library disappear; by 1973 the law library was totally autonomous from the main library on campus.

Despite its new independence, the law library continued to experience the usual array of problems. Gaining autonomy from the main library did not necessarily mean additional staffing. The law collection, which in 1973 had approximately 73,000 volumes, was adequate in primary materials, but weak in periodicals and recently published texts.

The increasing number of enrolled law students further strained the library's already limited resources. Total enrollment jumped from 190 students in 1969 to 459 in 1973. The library staff, which now consisted of two professionals and five full-time clerical staff, could not address the massive increase in the use of the library and its collection. And the facilities were dismal. The library operated in three different buildings: the main collection and library administrative offices were housed in the Marshall-Wythe Building; additional seating and space for duplicate materials were located in the Wren Building; incoming books were processed on the third floor of James Blair Hall.

After the ABA inspected the law school in 1975. James P. White, Consultant on Legal Education to the ABA and head of the visiting committee, reported that "[t]he Law School has possibly the most inadequate physical plant of any ABA approved law school in the country." Although the library collection had reached the 100,000 volume mark, the library was the source of much of White's criticism, in particular its poor facilities and small staff.

1976 began the turning point for the struggling law school and law library. William B. Spong, a prominent and politically well-connected Virginian (he had served for ten years as a Virginia State Senator, and was a member of the United States Senate from 1967-73), was appointed dean of the law school. The Virginia General Assembly soon allocated an additional $50,000 for law library collection development, and more significantly, funds for site preparation and utilities for a new law school building to be located approximately one-half mile from the main campus, adjacent to land where the National Center for State Courts planned to build a new headquarters building.

Staffing needs were addressed when two Swem librarians were transferred to the law library. In May 1976, as an interim measure to address some of the most pressing space problems--particularly the ABA's insistence on more library seating--the law library relinquished what little space it had in the Wren basement, and picked up additional space in the Camm building.

Whitehead departed Marshall-Wythe in mid-1976 and was replaced by Caroline Chandler Heriot. Heriot quickly transformed the library, expanding the hours the library was open, but also banning smoking, food, and drinks in the library. The law faculty adopted her proposal that new courses could not be approved absent a library impact statement. In that same year, the library received from Louis Ellenson, a 1950 graduate of the law school, a gift in the form of an endowment, the income of which was to be used to purchase books.

Heriot spent most of her time planning and overseeing construction of the library portion of the eagerly awaited new law school building, which opened in the Fall of 1980. With 37,270 net square feet on three floors, the new library was nearly triple the size of the 13,994 square feet occupied previously. The new library could accommodate 250,000 bound volumes and had seating for 458 patrons. The law library also moved into the electronic age later that year when it acquired its first Lexis terminal.

The move into the new building also enabled the library to obtain an accurate collection count for the first time in many years. Not surprisingly, the collection was smaller than had been reported in the ABA annual surveys. At the time of the move into the new facility, the library had approximately 155,000 volumes and volume equivalents, with about 110,000 volumes in hard copy.

An ABA/AALS site evaluation team that visited the law school in 1981 for their sabbatical inspection still had several concerns about the law library, including uneven funding, uneven collection development, and an over-dependence upon gift moneys to purchase new materials. The team reported that the four-person professional staff was too small in size, that the library relied too heavily on student help for basic library duties, and that salaries for professional, classified and student staff members were inadequate. These problems the law school could, and eventually would, address. However, the most difficult burden for the library and law school was the illness and, in December 1981, the passing, of Caroline Heriot.

Associate Law Librarian Ed Edmonds was named Acting Law Librarian, and served in this capacity until he was appointed Director in 1983. Under Edmonds tenure the law library passed the 200,000 volume mark in 1985, a doubling in the size of the collection from ten years earlier. That same year a small computer lab was set up within the law library; by 1987 it had expanded to nine stations. The law library subscribed to Westlaw in 1987, and that same year inaugurated its online public access catalog, "LION."

In the meantime, the collection had grown to nearly 250,000 volumes and volume equivalents. More good news was in store, for in December 1987 Pearl Jones, who for nearly forty years served as private secretary to five College presidents, bequeathed $500,000 to the College in the name of James P. and Grace Virginia Alexander "to be used exclusively for the purchase of books for the law library . . . ."

Edmonds departed William and Mary in the Summer of 1988 to become director of the Loyola University of New Orleans Law Library. He was succeeded that August by James S. Heller. Heller obtained funds to hire an additional reference librarian, which would bring to five the number of professional staff. During the 1989-90 academic year the four dual-degree librarians began teaching the legal research component of the law school's innovative Legal Skills program. In that same year the library created new offices for its public services staff on the library's main floor, built a faculty library, and relocated the entire collection.

In 1991 Heller convinced the College's Computer Services department to oversee the law school lab in the same manner that they ran other computer labs around the campus. The Computer Center doubled the number of PC's from ten to twenty, and consolidated the networked PC's on the library's top floor, adjacent to the new twelve-station Lexis and Westlaw Temporary Learning Center. In the meantime, the library was installing additional Lexis and Westlaw workstations; within a year thirty-four computer research stations were available throughout the library.

By mid-1992 the statewide recession had eased, and substantial additional funding was made available to the law library, particularly for collection development. In fiscal year 1992-93 the materials budget shot up to nearly $700,000. The library was able to use much of the new funding to enhance its treatise collection, and acquired its 300,000th volume in 1993. That also was the year that law school offered, for the first time, a 3-credit advanced research course, which was team taught by the dual degree librarians. The library, meanwhile, had added another professional position. Now with six librarians, the library could finally offer professional reference assistance weekday evenings and Sunday afternoons. A seventh position was added in 1994. To meet its mission to instruct more students in advanced research skills, in 1999 1-credit Advanced Research Technique mini-courses supplanted the 3-credit course.

By the end of the 20th Century it was clear that the existing library facility needed to be expanded and renovated. Planning for a $16.8M law library addition and renovation project began in 2003. In the spring of 2005, construction began on an addition that added 22,000 net square feet to the library. The addition was completed in the summer of 2006. Immediately thereafter, the 1980 facility was gutted, and then rebuilt from the ground up. The entirely new 58,000 square foot law library opened in the summer of 2007, and was dedicated later that year as the Wolf Law Library to honor alumnus Henry C. Wolf, who received his B.A. from William & Mary in 1964, and his J.D. from the William & Mary Law School in 1966.

From its distinguished beginnings as the young nation's first law school, to its closing during the tumultuous Civil War, to its reopening in the 1920's as the country itself began to roar, the William & Mary Law School mirrors the development of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the nation. With the completion of The Wolf Law Library in 2007, the W&M Law School has a library facility that befits the esteemed men and women who have taught and studied here, and those who will pass through these doors in the future.

(This is an abridged, slightly edited, and updated version of:  "America's First Law School Library: History of the College of William and Mary's Marshall-Wythe Law Library, 1779-1995," a chapter in Law Librarianship: Historical Perspectives, published for the American Association of Law Libraries by Fred B. Rothman & Co. (1996).)