Albert Levitt taught Criminal Law, Insurance, Quasi-Contracts, Public Corporations, Suretyship, Mortgages, Conflict of Laws, and Bankruptcy and Insolvency at the Washington and Lee University School of Law from 1924 to 1927. He was near the end in a line of assistant law professors who served from one to three years as the fourth faculty member in the school. Years later, few alumni could remember much about most of these men. But everyone remembered Albert Levitt.
Levitt was likely the most unusual, colorful, and, some would contend, eccentric law teacher in the history of Washington and Lee. He was also a teacher of great ability whose classroom method of narrow and deep analysis was reflected in his examinations. He had his criminal law class read Theodore Dreiserís An American Tragedy, which was based on the New York case People v. Gilette, and gave an exam question about the guilt or innocence of the main character of the novel. He would give his classes a conventional assignment, only to spend the entire class time on one case. He would lead the class in discussion of the detailed facts and would isolate every issue. The other cases were disregarded in class, but would be part of the examination.
Levittís method of underscoring casebooks was known to all at W&L. He would underline the facts in blue, the questions in yellow, the holdings in red, and the reasons in green. He would bring his most recent publication to class and say, "It is with great modesty that I refer you to my latest contribution." He told a Virginia Military Institute graduate, who later became a brigadier general, that military training was not proper preparation to study law as it warped the studentís mind.
Levittís personal life was also unconventional for Lexington, Virginia in the 1920's. His wife, Elsie Hill, retained her maiden name, and their daughter was known as Leslie Hill-Levitt. There was apparently a personality clash between Levitt and Dean Moreland. When Levittís contract expired in 1927, it was not renewed.
Albert Levitt was born on March 14, 1887, in Woodbine Maryland. He joined the army in 1904 and served seven years, attaining the rank of sergeant. He then attended Meadville Theological School, a Unitarian institution, receiving his B.D. in 1911. Two years later he was awarded a B.A. from Columbia University. He served as a lecturer at Columbia before joining the American Ambulance Corps in the French Army in 1915. There followed a year teaching philosophy at Colgate, a short time as an ROTC sergeant major at Harvard, and, from 1917-1919, World War I service as an Army chaplain. As part of the Oise-Aisne and Meuse-Argonne offensives he was both wounded and gassed.
Following the war Levitt received his LL.B. from Harvard in 1920. He served one year law teaching appointments at George Washington University and the University of North Dakota. Having married Elsie Mary Hill in 1921, Levitt earned his J.D. from Yale in 1923. He was a lecturer in medical jurisprudence at Johns Hopkins before joining the W&L law faculty.
Levittís career after leaving W&L retained its pattern of moving frequently and being thoroughly unconventional. He taught at the Brooklyn College of Law of St. Lawrence University, lectured in the School of Commerce at New York University, and was a professor of law at Hastings College of Law. His government service included the U.S. Assay Commission, representing the Department of Justice on the codification of nationality laws, and special advisor to the Office of Production Management. During the years 1936-1937, Levitt sat as U.S. District Court judge for the Virgin Islands.
He ran for governor of Connecticut in 1932 "... that I may end the illegal and selfish exploitation of our state and its natural resources ...". He was the candidate of the Independent Republicans, also known as the "dry Republicans," at a time when both major parties were urging the repeal of prohibition. His platform called for regulation of utilities, a survey of the stateís welfare institutions, rural road building, abolishment of child labor, old age pensions, equality of women, and better provision for war veterans. In 1950, Levitt ran for the U.S. Senate from California.
During all of this time, Levitt wrote on a variety of legal subjects including international criminal law, public utilities, and community property. He also wrote on matters of religion. His final publication was a book entitled Judas Iscariot, an Imaginary Autobiography.
He divorced Elsie Hill in 1956 and later married Linda Grew. He died in New Hampshire in June 1968.