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Washington and Lee University School of Law

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History of the Law Library

When it opened in 1849, Judge John White Brockenbrough's Lexington School of Law was a one-man faculty, no campus, no building and no library. In the early 1870s, after the law school had become an integral part of Washington and Lee University, the faculty still complained that "there is absolutely no law library here." Though its origins are unrecorded, by 1881 there was a separate law library to which additions were made every year. In the 1890s, New Yorker, Dudley Field, donated 1,200 volumes of treatises. Philadelphia attorney Vincent L. Bradford gave money annually for the purchase of books during the 1880s and 1890s.

Near the beginning of the 1900s, three events hastened the growth of the library in size and importance. The first was the erection of Tucker Memorial Hall, the first building devoted entirely to the School of Law. The adoption of the case method around this same time required constant reference to law library materials. Finally, upon the death of Vincent Bradford, the law library received his 1,000 volume law library collection along with an annuity "for the maintenance and increase of the library." In gratitude, the library was named the Vincent L. Bradford Law Library. Electric lights were installed in the library so that students could study until the 10 p.m. closing. By 1906, the library was open 24 hours a day--a tradition that continues today.

On December 16, 1934, Tucker Memorial Hall was destroyed by a fire that consumed all 11,000 volumes held in the Bradford Library. Immediately, plans were made to replace the law school building with a modern structure in harmony with the architectural pattern of the Washington College group. The new Tucker Hall was occupied by the law school on February 16, 1936. The book collection was rebuilt with insurance money and a $10,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation.

From the late 1890s until 1939, students served one year appointments as law librarians. When Assistant Professor Theodore Allyn Smedley (pictured) became the first non-student law librarian in 1939, he found himself in charge of a library which fulfilled "in every respect the requirements prescribed by the Association of American Law Schools for member schools."

World War II all but emptied the W&L law school. Only a handful of professors and students remained. They met in other buildings on campus while Tucker Hall was used as the Army's Special Services training quarters. The law school returned to its Tucker Hall home in 1946. The reading room of the library was expanded and a supplemental reading room was constructed immediately after the war. Additional library space was added in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1976 law school moved into Lewis Hall, which houses the Wilbur C. Hall Law Library, provided the library with greatly expanded and improved facilities. This included a separate faculty library, a rare book room, and an audio-visual media center.

The audio-visual facilities were developed with funds from the estate of Wilbur C. Hall, an alumnus and a law school benefactor. Classes, speeches, and other activities may be audio or video recorded from a remote media center, and live or recorded events may be distributed through the campus network.

On-line legal database searching first became available to law students and law faculty in 1978. It is now an integral part of the law school's information resources and continues to grow in importance. The University on-line bibliographic system replaced the library card catalog in late 1991.

To house the generous gift by alumnus Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. of his professional and personal papers, and to keep pace with new demands for additional faculty offices and clinical space, an addition to Lewis Hall was completed in 1992. This addition includes expanded main reading room space, in addition to the stack area and work space needed to house and maintain the Powell Papers.

In 2008, the faculty library was dismantled to make room for additional faculty offices and seminar rooms.  By 2009, the stacks were at virtual capacity.  A systematic weeding of the collection was undertaken to make space for several more years.  Future additions to the collection will reflect both the evolution of legal education and scholarship, and an ever greater reliance on electronically delivered resources to accomplish both.

2015 brought "Phase II" of renovations to Sydney Lewis Hall, which included significant and much needed changes to the library.  Group study rooms were constructed and additional common study areas were added.  The offices of the librarians were made more prominent and accessible. Circulation and information technology services were also made easier to access.

Part of the “Phase I” building changes in 2014 had included the moving and consolidation on mobile compact shelving of parts of the book stacks.  This new stack area is adjacent to the newly constructed History Room.


Washington and Lee University School of Law Librarians

1897-1939 Student librarians serving one year appointments
1939-1942 Theodore Allyn Smedley (Assistant Professor of Law and Librarian)
1947-1949 Catherine McDowell
1949-1952 Wanda Lee Spears, A.B., LL.B.
1952-1957 Erson McGruder Faris, B.S., LL.B.
1953-1954 Faris and James William Horne Stewart, B.S., LL.B.
1957-1958 James William Horne Stewart, A.B., LL.B.
1958-1972 Louise Pendleton Moore, A.B.
1967-1968 Jill Perry Huntley, A.B. (Acting Librarian)
1972-1978 Peyton Ring Neal, Jr., B.S.,J.D. (Associate Professor of Law and Law Librarian)
1978-2009 Sarah K. Wiant, B.A., M.L.S., J.D. (Director of the Law Library and Professor of Law)
2009- Caroline L. Osborne, B.A., J.D., LL.M, M.S.L.S. 


The Wilbur C. Hall Law Library of the Washington and Lee University School of Law is open 24 hours a day every day of the year. The library, which comprises approximately 58,155 square feet, is an integral part of the law school building, connecting directly to the student carrels, student offices, Powell Archives, classrooms, and the faculty office area.

Washington and Lee's undergraduate library is also open 24 hours a day during academic terms. Both libraries aim to provide extensive access to the information sources of a multi-disciplinary world. 

The law library has been the recipient of generous donations from the individuals named here.


Law Library Volume 

Year     Volumes   Year     Volumes
1906   4,000   1972   70,000
1920   5,000   1974   85,000
1925   7,000   1975   100,000
1934   1,000   1976   150,000
1940   13,000   1979   200,000
1946   15,000   1992   293,000
1950   20,000   1996   340,000
1962   30,000   2002   403,000
1969   40,000   2008   439,347
1971   50,000