852 RARE : Learning at Litchfield Law School

852 RARE : Learning at Litchfield Law School

The Harvard Law School Library is pleased to announce the digitization of its collection of student notebooks from the Litchfield Law School.

The Litchfield Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut is generally considered to have been the first formal law school in the United States. Established in 1784 by Tapping Reeve (1744-1823) the school was in operation for almost 50 years, closing in 1833.  Reeve was the sole lecturer until he hired former student James Gould (1770-1838) in 1798, which was the same year that he became a judge on Connecticut’s Superior Court. The Harvard Law School Library’s Historical & Special Collections has 64 volumes of Litchfield student notebooks recorded by 17 students between 1803 and 1825. An example is this page from the notebook of Elisha Whittlesey:

First page of Elisha Whittlesey’s notes on James Gould’s Contracts course in 1813. From HLS MS 4106, vol. 2, Hollis 2143582.

Approximately 1000 men attended Litchfield Law School and many of them went on to significant careers in law, business or education.  Notable students include: Aaron Burr, Levi Woodbury, John Pierce Brace and John C. Calhoun.  (The Litchfield Historical Society has a complete database of students). In addition to the contributions made by many students of the school to the development of the United States, the notebooks provide valuable insight into the development of American common law.  The notebooks can be accessed through the Litchfield Law School Student Notebooks finding aid.

Post contributed by Edwin Moloy, Curator of Modern Manuscripts.