852: RARE – The Evolution of an Alumni Directory

Creating an alumni directory, even in today’s electronic age, is no easy task. In order to gather information for the most recent Harvard Law School Alumni Directory over 30,000 questionnaires were mailed to gather information from alumni. The current directory contains such information as degree(s) and date(s) conferred, practice specializations, professions for alumni not practicing law, and current address.

The Manuscript (HLS MS 1488) above was an early effort by the Law School to track its enrollment.

The alumni directory at the Harvard Law School had its inception in the early nineteenth century, sixteen years after the Law School’s founding. The first “alumni directory” was modeled after the triennial catalogue issued by Harvard College. This directory, then referred to as a Triennial Catalogue, was issued every three years from 1833 to 1851.

Triennial Catalogue

After the practice was terminated, one last triennial was issued in 1858. The Triennials listed former students alphabetically and by year, general information about the school, as well as courses of study and their accompanying academic texts. Unlike later directories, we do not know what methods were employed for collecting this information.

In the summer of 1886, the newly founded Harvard Law School Association suggested the school create another alumni directory in preparation for the 250th anniversary of the founding of Harvard College. The idea behind this directory was to locate and reach as many former students as possible for the anniversary celebration, which was to take place the following November. In order to do this, the school was faced with the arduous task of determining the present address or date and place of death of “every man who had ever been in the school.”

For a detailed description of the process, see pages vi-vii of the Quinquennial Catalogue.

Quinquennial Catalogue

The school was committed to continuing the catalogue, now referred to as the Quinquennial Catalogue, and stated so in the preface to the first edition, “It must not be supposed, however, that the work of obtaining information is to cease because the catalogue has been issued. On the contrary, it will be continued without interruption….” The Quinquennial continued to be issued until 1953. In 1958 it changed its name to the Alumni Directory of the Harvard Law School.

Post contributed by:
Lesley Schoenfeld
Special Collections Access Services Coordinator

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