Part II: The Making of “Bobbleheads by The Green Bag”

On December 6, 2021, UVA Law Special Collections debuted Bobbleheads by The Green Bag. The display, located in the Arthur J. Morris Law Library’s entryway, is a semi-permanent addition to our ongoing exhibitions. The exhibit is curated by Meggan Cashwell and Addie Patrick. 

The blog that follows is the second of a two-part series. If you are curious about the history of The Green Bag and the whimsical nature of acquiring their Supreme Court bobbleheads, we encourage you to check out our initial post here. What follows is a synopsis of our delightful conversation with Green Bag editor-in-chief and bobblehead creator Ross Davies.

My curatorial process with Addie always begins the same way: with copious notetaking and countless brainstorming sessions. Often the topic and timing of the exhibit is obvious, like our tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg upon the Justice’s passing in 2020. At other times, we try to create a concept that is both unique and historical, such as the department’s forthcoming exhibition on UVA Law student doodles (credit Special Collections head Randi Flaherty). The details matter most when curating an exhibit. Every object is carefully selected to represent the narrative and every word of exhibit text is pored over many times. On installation day, we scooch placards a little to the left and right and inch materials this way and that until everything is perfect. Our love of detail piqued our interest in The Green Bag’s Supreme Court Justice bobbleheads, each one decorated with intricate features—some obvious to the onlooker, others more subtle and nuanced. It is Ross Davies’ deep appreciation for detail along with American legal culture that inspired him to create The Green Bag’s Supreme Court bobbleheads as the journal’s editor-in-chief 

Color photograph of two women placing bobblehead figurines in exhibit cases"
Meggan Cashwell (right) and Addie Patrick (left) install Bobbleheads by The Green Bag in the UVA Law Library entryway.

Addie and I first became acquainted with the bobbleheads when we were curating Remembering Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the Law Library. Kent Olson, who recently retired as Head of Research Services, kept the library’s collection on his desk. We inquired if we could borrow Justice Ginsburg’s bobblehead for the exhibit and feature it with related paraphernalia. After Kent transferred the bobbleheads to Special Collections upon his retirement this past summer, we approached the department heads and library director about putting the figurines on display.  

Color photograph of a bobblehead figurine of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg bobblehead, 2012.

As we began researching, we quickly realized the bobbleheads are not your average ceramic statues. Since The Green Bag released its first bobblehead in 2003, they have become immensely popular in the legal community. The Law Library’s bobbleheads are not the only ones you will come across at the Law School. They adorn the desks of various faculty members as well. It did not take long for Addie and me to feel the enthusiasm around the bobbleheads. We squealed with excitement in the stacks of the library one afternoon when we flipped through the pages of a few past Green Bag issues and came across two bobblehead certificates.  

Our quest for bobblehead knowledge led us back to Kent who referred us to Law professor Thomas Nachbar. He kindly chatted with us regarding his role as a contributing editor (see part I), but he deferred to Ross Davies for all things bobblehead related. Tom introduced us to Ross via email and, a few days before winter break, we sat down with him over Zoom.  

Our desire to bring some reprieve to exam-weary students via the bobbleheads is exactly what Ross intended when he came up with the idea nearly twenty years ago: “It is a part of being human to have a sense of humor, to smile, to have a little bit of fun.” At a time when bobbleheads were all the rage in sports, Ross decided The Green Bag should create a bobblehead in the likeness of then Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. The bobblehead’s features would nod (pun intended) to some of the Chief Justice’s most noteworthy opinions. 

Color photograph of a bobblehead figurine of William H. Rehnquist
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist bobblehead, 2003.

First, Ross had to determine who would make a bobblehead that would find its way to the Chief Justice himself. After purchasing multiple bobbleheads and exploring their different qualities, Ross determined that Alexander Global Promotions (AGP) was the obvious choice. According to their site, AGP is the number one bobblehead producer in the world. Ross soon found himself on the phone with Malcolm Alexander, founder of the company, who shared his enthusiasm for the concept. A collaboration blossomed that remains at the center of Green Bag bobblehead production today.

Much like our curatorial methods, Ross has his own involved and detailed process for creating the next bobblehead. Once he and other Green Bag editors select a Justice, Ross begins reading that Justice’s opinions. The facts of the cases, the analogies Justices make in their opinions, and the interesting words they use become the basis for bobblehead annotations. Ross then writes page after page of specs and sends them off to AGP. From there, Ross and AGP go back and forth on drafts until the bobblehead is just right. Ross wanted Justice John Paul Stevens to stand on a Sony Betamax as a reference to Sony v. Universal (1984). Malcolm Alexander suggested that Ross purchase that particular model and send it to AGP so that they could design the base of the bobblehead as an exact replica. Ross explained that the Sony Betamax he purchased sat on a table as a visual reference for AGP employees during production.

Color photograph of a bobblehead figurine of John Paul Stevens
Justice John Paul Stevens bobblehead, 2004.

The bobbleheads are hand painted, allowing AGP to provide the level of specificity the Green Bag desires for each figurine. The forthcoming Justice Sonia Sotomayor bobblehead is standing on a plate (a reference to her opinion in a patent case), with a slice of pie and a loaf of bread at her feet (references to her use of analogies involving pies, loaves, and slices). AGP made each item look as close to the actual baked good as possible. “Do you know how hard it is to paint a piece of ceramic to look like a piece of apple pie?Ross exclaimed. “We challenge their art; we challenge their ability to make cool things. Justice Sotomayor is wearing a baseball mitt (a reference to a baseball analogy in yet another opinion), and not just any mitt. It is modeled from the mitt of Jorge Posada, catcher for the New York Yankees. Justice Sotomayor is a longtime Yankees fan and sits in the Judge’s Chambers section at Yankee Stadium.

Color photograph of a bobblehead figurine of Sonia Sotomayor
Forthcoming Justice Sonia Sotomayor bobblehead. Image courtesy Ross Davies, 2022.

As for choosing the next Justice to feature, it is largely “arbitrary and capricious” in true Green Bag fashion. Unsurprisingly, Ross says he receives many suggestions. The Green Bag does have one “rule” for the present Court: A Justice has to serve for a minimum of ten years before getting a bobblehead. Ross admits that there is a sense of finality to summing up a current Justice’s career. In response, The Green Bag has started making “pocket part” bobbleheads—mini versions of the originals that feature later opinions. The journal has already produced two pocket versions for Justice William H. Rehnquist.  

The Green Bag’s decision to make non-Justice bobbleheads in recent years has allowed them to include other lawyers who have made a profound impact on the profession. When we asked Ross why he selected young Thurgood Marshall, Belva Ann Lockwood, and William T. Coleman, he simply responded, “They are lawyers whose contributions merit memorialization in a bobblehead.” Ross’ love of American legal history, which he teaches at George Mason University among other subjects, is evident in every bobblehead he crafts. 

At the end of the day, Ross says The Green Bag is simply trying to be nice: “We’re not in this to score points.” The ultimate purpose of the bobbleheads, besides giving a Justice a good-natured laugh, is to spread knowledge about the Supreme Court: “We have a chance to contribute a tiny bit to people understanding the depth and character and trajectory of the Supreme Court. Our challenge is to create and properly orient what we do so it fits the flow of history.” 

Written by


Meggan Cashwell

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator at the UVA Law Library.

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Part I: The Making of “Bobbleheads by The Green Bag”

On December 6, 2021, UVA Law Special Collections debuted Bobbleheads by The Green Bag. The display, located in the Arthur J. Morris Law Library’s entryway, is a semi-permanent addition to our ongoing exhibitions. The exhibit is curated by Meggan Cashwell and Addie Patrick.

The blog that follows is the first of a two-part series. The post below provides a history of the law journal The Green Bag and its bobblehead collectibles as well as a behind-the-scenes look at our curatorial process. The second post will feature an interview with Green Bag editor-in-chief and bobblehead creator Ross Davies.

Patrons and passersby who come to the Law Library will notice some familiar faces as they enter through the main doors. At the end of the reader rails, which narrate the Law School’s two-hundred-year history, are two display cases now filled with the nodding figurines of Supreme Court Justices and other notable U.S. lawyers. These whimsical bobbleheads are produced by The Green Bag, a quarterly law journal first published from 1889-1914 and revived in 1997.

Color photograph of bobblehead figurines
The Law Library’s collection of Green Bag bobbleheads.

The Green Bag was likely named after the green bag that many nineteenth-century legal professionals used to carry their papers. The idea for the journal came from Charles C. Soule, an entrepreneurial bookseller from Boston who had been publishing an entertaining advertising brochure, Legal Bibliography,since October 1881. The first Green Bag issues, which Soule began publishing in 1889, included legal cases in verse, portraits of members of the bench and bar, sketches of American law schools, and articles on legal history.1 The Green Bag journal was reestablished in 1997 by Ross Davies, David Gossett, and Montgomery Kosma, three former classmates at the University of Chicago Law School. This “second edition” publishes similar articles designed to inform and amuse legal professionals.2 UVA Law professor Thomas Nachbar, who attended Chicago Law with the three founders, serves as a contributing editor. Nachbar designed the original website for The Green Bag. He and his colleagues admired the publication because they longed for a law journal that would invite discussion and inquiry but not demand the formality of rigorous Bluebook citations.

“We need a forum in which legal thinkers can reveal their thoughts without spending six months to encase them in the cloying paraphernalia prescribed by the prevailing mores of contemporary scholarship. We need a periodical to which the inquiring reader can turn for amusement, enlightenment, and even instruction without having to take the weekend off. The exchange of ideas should be a treat, not a chore; and it is in that spirit that the Green Bag 2d is conceived.”   

David P. Currie, Green Bag3

 In 2003, The Green Bag began producing bobblehead dolls and other collectibles, which add to the journal’s whimsy. The idea came from Davies (more on that in our forthcoming post) who released the first bobblehead, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, in 2003. Standing atop a map of Carbon County, Wyoming, and holding volume 529 of the U.S. Reports, the Rehnquist bobblehead launched The Green Bag’s production of legal collectibles which portray  “Justices as judges, respectfully yet entertainingly.” Davies designs these “ceramic portraits,” as he calls them, and encourages collectors to guess the meanings behind each figurine’s accessories.4 Following a bobblehead’s release, The Green Bag publishes an annotation page which provides citations for the bobblehead. 

Color photograph of bobblehead figurine of Justice William H. Rehnquist
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist bobblehead, 2003.

Green Bag Supreme Court bobbleheads, of which there are 28 so far, span the history of the Court, from the very first Justices to those currently serving. Each Justice has a unique set of features (annotations) that represent some of their most notable opinions, which occasionally incorporate some personal aspects as well. Sandra Day O’Connor’s bobblehead is wearing shoes that replicate the ones she wore when she was sworn in as the first female Justice on September 25, 1981. Sitting beside her bobblehead is a bobbling cow, signifying her childhood spent on the Lazy B Ranch in Arizona, an experience Justice O’Connor considers instrumental to her career. In recent years, The Green Bag has started making non-Justice bobbleheads including Belva Ann Lockwood, young Thurgood Marshall, and William T. Coleman Jr. The bobbleheads are handmade by Alexander Global Promotions.  

Color photograph of bobblehead figurine of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor bobblehead, 2004.

The Green Bag produces about a thousand of each bobblehead and distributes them in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner. Some subscribers find bobblehead certificates printed within the pages of their Green Bag issue. The certificates must then be delivered in-person to the offices of O’Melveny & Myers, LLP, in Washington, DC, the official “bobbleheadquarters,” according to The Green Bag’s website. On occasion, The Green Bag prints certificates on the backs of trading cards called “Supreme Court Sluggers,” many of which feature paintings by John Sargent III and Alec Spangler. Like the bobbleheads and the more recent snow globes, The Green Bag gives these cards away “arbitrarily and capriciously.” Surprise certificates also show up in items auctioned for charity and in other unexpected places.5 Lucky Law School librarian Kate Boudouris received the Justice Byron R. White bobblehead when she attended a presentation by Davies at the 2019 American Association of Law Libraries Annual Conference.  

The Law Library’s collection of bobbleheads, which is extensive but incomplete, adorned the desk of Kent Olson, former Head of Research Services. Olson had been collecting the bobbleheads on the library’s behalf since 2003. He tendered his certificates with Nachbar who, at one time, helped distribute the bobbleheads as a contributing editor. Once distribution transferred to O’Melveny and Myers in DC, Olson sent a friend to pick up the bobbleheads on the library’s behalf. Olson turned the bobbleheads over to Law Special Collections when he retired in the summer of 2021. The bobbleheads are a unique addition to the library’s archives, which primarily consist of print materials.  

Color photograph of woman cleaning bobblehead with paintbrush
Meggan Cashwell, library postdoc, cleans each bobblehead in preparation for their debut.

The exhibit traces the history of The Green Bag as a publication and explores the process of acquiring the bobbleheads. The display is organized chronologically, with past and present Justices grouped separately. We intentionally timed the display to provide a bit of fun to students and faculty during exams. For the initial two weeks, we invited patrons to take our own version of The Green Bag’s “Lunchtime Law Quiz.” Those who answered three out of five questions correctly were rewarded with UVA Law prizes 

Color photograph of two women photographing bobbleheads
Jane McBrian (left), digitization specialist, and Addie Patrick (right), library coordinator, photograph the bobbleheads for eventual inclusion on the Law Special Collections website.

Our display is, in part, inspired by the University of Minnesota’s online exhibit, “Equal Caricature Under Law,” curated by Barbara Berdahl, Pat Graybil, and Ryan Greenwood. Yale University, the official repository of The Green Bag bobbleheads, also had a display, “Wobbling Justice.” The Law Library intends to add to the exhibit if we are among the lucky subscribers to receive certificates for future bobbleheads.


Content for this exhibit and two-part blog series is indebted to conversations with Kent Olson, Thomas Nachbar, Ryan Greenwood, and Ross Davies.


  1. Ross E. Davies, “Legal-Bibliographical Roots: Fragments of a Green Bag Origin Story” The Green Bag 24, no. 3 (Spring 2021): 253-72.
  2. For more on the Green Bag bobbleheads, see Jessica Gresko, “Bobbleheads Honor Supreme Court Justices,” The Advocate, 1 January 2014,; “Bobbleheads Honor Supreme Court,” Politico, 31 December 2013; Christopher Capozziello, “Relax, Legal Scholars: Bobbleheads are Safe at Yale,” New York Times17 March 2010.
  3. David P. Currie, “Green Bags,” The Green Bag 1, no. 1 (Fall 1997): 1-2.
  4. Ross E. Davies, “Ceramic Spirits of the Law” The Green Bag 24, no. 4 (Summer 2021): 357-70. 
  5. The Green Bag’s website outlines the process of how to acquire a bobblehead.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator at the UVA Law Library.


Meggan Cashwell

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Fifty Years Later: An Archival Look at the 1971 Virginia Constitution


Law Special Collections recently installed Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971 in the lobby of the Law Library. In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1971 Virginia Constitution, the exhibitprovides a retrospective look at Virginia’s Commission on Constitutional Revision through the work of UVA Law professor and constitutional law expert A. E. Dick Howard (’61). Howard served as executive director of the Commission, an appointment he received from Commission chair and former Virginia governor Albertis Harrison Jr. in February 1968. The materials in the exhibit are curated from Howard’s personal papers, which he donated to Law Special Collections in 1981.  

Forming the Commission

In 1968, Law Professor A. E. Dick Howard (’61) began work as executive director of the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Revision, charged with overhauling Virginia’s supreme legal document. In the wake of massive resistance to school integration, Howard and the Commission set out to revise the 1902 Virginia Constitution, which disenfranchised many Black Virginians and explicitly outlawed racial integration in state schools.  

Howard undertook the formidable task of administering the work of the Commission, which consisted of ten members and a chair. The commissioners were highly visible legal and political figures, chosen for their stature in the Commonwealth. They included, among others, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell Jr., civil rights attorney Oliver Hill, former UVA president and Virginia governor Colgate Darden, and Law School Dean Hardy Dillard (’27). 

Pictured are several members of the Commission in Williamsburg, 1969: (left to right) Davis Paschall, Ted Dalton, Alexander Harman Jr., Colgate Darden Jr., Lewis Powell Jr., Albert Bryan Jr., Oliver Hill, and Hardy Dillard.

The Revision Process

Following a lengthy study of recent constitutional revisions in other states, Howard proposed a plan of operation and a timetable for the work of the Commission. He divided the Commission into five subcommittees, each of which was headed by a counsel and series of advisors. Counsels were chosen from faculty at Virginia’s four law schools—including UVA Law Professor Peter Low—and from prominent attorneys in private practice, like Jack Spain JrThe Commission tasked the five subcommittees with recommending revisions to assigned focus areas: Bill of Rights, Franchise, Apportionment, and Education; Taxation and Finance; Legislature and Judiciary; Executive and Corporations; and Local Government.  

Here at the Law School, the Virginia Law Weekly covered the stages of the constitutional revision process, with particular emphasis on the involvement of UVA Law professors and students. During the summer of 1968, the Commission hired eighteen law students as research associates to assist the five subcommittees. Twelve of the eighteen associates were from UVA Law. Frances Farmer, UVA Law Librarian and first female Law faculty member, was appointed as Librarian to the Commission at Howard’s request.

Commission meetings took place at various locations across the state, including Charlottesville. Commission members and counsels are pictured here on the steps of Clark Hall, home of the UVA Law School at the time. The eighteen-person group of Commissioners and counsels included eight UVA Law alums.

The Commission submitted its final report to Governor Mills Godwin and the General Assembly in January 1969. Howard acted as special counsel to the Special Session of the General Assembly charged with amending the constitution in light of the Commission’s proposals. Virginia law required that amendments to the existing constitution be ratified by two sessions of the General Assembly and then submitted to the people in the form of referenda. As special counsel, Howard interpreted the Commission proposals to the Assembly, attended committee meetings, met individually with Assembly members, provided constitutional advice, and finally re-wrote each proposed revision in terms acceptable to both houses of the General Assembly.  

Building Support for Ratification

Former governor and Commission chair Albertis Harrison Jr. presents the final report to Governor Mills Godwin Jr., January 1969.

After Howard and the Committee submitted their revisions to the General Assembly in 1969, Howard set off on a tour around Virginia to encourage public support for the new constitution.  

Four proposals related to amending Virginia’s Constitution were put on the ballot for Virginians to vote upon in November 1970: passage of the main body of the constitution, the potential legalization of lotteries by the Assembly, and two matters pertaining to bond financing. Howard’s speaking engagements created a space for citizens to ask questions and express concerns about the four proposals. 

Howard is pictured here at an open forum in Richmond, Virginia in 1970.

Voters passed the revised constitution with a 72% majority. The other provisions passed by 63% or higher. The new constitution, ratified July 1, 1971, remains in force today and includes a non-discrimination clause as well as guaranteed state and local funding for public education, among other provisions.  

Professor Howard Revisits His Collection

Howard views items on display from his collection.

On September 20, 2021, Professor Howard—who still teaches constitutional law—stopped by the library to view materials from his collections. Howard assisted in the curatorial process, loaning two items including a testimonial given to him by Governor Ralph Northam on the fiftieth anniversary of ratification (on display) as well as a certificate from members of the Commission (featured here). We asked Professor Howard why he donated the materials to the UVA Law Library. He said he felt strongly that the records should be preserved. Howard also noted that much of the work of constitutional revision was completed here since the Law School’s faculty, students, and librarians were involved in the process from the beginning. Most important, Howard was confident library staff would take great care of the materials: “I had so much respect for the work of this law library that I knew my colleagues here would do a first-class job of collecting and curating and making the collection available.” 

We invite patrons to explore Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971, which will remain on display through December 2021.  

On January 11, 1969, during the final meeting of the Commission, the commissioners presented Howard with this certificate in recognition of his outstanding leadership and many contributions. Each commissioner signed the certificate, which now hangs in Howard’s office.

This post is indebted to the work of former archivist Marsha Trimble, who processed Howard’s papers in 1981 and wrote the original description, portions of which are featured here and in the exhibit.

Featured image: Dick Howard and Meggan Cashwell discuss the exhibit “Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971.” 20 September 2021.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator at the UVA Law Library.


Meggan Cashwell

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Negotiating Law and Order on Grounds

Faculty Chairmen and the Lives of Enslaved People at the University of Virginia

To mark the launch of Slavery & the University of Virginia School of Law, a digital initiative exploring the law school’s historical connections to slavery, we offer the following post that recounts interactions between UVA Law faculty in their role as faculty chairmen with enslaved workers on Grounds. At the University of Virginia, precious little exists of first-person slave narratives that might tell us more about the enslaved community here and how they shaped, experienced, and felt about their lives. Even so, the accounts available from the faculty chairmen’s recordings can offer important instances of enslaved individuals’ ingenuity, bravery, and self-determination. We invite patrons to explore related content at


A ‘Firm and Inflexible Execution of the Laws’: Policing Students and Enslaved Workers

In 1827, the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia set into motion several enactments, one of which established a faculty chairman “charged with superintending the execution of all laws made for its government.” The faculty chairman was elected annually by the faculty and paid $500. In 1831, the position was appointed by the Board of Visitors. This role was one of great responsibility and prestige. As chief executive officer, the faculty chairman was tasked with presiding over all the faculty in addition to enforcing order on Grounds. When a serious disciplinary matter arose, it was the duty of the faculty chairman to try the individual(s) involved before the faculty. For less serious offenses, the faculty chairman could determine the consequence on his own.[1] By 1831, the enactments stipulated that the faculty chairman also keep a journal of offenses and reprimands and present them before the Board of Visitors at their meetings. This same requirement was accompanied by the remark that the University expected “a mild and paternal, yet firm and inflexible execution of the laws.”[2]

Two law professors served as faculty chairman during the antebellum period: John Tayloe Lomax (1827-1828, 1830) and John A.G. Davis (1835-1837, 1839-1840).[3] Adjudicating offenses occurring on Grounds—everything from tardiness to outright violence—produced telling interactions between these professors and enslaved workers whose lives overlapped with faculty, students, hotelkeepers, and others. A faculty chairman’s approach to policing on-Grounds offenses effectively relied as much on his knowledge of the rules laid out in the enactments as it did his own personal judgement of how enslaved workers and students should conduct themselves. Collectively, the incidents adjudicated by the faculty chairmen reveal that the presence of enslaved laborers on Grounds shaped and sometimes challenged how faculty chairmen enforced order.


Defining Order Amidst Resistance and Rebellion

While many of the disciplinary guidelines laid out in the enactments involved students and the authority of professors to police and reprimand them when necessary, the enactments applied to all occupants of the University precincts.[4]

Portrait of John Tayloe Lomax
As the first professor of law at the University of Virginia, John Tayloe Lomax adopted Thomas Jefferson’s view that the study of law should include an examination of government and politics within a broad conceptual framework. He served as faculty chairman from 1827-1828 and 1830. Lomax descended from the Tayloes, a prominent slave-holding Virginia family. According to the 1850 U.S. census, Lomax owned 7 enslaved persons in 1850.

The words “slave” or “servant” are never mentioned specifically in the enactments, but enslaved people were regular participants in the chairman’s adjudication duties. Scattered throughout the chairman’s journals are references to acts of resistance and rebellion by enslaved workers on Grounds. Entries also provide at least some sense of the lives of enslaved laborers, including the work they performed; the recreational activities they participated in; the duties they carried out on University property; and, often, illustrations of the abuse and mistreatment they experienced at the hands of University citizens.

Albert was one such enslaved individual who appeared in the 1830-1831 faculty chairman minutes when law professor John Tayloe Lomax served in that position. Albert labored under the employ of Mrs. Sarah Carter Gray, the hotelkeeper for Hotel E in the Academical Village. According to Lomax’s writings, an unidentified enslaved laborer accused Albert of cheating him in a game of cards. It was the unnamed enslaved laborer who appealed to Lomax directly and informed him that the money he had been cheated of belonged to his enslaver, Fendall Carr (the reasons for him having this money remain unknown). Lomax noted that the enslaved laborer was not permitted to appeal to the faculty chairman and therefore “did not deserve, an interference.” Yet, Lomax responded to his request out of a desire to know if gambling was a common occurrence. University enactments in this period banned cards and games of chance from the University precincts.[5]  Lomax issued an inquiry, but the only evidence that surfaced was a lone playing card in Albert’s room. Albert denied the accusation and another enslaved laborer came to his defense, further weakening Lomax’s investigation.[6]

Hotel E visualization
A rendering of Hotel E where Albert labored under the oversight of hotelkeeper Mrs. Sarah Carter Gray. Courtesy JUEL Project

In Albert’s case, Lomax was trying to enforce a particular kind of order, one that reflected his views of the law and allowed him to exercise authority over enslaved people. While making note that the enslaved had no legal right to appeal to him, the circumstances prompted Lomax to accept the request and investigate it out of a desire to prevent riotous activity. Ultimately, Lomax had to determine whether or not students were involved in this gambling ring or if the participation of enslaved persons in a prohibited activity affected student life in some way. Thus, enslaved laborers helped define order on Grounds as well as how far the authority of the faculty chairman could extend. Everyone participated in the adjudication of the offense—even those without legal rights. Albert had the final say by making sure the charge in this instance held no weight in the end, although he was later caught gambling once again and that time the incident was turned over to the proctor.[7]


Drawing Upon the Laws of Slavery and Pro-slavery Ideology

Portrait of John A. G. Davis
John Anthony Gardner Davis became the Law School’s second professor at the young age of twenty-eight and served as faculty chairman from 1835-1837 and again in 1839-1840. Davis lectured to his students that slavery was too engrained in the country’s fabric to be eradicated and that the enslaved people in Virginia were better off enslaved than free. While a professor at the Law School, Davis reported in the 1830 U.S. Federal Census that he owned 17 enslaved persons.

Laws of slavery were a part of the legal theories and philosophies law professors taught in the classroom. Student notebooks reveal that such lectures tended to focus on property, debt, and the circumstances under which an enslaved person might be inherited or seized for debt liability. Nonetheless, questions of the morality of enslavement as well as slave discipline were incorporated into these lessons given the curriculum’s heavy emphasis on legal theory, particularly the theories of William Blackstone. In an 1839 lecture, John A.G. Davis agreed with Blackstone that slavery could not be reconciled with natural law. He believed the greater danger, however, would be to free enslaved people. Maintaining order, he argued, entailed keeping Black persons enslaved but approaching them with a level of humanity:

“All that our circumstances have, hitherto permitted, we have done, as we have made that relation as just and mild as is compatible with the public safety, and with the existence and preservation of that kind of prosperity, and doubt now that these people, are more comfortable and happy than the lower classes of people, in any other country.”[8]

While law professors largely operated within the abstract in the classroom, their position as faculty chairmen provided forums for the real-world application of broader philosophical ideas and pro-slavery ideology. In one of his journal entries dated December 9, 1835, Davis mentions being summoned by Mrs. Carter Gray of Hotel E regarding an incident in which a student boarder assaulted an enslaved worker in the hotel. Gray requested Davis’ response to an infraction that had occurred at breakfast that morning when one of her boarders, W.W. Harris, struck William, her Black enslaved servant. Gray claimed that Harris had conducted himself with “great impropriety” when William was “impertinent to him.” Davis felt that William had not acted “to such a degree however as to excuse [Harris’] rudeness & violence.” This was no act of humanity on the part of Davis towards an enslaved person, William. Rather, Davis sought to protect a power balance on campus, one that Harris had jeopardized by exercising physical discipline towards an enslaved person. Davis believed that Harris, the student, had disrespected Gray’s position as a hotelkeeper by responding that he would strike her servant “whenever it pleased him.” Even as a student, Harris felt he could behave as master over an enslaved person on Grounds by reprimanding William with violence. Davis presented the matter before the faculty and Harris was suspended for a week. Upon his return, he was ordered to move to another hotel.[9]

The everyday context in which Davis operated as faculty chairman was one in which the lives of enslaved people intertwined with the white and free Black community.[10] The incidents Davis recorded in his journal show enslaved laborers navigating various spaces and relationships on their own terms. Davis responded to a variety of claims, including an act as mundane as enslaved servants providing “expensive suppers” to students.[11]  In another instance, Davis found himself inspecting a basket belonging to an enslaved person who was smuggling rum and whiskey for himself and students.[12] As faculty chairman, Davis was tasked with enforcing the rules and keeping order. The reality of life on Grounds meant that enslaved people were consequential players in the community he policed, and that norms associated with slavery were part of the order he sought to maintain.

Even though the spaces and buildings of the Academical Village were designed to hide the day-to-day work of enslaved people from the academic life of the Lawn, the experiences of the enslaved as described in the faculty chairman journals reveal how intertwined the landscapes of enslavement, education, and student life were on Grounds.  Enslaved servants cleaned students’ quarters, ensured they made it to class on time, prepared food, and performed countless other functions for the University. While enslaved people likely benefitted from illicit acts such as smuggling rum, which students no doubt used to their advantage, they also received more severe consequences when caught.



In disciplinary cases involving the enslaved, Professors Lomax and Davis brought their legal training to bear upon extrajudicial matters at the University. But these faculty chairmen were also active participants in upholding a second, unspoken mandate to maintain the subjugation of enslaved individuals. Thus, order at the University of Virginia often entailed justice that did not contravene the logics of chattel slavery, a dynamic illustrated in the aforementioned cases.


[1] Enactments relating to the Constitution and Government of the University of Virginia: 1827,” Chapter 1, Section 1, Subsection 1, Jefferson’s University the early life,

[2] “Enactments relating to the Constitution and Government of the University of Virginia: 1831,” Chapter 1, Section 1, Subsection 10, Jefferson’s University … the early life,

[3] “Journals of the Chairman of the Faculty, 1827-1867,” Jefferson’s University … the early life,

[4] “Enactments relating to the Constitution and Government of the University of Virginia: 1827,” Jefferson’s University … the early life,; “Enactments relating to the Constitution and Government of the University of Virginia: 1831,” Jefferson’s University … the early life,

[5] “[E]very student who shall within the precincts introduce, keep or use, any spirituous or vinous liquors, or any cards, dice or other implements of gaming, shall be subject to the like punishment,” in “Enactments relating to the Constitution and Government of the University of Virginia: 1827,” Chapter 4, Section 1, Subsection 5, Jefferson’s University … the early life, The ban on cards and games of chance is expanded in later Enactments, seemingly to all inhabitants of a Hotel: “Nor shall [a Hotelkeeper] permit his tenement, or any part of it, to be used for any other than the purposes of a boarding-house. Nor shall he suffer any game of chance to be played,” in “Enactments relating to the Constitution and Government of the University of Virginia: 1831,” Chapter 1, Section 4, Subsection 7, Jefferson’s University … the early life,

[6] John Tayloe Lomax, Journals of the Chairman of the Faculty for Session 7b, 1830-1831, 11 February 1831, Jefferson’s University … the early life,

[7] John Tayloe Lomax, Journals of the Chairman of the Faculty for Session 7b, 1830-1831, 30 March 1831, Jefferson’s University … the early life,

[8] G.W. Blatterman, “Law Notes,” 1838-1839, pg. 67, Arthur J. Morris Law Library Special Collections.

[9] “Faculty Minutes, Session 12, 1835-1836,” 10 December 1835, Jefferson’s University … the early life,

[10] Free African Americans worked at the University in both skilled and unskilled positions. A free Black community formed near the University in a neighborhood called Canada. However, both the University and the state of Virginia did not welcome the presence of free African Americans. An 1806 law stipulated that they vacate the state within a year of emancipation. The thriving Canada neighborhood as well as records revealing that the University paid free Black workers is evidence this law was not strictly enforced. Brendan Wolf, “Kitty Foster,” Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Humanities, accessed January 22, 2021,

[11] John A.G. Davis, Journals of the Chairman of the Faculty for Session 12, 1835-1836, 11 March 1836, Jefferson’s University … the early life,

[12] John A.G. Davis, Journals of the Chairman of the Faculty for Session 13, 1836-1837, 17 February 1837, Jefferson’s University … the early life,

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Meggan Cashwell

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