Yes, Virginia, There is an Arthur J. Morris

Some of "The Many Faces of AJM"
Some of “The Many Faces of AJM.”


His name adorns the library entrance, extending a silent welcome to all in our community who seek to learn the law. Though he never utters a word aloud (it is a library, after all), his face faithfully greets us every day. He is a staunch promoter of our events. Around holidays, he reminds us to celebrate our good times, then he is wholly empathetic during our times of greatest stress.

Morris and Librarian Frances Farmer
Morris with law librarian Frances Farmer at the naming of the Arthur J. Morris Law Library, c. 1970. (Photo from U.Va. Law Library Special Collections).

Who was Arthur J. Morris before he became the name and the face of the University of Virginia Law Library? North Carolina writer and commentator Warren Bingham tells us about Morris in his article just published in the Winter 2014 issue of Carolina Banker. In “A North Carolina Native You Should Know: Arthur J. Morris,” Bingham shares that Morris had to finance his own education at the Law School (’01) after his father learned of his gambling and cut off finances. Morris went into banking after law school, eventually creating a new kind of bank that gave credit-seeking wage workers an alternative to loan sharks. The Morris Banks became established in 40 states and helped create the American middle class.

Bingham calls Morris “the father of consumer credit in America.” We’ll still call him AJM.

– Amy Wharton 



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18th Century Dictionary Returns to U.Va.

18th Century Dictionary
Photo: Title page to the 1766 edition of Malachy Postlethwayt’s Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce.

In 1766, British economic writer Malachy Postlethwayt argued that the grand commercial ambitions of the British empire started with good bookkeeping, proper paperwork, and some knowledge about people beyond London. To equip eager young traders to grow British overseas commerce, and by extension the royal revenue, after the 1763 Treaty of Paris, Postlethwayt penned a new edition of his Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce, rich with explanations of the mechanics of trade.[1] The Law Library is thrilled to add Volume 1 of this eighteenth-century guide to the globe to its Special Collections as part of the Library’s ongoing project to acquire duplicate editions of the law books listed in the U.Va. Library Catalogue of 1828. Both volumes of Postlethwayt’s Dictionary formed part of the U.Va. Library’s original collections on mercantile law.

For the modern reader, as for the young U.Va. student perusing this reference in the University library in the 1820s, Postlethwayt’s Dictionary explains the vocabulary, products, and practices of eighteenth-century commerce from the London Custom House to the north African caravan.[2] Curious how bills of exchange worked? Check the section on Banking. Wondering about the pearl fishery off of southern India? See the section on East India Trade. Pondering whether eighteenth-century British consumers are likely to continue their new practice of coffee drinking? See Postlethwayt’s thoughts under Coffee. (Spoiler: Yes. Postlethwayt praised coffee for clearing the head and relieving sleepiness, though he warned that drinking too much in one day would surely hazard the “repose of the night.” A stickler for the good stuff, Postlethwayt advised that “coffee which is newly ground has the most virtue.”)

A chart for arbitrating currency exchanges among the major commercial centers of Europe
Photo: A chart for arbitrating currency exchanges among the major commercial centers of Europe. Postlethwayt wrote that traders should be “thoroughly informed” in this branch of commerce.

With commerce always enmeshed in matters of geography, language, and especially law, Postlethwayt’s Dictionary offers a detailed look not only into the minutiae of trade—swearing oaths at the Custom House, filling out double-entry ledgers—but also the lives of those who engaged in or supported trade around London and around the globe. Postlethwayt had specific advice for British merchants who often found themselves entangled in legal disputes: find an honest, able, and experienced attorney at law. Attorneys were gentlemen and scholars, Postlethwayt wrote, who started clerkships at sixteen, understood Latin and French, knew their way around ancient deeds, wrote well, and could unravel any business account laid before them.

At four inches thick, Volume 1 of Postlethwayt’s Universal Dictionary covers letters A to K and adds to the U.Va. Law Library’s rich collections on the historical practice of law. Special Collections hopes to add the second volume to its inventory in the future.

For research in this or any item at the Law Library Special Collections, see our webpage or contact Special Collections at

– Randi Flaherty 



Peter Groenewegen, ‘Postlethwayt, Malachy (1707–1767)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2013 [, accessed 28 Oct 2014]

[1] Malachy Postlethwayt and Jacques Savary des Brûlons. The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce: With Large Additions and Improvements, Adapting the Same to the Present State of British Affairs in America, Since the Last Treaty of Peace Made in the Year 1763. With Great Variety of New Remarks and Illustrations Incorporated Throughout the Whole: Together with Everything Essential That Is Contained in Savary’s Dictionary: Also, All the Material Laws of Trade and Navigation Relating to These Kingdoms, and the Customs and Usages to Which All Traders Are Subject. (London: H. Woodfall, 1766.)

[2] Postlethwayt’s Universal Dictionary provided a British perspective on these topics, though Postlethwayt also borrowed liberally from a previous dictionary by the Frenchman Jacques Savary des Brûlons.

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Clark Hall Student Lounge: Then and Now

Alumni who attended the University of Virginia School of Law before the move to North Grounds in 1974-75 will remember the student lounge in the basement of Clark Hall. Digital Collections Librarian Loren Moulds and I recently went in search of the long-lost lounge. Its former location is now in a restricted area of Clark Hall, current home of the Department of Environmental Sciences. The search was part of my research for a forthcoming book on the history of the Law School buildings.

The student lounge was one of the amenities of Clark Hall made possible through the generous financial support of law alumnus William Andrews Clark Jr. (Law 1899), whose father had made a fortune in copper mining in Montana. Measuring approximately 58 by 34 feet, this large room boasted fireplaces at both ends, a handsome columned entrance, and leather sofas and chairs. Plasterwork panels, suggestive of colonial wood paneling, decorated the walls. At Clark Hall’s dedication on October 5, 1932, Dean Armistead Dobie said that the “student lounge would do credit to a metropolitan club,” and indeed the room was one of the University’s most sophisticated spaces. 

Over time the lounge suffered from use and lack of maintenance, so much so that in 1961 the Virginia Law Weekly described it as a “disgusting sight” with a “nauseating profusion of spilled beverages, scattered newspapers, paper cups and cigarette butts strewn over tables and floors.” In 1965, law students and the Law School Foundation cooperated to provide funds to renovate the lounge as a memorial to Edward J. Kelly Jr., the third-year student body president who had recently been killed in an automobile accident. The refurbished lounge featured wall-to-wall carpeting, seating upholstered in “fall colors . . . accentuated by occasional pieces covered in scarlet and others in solid black,” walnut veneer cocktail tables, an inlaid chess table, and a fire-engine red telephone.

After the Law School vacated Clark Hall in 1974, the Department of Environmental Sciences installed a wind tunnel and a silt-depositing experiment in the former lounge. Visiting the room in 1976, a writer for the Virginia Law Weekly reported that the room “is now devoid of carpeting, the chandeliers have lost their miniature shades and there are no couches or chairs.” 

Loren and I were not sure what we would find when the Facilities Department provided access to the Clark Hall basement, but alumni may be saddened to learn that the student lounge is no more. The University dismantled the room to provide space for the mechanical functions of the building. Where law students once roamed is now the abode of wires and pipes. Fragments of the lounge survive in the form of the chipped remains of the room’s plasterwork wall panels, the ghosts of the chimney flues, and the black bricks that lined the insides of the two fireplaces.

– Philip Herrington, Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities  

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