This Juneteenth, we recognize Henry, a man who emancipated himself in March 1865 with the arrival of Union troops in Charlottesville. He was previously enslaved by UVA Law professor John B. Minor (1845-1895).
“The enemy got upwards of 100 horses between Meechum’s river and [the University of Virginia], and multitudes of servants went off with them, poor misguided creatures! Amongst them my boy Henry, hired in Staunton. I lament it more on his account than my own.”
Minor’s eldest daughter, Mary Lancelot Minor, penned a letter to an aunt a couple days later. She wrote that after escaping to freedom, Henry camped with Union officers on Carr’s Hill, the modern-day location of the UVA president’s home, just opposite the Rotunda.
Beyond Henry’s moment of self-emancipation, we know little more about him. The Minor family purchased or rented his bondage in Staunton, Virginia, a small city 40 miles west of Charlottesville in the Shenandoah Valley. Through Staunton passed the Valley Pike, one turnpike within a well-traveled line of roads that connected the northeastern United States to the Deep South, modern-day Route 11. Common travelers on this road included forced caravans of enslaved people, bound for slaving markets in Georgia or South Carolina. Staunton’s position on the Valley Pike turned the city into a commercial hub for the slave trade in central Virginia.
The Union troops that arrived in Charlottesville in March 1865 had come from the Shenandoah Valley as part of a mission to destroy Confederate-held rail lines and infrastructure. After leaving the area of the University of Virginia, they continued eastward. Henry may have followed. He may have enlisted in one of the Union army units for Black soldiers, as many free and emancipated Black men did.
Importantly, even without additional detail, Henry’s story carries great significance for his own life. Further, his decision to emancipate himself repudiated professor John B. Minor’s claim that enslaved Black Americans preferred enslavement to freedom and were better off in forced servitude, a belief that Minor voiced to his students in his UVA Law lectures.
Juneteenth is a celebration of emancipation and a reminder that emancipation did not come all at once for enslaved Black Americans. For the many enslaved individuals who remained at UVA after the Union troops departed, including the many whom John B. Minor enslaved, emancipation would come only after the official end of the war in April 1865.
UVA Law’s Black American Law Students Association (BALSA, now BLSA) formed in October 1971. Alongside the organization’smaingoals of increasing student and faculty diversity, BALSA’s founding members forged their community of action through legal aid. During the 1971-1972 academic year, BALSA members took on pro bono work to provide legal counsel to underserved communities, particularly through collaborations with local legal aid groups like the Charlottesville–Albemarle Legal Aid Society (now the Legal Aid Justice Center, founded in 1967 by a group of Charlottesville attorneys and UVA Law students)and the Law School’s Legal Assistance Society.
This Black History Month marks the one-year anniversary of 50 Years of BLSA, a collaborative project between Law Special Collections and the Black Law Students Association to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the organization. Read more about the project here. One year after the project, we continue to learn about BLSA through archival research and oral history interviews with alumni/ae. Shortly after the project’s debut, then-BLSA President Allison Burns ’22 heard from Bobby Vassar ’72 about the importance of legal aid work to BALSA’s founding members.
COMMUNITY SERVICE THROUGH THE LEGAL ASSISTANCE SOCIETY
Bobby Vassar ’72, James Ghee ’72, and Gwendolyn Jones Jackson ’72were among the founding BALSA memberswho participated in the Law School’s Legal Assistance Society, particularly the Society’s Welfare Rights Project. The Project partnered with the Virginia Welfare Rights Organization to assist Virginia residents who requested welfare assistance, were denied, and then exercised their right to a fair hearing to reverse their verdict.Law students conducted legal investigations and advocated for their welfare candidates before a panel of local welfare officials and a hearing officer appointed by the Virginia State Board of Welfare. Project members represented Virginia residents from Albemarle, Buckingham, Cumberland, Fauquier, and Greene counties, as well as residents from the cities of Charlottesville and Lynchburg. Bobby Vassar recalled that these welfare hearings were the first of their kind in at least one of the counties they represented.
“There were very few Blacks on the [welfare] rolls in these counties because Black women with children were expected to be maids and cooks in White homes or to do other menial labor jobs, so only a few of the most disabled women with children were considered worthy of receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC, now TANF). In several instances, all or some of the local Social Services Board members attended the hearings. Things got testy in some the hearings with one Board Chairman telling Jim Ghee “I think you done said about enough there, boy”, which prompted the State hearing officer to warn him he would clear the room if there were any further such outbursts. We were able to win benefits for almost all of the families we represented as a result of favorable hearing decisions, and that encouraged other eligible Black families to apply and receive benefits.”
Bobby Vassar ’72, personal correspondence with Allison Burns ’22, 11 February 2021.
Ghee served as the project’s director from 1971-1972, even traveling to Las Vegas, Nevada in February 1971 to assist the National Welfare Rights Organization in reversing Nevada’s cut-off of a portion of the state’s welfare payments.
“We knew there were risks and we were willing to take them.”
Outside the Legal Assistance Society, Vassar recalled working with then-ACLU attorney John C. Lowe ’67 and fellow BALSA members James Winstead ’72, S. DeLacy Stith ’72, and William “Joe” Bass ’72 to research juror discrimination in Central Virginia. Dean Monrad Paulsen provided the law students with a letter to show local clerks of court explaining that they were part of a UVA Law-sanctioned research project. The letter allowed them access to jury rolls in six surrounding counties.
“We would use the letters to gain access to the jury rolls to write down the names and then go meet with a pre-arranged group of local Black residents to go over the names to identify whether any of them were Black. The clerk in one county (Nottoway) became suspicious of our group of 4 Blacks and one White after seeing us writing down the names of jurors and actually called the Dean, but was not satisfied with the Dean’s explanation, so closed the office, kicked us out and called the sheriff, town police and state police. We were at the pre-arranged home going over the names we were able to write down so they were not able to find us at first, but once we got back on the highway headed home, one of the officers spotted us, called the others, stopped us and surrounded us with 3 cars of officers who got out with hands on guns to ask us what we were doing. They made us get out of the car and not accepting our “research” story, they took the White student aside and quizzed him on what he was doing with these “colored boys” and how he was making himself look bad and could get in big trouble doing such things. He held to our story and they finally let us go with a warning to us not to return. It was plenty scary, but we knew there were risks and were willing to take them.”
Bobby Vassar ’72, personal correspondence with Allison Burns ’22, 11 February 2021.
Vassar recalls that as a result of their research, Lowe was able to file a settlement with the six counties involved to desegregate their jury rolls.
Vassar’s recollections and this history now appear on the Service page of our online exhibit. We encourage you to explore 50 Years of BLSA to learn more about Black history at UVA Law.
Featured image: Members of the Black American Law Students Association, Barrister 1972. Front Row: Gloria Bouldin ’73, Jean Roane ’72; Second Row: Raymond Jackson ’73, Gwendolyn Jones ’72, Arthur McFarland ’73, John Scott ’73; Third Row: Charles Walker ’73, Adolphus Williams ’72, William “Joe” Bass ’72; Fourth Row: Bobby Vassar ’72, James Winstead ’72, Jack Gravely ’72, Charles Chambliss ’73.
Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator at the UVA Law Library.
Law Special Collections recently installed Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971in 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 rightsattorney Oliver Hill, former UVA president and Virginia governor Colgate Darden, and Law School Dean Hardy Dillard (’27).
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 Jr. The 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator at the UVA Law Library.
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 slavery.law.virginia.edu.
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. 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.”
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). 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.
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. 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.
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.
Drawing Upon the Laws of Slavery and Pro-slavery Ideology
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.”
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.
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. 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. In another instance, Davis found himself inspecting a basket belonging to an enslaved person who was smuggling rum and whiskey for himself and students. 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.
 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, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/343?doc=/juel_display/enactments/1827/enactments-1827.
 “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, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/343?doc=/juel_display/enactments/1831/enactments-1831.
 “Journals of the Chairman of the Faculty, 1827-1867,” Jefferson’s University … the early life, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/resources#_ftn1.
 “Enactments relating to the Constitution and Government of the University of Virginia: 1827,” Jefferson’s University … the early life, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/343?doc=/juel_display/enactments/1827/enactments-1827; “Enactments relating to the Constitution and Government of the University of Virginia: 1831,” Jefferson’s University … the early life, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/343?doc=/juel_display/enactments/1831/enactments-1831.
 “[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, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/343?doc=/juel_display/enactments/1827/enactments-1827. 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, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/343?doc=/juel_display/enactments/1831/enactments-1831.
 John Tayloe Lomax, Journals of the Chairman of the Faculty for Session 7b, 1830-1831, 11 February 1831, Jefferson’s University … the early life, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/343?doc=/juel_display/chairman-journal/Sessions/session-007b.
 John Tayloe Lomax, Journals of the Chairman of the Faculty for Session 7b, 1830-1831, 30 March 1831, Jefferson’s University … the early life, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/343?doc=/juel_display/chairman-journal/Sessions/session-007b.
 G.W. Blatterman, “Law Notes,” 1838-1839, pg. 67, Arthur J. Morris Law Library Special Collections.
 “Faculty Minutes, Session 12, 1835-1836,” 10 December 1835, Jefferson’s University … the early life, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/343?doc=/juel_display/faculty-minutes/Sessions/session-012.
 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, https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Foster_Kitty_ca_1790-1863#start_entry.
 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, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/343?doc=/juel_display/chairman-journal/Sessions/session-012.
 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, http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/343?doc=/juel_display/chairman-journal/Sessions/session-013.
Five years after the University of Virginia Law School began offering a “Women and the Law” course, which was supervised by two male professors in 1972, the Virginia Law Women (VLW) embarked on an extraordinary project. Six members of the group—Joan Kuriansky, Susan Buckingham Reilly, Diane Pitts, Jackie Blyn, Diane Smock, and Tracy Thompson—researched and wrote a legal handbook for women in Virginia titled Your Legal Rights as a Woman: A Handbook for Virginians (1977). Modeled on a handbook created by the North Carolina Law School Women, the text was, as the introduction stated, “written by women for women who want the law to work for them…Today we have many more rights than we had even five years ago. But unless we are aware of these rights we cannot exercise them” (VL141 .Y817 1977). The handbook, funded by the Virginia Commission on the Status of Women, was written in lay terms and explained Virginia laws concerning marriage, divorce, adoption, property rights, insurance, taxes, employment, social welfare programs such as Medicare and worker’s compensation, birth control, abortion, the criminal justice system, and gay rights. It also included a section on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which had been approved by Congress in 1972 and was awaiting the requisite 38 states to ratify it into law at the time. In concert with consciousness-raising movements and projects across the country in that historical moment, the text made women conscious of the rights they were entitled to and the wrongs they suffered on account of their gender.
While the Virginia Law Women distributed the handbook locally to libraries, organizations, agencies, alumni, and faculty, the Virginia Commission on the Status of Women distributed the bulk of the copies across the state. In the VLW manuscript collection here at Law Special Collections, one folder brims with requests for the handbook at the time of its publication. Dozens of women who read about the handbook in the newspaper wrote and asked for copies. Several stated that they planned on using the handbook to help them through their divorces. One high schooler even asked for the handbook as research for a paper on the ERA. The group received requests from rape crisis centers, women’s prison projects, libraries, law schools, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the ABA, the National Organization of Women (NOW), the Women’s Law Coalition, and Legal Aid. The combination of the handbook’s popularity and the significant changes in laws applicable to women in this period resulted in revised editions in 1979 and 1984. In the second and third editions, new sections were added to reflect changing laws, such as Title VII, Title IX, establishing credit, mental health, and domestic violence. In addition to the revised editions, the VLW taught a local continuing education course on the handbook in 1980. While the handbook did not address everything (the absence of a discussion about the legal implications of American racial inequality is noticeable), it served as a much-needed resource for women across the state.
The most revised and debated section of the handbook was the section on the ERA. The VLW originally planned to openly advocate for the ERA in the first edition, but they deleted that paragraph, deciding simply to describe the amendment and its potential impact because their funder, the Commission on the Status of Women, asked them to remain “politically neutral” (VL16. L425L c.1). The second edition was delayed because the Commission asked them to remove the entire section on the ERA. The VLW objected, citing the copyright in their name and declaring the issue of the ERA “vital to the women of Virginia” (RG 209-82). The Commission eventually withdrew their request and the subsequent editions not only included a section on the ERA but a section that was longer than the original. While the ERA was not originally a partisan issue (it has appeared in the platforms of both the Republican and Democratic parties), the Commission’s anxieties about it have made me wonder whether they knew the story of the woman in the photograph on the front cover of the first and second editions. The photograph was of British suffragette Mary Leigh in her Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) uniform. Leigh was famous for throwing a hatchet at Prime Minister Asquith in 1912, among other militant activities.
I’d like to end this post by reflecting on how these handbooks serve as a historical record of change. My own research focuses on women, politics, and property rights in eighteenth-century literature. I have spent more days than I can count poring over pamphlets about women’s legal rights, law books, and case documents from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. I inevitably came across the word “dower” in most of them. I never expected to come across that word in all three editions of Your Legal Rights as a Woman: A Handbook for Virginians. I was shocked that dower, a widow’s right to a life estate in one-third of her husband’s real property which came into being sometime around 1310, appeared in a legal handbook for women in the late twentieth century. Upon further research, I discovered that dower was not abolished in the state of Virginia until 1990. I discovered that the topic of my last blog post, the law of necessaries—an integral element of coverture—was the law in Virginia until 1983 when the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional under the 14th amendment. Finally, I discovered the word “coverture”—the common law doctrine that rendered husband and wife legally one person after marriage, which required the husband to act as representative for them both and which stripped the wife of many legal rights—still appears in the Virginia state code in two places. The first place is section 55-35, a statute that reflects the Married Women’s Act of 1877, which enabled women to hold and dispose of property as if they were single women and declared that the wife’s property was not liable for her husband’s debts.
The second place is section 55-38, a statute that states the wife’s right of entry into land cannot be barred by judgments during or after her husband’s lifetime. Ironically, the word “coverture” appears in statutes that recognize women as legal persons independent of their husbands. In fact, these sections are scheduled to be repealed in October 2019 and replaced by revised sections that continue to use the word “coverture.” This means that the word “coverture” has been a part of Virginia law since the colony’s founding over 400 years ago and still is to this day. To me at least as a scholar, the appearance of “coverture” in the state code raises the question of whether it was ever really abolished, or if it was simply reformed and remains part of our legal framework. Even though dower and coverture might seem like antiquated legal tools that we rightly dismissed long ago in the name of equity, they recently informed, and in the case of coverture may still inform, the way women are treated under the law in Virginia. These legal relics are one of the reasons why women would still find a handbook like this one useful today.
For more on the Virginia Law Women, see our collection (RG 209-82 and RG 209-2010) as well as the three handbooks (VL141 .Y817 1977, VL141 .Y817 1979, and VL141 .Y817 1984).
 Fern Riddell, “ Suffragettes, violence, and militancy,” British Library, 6 February 2018, https://www.bl.uk/votes-for-women/articles/suffragettes-violence-and-militancy.
 Marylynn Salmon, Women and the Law of Property in Early America (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 144.
 See Va. Code Ann. § 55-37 (2012) and Mark S. Brennan, “The New Doctrine of Necessaries in Virginia,” University of Richmond Law Review 19 no. 2 (1985): 317–330.
In honor of Women’s History Month, this post by Kelly Fleming discusses the history of women’s legal rights as reflected in the 1828 Catalogue of the Library of the University of Virginia. Kelly is a PhD Candidate in the English Department at UVa, where her research focuses on women’s property rights and political participation in eighteenth-century British novels. She is assisting the Law Library with its 1828 Catalogue digitization project.
Of the 369 law titles in the 1828 Catalogue of the Library of the University of Virginia, only one was explicitly dedicated to the legal status of wives, Baron and Feme: A Treatise of Law and Equity, Concerning Husbands and Wives (U.K. .46 .B265 1738). In fact, it was the first known English legal treatise to focus solely on the laws concerning husbands and wives.[i] Penned by an anonymous author, Baron and Feme was first published in London in 1700 by John Walthoe. It was published again in 1719 by Walthoe and in 1738 by T. Waller, also in London. The university had acquired the 1738 edition for its first library. While the Catalogue entry for Baron and Feme dates the book to 1788, other nineteenth-century catalogues confirm that the original UVA library contained the 1738 edition.
Baron and Feme’s importance as a legal work stemmed from its discussion of the precedents that defined married women’s legal rights in the eighteenth century. In England, married women’s legal rights were defined in common law and equity courts, likely resulting in confusion about what women’s rights actually were. Books such as Baron and Feme consolidated such precedents and made them available for both men and women as a practical litigation guide. Since, like England, Virginia had both common law and chancery courts, Baron and Feme’s discussion of precedent would have informed the way UVA students and local lawyers understood marriage settlements and argued women’s property rights in court.[ii]
Baron and Feme took up the doctrine of coverture from the perspective of both men and women, but with substantially more attention to the legal ramifications of women marrying. A relic of the Norman Conquest, the legal fiction of coverture declared that, after marriage, man and wife were, legally, one person, with the husband acting as representative for both. After marriage, a woman became a feme covert, a “covered woman” wearing the shadow of her husband’s legal existence. Feme coverts were unable to convey property, sign a contract, or execute a will on their own. One of the first chapters describes the unique position feme coverts held in English (as well as early American) law by differentiating them from infants (women and men under the age of 21). Like feme coverts, infants were “disabled by the law,” meaning they were not recognized as persons under the law.[iii] The difference, the anonymous author argued, was as follows: infants were not yet considered persons under the law, but they could perform “any Act for [their] own Advantage,” including binding themselves in a contract.[iv]Feme coverts were not persons and could only legally bind themselves with their husband’s consent.
Complicating this comparison, the author did not distinguish between male and female infants despite the legal difficulties female infants would have encountered on account of their gender. While Sir William Blackstone may have famously called women the “favourites ”of the law, the privileges they received were restricted by their ability to negotiate patriarchal family dynamics.[v] In both England and colonial America, patriarchal hierarchies and codes of behavior structured family life. Female infants, despite their ability to contract, were likely to be controlled by a father or male family member who would frustrate any attempt to make legal decisions without his consent. In fact, even their ability to contract was up for question: English courts debated the legality of female infants consenting to a marriage settlement that barred dower in favor of a jointure.[vi] Moreover, daughters who became feme soles (unmarried women) and could own property when they came of age were unlikely to possess it because families typically planned on using the daughter’s inheritance as her marriage portion.[vii]
In the hopes of protecting women from cruel husbands, debauched husbands, and their husband’s creditors, English courts developed precedents over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to counteract the potentially harmful effects of coverture. These precedents specified property rights for married women and addressed questions about their ability to legally consent during marriage. Baron and Feme dedicated entire chapters to these rights in an effort to help readers negotiate the complex obstacles of coverture, such as dowers, jointures, separate estates, and separate maintenances in case of abuse or divorce. Most importantly, the author included a chapter that specified what wives got out of coverture, “What Contracts of the Wife Shall Bind the Husband,” which rehearsed the arguments for and against the law of necessaries (the right a wife has to charge things to her husband’s account or in her husband’s name) in exhaustive detail. Regardless of the author’s thoughts on the law of necessaries, there were documented cases of women charging extravagant items to their husband’s accounts and getting away with it in England.[viii] My own work, which examines women’s property rights and political participation in eighteenth-century British novels, hopes to show how coverture went both ways. The legal tools necessary to mitigate, if not negotiate, patriarchal family dynamics were already in women’s hands.
The Law Library’s copy of Baron and Feme was a gift Gerard Banks Esq. gave to William Waller Hening, as the handwritten note on the title page documents. Hening, a prominent Virginia jurist, may have read Baron and Feme as research for his legal handbook, The New Virginia Justice(1795). The handbook includes a conveyancing appendix with a sample marriage settlement that created a separate estate for the wife, one of the recommended methods for alleviating the legal austerity of coverture.
[i] Lynne Greenberg, ed. Baron and Feme: A Treatise of Equity,
Concerning Husbands and Wives, The Early Modern Englishwoman: A
Facsimile Library of Essential Works (New York: Routledge, 2005), 3:xlviii.
[ii] Marylynn Salmon, Women and the
Law of Property in Early America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986),
Buried deep in the stacks of Edinburgh libraries lie court records that tell stories about early America. In the Faculty of Advocates Library and The Signet Library, both just a few doors down from Scotland’s Court of Session, and in the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh, rests evidence of Glaswegian merchants who traded for Virginia tobacco, families divided by the American Revolution, enslaved men and women who toiled on Caribbean sugar plantations, and much more. These Session Papers, the printed material submitted to Scotland’s supreme civil court as part of the litigation process, contain hidden histories of early America and the British Atlantic world.
Through a generous grant from the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation, a team of historians from Special Collections at the University of Virginia School of Law’s Arthur J. Morris Law Library will soon visit Edinburgh to begin identifying court cases involving early American litigants. Drs. Jim Ambuske, Randi Flaherty, and Loren Moulds, the co-directors of the Law Library’s Scottish Court of Session Project, will travel to Scotland’s capital to investigate these court records. While some cases appear in published law reports, most remain hidden in the bound volumes of court documents held by these historic Edinburgh libraries.
The Cromwell Foundation, which supports American legal history scholarship, has commissioned the Law Library team to survey Court of Session cases involving early America. Working closely with Edinburgh librarians, Ambuske, Flaherty, and Moulds will locate such cases and prepare a publicly available report on their findings. The report will enhance the discoverability of these cases for future scholars working on legal or early American history projects. It will also help identify groups of Session Papers for priority digitization as part of a collaboration to make these records more accessible for legal and historical research.
Finding evidence of early America in the Session Papers will illuminate the close ties between Scotland and America in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As the historian Timothy J. Shannon has recently shown in his new book, Indian Captive, Indian King: Peter Williamson in America and Britain, Session Papers can recover the lives of individuals like Williamson. In the mid-eighteenth century, the Aberdeen native claimed to have been kidnapped and sold into indentured servitude in the American colonies. While it seems clear that he was in the colonies as a young man, and perhaps later fought in the French and Indian War, his claim to have been held captive by Native Americans at one point is more suspect. Nevertheless, Williamson “played Indian” for Scottish audiences upon his return home and parlayed his alleged experiences into commercial opportunities. We know of his story in part because he sued the Magistrates of Aberdeen in the Court of Session, charging that they had been complicit in an illegal servant trade that had sent him to North America.
While in Scotland, the Law Library team will meet with collaborators at the University of Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Law School, and representatives from the Advocates and Signet libraries to advance a transatlantic partnership that is pursuing the creation of a digital archive to hold nearly 250,000 individual Session Papers. Using a combination of computer technology and human interpretation, the collaborators are exploring ways to more efficiently identify people and places within these printed documents, which will assist in the cataloging process, enable digital humanists to conduct large-scale analyses of the material, and make it easier for scholars and the public to search for historical figures and locations.
The project team is grateful to the Cromwell Foundation for its significant investment in the Scottish Court of Session Project. For more information on the Foundation and its efforts to support legal history scholarship, please visit www.cromwellfoundation.org. To learn more about Special Collections at the Arthur J. Morris Law Library, please visit archives.law.virginia.edu.
Shortly before his death in 2010, Morris Cohen told me about a book he was writing with his Yale colleague John Nann on research in American legal history. I wondered at the time if this was mostly a means of keeping Morris engaged in work and might not amount to much. But lo and behold, eight years later The Yale Law School Guide to Research in American Legal History (Yale University Press, 2018) has landed on my desk. And it’s full of great insights for the legal historian.
Instead of divisions by material type or genre, most of the book’s chapters focus on distinct time periods in American history and highlight research approaches and resources most pertinent to each period. After the chronological chapters, the book closes with several more general chapters. Particularly useful here are the discussion in Chapter Eight on doing archival research and the treatment in Chapter Ten of historical legal dictionaries.
A very useful bibliography of additional readings accompanies each chapter, and the book has a thorough and precise index. The authors provide helpful tips throughout on finding material in online catalogs, a nice touch as new catalog interfaces make subject searching less accessible and intuitive.
Chapter 2, English Foundations of American Law, 1500s-1776, does a great job of setting us in the world of an early modern English lawyer, finding case law with abridgments rather than Lexis or Westlaw. Lord Coke’s list of the fifteen sources of the law, printed at pages 50-51, is a wonderful time capsule – I didn’t know that “the Law and priviledge of the Stanneries” was a distinct source of law, let along what a stannary was. And it is interesting to learn that the abridgements of the 17th century (Sheppard, Hughes, and Rolle) were “considered to be of mediocre to poor quality” especially compared to Brooke’s Graunde Abridgement of the late 16th century. Nann and Cohen’s Guide has great explanations of the role of the Privy Council in governing the colonies and of the Calendar of State Papers. The authors point out the dangers of hastily OCR’d digital resources — unless scanned material is proofread carefully, it’s simply not discoverable through keyword searches.
Chapter 5, The Early Republic, 1790s-1870s, warns that researchers “must be careful to understand what the judiciary looked like in the state and time being researched. They must also understand the appellate process of the time.” And the authors provide good insight as to why historians can often be frustrated finding information in court reports: “Historians will find that it was not uncommon for a historically significant lower court case to go unreported. Once judges gained control of reporting, they chose cases that would become the building blocks of the law and ignored cases that merely repeated well-settled law. Historians will often want to read a case to get insight into the people involved, whereas lawyers care only about the law involved.”
Throughout the book I learned of valuable resources in legal history. These include Neil H. Cogan, The Complete Reconstruction Amendments, a forthcoming six-volume set from Oxford University Press not even on the publisher’s website yet, but also resources I never knew about or had long forgotten. I’d better take another look at American Foreign Relations Since 1600: A Guide to the Literature, which “has been described as ‘magisterial’ and is an extremely important resource that should be among the first stops in a research project touching on this topic.” And I never knew about Clarence S. Bingham’s History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, “a critically important introduction to early American newspapers.”
At page 149, I read about two microfilm resources that were unknown to me until I had to hunt them both down in recent months: Dockets of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1790-1950, and Appellate Case Files from the Supreme Court of the United States, 1792-1831. It’s true that finding these and borrowing the microfilm (sadly, we have neither in our library) gave me a sense of accomplishment, but how much easier life would have been if I had Nann & Cohen to help me. (It seems odd in 2018 to be relying on microfilm, particularly for information about Supreme Court cases, and LLMC is currently considering digitization of both of these sets.)
One of the valuable things about the work is that it expresses strong and clear opinions. In the very first chapter, it says that William H. Manz’s Gibson’s New York Legal Research Guide is perhaps the best of the many state legal research guides now published, with its in-depth treatment and coverage of current and historical sources. (Who can argue, when guides for nine states in Carolina Academic Press’s Legal Research Series all begin with the exact same sentence, “The fundamentals of legal research are the same in every American jurisdiction, though the details vary,” and nine more offer paraphrased versions of the same idea? How refreshing to open Hollee Schwartz Temple’s West Virginia Legal Research (2013) in the same series and read its first line, “If you want to stand out in a challenging legal marketplace, develop superior research skills.” Here’s to authors with journalism backgrounds!)
Of course, I don’t agree with all of the authors’ opinions. I don’t know why researchers trying to decipher citations are told that Prince’s Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations “is the first place they should turn to” and then only to check the online Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations if a citation isn’t in Prince’s. Cardiff’s coverage of American sources is broad and thorough, it includes useful information like the period of coverage and preceding and subsequent titles in a series, and its web version is so convenient. Why not reverse the order of checking these two?
As explained in the guide’s Introduction, the chronological chapters “describe the research tools available to an attorney of the past as well as the tools that a researcher of today will use to find the law of the past.” Thus, Chapter Six, Research Gets Organized, 1880s-1930s, explains the laborious procedure required to use Shepard’s Citations in print, something I thought I might never to have to read about again. I had hoped for less focus on obsolete research approaches and more discussion of modern legal history resources. There is only passing reference to one chapter of the three-volume Cambridge History of Law in America, and Lawrence Friedman’s History of American Law is only cited in one chapter’s bibliography. These books are not just “Further Reading” but great places for legal history students to begin their research and place their ideas in historical context.
The chronological structure of the guide begins to falter in Chapter Five, The Early Republic, 1790s-1870s, when the authors devote nearly a page to explaining PACER, the federal courts’ online docket system. Why in this chapter is there a discussion of a resource that begins its coverage in the late 20th century? Similarly, the chapter on the 1880s-1930s includes coverage of modern tools such as the Current Law Index (1980-date), and Chapter Seven, The Administrative State, 1930s-2010s, discusses several valuable 18th- and 19th-century resources such as Public Documents of the First Fourteen Congresses, 1789-1817 and Documentary History of the Constitution of the United States, 1786-1870. The “Administrative State” chapter focuses on administrative law and government documents, but the dates in its title are misleading.
The authors acknowledge that “research guides, including this one, represent a snapshot in time,” but in this instance the snapshot isn’t always that close to the publication date. Parts of the book show the inherent dangers of working on a project for several years. The bibliographies, while valuable, miss several recent publications, including a 2016 edition of Morris Cohen’s own Legal Research in a Nutshell. The print Foreign Law Guide hasn’t been updated since 2007, and the online Guide to Reference closed down in March 2016. In discussing the Congressional Record, the book asserts that “No easy translation tables exist to take researchers from the ‘daily’ page numbers to the ‘final’ page numbers or vice versa” – yet both HeinOnline and ProQuest Congressional offer daily edition to bound edition cross-reference tools. An unrelated quibble (in which I have a vested interest) is that referring to Specialized Legal Research as “by Penny A. Hazelton” and Guide to Reference Books as “by Robert Balay” does a disservice to the numerous contributors to these edited works.
In sum, The Yale Law School Guide to Research in American Legal History is a welcome addition to the literature of legal research and a valuable trove of insights and tips. It goes a long way to bridging the divide between historians and legal scholars.