John Kinnier


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Times-Dispatch (Sept. 15, 1966)


WILLIAMSBURG -- The National Park Service, which has been acting as a sort of unwilling referee in a controversy about the location of the nation's oldest law school, has reached a new decision in the affair.

The park service has agreed to designate the site of the former Litchfield Law School in Connecticut as "Tapping Reeve's Proprietary Law School, the first in the United States not associated with a college or university . . ." Its earlier citation said simply "Tapping Reeve's Law School, the first in the United States . . ."

The College of William and Mary also claims the oldest law school in the country and protested the Park Service's designation of the Litchfield school as such.

In a letter to college officials here the Park Service said that it had made the clarification in its citation to meet objections raised by William and Mary to the wording of its first citation awarded Litchfield. The service said that all copies of the earlier statement have been destroyed and that the revised statement will be used in all future releases on the subject made by the Interior Department.

A.C. Stratton, acting director of the Park Service, the unit within the Interior Department which makes historical site designations, told college officials:

"We are in full agreement with the thought quoted by you from a statement by Dean Erwin N. Griswold of Harvard Law School that the difference between the significance of the Tapping Reeve School and that of William and Mary is essentially one of definition."

Dean Griswold had said in a 1965 book that while the William and Mary Law program began with a professorship in law rather than as a separate law school there is "no doubt" that the William and Mary program should be known as the first law school in America.

Dr. W. Melville Jones, William and Mary dean, said that the revised law school statement "is deeply appreciated and accurately reflects, for purposes of historical recognition, the status of the famed Tapping Reeve School which was so influential in New England during the time it was in existence.

"At the same time the Department of the Interior thus preserves the historical priority of the law program at the College of William and Mary, which began in December 1779, with the appointment of George Wythe as first professor of law and police. While not known at that time as a 'law school,' the Wythe program had all of the earmarks which constitute the professional study of law; Tapping Reeve, five years later, actually designated his program as a 'law school'."

The Park Service citation says that Reeve, in 1784, erected a small building next to his home in order to accommodate his law classes. Beginning as early as 1782, the park service said, Reeve had begun the teaching of law in his home.


Legal Education, Law Schools, History