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Times-Dispatch (Aug. 23, 1966)


In a letter-to-the-editor on August 12, Brig. Gen. Rothwell H. Brown evidently saw fit to overlook several important historical facts in reference to the College of William and Mary-Litchfield law school claims.

Gen. Brown "accurately" quoted from the 11th edition of the "Encyclopedia Britannica" (1910) that Aaron Burr "began the study of law in the celebrated law school conducted by his brother-in-law, Tapping Reeve, at Litchfield, Connecticut." However, evidently the "Britannica" did some "basic" research of its own during the next 56 years or so, because its 1966 edition concerning the same subject states, "he (Aaron Burr) began the study of law at Litchfield, Conn., under his brother-in-law Tapping Reeve." There is no reference made to a law school in the latest edition.

Gen. Brown overlooked the fact that Reeve seemingly was just "talking law," because Litchfield itself recognized only the 1784 date as the beginning of its law school.

While Reeve was "talking law" with Burr in 1774, George Wythe, the first professor of law at William and Mary (1779) had already "talked law" to the brilliant Thomas Jefferson in Williamsburg, 12 years before in 1762. It is also interesting to note that the "Dictionary of American Biography" says that Reeve was admitted to the bar in 1772, while Wythe, of course an older man, was admitted to the bar in 1746. There is a vast difference here in personal experience.

The question, however, is not about experience or tutoring, but about the beginning of a "law school." William and Mary, I know, has long accepted Litchfield's claim as the oldest "proprietary" law school. However, William and Mary established a chair of law (the word chair is now recognized as meaning school) in 1779. Litchfield got its law school in 1784.

The Department of Interior in designating Litchfield as the oldest law school in the country has not recognized the difference between a "proprietary" or commercial school and a school of a college or university.


Legal Education, Law Schools, History