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Publication Information

The Daily Press (Sept. 15, 1966)


WILLIAMSBURG -- The federal government has agreed to clarify its citation to a Connecticut historical group to preserve the historical priority of the College of William and Mary in the field of legal education.

The National Park Service has agreed to designate the site of the former Litchfield, Conn., law school as "Tapping Reeve's Proprietary Law School, the first in the United States not associated with a college or university. . ."

In a letter to William and Mary officials, the service said that it had made the clarification to meet objections raised by William and Mary to the wording of its first citation awarded Litchfield.

Copies Destroyed

[T]he initial citation said simply, "Tapping Reeve's Law School, the first in the United States . . ."

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 Department of Interior 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."

W&M Program First

Dean Griswold had said in a book published in 1965 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, dean of William and Mary, 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.

Wythe First Professor

"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 program 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's 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.

The law school started by Reeve was closed in 1833. His home and the adjoining building have been designated as an historical site. Both are owned by the Litchfield Historical Society, which received the government's citation.


Legal Education, Law Schools, History