February 27, 2002: From the Editor

A few weeks ago the New York Times ran a story about architect John Notman, who designed Prospect House, Lowrie House, the 1855 reconstruction of Nassau Hall (after a fire), and three Philadelphia landmarks. What caught my attention, however, was mention of a minor Princeton work, Ivy Hall, “designed in 1847 for Princeton’s law school.”

The reference to the law school rang a faint bell — PAW had touched on it in a story in May 2000 — but after considering the topic for this column, I decided against it, assuming no one else would be interested in the history of Princeton’s failed legal experiment.

The next day PAW received a phone call from an alumnus. “I saw this piece in the Times,” he told our editorial assistant. “You ought to do a story on the law school.”

Princeton’s law school, housed in Notman’s building on Mercer Street, opened in 1847 during the university’s centennial celebration. Its faculty included attorney Richard S. Field 1821, who had paid for the construction of the building with his own money. Unfortunately, no one else donated any funds, and without an endowment or many pupils, the school couldn’t support itself. Just seven men earned bachelor of law degrees between 1849 and 1852, and the program was dropped in 1852. Ivy Hall was later rented out by the original Ivy Club and eventually sold to Trinity Episcopal Church.

The idea of a law school did not fade away, though. In 1890 President Patton declared, “Just as soon as I find a man with half a million, I’m going to found a law school,” and his successor, jurisprudence professor Woodrow Wilson 1879, was equally enthusiastic. Neither could find the requisite half-million, however — Andrew Carnegie opted for a lake instead — and the plan languished for 70 years.

In 1974 President Bowen asked a committee to study the feasibility of a law program. Judging from PAW reports, however, the effort was pro forma. Even then-dean of the Woodrow Wilson School Donald Stokes ’51, who was on the committee and might have been expected to favor the new program, told PAW, “There’s a healthy puzzle as to the sources of the current interest in the law school and as to whether some of those sources might dry up.”

Dry up they did, aided perhaps by alumni sentiment. When in 1974 PAW asked alumni lawyers for an opinion, eight of nine — including

Judge Harold Medina ’09 and Senator Claiborne Pell ’40 — opposed it. Wrote Medina: “I hope there will never be a law school at Princeton.”

So far, so good.


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