Wilfred Julius Ritz was born in Conklin, Michigan on March 15, 1915. He graduated from Sparta (Michigan) High School in 1933, and received an A.B. degree from Washington and Lee University in 1938. After working as Assistant Director of Research for the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce in Richmond (1938-1942), Ritz served in the European Theater during World War II (1942-1946) as a member of the U.S. Army Ninth Air Corps, rising to the rank of technical sergeant.
During another stint with the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce -- this time (1946-1950) as Industrial Director -- Ritz attended the University of Richmond Law School, earning his L.L.B. degree in 1950. After receiving an L.L.M. from Harvard in 1951, he taught law at Wake Forest College (1952-1953) before moving to Washington and Lee University School of Law in 1953. He was made a full professor in 1959.
Professor Ritz received an S.J.D. degree form Harvard University in 1961. He returned to teaching at Washington and Lee and remained there until his retirement in 1985 when he was named professor emeritus.
Ritz's areas of teaching specialization included: legal history and bibliography; conflicts; insurance; sentencing; and taxation. In 1970 he founded the Alderson Legal Assistance Program at Washington and Lee, which enabled students to provide legal advice and aid to inmates at the Federal Reformatory for Women in Alderson, West Virginia. He directed that program until 1985. A fund to support the Alderson program was established in 1985 and named in Ritz's honor.
Professor Ritz won the Samuel Pool Weaver Constitutional Law Essay Competition in 1963. He published fifteen law review articles and the books: The Uniform Commercial Code and the Commercial Law of Virginia, 1956; Virginia Automobile Insurance, 1983; and American Judicial Proceedings First Printed Before 1801, 1984 (winner of the Joseph L. Andrews Bibliographical Award from the American Association of Law Libraries). When a stroke disable Ritz in February 1986, two colleagues, Professors Wythe Holt and L. H. LaRue, took on the task of editing and completing his work on the First Judiciary Act. The result was Rewriting the History of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which appeared in 1990 under Ritz's name. Professor Ritz died in 1995.